Loneliness creeps in as people keep their distance

Friday April 10 2020

As I go back to my house, I begin to question

As I go back to my house, I begin to question why I live in the diaspora. If I was home, I would have had my family around me. How would I cope alone if I got sick with the coronavirus? SHUTTERSTOCK 

JOYCE K. MWANGI
By JOYCE K. MWANGI
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It has been 15 days of working from home and social distancing to protect myself and others from the coronavirus. The isolation and loneliness is unexplainable, and there were days this past week when I wept.

I live in Washington State, which has many cases of coronavirus. I ventured outside today. My neighbourhood in Bothell is quiet and there are almost no people on the streets.

My hair salon is closed. I called Annabel, the proprietor, and she told me they don’t know when they will reopen. I am learning how to cut and dye my own hair.

My favourite doughnut shop is closed. All businesses on Bothell’s main street are closed. I begin to wonder if I made a mistake leaving my house. I’m the only one out on the streets, but I don’t want to go back just yet. I want to be outside.

I see a Metro bus approaching and I decide to visit other parts of the neighbourhood. As the bus comes to a stop, I notice there is a sign on the bus that says that all passengers should use the rear door. We usually use the front door to get on and the rear door to alight.

There are three of us on the bus that usually carries more than 100 people. There is also a big sign saying that one should not approach the driver. All rides are free. The bus company is trying to protect the drivers from the coronavirus.

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I get off the bus and go into a food store, I see a familiar face. We wave from a distance as no one wants to stop and chat. Everyone in the store is keeping their distance. There are glass screens protecting the cashiers from the shoppers. As I leave the store, I notice that the few people outside are walking fast and trying to avoid coming in close proximity with anyone. There are no people in groups or talking, instead we walk facing down to avoid eye contact.

I miss my family and spend much time on phone calls and video chats with them. My daily routines have changed. After work, I do my household chores and listen to health experts.

Two of my friends from my homeland have the coronavirus. They got exposed doing health care work and are in self-isolation in their homes. I feel sad that I cannot visit them. Not visiting a sick person is not how I was socialised. The coronavirus is changing every aspect of our lives.

As I go back to my house, I begin to question why I live in the diaspora. If I was home, I would have had my family around me. How would I cope alone if I got sick with the coronavirus? The travel restrictions mean that I can’t travel any time soon. Even if I could fly, I would arrive and be put in quarantine for 14 days. Then I would travel back and again be put in quarantine for another 14 days.

Meanwhile, I am trying to avoid exposure by following the standard. I wash my hands with soap and water after coming in from a public place.

When I am outside and not able to wash my hands, I use a hand sanitiser. I also avoid touching my face with my unwashed hands. I am keeping about two metres between me and the next person therefore no shaking hands. I have to do what I have to do to stay safe.