Who would have ever thought that our whole lives would be upended by an invisible-spiky-egg-looking-thingy?! This has been quite a month! And I think you would be absolutely shocked at what things look like here in the village. Why? Well, mostly because they look pretty much the same as they did before the pandemic. People are not social distancing, I have not seen much of a change in hygiene, and no one is staying at home. For those of you in Western cultures, or at least in cities, this might be shocking. It might seem irresponsible and inconsiderate, even foolish. But what you might not know is that quarantine, as practiced in America and many European countries, is only possible because of our extreme wealth. Let me give you some examples:
Many, many, many people have reminded me that we should be social distancing. Specifically, we should be keeping 6 feet away from everyone else. I can make this work. I can shut my doors and I can even get people to deliver food to my house. Why can I do this? Because I am wealthy. My closest neighbors are dear friends, a couple with 10 children. Five of these children are grown and have their own children. I am not sure as to the total, but I would say there are at least 10 grandchildren. And they all live in the same camp with a total of four small houses, but most of the young children/grandchildren sleep in the same room. They share meals together, eating out of a common dish, which is a cultural practice. But it is also necessary due to the fact that they have very few dishes, almost no silverware, and many mouths to feed. Imagine more than 40 hands reaching into the same dish multiple times a day. Which leads me to…
We are currently at the beginning of the rainy season, which of course means the dry season has just ended. It takes months for the water table to rise again, which means a severe lack of water. The village pump is near my house and there are constantly people just waiting for water. The government has recommended washing hands on the hour. My well produces perhaps 10 liters of water right now at a time, then I have to wait for around an hour before I can get more. Imagine a village sharing 10 liters of water. It is clearly not possible for them to wash their hands on the hour. In fact, when we have talked about hand washing with the neighbors, they literally laugh out loud. They are a bit incredulous (some of them don’t even believe in germs), but they laugh because of the impossibility! It would be like telling an American they have to eat breadfruit 10 times a day.
Stay at Home
Staying at home makes sense in America, where many people can work and do school online. Here in our village people have to go to the field every day. They don’t have refrigerators, so they have to go to the market every day. No credit cards here, so they have to pass cash back-and-forth. Some people are trying to avoid shaking hands, but paying with dirty bills, getting change, and passing food to the consumer is more contact than shaking hands. Also, remember, home contains at least 20 people, packed into small spaces. School is cancelled here, which means kids are not going to a single place for education, they are roaming everywhere. It is a virus’ vision of paradise.
There is a lot of yelling going on right now in social media. Many people are mad because they think governments are overreacting and overreaching. Others are furious when people don’t abide by proper distancing protocols. Apparently, I read today, suicide hotlines have received many more calls this last month than usual. From what I can tell, people feel stuck, unable to help, and frustrated with everything.
I call us all to take a moment and consider that whatever degree of quarantine we are able to participate in is a privilege. Much of what we are able to do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe is literally impossible here in the village in Cameroon. I am not saying any of this to make you feel guilty. Your guilt will not help my neighbors, or you. They did not decide to be born in a poor village anymore than you decided to be born in an American suburb. But have you considered that your quarantine is a privilege?
Rather than guilt, I call you to be thankful. Do you realize how privileged you are to be able to stay at home? Do you count your blessings when you turn on the faucet and (hot!) water comes out in abundance? It is easy to grumble, easy to want things to be different. Why not take some time right now to thank God for your quarantine?
Just this evening I was talking to an American who is in quarantine in California. He said that he goes on bike rides and people everywhere he goes smile and wave at him. He has never seen something like that before! I have seen on Facebook men who have been struggling in 9-5 jobs delightedly coming up with fun activities with their children. I have seen more people actively sharing their faith, albeit via Facebook Live. Time away from the daily grind has allowed many to have more time in prayer, in reading good books, in sowing masks to help those without.
God is not unaware of our current situation. God’s arm is not too short to use this for our good and for his glory. So, my question for you: How is God blessing your quarantine?