‘I can’t hug her the minute I get home’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/04/i-cant-hug-her-the-minute-i-get-home/
By Constantine Odongo
Emmanuella Madonna is three years old. Every weekday, after taking her after-school nap, the kindergarten pupil engages her friends in the neighbourhood in games, such as dodge ball and hide-and-seek.
That was before mid-March 2020 and COVID-19.
On March 18, she got an abrupt, indefinite school holiday after the Ugandan government announced a closure of schools and a ban on work, unless it was an essential service. The ban was to enforce the health guideline of social distancing and staying home to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has become a pandemic. Madonna now spends more time with her mother at home and keeps wondering why I, her father, cannot stay home with them.
As an employee of Uganda’s New Vision newspaper (i.e. news jobs are considered essential), it means I’m gone much of the day and conceivably more exposed to the potentially deadly virus.
Madonna doesn’t get that. She doesn’t understand why I can’t hug her the minute I get home between 6:45 and 7 p.m.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni on March 30, 2020, announced a two-week stay-home order and capped it with a 11.5-hour curfew from 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. The order and the curfew were then extended by another three weeks.
Since, most times, the normal working hours at my office are not enough for me to accomplish my tasks, I often work up to the 11th hour. My workplace, being a media house, is open 24 hours. But, nowadays, the newsroom is almost empty, save for security personnel, especially past 6 p.m. People abandon office early, in order to get home and beat the curfew time of 7 p.m.
It usually takes me up to 25 minutes to cover the 14km (8.5 miles) distance from my office located in the capital of Uganda, Kampala, to home in Kawempe, a city suburb. I spend close to half of that time at roadblocks, trying to explain to security why my media movement permit sticker is on the dashboard and not on the car screen. Some motorists had lost their outside car stickers to thieves, who would pluck them off cars and sell them in the black market in Kampala, sometimes as high as one million shillings (about $280).
As I arrive home after work and oftentimes after the routine security interrogation, I see Madonna run to arms she can’t yet embrace – until I am cleansed of possible contamination to her and others in my family. I watch a fight brewing between Madonna and her nanny, who is seven times her age, but understands her job to keep a daughter from her dad in the world of COVID fear. I always ensure I bathe as soon as I arrive home, before getting into contact with anything or anyone, so that I do not become a conduit for the coronavirus.
Every morning, if Madonnna wakes up before I set off for work, she tries her luck in convincing me not to go to work that day. When President Museveni banned public and private cars from the roads on March 30, I carried my computer home and set up myself to work there. However, an unstable Internet network, an unfavorable work station and distractions by children hindered my ability to work.
Madonna’s sibling, Morgan, will be making one year on May 5. Throughout the day, I arbitrated disputes between her and Morgan. April 1 was day two of my full operation from home. We were both at our workstations, Madonna’s about two metres (6 feet) away from mine. When I stepped away from the room to receive a phone call, Madonna removed a keyboard key.
Madonna’s grandmother, a lady she was named after, lives and teaches in a primary school in Tororo district, located 220 kilometers (136.5 miles), east of Kampala. One-and-a-half weeks before the lockdown, schools were closed. Initially, teachers saw joy in the holiday. But it was short lived as they experienced more than one negative aspect of the lockdown.
The weekend after schools had been closed, as one example, Madonna’s grandmother attended a funeral in Tororo, without knowing that she and some friends were going against the guidelines of the Ministry of Health – that only close family members bury the dead due to social distancing. There were water points for the mourners to wash their hands before getting to the funeral, but not many even understood why the water and soap had been provided.
Such stories justify why the Government enlisted the services of the security forces to enforce the observance of the lockdown guidelines. I remind myself of this each time I am stopped. Life as we know it has changed for Madonna and me. With God’s guidance and understanding, we will appreciate the fruits of the difference and get through it.
(Constantine Odongo is a deputy chief sub-editor for New Vision. He received an MA degree in Journalism and Media Studies from Uganda Christian University.)
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