COVID-19: Ugandan father makes good out of the season
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/covid-19-ugandan-father-makes-good-out-of-the-season/
By Frank Obonyo
Keren: Daddy, why does Coronavirus have many names?
Me: Which ones?
Keren: Corona, COVID-19, Coronavirus…
Keren, age 3, is my youngest of three children. We – my wife, Cathryn, and our children Adonai, age 9, Ezekiel, 6, and Keren – live in Kirowoza, Mukono, Uganda. As I write this on Easter in April 2020, the deadly virus has not reached our village. But word about it has, including to a three-year-old.
Children ask questions. Lots of awesome questions. If deeply thought about, their intricate inquiries make a lot of sense. They wonder why things are the way they are.
Our three-year-old is excessively talkative and inquisitive. I recall one such time when she asked: “Does Jesus have a house in my stomach?” We previously told her that Jesus lives in us. Instead of figuratively about the spirit of Christ, our youngest took this literally.
It was during an evening walk with Keren that the COVID questions came. When I later went to bed and recollected what happened in the day, Keren’s question made actual sense. To think about it, COVID-19 is like a maze.
Multiple names are part of the maze as we weave through additional questions related to isolation, lifestyle changes, overall confusion and then how what is taking place now relates to other experiences that we have had.
Africans are connected to nature. It feeds us and shelters us but we also link it to natural occurrences. Locusts –those swarming, tropical grasshoppers – eat up vegetation including crops, leaving people in terrible famine. A child born during a locust invasion is called “Obonyo,”which is part of my name and my identity. The naming of this child, or me, is symbolic. It reminds the community about the dreadful disaster.
The Northern Uganda Luo speaking group refers to the insect invasion as “bonyo.” The Luo are one of East Africa’s largest ethnic groups.
In this season, Coronavirus seems to have touched the climate as well. Our weather is either dry or wet, and April is a rainy month. However, the sun is now baking green leaves bone-dry, sprinkling our heads with grayish dust and we have no option but to survive this life indoors, behind closed shutters. It is the government’s “distancing” and “sheltering” orders (expanded for another three weeks from the two-week curfew that ended April 14).
What is more exceptional is that the desert locusts swarmed Uganda just a few months ago. The two tragedies seemed to have agreed to attack us one after another. These somewhat haphazard observations may give a fair idea of what our country is like.
Life, I must admit, is ugly for us as it must seem to others around the world in this COVID-19 pandemic environment. We are accustomed to routine. Wake up, get to work, come back home, sleep.
This has changed. It is now bedroom to living room, kitchen to compound; that is the cycle. We miss out on social life, working together and even as a community, mourning the death of someone. In Uganda, life is about meeting friends, extended family, workmates. Men, for example, reserve Saturday and Sunday to watch English premier league games, children have school assignments, and mothers go shopping. We go out to church together.
We now hear and live two words: Stay home.
I admire Keren and her two brothers for how they adapt. They remind me of Jesus’ teachings about humility. He said that we should humble ourselves like little children if we are to enter the Kingdom of God. If we are to live happily, we ought to live like children. And not worry.
My children do not worry about the bills, the next meal. If they have parents around them, food and accommodation, they have it all. They go forward, no matter what. There is very little fear. Children do not worry about the virus or a lockdown. They are focused on being themselves; they have an insatiable curiosity. It is not about missing the old life. It is about onward and upward. Children adapt quickly, and perhaps that is why they live happier lives. My children wake up, play, eat, and are happy to see us around.
The truth is, for adults accustomed to routines outside of parenting, spending more time with children can get complicated and chaotic. Lots of laundry, playing the role of a judge, answering why COVID-19 has many names…
I am using this season break from work and post-graduate studies to help my children improve in their reading skills and understand who they are in God. I read with them the adventures of Mr. Hare. This folklore revolves around the cunning Mr. Hare, who, though in small stature, employs his wisdom and tricks to outmaneuver bigger opponents and always takes the prize home. The stories are packed with humor and life lessons. We also study the Bible; April is the month of the book of Ephesians.
I am making good out of the season, as there will be others.
Frank Obonyo is a Communications Officer at Uganda Christian University(UCU), an MA graduate in literature from UCU and an MA Digital Journalism fellow at the Aga Khan University, Nairobi, Kenya.
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