Seven o’clock in the evening is the most feared time in Nairobi, when the curfew that will last until 5am begins. One would think a lion had escaped from the Nairobi National Park to terrorize this once vibrant city to judge by the people running to make it home by 7pm. If they don’t, they face a fine or enforced quarantine.
The quarantine rules imposed by the government to control the spread of the coronavirus have been widely criticized on social media. Those quarantined pay a fee of between $20 and $30 a day, a sum which, with many people having lost the means to earn money, is seen as hardly reasonable or affordable. Because of the cost, some people have escaped from quarantine centres. In other cases, there have been suicide attempts by people who have been discharged but are not allowed to leave until they pay their bill. Last week the government retreated and announced it was abolishing the fees, in order to encourage more people to be tested for the virus.
With food prices rising, it is not surprising that many people believe it is better to risk the virus than die of hunger. The notion that a ‘flu’ has never killed anyone, and that this is a Chinese and whites only disease, has encouraged many to look for work to feed their families rather than buy masks and sanitizers. Recently, a new law has been passed to allow some restaurants to re-open, but with a restricted number of people.
I work as a youth, gender and education consultant at a social enterprise, Akad Education Group – Africa and live on the outskirts of Nairobi. The coronavirus crisis has made the life of women even harder than it was before. The case of a widow in Mombasa who boiled stones in a pot in a desperate attempt to trick her eight children that a meal awaited them has attracted a lot of attention in the media. Informal jobs in rural areas are no longer available due to the fear of infection.
Pregnant mothers have been most affected as they have lost their unfettered access to ante-natal services due to curfew restrictions and the ban on movement between some counties.
Even as we face hard times, I can happily say that I have capitalized on my small subsistence farming of four goats, several chickens and a few geese. I have fixed my brother’s old bike and use it for deliveries, especially of chickens, goat’s milk and eggs. On a lighter note, I have got to know my neighbours better, and some have become loyal customers.
As for my work, it has gone online and forced me to be more creative in the ways I engage with people, both locally and farther afield. I feel that my life has changed in the same way it has for people in the rest of the world who have found that work is possible online – while leaving more time for the goats.
Agnes Kigotho is a member of the Common Futures Conversations community which is supported by the Robert Bosch Foundation
For more interesting perspectives, explore the Living with coronavirus full collection.