It’s Day 34 of the South African lockdown, and today I’m suffering from a serious malaise. I cannot think of anything interesting to tell you about my own lockdown thoughts or experiences.
So I’m sharing a story from another lockdown, totally different from the one we’re currently experiencing.
Back in February when I was in Kameel for my #10SouthAfricanTowns project, I met a woman named Geraldine. I was really interested in Geraldine’s life. She had just moved to Kameel from the KZN South Coast a couple of months earlier; I wondered what it would be like for an outsider (not a native Afrikaans speaker, the first language in Kameel) to move to such a teeny-tiny town where most of the residents have lived for most of their lives.
I visited Geraldine in the little railroad house where she lives with her three dogs and two cats. We chatted mostly about life in Kameel. But at some point Geraldine mentioned she used to be a school teacher in Benghazi, Libya.
“The place where the U.S. consulate was attacked?” I asked, incredulously. Yes, Geraldine confirmed. That’s the place. In fact, Geraldine was working in Benghazi in 2012, the very time when those terrorist attacks happened.
I didn’t have time to delve into that story with Geraldine during my visit. But Geraldine and I became Facebook friends, and recently I saw she wrote a post titled, “LOCKDOWNS……Just for fun.” I asked her if I could publish it here.
This is what Geraldine wrote:
This is the second lockdown I have been involved in. This one has been relatively easy (except for no buying of cigarettes ) compared to the first one.
I was in Benghazi, Libya a few years ago — teaching. We woke up one day to the sounds of bombing, shooting etc. — worse than normal that is. We were told there was real fighting out there.
Later that day we heard that our principal had disappeared. Due to this fact we were put in immediate lockdown. No time to buy food, water or anything else. We had extra guards put in our compound in case there was a threat to expats.
Our first few days were worrying but most of us still had food, so we were not too bad. Then slowly but surely, our food and water started running out — you could not drink the tap water at all.
When we started worrying about food, we were still in the middle of a really scary war. Bombs got to be a sound that we got used to. Army jets flying over us all the time was a common sound and of course the gun fire never stopped — now we were in a frightening situation with no food and water, and no way to go and buy any.
Fortunately there were a bunch of really amazing people in the compound and we all shared what we had. Chocolate for breakfast was a common occurrence — our kids [students] weren’t going to need treats for the time being. We were really scared of running out of tea and coffee as we often all met up outside during the night for a tea party — the fighting was more intense at night and the noise kept us awake. Comfort in numbers I suppose. We would sit and listen to the bombs flying over us, praying they would go OVER us and not fall on us.
We managed to eat bits and pieces and luckily we did not starve. After about three weeks of trying to find a solution as to how we were going to get out, the school owner started giving us bits of good news. Eventually the first lot of people flew out, the next day another lot got out. Left behind were the South Africans — the owners were struggling to find a way to get us out. Then, just to make our lives even easier, the Benghazi Airport was bombed. By this stage I think there were six of us left, and we were really getting worried. To cut things short we eventually got out but what a lockdown that was. Could go on for hours but I think I’ve got the LOCKDOWN idea across. Hope I haven’t made too many mistakes. Everyone please stay at home and stay safe.
My writer friend Eve Fairbanks recently wrote an article for the Huffington Post about the tendency of leaders to refer to the COVID-19 response as “a war”, and how that comparison is really not accurate. I think Geraldine’s story helps drive that point home.
Thanks, Geraldine, for letting me share this.
Today’s Worthy Cause
Several weeks ago, I mentioned my good friend Ruth Hopkins had her book published just before the lockdown began. Ruth is currently living in the U.K. and she was scheduled to come to South Africa for a book tour in March. Obviously that didn’t happen, which is very sad for me personally. I miss my friend.
Ruth’s book, called The Misery Merchants, tells the story of her years-long investigation into allegations of torture in a privately-run South African prison. It’s a very important book. I haven’t been able to read it — I tried to buy it the day before lockdown but it hadn’t arrived yet and bookstores have been closed ever since.
So I was super excited when Ruth announced The Misery Merchants is now available on Amazon.
There’s a special deal in place: If you download the ebook from Amazon now, Jacana (the publisher) will deliver a hard copy of the book to you (in South Africa and the U.K. only) for free after the lockdown ends. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Buy the new release The Misery Merchants ebook.
2. Send the receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org
3. We will deliver a free print edition of The Misery Merchants after the lockdown lifts.
I’m downloading the book as soon as I finish this post.
See you tomorrow.