I was meeting a friend for some business on Kiambu Road last weekend and he proposed that we meet in a bar. I didn’t know bars and clubs were open. Even some of the hotels in the city centre that had reopened closed again quickly after staff were established to be Covid-19-infected.
Bars, clubs and hotels in Nairobi employ more than 200,000 people; so, the economic argument for re-opening them is compelling, I suppose.
I drove up to the gate, reached for my mask – which I sometimes don’t wear when I am in the car alone – and lowered the mirror. By the time I had my mask on and securely adjusted, a guard had thrust his face a few inches in front of mine, brandishing a thermometer.
His mask was stuck under his chin like a scar from a past attempt to behead him. It’s all I could do to stop myself from punching him.
First, he was an absolute fool. You don’t start sticking your unprotected face into the faces of other people before you confirm that their masks are on and that they are not showing obvious signs of disease.
As a matter of fact, you don’t stick your face in other people’s faces at all. Period.
Secondly, this was a person who was completely untrained to administer the temperature check; the trained ones conduct the exercise with their arms at full extension, their respiratory openings slightly averted.
Thirdly, this person was just ticking boxes on a list; he didn’t know what he was doing. He pointed the thing at my forehead, turned the device for me to see and never once looked at the reading before waving me on. Inside the bar, it was a horror show.
In fairness, the tables were distanced, acres of space between them. But the tables themselves were small and people were clustered around them in tight circles, thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder. The only masks in sight were those of the waiting staff but even those were worn Kenyan style: Over upper lips but with noses hanging over them like dysfunctional phalli.
CLOUD OF GERMS
I walked around to check the aeration, which was, by accident, OK. The upper reaches of the walls were light-gauge BRC, the square wire mesh used in chicken coops and dog pens.
But I don’t know whether that type of natural ventilation was creating the currents and drafts required to stir the cloud of germs which I imagined hung over the crowd of revellers.
The tables were separated; the people were not. I observed that some had arms around each other. This is the first time in three months that I had seen people breathing into each other’s faces.
At the next table were two ladies with a forest of green beer bottles weighing the table down almost to the point of breaking. Why ask for so many bottles when you can call for one each time you needed it?
It looked like they had ordered all the beers they had not drunk since March and were trying to down it in one session.
It was only 11am but their posture – movements fluid and exaggerated like a person trying to execute an underwater kata, the loud laughter, the short dresses riding so high up their legs that the observer flinched and hastily looked away every time the wearer changed posture – told me that these folks were carrying a dam of beer in their system.
We left to attend to our business but I was curious to find out how the situation had evolved. So early in the evening we passed by the bar. It has a huge compound but there was not a speck of parking.
Inside, the spaces between the tables had miraculously disappeared. As more and more customers arrived, the staff brought out more tables. The bar was fully crowded, looking the way it would have in pre-Covid days.
There was a live football match on and the raucous shouting of drunk fans filled the space. The two drunk ladies – I kid you not – were passed out at their table, which, by now, was reasonably deforested.
One was sleeping on the table, the other was sprawled on the chair, astonishingly spread-eagled in posture, her head thrown back, mouth agape, dead to the world.
Every inch was carpeted with drunk, thirsty humanity, nearly all of them in their 20s to 40s. It may well be that folks are depressed by economic woes and the cloud of disease hanging over the world.
Maybe they are bored with being holed up indoors for months and are now over-reacting to the opportunity of finally meeting friends, having a drink and being out in the sun. Maybe they are alcohol-dependent due to psychological issues related to childhood trauma.
Maybe they just love people and having fun and have calculated the risks and determined them to be acceptably minimal.
Maybe they are thoughtless people, uncaring about the consequences of their desire for instant, cheap pleasure. Maybe they are just criminally selfish youngsters who don’t care about catching and passing on disease, especially to the aged and vulnerable.
Maybe they are uninformed and do not have the information about how to protect themselves and others.
Whatever the case, I think we are doomed.