It’s a Pandemic, Not an Academic Productivity Contest!
Two days to go and here I am writing COVID-19 diaries. I am supposed to be giving a presentation in the next two days on Gendered Discourse, Social Media, and Political Participation in Cameroon. It is a topic I so loved and here I am staring at the computer screen preferring to do anything but prepare for the presentation. It will be a zoom presentation.
And thinking about zoom, I am not nervous. Never been much worried about presentations anyway. But zoom in COVID-19 times is interesting. I am home home-schooling kids and can’t afford to study much (so Much for being in the Bush). And we think the Bush is always the best with the best things, I bet!!! So I had these zoom meetings I will have to speak in between house chores and home schooling and talking to Cameroon, and Jade is like ‘mama, can I …’, and I will shout, Jade I am in a meeting’. Then I will turn around, and excuse myself with, ‘sorry, I am doing home schooling.’
Yes, home schooling. Pandemic, COVID-19, Sheltering in Place (abi na quarantine, wunna lef me sha, stay home, read papers, write articles, supervise students, meet deadlines, do presentations, cook, clean, home school again). So, I have to go to Google classroom, pick up assignments and get her to do them. Then she would go ‘Mama what is the answer?’, and I would say X or Y or Z and she would say, ‘I think it is this one’, and I would convince her it is Y and guess what, it is the wrong answer, and then she goes, ‘Mama I told you!’ Yes, I do fail primary school mathematics and English and Science. And I call myself a professor, pride myself I am known across the world. And shamefully fail primary school Maths and English.
So now as I write my diary she is doing an experiment, I no longer have an excuse I am home tutoring my daughter so I can write and prepare for my presentation coming up in two days but I keep writing my diary, finding solace in exorcising my thoughts, woes and anguish. And just to let you know, the salt, vinegar, flour, glue, paper and many other things in the house just keep going down in the name of experiments. Things I hoarded to keep us home. Especially the flour and salt.
Anguish? You would wonder. When someone comes to the Bush, it is to hunt, eat wild fruits and berries and catch bush meat to bring home; feel free and roam, and discover all the new things. But here I am in a ‘quarantined’ confined state, afraid of crossing my door step, and the furthest journey I made was to the window. My trajectory according to google maps is bedroom, restroom, living room and kitchen. The doorknob leading outside wonders what it had done wrong. Yes, it actually did something wrong. It is the knob that opens the door to gloom and doom. Stepping out now is synonymous to COVID-19. I step out even to empty the thrash and once in, and if I have a headache or cough, I start thinking of COVID, I boil tea with ginger and garlic, I start panicking, feeling all ghost crowns are on me and inexistent symptoms, wondering and praying God to spare me, thinking of my children, and wondering who would take care of them if I ever get into hospital and other unvoiceable thoughts. Yes, COVID-19 is that scary.
A pandemic it is, a contagion, it spreads like magic, uncontrollable, and the media literature says 80% of the population would be touched, and the ticking time bomb awaits us, time before everyone gets it. And when the death bell knells in a hospital, we are reminded just how close COVID-19 is to the door step, and just how fragile we are, even as academics, as parents, as doctors, as children.
It is a pandemic and not a productivity test, I just remind myself. Yes, back to my paper, I forgot it for a while, glorying in my mental juices flowing uncontrollably on the electronic board, refusing to be constrained by theory and method, refusing to classically succumb to data, method, and analysis, refusing any rhythm at all but just freedom, curiously freedom to move like Corona. Wanting that liberty like the wind to wonder, float and land where I wish. Yes, freedom can be good, but not when it is coronal. Freedom of thought, freedom of presentation, freedom of ideas, radically free to ramble, because COVID has shown to us there is no system. All systems have failed. Science and Medicine have failed. Human theories of understanding society have been challenged, from unity is strength to unity is death, from social inclusion to social exclusion, love itself being very lethal, for any close expression of love means violating the rules of social distancing, no doubt spouses get doubly infected, or if they don’t, then they die without a last kiss or last hug, and not even a farewell at the grave side. Mothers leave home never to see their children, and the hospital once a source of hope has become a symbol of doom and death. For with COVID-19, if you are left home there is hope, and sent to hospital is a bleak sign. How ironic, when once the hospital was our last hope.
And I am told it is a pandemic, and that I should be productive. Just how can I when all I ever think of are all these ironies of life, how I left Cameroon knowing I would have a good library here, some time off administration and teaching to be productive. How I am off amba and inaccessible, albeit momentarily to refocus, rethink, restrategise and be productive!!! If for anything I am productively thinking how to be African. My professorial wishes challenged with just a simple – survival. Loving and hating for being African at the same time.
Yes, what does it mean to be African during a pandemic? Proudly resilient? Or resiliently vulnerable? Yea, COVID-19 China said we were resilient, COVID-19 America said we are the most vulnerable. And yes, the Chinese, post celebrating our resilience now treat us as pigs, and gladly they express it. How about those who do not, yet treat us worse than pigs? Well, I chose to be blind because I really don’t care what you think as long as I get what I want. Being African and learning of these various emotions only reinforce my need to make Africa great. The continent for future destinations, believing the world would turn to Africa for solutions. Yes, I have to think African, not like those of the past but like one who believes we don’t need from the west but just to dig deep into ourselves, from ourselves, by ourselves for our solutions.
African problems with African solutions. Did we know Congo could build a world class hospital in a twinkle of an eye to solve an emergency? Or that Cameroon could fabricate medications, masks, coveralls, and other personal protection equipment for healthcare workers in a short span of time? How come Africa is suddenly capable of solving its problems? Nigeria just refused medical doctors from China and Ghanaians are criticizing their government for receiving aid from China. So could Africa be proactive, self-sufficient and resilient? Britain and America have more Nigerian doctors and engineers than Nigeria has. Could Africa remodel itself to revalue its human resources and avoid brain drain? Can the sleeping giant make itself attractive again? A closer look reveals most of these persons left and never returned because their countries never valued them in the first place. When pastures are greener, and their potentials are recognized and paid money for value, the temptation to leave is high. The push and pull factors work in favour of these economic and political migrants. Hostile work conditions and absence of jobs being a major push factor for these economic migrants.
This pandemic gets them thinking, and hoping, that the sleeping giant will finally wake. And those who could, can afford some room, like me, think nonsense (or some sense?) and write, and when I am supposed to be writing my academic paper, my thoughts go rambling, seeking for rhyme and rhythm.
Well, it is a pandemic and not a productivity test. COVID-19 would have been a perfect opportunity for me to just eat, sleep, drink, love and perhaps find time to watch a film or read a novel. But unfortunately, only the physical doors are closed. The virtual ones are wide open, even more open and are teaching us ways to travel the world without moving our butt from the chair. We get into rooms and do things and come out sitting only on our chairs with a piece of machine, COVIDtiously transforming the world order and negating the conspiracy theories of a new world order. Naively denying we are a part of the construction, enjoying the benefits of swift and smooth communication, loving our spouses, siblings, parents and grandparents virtually while socially distancing, and we are being twisted into new ways of being.
Lilian Atanga Lem
Lilian Atanga Lem is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the Department of Linguistics. Lilian is the Chair of the Department of Linguistics and African Languages at the University of Bamenda, Cameroon. She holds a PhD in Linguistics from Lancaster University, UK and her broad research interests include gender and language, political and media discourse using a critical discourse studies approach.