It was Friday night, 20th March. I was on my way home from a restaurant when I got a notification that the country would be starting a two-week lockdown the next day. While reading the official government notice, I never really paused to consider what it would mean for me and how I was going to make it through. My mind turned to what this would mean for ordinary citizens, the majority of whom live hand-to-mouth. How were they going to manage this situation? All around the world, the data is telling us that while the virus is indiscriminate, the disadvantaged, minorities, those facing multiple forms of deprivation, are disproportionately affected.
Unlike other African countries, Rwanda started preparing early to contain the spread of the novel Coronavirus, even before getting the very first case. A week before confirming the first case from a man coming from Dubai, the government had already put serious measures and precautions to help prevent the spread of Covid-19 as required by WHO. All shops and public places were urged to have hand sanitizers or water tap and soap at the entrance and make sure everyone washed their hands, keeping 1m+ physical distance. This caused some changes in services such as transport, where police were asking to reduce the usual number of passengers in a car, and public bus services were reduced. You could see that there were going to be big changes like never before.
Our borders closed, including the Kigali International Airport. All citizens were asked to stay at home until further notice, with the only exception being to shop for necessary food, medicine, hygiene and cleaning products. All public transportation, restaurants, and other recreational areas were closed to allow minimal and necessary movements only.
For the first few days of the lockdown, people did not full absorb the complexity of Covid-19. Some kept going out and giving hard jobs to police, who were stopping them on the street and forcing them to go back in their houses. A number of fake news stories were circulating in relation to the virus. It was sad. I could empathize; people were under pressure to feed their family. Instead of being killed by hunger, they’d rather be taken by the outbreak. But as the number of cases increased each day, people started accepting the severity of the virus. The Government started distributing food to the most vulnerable families in every neighborhood. Thanks to humanity and national values, everyone is trying to offer a helping hand either financially or giving food to a neighbor, or even the wider community depending on financial capacity.
One of the best things that the Rwanda government did during this lockdown was to put a limit on the amount of groceries that every family could buy. This helped in sharing products that were available in the market with less privileged families. As someone living alone in this period, I only go out to buy food nearby. I appreciate the way at the supermarket, they’ve drawn small circles that every client needs to stand in to keep physical distance, and wash hands before entering. And the sellers are wearing masks and gloves to avoid any contamination of the Covid-19. Everyone seems to be cautious; no one is maintaining eye contact or wanting to have a conversation publicly. The streets are empty, it’s only traffic police on a routine patrol asking everyone passing where they are going. When they feel your movement is not necessary, they stop you.
In the spirit of solidarity, I appreciate how fellow Rwandans are helping vulnerable citizens in different ways. Ameza app- is an application that was quickly developed and setup by two local young people to connect and facilitate donation-sharing to needy people. A toll-free line was also put in place to allow those struggling with lockdown to contact for food supplies.
It feels lonely and scary to stay in the house alone in a period like this. Even neighbors are locked down in their compounds, so it is hard to connect. To curb loneliness, I have made a schedule of connecting to my family using video calls three days a week. I spend my time doing things that help me to relax and take everything slow such as reading, watching movies, doing home workouts for exercise and I’ve tried improving my cooking skills. Trying new things helps to remain calm and kills the boredom in this trying time.
This lockdown has given me a space to meditate and reflect on my career goals. Looking at the news, it is only feeding people with scary Covid-19 news worldwide. Death tolls; increases in confirmed cases; and the economic crisis. Instead, I am trying to be positive and narrow down the amount of negative information I read. I believe, this too shall pass. It is a good time to understand my vision as a young leader, professional, and human. It is a moment I am trying to evaluate myself and create a new plan for my future. It is a space to be grateful for the gift of life. I am using this period to learn, re-learn the skills required on the job market, and unlearn whatever is stopping me from achieving my dreams. It takes courage and commitment to grow in a stressful and uncertain period like this. But I am trying. I believe that when this lockdown is all over, I will be having something tangible to remember how much it has shaped my next adventure.