Ever since reports of the corona virus surfaced a couple of months ago, it has often been so surreal that I’ve often paused and wondered whether I wasn’t deep asleep and having a particularly nasty dream. Save for the few people alive who were born before World War 2, I don’t think anyone around today in the world has witnessed such a global seismic turn of events. Watching the world come to a near-standstill in a matter of weeks with all the horror stories from Wuhan and Italy and, increasingly, other places has truly been the stuff of nightmares. In times like these, there is some solace to be found in scribbling down the many thoughts that keep running through one’s mind… I must apologise in advance though – this series of posts may often appear to be incoherent ramblings…
Dread and horror
Verb: anticipate with great apprehension or fear.
Noun: great fear or apprehension.
Noun: an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust.
The very first time I got to know what dread really meant was in 1991. I was an 11 year old P.6 pupil living in Kisoro which happens to neighbour Rwanda (and the DRC, Zaire then). The RPF had invaded Rwanda the year before and the war against the then Habyarimana regime was raging on across the border. Given that the border happens to be a huge mountain, we were pretty well shielded from the horrors of it all except for the influx of refugees whenever the fighting intensified. All that changed towards the end of 1991 when the Rwanda army decided to send a few rocket shells our way. Close to 30 years later, I have not forgotten the distinctive, whistling whine of those rockets. Neither have I forgotten the immense sense of panic and forbearing in the hitherto peaceful Kisoro community with many residents deciding to flee their homes for shelter further away from the border. Some things remain etched in your memory for life and this is definitely one of those things for me. Luckily enough, none of the shells exploded near our home and so we were spared that particular ordeal. Nonetheless, we young ones got a tiny glimpse of the kind of disruption that war unleashes.
Horror takes fear and combines it with shock to produce a truly wretched emotion. The shells above didn’t really elicit a feeling of horror from me simply because we did not witness the actual carnage they wrought on landing. I therefore think that the first time I felt proper horror was at the end of 2004 when the news of the Asian tsunami filtered through. Those were the ancient, pre-mobile internet/social media days and so I only got to learn about the event through the newspapers 2 days after it happened. My mind has still never managed to properly digest the scale of destruction and tragedy that the loss of 250,000 lives in a single day’s event represents and it has since stopped trying. Nonetheless, the initial horror I experienced on reading the news that day has stayed on in memory and my mind harkens back to that time every 26th of December like clockwork.
Fast forward to 2020 and both emotions – dread and horror – are alive and well within me. Unlike the two previous experiences I’ve described, this is far worse principally because – one; they’ve both had enough time to stew, stew, stew and in so doing they ended up occupying most of my mental capacity and two; the crisis is literally open-ended. No one knows when the nightmare will end. Things came to a head with the announcement of our Patient Zero on Saturday night (21st March). I suspect many Ugandans were in the same boat as me – nervously waiting for the announcement – hoping and hoping that we’d somehow be spared, that we’d persist as a corona-free island on the increasingly “red” map of Africa and yet knowing very well that that particular dream was impossible. The whole wait turned out to be more agonising than I thought it could be – something akin to being clamped on an ocean front beach at low tide. And the stories from Italy and other places with all the exponential curves and grim daily death counts served to erase whatever little fortitude there still was by the weekend.
To be continued…