Social Distancing? What’s that?

As the world navigates its way through the coronavirus pandemic, there are a few words that have become buzz words in a bid to prevent the further spread of the virus: there’s social distancing, tele-commuting (working from home) hand wash, sanitizer, etc.; previously existing terms, products and practices but magnified by the virus. What’s even more interesting is that some of the ways to protect ourselves are ‘basic hygeine’ practices, which we have ignored over the years because- something must kill a man or germs cannot kill a Nigerian.

It’s become current practice to wash our hands at least every hour for about 20 seconds with soap. For a people who most walk out of a toilet without washing their hands- it’s certainly taking some getting used to. Let’s not get started on the sanitisers- something previously thought to be used by the germophobes and those who are just ‘extra‘ have now become mainstream and common place. Everyone; male and female are carrying their little jars of sanitizer and covering our entire existence with the blood– sorry- anti-bacterial sanitisers. We are submitting to temperature checks at various locations and all round just trying to be careful not to expose ourselves to the virus- because, remember; everything in Nigeria will kill you– like Ayo Sogunro says.

So, we’re learning and evolving. I feel like we should be grateful to the virus for enforcing or embedding good hygiene. There’s always an upside to this things. The one precaution we haven’t been able to imbibe however, is social distancing. Ki lo’n je be? I doubt if you can literally translate that into any Nigerian language. It’s so un-Nigerian. How can you ask us to practice social distance when our very existence depends on our communal relationships? What is social distancing: we need to avoid: group gatherings, sleep overs (and other gum-body activities), play dates, concerts, etc.

However, in situating all this into our circumstances, we need to include hugging and other gum-body activities on this list.  But,…. Covid-19 will go, and when it’s time to pay school fees, uncle Bolaji will remember I rejected his handshake because- social distancing! Or big mummy will forever hold a grudge because I flinched and moved a few steps back when she tried to pull my cheek fondly- which equals me saying she has coronavirus! Or, when I send my asoebi to my aunty, she will remember how I rebuffed her hug in the name of social distancing? Let’s not even get started with the pervs who are constantly touchy-feely because- as Africans we love to show love.

The wahala coronavirus will cause will transcend our collective health, health infrastructure, the economy and even affect our personal relationships. I’m sure most clerics have had to really rehearse not asking people to touch their neighbor’s in any form over the past few weeks.

I saw a video which explained social distancing and how it stems the spread of diseases- the illustration with the burning match sticks- my first thought was rara, this match stick isn’t Nigerian. It would have run into the fire if it were- either in a bid to save its loved ones or in a bid to get first hand gist to share. While the latter is fast becoming a societal problem, the former is the very structure upon which our society is built. Eniyan laso mi– literal meaning: people are my covering– our strength is in our network. Even our people are constantly rising above the limitations of the nation- Nigerians as a collective are arguably greater than Nigeria the country.

So how do you want to teach us social distancing? You want to teach an old dog new tricks? When we have our religions, herbs, and the fact that very little thrives in Nigeria- diseases inclusive. After all, our weather is too hot for it to survive or Africans cannot get the virus and other such tales that have been disproven.

Las las, this too will pass, but we need to ensure we don’t destroy our relationships before it passes, right? Let’s not peddle fear and destroy ourselves before the disease gets to us, right?

Guess what? Maybe this is a good thing. We all need to learn to love from a distance. Take this as a lesson and perhaps learn to be less in people’s personal space. Doable?

It has to be, because as we have learnt- the virus is still contagious when the carrier is asymptomatic. There goes your excuse of- but he/she isn’t sick.

Truth is we need to situate what we’re used to versus what we need to do to ensure this virus and other communicable diseases doesn’t continue to spread, because for us- prevention will always be better than cure. Let each do a frank assessment of our health infrastructure and contemplate if it can withstand a viral outbreak. We haven’t eradicated malaria, it’s now coronavirus!

Prevention is key! I’m repeating it for those at the back. We all learnt that in primary school. We need to follow the preventive measures as advised by the public health specialists- wash our hands frequently and thoroughly with soap, in the absence of soap; use an alcohol based hand sanitizer; cough and sneeze into a disposable tissue or your elbow; if you’re sick, please go to a hospital; avoid high traffic and public areas, and please maintain some distance.

Article originally published on Bellanaija.com.

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