How we lost our job because of coronavirus in Africa

We haven’t slept at all last night, after the news we received yesterday. Of course, we knew big changes were about to take place, but we didn’t expect to be kicked out that easily. Also this business is taking a big knock now that the world is in crisis and no one knows how long it’s going to take before we go back to normal, if that ever happens. We just expected the opportunity to discuss the way forward, but instead the directors of the company where we started working in September simply told us that at least half of the staff will have to go, including ourselves. No discussion about a temporary lower salary, more efficiency or creative cut backs. No, just finished, you’re on your own. ‘Basi’, as they would say here.

We’re all living in a really bad movie at the moment. Until recently people were still joking about those crazy Chinese with their new disease. They shouldn’t have eaten all those endangered animals in the most unhygienic ways, right? Suddenly it came very close for a lot of people, but here in Africa we were safe. It was believed that Africans have different DNA that makes them immune for COVID-19. The virus wouldn’t even survive with these high temperatures and everyone could just continue with their normal lives.

About a month ago we received a guest with an Asian appearance at the lodge and the receptionist was terrified to check her in. Her passport showed that she was from the Netherlands, which wasn’t a reason to panic yet back then, but everyone tried to avoid her. The one more than the other, but it definitely showed a changing attitude towards coronavirus. Little by little we started getting wilder stories in Malawi and one of the gardeners asked if he could still allow his children to play outside in the rain. A chef had seen a video of a doctor in South Africa who treated someone with antibiotics to kill the virus, after which he used tweezers to pull some kind of worm out of the patient’s mouth. Education is a huge issue in the country and even though the government is now finally trying to provide all kinds of information, most people still rather believe the neighbour of their aunt’s best friend’s son’s teacher who literally saw the virus entering someone’s body.

All of that while at the time of writing no one in Malawi has been infected yet with coronavirus. Perhaps that’s because we still don’t have any official testing kits, but maybe that’s for the best. It’s not unlikely that COVID-19 already made its way into Malawi and that people don’t even realize it. Large numbers of people pass away as a result of HIV/Aids, malaria and reasons they don’t understand and that are then called voodoo or black magic, so perhaps we won’t even notice it here.

We and many others are extremely grateful that there is no great panicking in this part of the world and that an increasing number of people are taking measures. The press conference of South African president Ramaphosa impressed Malawians and as a result there are more and more handwashing facilities at shops, a lot of people wear masks and events are being cancelled or postponed.

Currently the biggest issue in Malawi is the complete standstill in the tourism industry and that basically all NGO’s and foreign organizations have asked their employees to come back to Europe and the US. Hundreds of medical volunteers who could have made a real difference here if things start going wrong, were rushed to book their tickets for a disinfected flight. Consultants from the Red Cross and United Nations cancelled their hotel rooms and demanded full refunds, since it’s not their fault. While their insurances would’ve covered most of the costs, they decide to take as much money away from a continent that needs it harder than ever before.

If the schools here are going to close as well, lots of children will miss out on a free lunch. A lunch that would be the only daily meal for many of them. They will now be stuck at home with their unemployed parents, who lost their jobs due to the greed of rich white people. If less westerners would cancel their travels and changed the dates instead, most small and medium businesses here would have a better chance of surviving.

Being business-minded and only looking after yourself go often hand in hand and I’m mainly upset because of the total lack of communication. We are never going to give up and are looking at ways to get out of this stronger. And in the meantime we are trying not to cry too much about the recently unemployed pregnant receptionist and the cleaner who has to keep taking care of his mother…


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