Who would have thought, in 2020 we’d be negotiating our freedom with a flu?
It has been called many things, a flu, a flu like disease, a cleansing, an engineered time bomb by China to the rest of the world; the list is endless. But like many pandemics before Corona, the end is nowhere in sight and unfortunately; we have to put up with many self-proclaimed theorists feeding our minds and anxieties with unsolicited approximations of when the pandemic will end and faux solutions. Even approaches from ‘esteemed’ bodies like the World Health Organisation (WHO) to help the rest of the world at least manage COVID-19 have also fallen short of basic recognition of the disparities that exist within the human race. It feels a lot like erasure that the priorities WHO has decided to back are largely from the Global North, with the South (you guessed it!) working overtime to prove that we can tap into our own knowledge reservoirs. Madagascar tried it with the herbal tea remedy but a stamp of approval by WHO was needed and one could argue that the delay in responding to this call was part of some power play to hinder Africa nations from using their traditional medicines lest we become the ones that find a cure/vaccine before the West does. The Botswana Dingaka Association – a registered association of traditional healers and doctors in Botswana that is mandated to be custodians of traditional medicines, practises and education, also pleaded with the government to be involved in research to find medicines to fight against the pandemic, a short-lived conversation and well, reference to you know WHO; was a constant. Additionally, Senegalese researchers and medical experts made $1 diagnostic kits which produced results in 10 minutes l. This at the height of infections in the country and the continent. Unfortunately, African countries were not so willing to use these despite the proven fact by those engineering them that they worked; despite how cheap their procurement was and despite the opportunity to showcase African excellence. Alas, foreign “aid” took center stage.
These are just the few examples of how even in a matter of life and death, African lives are in the hands of people and structures that do not center our needs and interests. Living through this pandemic has shown how little we are valued as humans occupying this Earth. We have endured traumas from the West, perpetuated by our governments, leaders of our societies and families that have modeled the way in which responses to anything center capitalism, nationalism, racism and many undesirable isms. At a time where the focus should have been about means of ensuring that there is comfort in the (collective) chaos, we have found ourselves in more isolation- physically because of the nature of virus but also in thought and wellbeing. We seem to have yet again been pawns in the chess game of governance with our states forming allegiance with the Global North in deciding how to tackle African issues with regards to our health. But like I mentioned already, this is not the first time we are dealing with a pandemic that is threatening our lives, wellness and livelihood – or the erasure and silencing of our voices and strategies that are ours, that speak for us and to us.
Feminists, however, have been telling us for years that our freedom lies within us and with us. Ultimately we only have ourselves to rely on, ourselves and each other. The idea of what health and care look like from a feminist lens, a lens that acknowledges and centres people and communities, centres traditional and indigenous ways of knowing and being, is one I have thought about a lot during this time.
In my opinion, these notions of wellness and well-being have led me to looking within, expanding the light to those around me and at the same time recognizing the varied levels of this process for others. In the words of Audre Lorde:
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare”
For me; this culminates to the grounding of collective care as it stems from the self to enable communal care. The desire is for us to function as mirrors of each other in how we think about caring for each other and ourselves in a world that aims to erase, discredit and toy with our whole being. The idea of wellbeing has been marred by a notion of consumerism that again, follows a Eurocentric depiction of wellness as a commodity that can be marketed. A lot of the time contributing to the existing issues around environmental degradation, unsavoury body politics where white/light skinned bodies are portrayed as the epitome of beauty, to “feminine” hygiene products that centre the desires of men, to economic ball games that feed off of vulnerabilities of people by selling wellness in shake bottles with only a select few benefitting from these pyramid schemes and market economies that do nothing for people.
In our varied yet similar traditions on the continent, we are people of the Earth and Water, our healing comes from the ground we walk on and the valleys that water the same ground. These are some of the simple pleasures that have been destroyed by an evolving world that puts the needs of the collective few before the wellbeing of the world as a whole. The loss of touch with our physical and spiritual selves due to a myriad of systematic issues has led to us having to find healing from places we have no connection to. The silent noises African states made around “the cure for Corona Virus will come from Africa” lip serviced us to where we are now, awaiting cargo from Asia and America.
Finding your tribe and sticking with it.
In many conversations around, health, wellness and wellbeing; reference is made to the simplistic foods that we ate on the continent in pre-colonial times. How the food brought us together,how the food is grown, the harvest, cooking and eating of the food was an act of community thereby encouraging a sense of care for those around you. It’s such a tradition that has led me to the feminism I ascribe to, nurturing each other in ways that are needed and speak loudly of the intentions of our interactions and that has taught me to open my heart a lot more than I usually would. The beauty of vulnerability – in a world that regurgitates vulnerability as weakness – shows us the importance of finding those that speak your language. A language of love, a language of care, and those that help you find the words and actions that speak to the things that matter to you. I acknowledge the time, energy and difficulties we may endure getting to such a place and finding our tribe and unlearning parts of ourselves that remind us of a world that is okay with dimming our light at every corner.
Dealing with a pandemic has been difficult but it has also shone light on the kind of person I want to be and spaces I personally want to invest myself in. The daily challenges of living as part of a community that is a non-priority do not go unnoticed. The tangent may shift depending on what is happening but we do have ourselves to lean on and some histories we can reclaim all the while putting the pieces together for our imagined utopia.