The problem out there

Every time you think the problem is ‘out there,’ that very thought is the problem.

Stephen Covey

It has been a difficult one year plus. The first time that news started spreading that there was a certain virus causing havoc in China many of us treated this as “their problem”. The problem out there? I mean how is China problem my problem? We have problems of our own in Kenya.  We forgot one thing. It is a global village. That is one thing that the virus has proven just how interconnected we are. Considering that everyone who has contracted the virus must have come into contact another human being infected with the coronavirus, it is profound just how social human beings are, how much we interact.

Shortly the virus started spreading in Europe and US, and we started thinking “it is a white person’s problem”. When the information about COVID-19 was scarcer, I recall discussing with some colleagues and thinking “well… this virus is not affecting African countries.”.  In fact, I recall us saying “it is more among men. white, and older. So, us young(ish) black women must be safe!”   I kept wondered why our organization was flagging international travel to be halted when we could still do our workshops in African city.

Shortly we heard there was a confirmed case in Africa, in Egypt. “Well, this is not East Africa; and the infected are not Africans”. And the denial continued. By this time with the ongoing communications in my organization I had started accepting COVID-19 reality and I sounded like a pessimist in my circles when I kept talking about this not well-known virus. Sometime in March last year, I had a dream. Yes, a dream. There was a COVID-19 outbreak in Kenya, and we were all in masks. I was going to see a friend in hospital with many people sick. I shared with some friends my fear and they quickly dismissed; I mean that was the most logical thing to do. “We keep up hope, this virus will not come to Kenya”. And keep up hope we did. The virus was still “out there”. Two days later the cabinet secretary for health gave the breaking news “first case of COVID-19 had been reported in Kenya”! And that was when reality started sinking. Nobody was safe.

But well, there was still hope. Those travelling were the ones getting the virus. I recall hearing some justifying that those of us with passports deserve to get it more than those who had never been outside the borders. After all, “this was a foreign virus”. I was grateful that unlike previous years, 2020 had limited international travels planned for me. Part of what I had desired in 2020 was to travel less! Oh, the prayer was answered! And not in the way I had expected. Simply zero travel.

Shortly after we started getting the “community transmissions”. Well, that was a “Nairobi and Mombasa problem”! Many said. Others were even more specific, that this was a problem of “the rich people in Nairobi”.  When some measures were put in place, to curb the virus early last year including curfews and cessation of movement in and out of Nairobi there was a kind of division with “Nairobians keep the virus to yourselves” mantra.  Eventually, the virus infection was reported in all counties in Kenya. People in the village started hearing of someone infected or dying of the COVID-19.

We are now at the “third wave” and seeing online posts can be depressing seeing many mourning losing loved ones to COVID-19. Also hope seeing others praising God that finally they are out of hospital. Many are still struggling for oxygen in hospitals. The “problem out there” has become a problem in every household, among friends, among colleagues and neighbors. I am not sure anyone can say they do not personally know someone who has been infected with the virus. Unless in denial, highly unlikely. This does not mean the attitudes have transformed… there are still denials and possibly the thinking that “it is out there I am safe”.

We do not know how long this quagmire will last. And it is not unique to COVID19, many times we dissociate with issues, refuse to address them because we think it is a problem out there. As Stephen Covey puts it, thinking it is a problem out there is actually the problem. When you think an issue does not impact you, then you will not contribute to bringing a solution to address it. As the Kiswahili saying goes Mwenzako akinyolewa wewe tia maji. (meaning when your companion is being shaved, put water (on your head), be prepared for the same fate as your companion). As long as we are on this earth, we have a role, in making life a better place, and making contribution to resolving /addressing problems before they escalate and even if they do not personally affect you. I think that is the humane thing to do. Caring about what happens to your neighbor, is part of caring for yourself.

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