DAY ONE – CAPE TOWN SOUTH AFRICA
27 MARCH 2020
On 23 March 2020 the President announced a 21-day lock-down for South Africa. Today, 3 days later, we have 927 cases of COVID-19 in South Africa and the first 2 deaths in Cape Town, the city I live in. Social media is abuzz with updates, informative video warnings and news stories. It’s like we’re living an apocalyptic viral movie.
The day before
Yesterday, as I packed up my office after a turbulent day of organising and preparing for my staff to work from home, bustling about signing off last minute documents and setting up my computer for seamless remote conferencing, I left the office after most people had rushed off for the last bout of shopping and organising before they would be confined to their homes. The atmosphere was tense. For the first time since the announcement, I felt a wave of anxiety passing over me. I felt like I was in a parallel universe and I was alone.
The world was somewhere else.
As I pulled out of the closed parking warehouse opposite the quay side I saw the Agulhas II getting ready for a sail to Marion Island. I couldn’t believe they were still making the trip, but my mind was too troubled to think about that now. I looked long and hard at the sea and Table Mountain as I drove home trying to savour every moment, not knowing when I would set eyes upon natures gifts again. What if the lock-down was extended? What if we ended up like Italy?
When I got home my stomach was in knots. I felt tearful. We had managed to get enough hand-sanitiser but had no masks as they were all sold out. I had resigned myself to wearing a bandana around my face for the odd necessary trips I may have to make during the lock-down. My husband called to say my sister-in-law had sewn some washable masks for our family and that he should fetch them. I smiled. Why was I so afraid? God sends what I need when I need it. I had been quite calm before today, telling myself that we need to respect the means – tie our camels so to speak and trust Him. I calmed down and submitted to the situation.
I would be at home with my family surrounded by comfort and amenities. I had made sure that the lady who cleans our home was paid in full even though she had to stay home, even before the lock-down as a precaution. She was given hand sanitiser. She was not so fortunate. She lives in a township where space is not a luxury. She won’t have a choice of Netflix or DSTV or playing word games or building puzzles to keep from boredom. She won’t be able to jump in the car and get to the doctor or the pharmacy or the grocer. She will have to wait for a taxi, which can only operate at limited times. The taxi will be full of people and she will be exposed. If she has no money she won’t even be able to go and buy food. Thousands of people face the same fate in South Africa. Some have one tap shared by hundreds of people, no sanitisers and live in on top of each other in dusty run-down shacks made of corrugated iron sheets and wood. I felt grateful. This virus made me feel grateful. I started wondering how I could help those in need. That evening I received a WhatsApp from the orphanage in Hanover Park, asking for assistance with their banking details. The opportunity knocked and I could answer without leaving my home. My eyes welled up…
I felt God’s love pour over me. Why did I let my fear block that omnipresent love?
Today, was one of the most productive days. With my laptop, big monitor set up and MS Team running, I could finish my budget and documents that were usually interrupted by phone-calls, walk-ins and meetings. I worked longer and harder than I could at the office, and I felt satisfied rather than tired and depleted at the end of the day. It is Friday, it was Jummuah (the Friday congregational prayer). The mosques are closed. Our big family set up in roomy large lounge and held our own congregation, making the most of our confinement. My husband gave an incredible talk about how to combat the virus and not forget our humanitarian duty to the less fortunate. We prayed together young and old, and my eyes teared as I looked around the bright large room filled with love. This virus gave me an opportunity to feel blessed.
As the sun started subsiding well before sunset, I sat on one of the garden chairs with my tasbeeh (rosary beads), making thikr as my Sufi Master had taught me, adoring My Creator. The sun shone the trees and plants in the garden glistened in the afternoon light. I felt the usual calm descend on me when I look at nature, imbibing its glorious energy, as it I were one with the earth. I heard the distant melodious chirping of the birds that frequent our garden for the food and water we leave in the feeder tray hanging from the branch of a tree. I asked my daughter Zahra to fill the tray and watched as she lounged over to the tree, her long legs and youthful lithe figure catching my eye as I lovingly gazed at her beauty. Soon I heard a loud chirping as one of the birds were calling the others to hasten to the food. They started arriving. A couple of pigeons, a few sparrows and a couple of beautiful brown spotted birds with luminescent turquoise undertones in their feathers and sharpish long beaks. I wish I knew what they are called, but I had never been one to remember such details. There was a squabbling as they established a pecking order. Some were relegated to the ground where they picked up crumbs that had fallen. One of the spotty brown beauties was not going to fight for food and she flew up, swooped down and picked up a up rather large piece of bread that had fallen to the ground in its sharp long beak. It dropped to the ground but she went in again swooped it up a second time, barely making it over the back wall with the weight of the catch, and dropped down to eat the spoils in relative peace away from the crowd. The other brown spotty, obviously the alpha bird, despite being smaller in size than the pudgy pigeons, took occupation of the tray and started pecking at the crumbs. A smaller sparrow perched on the other side of the tray, cautiously picked at its share and spotty didn’t seem to mind, graciously allowing the little fellow to eat on the other side. The pigeons grabbed what they could from the floor. Fortunately, the neighbourhood squirrel didn’t join in or the scene would have played out quite differently. As I marvelled at this scene, I pondered about the behaviour. Some of the birds had more to eat than others, the smaller one was allowed to eat at the main table and the others had to either snatch food or make do with lesser crumbs. Is this not how humans behave? Is it instinct that makes human beings selfish, territorial and greedy, so that when there is a crisis they panic, selfishly stock pile and carelessly expose themselves and others to a deadly disease? Human beings have a choice and we have the intellect to discern right from wrong, to overcome our fears and negativity and to do what is right. More importantly we have love, which overcomes any fear, darkness and panic. It enables us to forgive, to care, to trust. We are the highest order creation on this planet, with a responsibility to take care of each other and other everything else on it. This Virus gave me an opportunity to witness nature in its raw beauty and to remind myself that nature and its beautiful creatures teach us. Humanity is out of balance, we must correct ourselves.
With love ❤️