“Coronavirus . . . shit is getting real,” begins the ditty sang in a musical skit—the voice, Cardi B’s—done by Nigerian online comedian Mary Samuel to the Coronavirus song mixed by DJ iMarkkeyz; then follows a comic hook, “Everybody, sanitise . . .” (“sanitise” repeated thrice), to an atilogwu rhythm. The gaiety of the song is a strange way to be introduced to a deadly virus. But in Nigeria, what isn’t expected? At first, nobody knew what to do. On Twitter, Nigerians asked the government to shutdown airports and order a quarantine. But our government doesn’t listen to people online; we are lucky the Social Media Bill never become law. At the time, the indifference to Coronavirus by the government was shared by many unwise Nigerians, who, like some nations, underestimated a microbe’s invincibility.
In my mind, I estimated outcomes, assessed the prospects of our economy in my Makurdi cubicle, thought of our healthcare system, and made a little prayer that in God’s name the virus must pass us by. At which point, my mind refused to imagine further a scenario where we had the virus. But soon we moved from tweeting about it in other places; Coronavirus had come.
(a) Why has the government not shutdown the airports and closed its borders? (b) Stay indoors and stay safe. (c) Atiku’s son just came back from the U.S. and was asked to isolate but he has flagrantly flouted the order and is going to parties. (d) Wash your hands with running water, not standing water. (e) OMG. What is happening in Italy is what will happen in the country if the Nigerian government doesn’t ACT now. (f) Coronavirus is not real. Retweet if you agree. (g) New cases of the Coronavirus hits America. (h) I smell propaganda in China claiming its Wuhan Coronavirus treatment centre no longer has any patient. (i) Whole cities empty. Who thought it was a virus that would make the world stand still? (j) Working at home has revealed to me the lie of my employer that I must show up at office everyday.
Spreading panic is a Nigerian pastime. Living in an environment of perpetual gloom, one can understand. But I don’t understand the motivation for the Nigerian behind a smartphone and bandwidths, who envisions the worst, whose Facebook post or tweet can cause his reader depression.
When I sneezed sometime back, my roommate hurried and drank water. He read on the Internet: we should drink water regularly because of Coronavirus. I was baffled. This was before any case was recorded in the country.
On YouTube, I watched a video of an Italian playing “Bella Ciao” on his saxophone, in his balcony. His neighbours stand in their doorsteps and balconies, too, in solidarity. The Bella Ciao song was an Anti-Fascist song sang by rebel Italians against the Nazi rule of Italy and during the Italian Revolution. With this history, singing it now as they do, together, in a world of social distancing and the numerous deaths of their countrymen, the song is in defiance to another enemy, the microbe, felling citizens; it gives renewed meaning. Ironic, on the other hand, is the song’s farewell message even as it is sang to uplift their spirit: “One morning, I woke up and found the invader,” says the opening salvo. “O partisan, carry me away because I feel death approaching. And if I die . . . bury me up on the mountain under the shade of a beautiful flower.” I can’t produce a better scenario of this pandemic than this, especially for the Italians. An invader virus claiming lives of helpless people who can only sing: bury me up on the mountain under the shade of a beautiful flower.
One very boring evening, locked up indoors since dawn, I take a stroll. After laying about, I’m tired and find the headwall of a culvert and sit. There’s a shop beside it. I watch passers by. I bewail the impossibility to go to a restaurant and eat. I’m hungry. And tired. I check the shop and ask for a canned Hero beer. They don’t have. It is the third day I would ask. I make a mental note: it seems one has to stock beer, too, for stay home. I interpret the lack of the beer in the shop as a probable shutdown of breweries? What of essential goods, what happens when we run out? A friend walks by me and we shake hands. Returning home to wash my hands because of a handshake doesn’t send a good feeling through my body. Just bad, washing off the person. I began to hate the virus that had come to put intimacy asunder.
On my way back from getting soya milk and bread another morning, I see the woman hawking okpa, she chants “okpaaaa” to her buyers.
It occurs to me she has trafficked this area these last days, her normal route before the COVID shutdown. And I pity her because she cannot afford this lockdown, most of her customers—students—have left the area. If she misses a day, some persons might go hungry in her house.
There’s talk about government relief funds and materials. She needs it. But how it will get to her is the question. Because the government has refused to invest in building a database of its citizens, because in the long run such information can plan the economy, the education sector, the national budget, and so on. But “plan properly” is not something that exist in our government’s vocabulary.
Howbeit, if a serious government decides to build a database? It’d be people from her strata who will not be interested in it for fear of the Antichrist.
I forgot Cobhams’s wonderful singing but the lockdown reminded me. I played a song on my Musicolet player on my TECNO LB7 phone; the next song was Cobhams’s “I’ll Still Choose To Worship You.” I listened to it with Gloria, my new lockdown friend, at her friend’s place in the evening. We sang along to the lyrics, which fitted the times. If I chose to renew my Christian vows, it inspired something close. I selected all his songs in my music player and relived past times.
Before I rediscovered Cobhams, Hozier and Dua Lipa were my lockdown music patron saints, Lipa with “Don’t Start Now” and “Genesis” from the album Future Nostalgia. “Almost” and “Cherry Wine” by Hozier became my most played songs. Both are love songs. I try to recall why I am so intimate with them during the pandemic solitary confinement when I have no love affair matching their context. “Cherry Wine” brought more companionship at night, surely because of its slow rhythm and Hozier’s rum-y voice. And its story of playing cool as victim, even to a lover’s fault—the surrender—resembles being capitulated by COVID-19. The enthusiastic opening of “Almost”—“I came in from the outside / Burned out from a joy ride,” its lively guitar strums and its storytelling form suits as soundtrack when I cook or do anything domestic in my cubicle.
Once again, history shall be uncontested here—inasmuch as this is a pandemic, the story is the West’s to tell (they have the media, have suffered more victims anyway, and will provide the vaccine). We are the usual backdrop for foreign aid. Or as the Chinese try to change the gaze with Negrophobia, assuming blacks need to be quarantined, not them, the first hosts of the virus. Videos online show Africans harassed with quarantine in China because blacks must be the hosts of ailments, not just Coronavirus. Finally, a covid theory to the black problem in Asia.
In the news, which one must avoid in the COVID year at hand, there has been thirty strains of the virus, over fifty thousand dead in the U.S. Nearly a million deaths worldwide.
Doing one of those things we do online—play, a meme by a fb/the idealist appeared: “Day 5 of social distancing. Had a conversation with a spider today. Seems nice. He is a web designer.” I imitated it with conversations with a spider cricket, house rat, bee . . . But then realised the fault in the romanticisation of this and did a different meme: “Social distancing, day what? All isolations are equal. But some isolations are more equal than others.”
There is a coming strain on human survival if this pandemic lingers more than imagined. But an online buzz of activity, presupposes okay-ness, with Big Tech cashing in—lockdown challenges, skills acquisition online, InstaLive podcasts, Houseparty networks and Zoom. A number of us are watching and assume how cool all of this is, technology and the Internet is lauded, but no one says to stay home and do all of these, in Nigeria, is for the privileged.
In the streets one day, I hear a hilarious proposition: should people run out of means to continue surviving the pandemic-caused hardship, they’d exodus to Tor Tiv’s palace and camp with His Majesty. But I think something else, charmed by the diversion of romance. Will the Great Nigerian Novel be about love, with evidence from the canon?
I and a lady have fallen in love online since the lockdown and we are cities apart. Imagine this scenario: She finds a way to leave Owerri and comes to Makurdi, we live together every day in our arms, intoxicated by pheromones, but she cannot continue living this way, uncertain of the unseeable abilities of the pandemic, so she leaves me heartbroken; then a write a novel with the title you all have in mind—
Carl Terver is an editor at Praxis magazine. He writes from Makurdi. His chapbook of poems For Girl at Rubicon and a novella Up or Downhill in the Suburb are forthcoming.