Life during a pandemic while in a foreign land

Saturday July 18 2020

Chipango Lukungu from Zambia, is a student at the University of Nairobi. She should have defended her thesis and graduated were it not for the pandemic. Right, Peter Matai from South Sudan is a student at the University of Nairobi, stuck in Kenya due to the pandemic. PHOTOS | DANIEL OGETTA | NMG


Peter Matai is a 26-year-old student from South Sudan, currently living in Kenya where he was studying for a Bachelors degree in International Studies at the University of Nairobi before the government imposed curfews and restrictions in response to Covid-19. 

He has not been back home since 2015, and is now unsure when he will return. He fears losing members of his family to coronavirus and not being able to travel home to bury them.

He wants to travel home, but fears of contracting the disease scare him.

"The pandemic is causing fear and anxiety even to the most resilient. What it does to foreigners locked in another country is even worse," he said.

His life, he says, revolved around the hostel and lecture rooms, however, campuses in Kenya remain closed.

After Kenya reported its first case of Covid-19, the government ordered all schools, colleges and universities closed, suspended local and international flights, encouraged people to work from home and banned public gatherings. Restaurants, bars and places of worship were also shut temporarily. Less than two weeks later, a dusk-to-dawn curfew was enforced across the country. 


While the university asked students to vacate the hostels, Matai was allowed to stay on.
"If they didn't let me stay on at the hostels I would have nowhere to go. However, the students cafeteria was closed so I was buying my meals outside the school, which was expensive and felt unsafe," he said.

Melvin Mimi is a 28-year-old Nigerian doing his Masters degree in Medicine in Kenya. While he wants to complete his studies, he would rather be at home helping out.

"It is tough living through a pandemic while far from home." 

His living allowance is wired from abroad and the lockdowns imposed in most parts of the word have affected his cash flow. He also can't work to plug the deficit.

"Since March, I haven't been able to pay my rent on time," he said. "I miss home and I miss my family." 

He said life would be slightly more comfortable if he were at home because of the support of family. 

"Many of us foreign students are struggling to raise money for our upkeep during this pandemic while in a foreign land," said Mimi. 

Chipango Lukungu, a Zambian student doing her Masters degree in Agricultural Information Communication Management also at the University of Nairobi, is also stuck in Kenya.

She is a civil servant at home and should have resumed work by now. 

"I am worried that the restrictions keep being extended. It feels as if my whole life is on hold," she said.

She was supposed to be defending her thesis and now hopes to graduate virtually, should the university senate approve her certification. The institution, she says, "is making plans to have us defend our theses online."

During the weekend, she sews masks and African print attire for about three hours. This keeps her busy and distracts her from feeling homesick.

"Despite the uncertainty and fear of falling sick in a foreign land, it feels like hibernation — like a little ant that goes and hides under a big rock," she said.

Whenever she misses home, she livestreams Zambian content, listens to Zambian music and cooks Zambian traditional foods.