Virus Lockdown: Foot journey in search of toothpaste
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/05/virus-lockdown-foot-journey-in-search-of-toothpaste/
By Douglas Olum
On a bright sunny Thursday afternoon in Mukono and on an aging, handcrafted papyrus couch under shade within our compound, I hear the cries and fight of playing children, including mine. They are just outside a wire fence, near a tomato garden and some buildings just a few meters from ours.
I wasn’t with them. It wasn’t because I didn’t care or because of concern regarding Ugandan social distance COVID-19 safety guidelines. I listened to the voices of children without engaging because I was nursing joints, leg muscle and toe pains that would not allow me stretch out and walk easily. I was recovering from a six-hour on-foot journey to and from Mukono to Lugogo in Kampala to buy a tube of Colgate Pro Gum Health toothpaste.
I walked the approximately 23km (14 miles) each way because the country’s pandemic orders have shut down public transportation. No bodas. No taxis. No private cars, which I don’t have anyway. Our first order was issued March 24. It was extended twice – on April 22 and May 18.
Truth is, this was not the first I time walked that distance. Many times before the lockdown and with lack of funds – the 8,000 UGX for a boda ride and 3,000 UGX for a taxi – I have walked to Kampala for shopping and for study at the Uganda Christian University (UCU) Kampala Campus. I also remember one occasion when I walked a longer distance from Munyonyo in the Southern part of Kampala and back home after I had gone to interview an American source for a story.
This latest trip, the journey was more tiresome because my body had been in hibernation for close to two months during the lockdown, which had been ordered for a total of 63 days with the latest ending date of Monday, May 25. Private cars were to be permitted and some shops opened on Tuesday, May 26, with public transport allowed on June 4, when the announcement about when schools will re-open is expected.
Foot travel during the lockdown is more stressful because of a 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. curfew. Our President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed a ban on all forms of travel between those hours, except for trucks transporting food to the market. The week before, I narrowly escaped arrest because I was walking home at 7:17 p.m.
While my primary purpose of this trek was toothpaste, I also needed to meet with a journalist friend whom I had not seen for eight weeks. My friend and I had agreed to meet at the Lugogo branch of Café Javas to share experiences and brainstorm on post-lockdown story ideas. Besides, I was curious about how Ugandans outside my locality were treating the lockdown.
I had donned a sky-blue surgical mask. I was given two of them by a medical worker during the UCU Health Awareness week in February. But since then, I had only used one. And with its elastic strap coined around my ears and walking alone, I believed my health was protected.
During my long trek, here is some of what I saw:
- Walking along a dusty road before I joined the tarmacked Jinja Road highway, I was puzzled at how boda-boda riders carried passengers when the Government banned them.
- When I left the dusty road and took to the railway, I came across a Market Day at the Namanve Train Station. Traders in all tribes of items: clothes, shoes, jewelry, fresh cassava, maize, sweet potatoes, fish and so many others were crowded and not “social distancing” both along the walk-paths by the railway lines and the market area itself.
- Youthful men were gathered under tree shades, conversing in loud voices without face masks on; women and girls without facial coverings were walking in groups, picking and trying on the items from one dealer to another. Occasionally, they would pull out a few notes or coins from their handbags and pay for the items they liked before moving on.
- While locally made facemasks were visibly on sale everywhere, both the traders and their customers paid little attention to owning or wearing them. Those who had them either held the masks in their hands or wore them at their chins. That was, however, contrary to the practice at the supermarket where the workers remind those who put off their masks to put them on and properly.
- Unlike the dusty road, the highway had several police and military checkpoints. Privately owned cars without the Ministry of Health stickers permitting them to drive during the lockdown, except for trucks, were stopped and impounded at those checkpoints. The Uganda Police Force has said that all impounded vehicles shall only be retrieved after the lockdown. Since the beginning of the lockdown, an unstated number of vehicles and motorcycles have been impounded, including those transporting sick persons and mothers in labor pain to the hospital.
I wondered how much Ugandans would be affected if COVID-19 ravaged our country like it has done in other parts of the world.
After shopping and my meeting, I set out to return to Mukono. Aware that security agencies start implementing curfew at 19:00 hours (7 p.m.), the return journey felt longer because the sun was going down fast. Thanks to my speed and resilience, and with the overpriced toothpaste in hand, I got home 3 minutes before the curfew time. Amidst the painful toes, muscles and joints, I know that my family’s oral health was sorted for a month or so before I may need a trip to Lugogo again. Maybe then I won’t need to walk to purchase it.
(Douglas Olum is a regular contributor for UCU Partners, which is sponsoring him for his master’s degree in strategic communications at the university.)
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