A CHAT FROM LONDON: Self isolation and the new vocabulary of the Corona pandemic

Friday March 27 2020

Freddy Macha

Freddy Macha 

By Freddy Macha

Whenever the world faces a crisis, we learn. We learn about ourselves and in the process create and create and create and create....and...

Like now.

The Corona Virus.

New Words. I was in an Uber one early morning. The taxi driver was a fellow immigrant with limited English. BBC Radio was on...and those unfamiliar words kept coming. And coming. That now Corona Virus was no longer endemic but pandemic.

“What is the difference? “ Cab man wondered. So we had to elaborate the difference between prefixes: ende- and pan...Endemic is “in or within” a place. For example Malaria is only found in certain regions or areas ...especially the tropics. It is not pandemic. Pan is from Greek. Meaning “Everyone”- All the people. Pan African. Pan American. Pan Asian. Pan – Demic.

As we stand today, Corona is Pandemic. It has engulfed the entire world, whereas, Malaria (endemic) has not. WE are also learning words we used before but hardly perceived them in a similar light.


Self isolating and social distance.

Two weeks ago I received a desperate text from a friend: “I am coughing with a strong fever. I don’t feel well. I think I will self isolate for a couple of days. Could you get me a few groceries, some fruits and veg please. Just text your bank account. “

Self isolation during “Non-COVID 19 times” would be regarded as antisocial, rude probably depressing. Why are you hiding? What is WRONG WITH YOU?

But, self -isolation in Corona Times is good. Hiding is actually, key.

Hiding and separating is sensible.

Well. you have the disease OR SUSPECT you have it? KEEP AWAY for at least a week. Sensible.


Then there is “social distancing.”

Formal establishments and shops across London have all sorts of warnings... if you enter the shop; keep a distance with other customers and members of staff. Keeping a distance is also expected in social situations.

I remember bumping into a jovial work colleague. He was drunk. Swinging and singing and staggering. Head and limbs like dangling sisal ropes. Almost lurched into me...


Just about to hug! I quickly cautioned: “Keep distance, keep your distance. Keep a...”

Even in that drunken stance my pal turned serious...remembered the new etiquette of March 2020.

Booze forgotten. Reality of possible death from some so called bat’s virus.

“Sorry... I forgot the bloody Corona!” We laughed, but again that is what social distance means. No hugs. No handshakes. Or conditioned gestures. Time for new but familiar vocabulary.....curfew, lockdown, staying safe, masks, gloves, staying safe, fever, virus, staying safe: bats, hey! Bats! Did we know Bats? Or Bat man. Bats were ...distant.... stay away from me! Distant?

No wonder the London youths I saw last Friday, drunk, boisterous (and blasé) had not quite learnt the art of social distance.

And there were whispers about Corona Virus “youth” parties.

As if it is some form of a joke.

Death is crawling ...do not mess around. The Cameroon jazz musician Manu Di Bango a recent famous victim...

Social distance means ....being nice but being aware that you do not know who HAS this silent, invincible disease. Takes us back to the 1980s. We used to be wary of who we slept with. Those “pre- condom use” days.

Condoms might be the norm in 2020...mmmh! Back then condoms were as alien as planet Jupiter- Mars lunch. Early 1990s, the late musician Remmy Ongala had a song called Mambo Kwa Soksi. It made us laugh and cheer. HIV was an unknown strange killer. You made love to someone you did not know at your own risk.

Your own peril.

Social distancing is being careful.

Self isolation, self distancing. Formal aloofness. Someone sent me a text condemning the way President Kagame has imposed social distancing on Rwandese citizens.

“If they are not going to be able to make a livelihood, at least support them with a little money ...the self employed wananchi....it is too heavy handed! Tough!”

Tough yes. But for what reasons? Good or bad?

Keeping distance.

Self exiling. STAYING SAFE. Keeping safe. A time to meditate and procreate and meditate and more important...being careful. Staying safe.

An alarmed columnist for Sunday Times, Josh Glancy, wrote last weekend: “Of course we cannot ignore the outside world for ever. And it won’t ignore us. Jobs are already being lost, businesses dying and the future looms grimly ahead...”

The future?

Who knows?

If we have tortured animals it might be time to pay the price.

During the past ten years, graphic videos of dogs being boiled alive, screaming in agony have spread across the internet. Horror.

One way or another we humans have to stop, self isolate, re think and re consider our purpose, gratitude and position on mother earth.