The Enemy Within

For someone who is located in excess of 13,000 km away from the United States of America, my life and politics are intertwined with American politics. After all, the USA is the archetype of an elder brother to my humble abode of Namibia. The elder brother will forever be older, faster, the superior athlete and try as one may, the shoes are daunting to fill. An elusive pursuit in which the younger brother never scales the heights of his predecessor. On 5 January 2020, I was up as early as two a.m. for an epic showdown between the one, the only Tom Brady and Ryan Tannehill in the NFL playoff game. Days before I had brushed aside the fluke loss to the Dolphins and I was adamant “TB12” would pull off a comeback tantamount to the revenge tour of the infamous Deflate Gate.

If you are an NFL fan or have access to your computer, you will know that The Patriots lost the drab of a match to the Titans 20–13 despite Ryan Tannehill’s meagre 72 passing yards! Why is this important? Well for me the Patriots’ loss was the worst part of my festive season, or so I thought. My wife, our three children and I were due to leave for the coast for one final time before the resumption of business and the Patriots had put a slight dent to my mood. All season I had watched Bill Belichick’s tottering offence for three hours after midnight in Africa! I had made every excuse for them each time Shannon Sharpe spoke in his critical superlatives he attested were passed down by his granddad. I was always in agreement with Skip Bayless that the Great Bill Belichick had one up his sleeve, but on this fateful dawn in Sub-Saharan Africa Coach Belichick had let me down. He disappointed possibly the most loyal NFL fan in this part of the hemisphere and that was as bad as my day could get. However, perception is subjective to each and every individual and time, as the great equaliser that it is, would tell if this would be the lowest point of my festive season.

Whilst the worst thing that had happened to me on 5 January 2020 was The Patriots’ loss to the Titan’s subsequently elevating Ryan Tannehill’s comeback, 9,000 km across the ocean in Singapore a couple were reeling from the devastating news that their three-year-old girl was the first suspected case of the “mystery Wuhan virus” in Singapore. Could what I would have given for Tom Brady to produce a legendary fourth-quarter game-winning drive be compared to what these parents would have given to get answers and closure concerning their little girl? Hindsight is a greater mentor and I believe had I known what fate awaited the three-year-old, and the world, in the coming days, I would have gladly conceded the Super Bowl to Mahomeboy.

However, in this existence of ours no form of ignorance and folly goes unnoticed and the grand reaper is always lurking in the shadows to execute or exercise his form of crude justice, if not revenge. On a fine Friday morning just five days after the Patriots’ defeat, oblivious to the impending fate of the world and the precarious nature of the turn of events the world over, enjoying my little slice of nirvana on the Namib Desert sand dunes whilst camel-riding with my wife and our three children, I would have my fair share of tragedy. A day I will never forget for as long as I breathe, a day in which a part of me was lost, forsaken and shattered, never to be found again. Whilst some events shock, only a few can paralyse the very fibre of our being. Having not been able to answer my phone whilst camel riding, when I dismounted I saw that I had missed a few phone calls from my mother. A few text messages were unread. What followed was the worst news a person could get, possibly the same news the parents in Singapore would also be told in days to come.

“Uncle Tatenda, Mom is dead!” That was my niece’s voice in a voice message as she tried to contain her grief. A mere teenager, fifteen years old, delivering the shocking news to me. They had tried to reach me whilst I was mounted on a camel like an Arab Sheikh; my sister had been involved in a fatal car accident and perished without a trace. Just like a vapour, here one moment and gone the next. At my lowest moment, on 10 January 2020, in China Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist and coronavirus whistle-blower had also started developing symptoms of a dry cough, which subsequently led to his death on 7 February 2020, after testing positive for coronavirus. Just a few days later, on 13 January 2020, I was laying my only sister to rest, oblivious of the fact that on the same day in Thailand the first confirmed case of 2019-nCoV had stricken a sixty-one-year-old Chinese woman who had travelled to Bangkok. Enduring massive blackouts every evening in Zimbabwe as I sought to comfort my mother, I knew nothing of this virus and the impending cloud of uncertainty that was engulfing the world. A few days after laying my sister to rest, on 15 January 2020, I was catching up on the sports news, distracting myself from my newfound reality by marvelling at the Australian Men’s Cricket Team who had chased down a target of 255 runs in 37 overs by pummelling an unbeaten 258 for the loss of no wicket against the mighty men in blue, India. Whilst distracting myself from my new reality, the fact of the matter is on this same day unbeknown to me and most people in the world 2019-nCoV had claimed its second victim in China.

Call me ignorant or whatever you will but as I went about my daily motions with my mother the only form of distraction I found, apart from Robin Sharma’s books, was sport. On 4 February 2020 all I wanted to find out as I woke up was whether Jimmy “G” did the unthinkable against the Kansas City Chiefs. I was enduring blackouts in Harare daily and, being away from Windhoek, Namibia, I could not get access to the Superbowl. I was willing to forgive Jimmy “G” (if you are a New England Patriots fan you will understand) and let him have a ring, as long as it came at the expense of Mahomeboy. I had a feeling that once Mahomes had a ring (which he now has) it will be a matter of time before he has three or more and I would gladly support anyone who can keep him at bay to preserve Tom Brady’s legacy. As we all know Mahomes, did what he does best and the rest is history. After watching the highlights on my phone, I was still insulated in my own cocoon ignorant of the fact that Li Wenliang and thousands more were fighting for their lives. On 7 February I hugged my mother, it was time for me to return to Windhoek, and for the first time on 8 February 2020, when I was given a health questionnaire to complete as I entered Namibia, I became aware of COVID-19.

Being in Sub-Saharan Africa I can plead ignorance to what was happening elsewhere. By the time I had assimilated back into my normal routine in the last couple of weeks of February 2020 the devastating reality of what the virus had done had become apparent, but not without coming across some disturbing, albeit plausible farfetched conspiracy theories that were creeping up. We were initially quarantined in Namibia on 19 March 2020 and I believe this is what I could term as the day of my epiphany. I scrolled through the canonical news channels to find out for myself how devastating this COVID-19 virus really was. I must say I have come to detest mainstream media due to the partisan nature of some of the reporting hence I hardly watched the news which explains part of my ignorance. To be honest I only signed up for Instagram in April 2020 during lockdown.

I remember an influx of emotions early in the morning as I saw military vehicles transporting corpses in Italy amidst deserted streets void of life. The atmosphere was so haunting and chilling that I spent a dozen hours watching the news without flinching. My heart swelled with emotions and I could not keep my tears at bay. As a father of three, two girls aged five and seven and a boy aged seven I remember thinking, “Lord, this isn’t the reality I envisage for my children.” A couple of days later it was raining and my nose was snotty and I began fighting my own diabolic vices. Worry and anxiety gripped me as my allergies exacerbated the situation resulting in me getting multivitamins and my regular hay-fever medication. I was gripped by immense anxiety as I thought I could have contracted the COVID-19 on my travels a couple of weeks before on my road trip from Zimbabwe. What a start to a new decade it would be for my mother, losing both her children in the space of two months. How would she cope with that? Were my insurances in place? Maybe I needed to call Michael (my financial planner), but I know mandatory blood tests would be the pre-requirement before upgrading the insurance.

The media exacerbated my fears as they sold the COVID-19 as a ruthless reaper akin to the Spanish flu of 1918. The only knowledge I had of this flu was from my fuzzy memory of World War I history and at this time it was all jumbled up with the Archduke Ferdinand – thus there was need for more research on this. Besides, how could I not when our two-week lockdown was extended by another four weeks. “They are hiding something from us,” was the chatter amongst my neighbours. Another third-world annihilation and eugenics conspiracy, was some of the talk. For those of you reading this who are not from Sub-Saharan Africa, welcome to our world. A world where there are no natural disasters or pandemics, let alone accidents. Every hurricane and tsunami is a detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Pacific, Atlantic or Indian Ocean by possibly Uncle Sam. Every car accident is a political assassination – and why stop there? Ebola is part of a eugenics experiment and HIV is a grander plot to exterminate the ethnical Africans.

Backtracking to my research on the 1918 Spanish flu, I decided to make use of the wisest man alive, since we have immortalised him in Sub-Saharan Africa, I am talking about none other than Dr Google himself, the grand sage whose knowledge stretches the multiverse. “Fifty million deaths,” was the first thing I saw on the Wikipedia page of the 1918 Spanish influenza. No wonder the evangelicals in the townships were preaching about the rapture. Yes indeed, in the townships the self-ordained prophets were crying out: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The Pentecostals had defied the government quarantine regulations and held church services as they believed the rapture was nigh. In Namibia and South Africa alcohol sales were banned, leading to mixed reactions. Not to be the one to take Wikipedia at face value I did the next best thing; why not go to a trusted source and who better to give the facts than the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention? Whilst COVID-19 was not akin to the Spanish flu of 1918, it became apparent to me that the fifty million casualties our good doctor had stated was a reliable estimate and if preventative measures we not taken we could be unleashing the beast.

Armed with newfound knowledge on how to effectively sanitize and protect my family I embarked on a journey of social distancing and continued research keeping abreast of all the COVID-19 headlines. Piers Morgan rightfully called on the British government to carry out more tests whilst almost every government official reiterated the “Stay at home” message. In this era of political correctness and social media one thing was apparent, someone was bound to slip up and when they did the social police and Twitter-verse would be ready with both knives and daggers. In our quaint Namibia on 19 April the ruling SWAPO Party secretary general Sophia Shaningwa was at odds with the media regarding the alleged contravention of the Covid-19 lockdown regulations in which an event broadcast live on the national broadcaster featured the SWAPO Party President Hage Geingob, Namibia’s Vice President, Nangolo Mbumba, SWAPO Party Vice President Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah and top officials celebrating the party’s sixtieth anniversary to the disgruntlement of the masses.

Meanwhile on the same day as Namibians were distracted due to the media frenzy, it went unreported to most that the enemy was still out there causing terror in many nations. With Namibians distracted on the 19 April 2020, the WHO was releasing Situation Report 90 in which The Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) had reported fifty-five new deaths, which brought Africa’s death toll to 1,080. However, it seems that even in troubled times politics always “trumps” humanity, no pun intended. For the first time in a while one could literally view the world as a minuscule singular existence because the only news that was being reported was COVID-19 and this pandemic seemed to erase all borders – all but one, actually. It was the world and China but that’s a discussion for another day. In the same month of April at the same time our quaint country of Namibia was making a mountain out of a molehill, in the United Kingdom Dominic Raab was deputising for a frail Boris Johnson, who had tested positive for COVID-19. I actually said my prayers for the British Prime Minister and I realised that this pandemic was non-discriminatory.

By now everyone is aware or should at least be aware of what COVID-19 is, but if there is one takeaway from this ordeal, it is the realisation that we are such a fallen race. A race to be much pitied, I should say. I observed that even when facing a global existential crisis, politics always trumps humanity and there is nothing that currently unites the human race to fight for a unified cause anymore. We now live in a predominantly nihilistic society and of this I am convinced. I watched political leaders in the most powerful nations playing partisan politics with lives hanging by a thread. In a world where most people believe that our help comes from the West I saw the worst, everyone using the plight of many for partisan gain. I expected a truce amongst media outlets and political parties but the rifts only widened further with none offering a solution in sight.

With the CDC becoming my daily COVID-19 resource bible you can understand the horror when I read the tweet “Fire Fauci” in mid-April 2020. I couldn’t trust the CDC as well? Frustration, anger and anxiety were in the air again. By late April 2020 I was entangled in a web of confusion as most people still are today concerning this virus. Home-schooling kids under lockdown, multiple extensions and lack of facts can leave a person disillusioned. The twenty million deaths forecast in early March are nowhere close to what we have. With most of us void of basic essentials I recall satirical images of political leaders indulging in gourmet ice-cream whilst the media actively engaged daily in verbal wars with arguably the most powerful man in the world but to no avail. No closer to a vaccine than we were, Dr Fauci is seen testifying before the Senate with the noisy gong of the conspiracy theorists propounding another rhetoric to confuse the people.

The nihilists are protesting every form of preventative measure and they call it totalitarianism. China is now public enemy number one in the West but in Africa it continues to be the saviour. In Namibia Biltong shops were viewed as essential service providers and were not shut down whilst all restaurants and some retailers were initially closed. Domestic violence is on the rise in Africa yet the MeToo Movement is silent? The lack of priority has been appalling. In the British Isles people were more concerned with the conclusion of the English Premier League with certain Merseyside supporters threatening anarchy. In India the fate of the Indian Premier League seems to take precedence as Chennai Super Kings indicates a boycott if only local players are legible.

There is no one to speak for the voiceless as media and politics converge. A few months after the first confirmed case we have more conspiracy theories than we had at the beginning. Partisan political agendas have caused further rifts and the media has weaponised this. The verdict is still not sanctioned on China, we are neither closer nor further from the truth or to a vaccine than we were. If the current pandemic cannot unite us, of all eras in modern human history, we are a civilisation to be most pitied. Why worry about an existential threat from an extraterrestrial enemy when we are the enemy within? I am not innocent in this, I apologise for my initial ignorance. On 1 March 2020 I was enjoying Ravindra Jadeja’s spectacular superman catch of Neil Wagner at Christchurch whilst the rest of the world was enforcing stricter measures to curb this pandemic. We might not have a solution as yet, we might be a long way off from a vaccine but it’s not a far stretch for us to attempt to be human again.

Nicksha Tatenda Mwanandimayi

About Nicksha Tatenda Mwanandimayi

Non-Fiction and Fiction Writer, Poetry. Nature lover.

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