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Disappointed, writer finally resigned to her fate

Wednesday May 20 2020
ndipic

Planes are grounded at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport due to coronavirus, on March 24, 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By DIANA NDINDA

Having come to terms with the fact that I would not be flying home that day or the next, though disappointed and anxious, I resolved to set my mind on the task that took me to Lagos.

As I looked around at those waiting with us for domestic flights to various parts of Nigeria, it occurred to me that no one looked concerned about the new disease that was spreading like wildfire.

Everyone was relaxed as if there wasn’t a disease that was grounding economies across the globe. There was hardly anyone wearing a mask and it was as if the gospel of social distancing had not reached this part of Africa.

We finally boarded our flight at 12pm and before long, we were in Owerri. The officials at the airport took our temperatures and offered us hand sanitisers before we left.

After negotiating with the cab driver, we set off for town, where a team was waiting for us to brief them. There was very heavy traffic, which was surprising for a rural town, and it took us close to three hours to get to our destination, approximately 27km away from the airport.

At the hotel where the briefing was to take place, hygiene measures had been put in place. We not only washed our hands, but also used sanitisers.

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NONCHALANCE

However, I noticed that our team of 30 didn’t seem concerned about contracting the virus — they shook hands with each other, held hands and hugged; there was no social distancing at all!

Being a cautious person, I was shocked. But given that at the time Covid-19 cases had only been diagnosed in Lagos and Abuja, I understood their lack of caution. After all, the disease had not yet become a reality to them.

Participants we talked to also didn’t seem worried about contracting the virus. However, I was determined to keep myself safe and kept reminding them to stay a metre away from me and from each other to reduce chances of infection, in case any of us was infected.

I wonder whether the attitude of the people has changed, bearing in mind that only two cases have been reported there to date.

Anyway, on March 26, having completed the project, Lanre and I prepared to return to Lagos. To our dismay, we were informed that our airline had grounded its flights and we were advised to seek a refund.

Still shocked at how things were unfolding, we quickly booked the only available and last flight from Owerri, which we almost missed since it ended up being fully booked.

HOTELS SHUT

Nigeria had decided to stop all domestic flights on the same day. The country had also shut its borders in an effort to stem the spread of the virus.

More awaited us in Lagos. When we arrived about three hours later, I made my way to CitiHeights Hotel, where I always stay whenever I am in Lagos, only to find the doors closed; they were not taking in guests.

That is when it dawned on me that things were more serious than I thought. Thankfully, but only because I was a regular customer, they allowed me to stay the night as I prepared to make other accommodation arrangements in the morning.

I’ve a general rule to stay in the same room in the hotels that I patronise when travelling because the familiarity offers me comfort being far away from home.

This time round, however, I was booked in a different room as the wing to my usual room was closed. When I closed the door behind me, the reality of my situation sank in.

I went into a panic and had an anxiety attack for about an hour, before a friend I reached out to on WhatsApp calmed me down, assuring me that we’d get a solution soon.

I finally settled and even tried to find another hotel, but by morning, March 27, I still hadn’t found an alternative place.

BORDERS CLOSED

At about 11am, Lanre and I set off to find me new accommodation. After visiting several places on my list, we finally found one at around 2pm that fit my expectations.

This facility had also closed its main hotel, but had an annex where they had moved their three remaining guests.

By this time, the option of travelling to Lomé in Togo, or Accra in Ghana was out as all the borders had been closed, as well as Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya.

Growing desperate by the minute, I called the Kenyan Embassy in Nigeria, only to find it, too, was closed and had sent staff home.

The person I talked to at the embassy advised me to stay put since there was not much they could do for me. I was on my own.

Ms Ndinda is Research Manager, Transform Research Africa Ltd. She is stuck in Nigeria, where she has been since March 21.

TOMORROW: Nigeria announces a total lockdown, dimming my hopes of finding a way out of the country. Worse still, I’ve little left to survive on.

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