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Chidinma Eke: Social Distancing? What’s that?

The wahala coronavirus will cause will transcend our collective health, health infrastructure, the economy and even affect our personal relationships. I’m sure most clerics have had to really rehearse not asking people to touch their neighbor’s in any form over the past few weeks.

Chinma Eke

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As the world navigates its way through the coronavirus pandemic, there are a few words that have become ‘buzz words’ and are used to communicate the spread of the virus. There’s social distancing, telecommuting (working from home) handwash, sanitizer, flatten the curve, etc. These are previously existing terms, products, and practices that got magnified by the virus. What’s even more interesting is that some of the ways to protect ourselves are ‘basic hygiene’ practices that we have ignored over the years because ‘something must kill a man’ or ‘germs cannot kill a Nigerian’.

It has become a current practice to wash our hands at least every hour for about 20 seconds with soap. For people who, most likely, walk out of a toilet without washing their hands, they’re beginning to get used to washing up before they leave. Let’s not get started on hand sanitisers – something that was thought to be used by only germophobes and those who are just ‘extra‘ has now become mainstream and common. Everyone – male and female – is carrying their little jars of sanitizer and covering our entire existence with the blood– anti-bacterial sanitisers. We are submitting to temperature checks at various locations and all-round just trying to be careful not to expose ourselves to the virus. Just as Ayo Sogunro said, “everything in Nigeria will kill you”.

So we’re learning and evolving. I feel like we should be grateful to the virus for enforcing and embedding good hygiene in us. There’s always an upside to these things. However, the one precaution we haven’t been able to imbibe is ‘social distancing’. Ki lo’n je be? It’s so un-Nigerian. How can you ask us to practice social distance when our very existence depends on our communal relationships?

To practice good social distancing, we need to avoid group gatherings, sleepovers (and other gum-body activities), play dates, concerts, etc. We also need to include hugging and other gum-body activities on this list.

However, Covid-19 will go and when it’s time to pay school fees, uncle Bolaji will remember I rejected his handshake because… social distancing! Or big mummy will forever hold a grudge because I flinched and moved a few steps back when she tried to pull my cheek fondly – which is equal to me saying she has coronavirus! Or, when I send my asoebi to my aunty, she will remember how I rebuffed her hug in the name of social distancing? Let’s not even get started with the pervs who are constantly touchy-feely because, as Africans, we love to show love.

The wahala coronavirus will cause will transcend our collective health, health infrastructure, the economy and even affect our personal relationships. I’m sure most clerics have had to really rehearse not asking people to touch their neighbor’s in any form over the past few weeks.

I saw a video that explained social distancing and how it stems the spread of diseases. It was an illustration of burning match sticks. My first thought, after watching it, was ‘rara, this match stick isn’t Nigerian’. If it were, it would have run into the fire – either in a bid to save its loved ones or in a bid to get first-hand gist to share. While the latter is fast becoming a societal problem, the former is the very structure upon which our society is built. ‘Eniyan laso mi’, this means literal ‘people are my covering’. Our strength is in our network. Even our people are constantly rising above the limitations of the nation. Nigerians, collectively, are arguably greater than Nigeria the country.

Laslas, this too will pass, but we need to ensure we don’t destroy our relationships before it passes, right? Let’s not peddle fear and destroy ourselves before the disease gets to us, right?

So how do you want to teach Nigerians social distancing? You want to teach an old dog new tricks? When we have our religions, herbs, and the fact that very little thrives in Nigeria – diseases inclusive. After all, “our weather is too hot for it to survive” or “Africans cannot get the virus” and other such tales that have been disproven.

Let’s look at the brighter side; this pandemic could teach us all how to love from a distance. Take this as a lesson and perhaps learn to be less in people’s personal space. Doable? It has to be! Because as we have learned that the virus is still contagious even when the carrier is asymptomatic.

We need to ensure this virus and other communicable diseases doesn’t continue to spread, because, for us, prevention will always be better than cure. Let us all do a frank assessment of our health infrastructure and contemplate if it can withstand a viral outbreak. We haven’t eradicated malaria, it’s now coronavirus!

Prevention is key! We all learned that in primary school but I’m repeating it for those at the back. We need to follow the preventive measures, as advised by the public health specialists. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap. In the absence of soap, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue or your elbow. If you’re sick, please go to a hospital. Avoid high traffic and public areas. And please, maintain some distance.

Chinma Eke is a story teller with a hyperactive imagination, who gets inspiration from most everything; from events, to Lagos traffic to bath water temperature. She’s passionate about writing, children education, and buying and selling (in no particular order). She writes at www.chinmaeke.wordpress.com, and is @chinmaeke across all social media.

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