It still feels like yesterday when my son and I were in Lanseria airport on Friday evening mid-March about to board a flight to Cape Town. This was not our usual trip to go visit family and friends, it was a trip filled with uncertainty and fear as there was an outbreak of Covid-19 around the world and a few recorded cases in South Africa. Even though the numbers were still low at that time, the rules and restrictions were very alarming, with one of them being schools closing as a precautionary measure. I had to take my child away because I had to go to work and there would be no one to look after him while I was at the office with the majority of my family based in Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. At the time it felt like in a few weeks everything would go back to normal as there have been prior outbreaks of viruses in the country such as H1N1, Listeriosis to mention a few so I felt like after a few weeks, all will be well and my son would be back in Pretoria and life would continue from where we left off...if only I knew then what I know now.
The atmosphere at the airport was so tense with people practicing social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing of hands taking place upon boarding the flight. At that point I was worried about my son getting the virus as kids touch everything (so I sanitized and wiped his hands every chance I got).I became very paranoid when someone started coughing and I was glad when our flight eventually landed. The only topic of conversation was this Covid-19 and what was to become of it.
On Sunday evening I had a flight back to Johannesburg, I decided to meet up with a friend for lunch before leaving and I was very skeptical about leaving because there were reports of the country possibly going on lockdown. Other countries around the globe such as China and Italy had a high number of recorded cases and had already gone on lockdown and the number of people that were affected by this virus in SA was growing at a rapid pace.
I remember how my friend took me to this beautiful restaurant where we would have 'the last supper' for a lack of a better word. The name of the restaurant is The Deck which is situated on a hidden valley wine farm, on a floating deck with a spectacular view of the mountains and a lake, a beautiful escape.
Upon arriving at the restaurant we were made to fill out a register with our personal details, sanitize our hands and then proceed with entry. Alcohol was not on sale as there were time restrictions for the sale of alcohol, the food was nice but the restaurant only had a few customers as people had already started social distancing and staying at home. The President was due for a speech with a way forward on how the country would deal with the pandemic and there were speculations of a possible lockdown, my friend and I kept going back and forth on what to do, do I return to Pretoria or stay in Cape Town until the President addresses us, I then chose the former because I also had assignments to submit. We enjoyed the lunch with a mental note at the back of my mind to come back and explore the place more as I felt like I was not fully appreciating what it had to offer because of the circumstances at that moment.
The President’s address took place on the 24/03/2020 where he confirmed most people’s speculations that the country would indeed be going on a 21 day lockdown which would commence on the 27th March. The purpose of this lockdown was to control the spread of the virus and with more people at home, it would not spread as vastly as it had been over the past few weeks. After the speech, I tried to book a flight back to Cape Town to be with my son but the flights were suspended during the lockdown so the only alternative I had was to drive to Cape Town from Pretoria, a 1500 km drive estimated at 14-15 hours. The boarders would be closing on the 27-03-2020 as inter-provincial travelling had also been banned. I started packing the same night and went to work the following day, Thursday morning around 5 am I embarked on my journey to Cape Town where I would be on lockdown with my loved ones and I arrived safely in the evening. At this point I was filled with relief, happiness and was looking forward to what the next 21 days would bring.
The first two weeks of the lockdown were bearable, it felt like we could get through the final week and all would be back to normal, well that was before the President had another National Address where he extended the lockdown by another two weeks. For me, this meant that I would spend my birthday locked down and that was an inconvenience for my plans, but with the numbers still increasing, it was the best decision that the President had made. What was to be two more weeks was a month and a month became 60 days and that is where I just decided to stop counting and just live each day as it comes. Presently, the country is still on lockdown but there have been certain restrictions that have been eased. The country's economic activities have resumed as most people are back to work with others still working from home, schools have been opened for Grade 12’s and 7’s and the ban on alcohol has been uplifted but with certain limitations to mention a few things.
The pandemic has forced us to do things differently, have a different take on life and get used to a ‘new normal’ approach to life. Prior the lockdown I had this feeling of being overwhelmed, as if I could not keep up with the pace that my life was heading in, the past sixty something days that I was in lockdown have given me time to pause, look at my life, assess where I have been going wrong, deal with past traumas that I had managed to suppress, spend more time with my son and strategize on how I would proceed with my life post lockdown and plan accordingly. The most important thing that I did for myself was to REST, not overthink, not be busy stressing about work or assignment due dates or how to juggle time on weekends between varsity and my son. I was resting and taking care of my mental health and it felt good. I won’t take away from the fact that the lockdown has had a negative impact on many people with some losing their jobs and livelihoods amongst other things, but for me specifically, it was a blessing. I did not know how much I needed that pause button to refuel my energies and assess what was actually important and needed my attention until I was forced to stop doing everything and just be in one place.
With the economy being negatively impacted by this pandemic and people losing their jobs, it would do our country an injustice if we as the citizens did not play our part in ensuring that we help rescue it where we can. As someone who loves to explore, it crossed my mind that the tourism industry is the one that would take the biggest hit in this as it can only start operating once the numbers start decreasing and the virus can be contained. I am uncertain on when the ban on international travel will be uplifted but for local travelers, this is the time to get to see and explore the beauty of our country as it is known for, not only will this give us a different perspective and educate us more on the country we live in but it will also help those that have lost their jobs to be employable once again. Let us all be compatriots and support local tourism when it reopens as it is dependent on our backing for its survival.
I have however not quite gotten used to wearing a mask and I even sometimes forget to wear it then I have to remind myself to do the right thing. I keep a sanitizer for my hands, wipes just to make sure I can clean certain surfaces and wash my hands regularly. Practicing social distancing has been very tricky especially at the office as I am used to just walking into my colleagues office and having a great chat but we are trying to have those chats telephonically now just to avoid the possibility of catching the virus should one of us be exposed to it. We are slowly moving towards technology with meetings being conducted via zoom, one would say that we are slowly being equipped for the 4th industrial revolution. The new normal is uncomfortable and that is what comes with change, however with this year being a leap year and the start of a new decade, we might just have to get used to a new way of doing things and conducting our lives. May we all be welcoming to the change and have a smooth transition to what is yet to come. To those that have lost their lives to this pandemic, may their souls Rest in Peace, to those infected by the virus, may you find strength to fight it and come out victorious.
Keep safe, sanitize and practice social distancing. We are all in this together.