In the TV show, the Good Place, two humans, Chidi and Eleanor set out to help Michael, an angel understand what death is. They succeed and he promptly falls into depression and has an existential crisis of epic proportions wondering how anybody does anything with the knowledge of the fleeting nature of existence. Eleanor attempts to get him out of his death-consciousness induced funk, here’s how that goes:
Eleanor: Do you know what’s happening right now? You’re learning what it’s like to be human. All humans are aware of death so we’re all a little bit sad all the time. That’s just the deal.
Michael: Sounds like a crappy deal.
Eleanor: Yeah, it is. But we don’t get offered any other ones. If you try and ignore your sadness, it just ends up leaking out of you anyway. I’ve been there and everybody’s been there. So don’t fight it.
Nothing like a pandemic to put the brevity of life and the inevitability of death at the front and centre of everything. Nothing like a pandemic to remind us how crappy the deal we have is. Nothing like a pandemic to force us to face the inescapable sadness, anguish and grief that come as part of this package deal we call living.
Over two million people have lost their lives to the Covid-19 globally. In Kenya, a little over 1,700 people have died. In the beginning, the daily updates about those who had died were terrifying and people kept track, but over time, people stopped. A variety of reasons can be advanced for why people stopped but one of them has to be, it just is not sustainable, certainly not for the human psyche to have to deal with that much death every single day. So people compartmentalize and welcome escapism. Those of us who have not lost any people close to us have had the ‘luxury’ of escapism, those who have lost people close to them have not been so fortunate.
Those who lost loved ones right at the beginning of the pandemic had it the worst. In Kenya, they had to deal with their intense loss and grief in a climate of panic and stigma. They were subjected to inhumane government policies that saw their loved ones being buried with zero dignity, with no familial involvement and no honouring of our culture and the dead.
The man in Siaya who was buried in the dead of night, in a shallow grave, in a body bag without his family springs to mind. It added salt to an already traumatic injury. His name was James Onyango Oyugi. He was 59 years old. He deserved better. His family deserved better. In Bomet, another family mourning their kin who was also buried in the dead of night by the government were promptly whisked away to forced quarantine immediately after the burial. Ernest Kosgei deserved better. His family deserved better.
It’s worth noting that things got better in the way the dead and their families were treated. Far too many people were subjected to this callous, cruel, inhumane treatment. May this memory always remind us to honour the dead and the living. Not to let our fear erode our humanity.
The Government’s cruelty and apathy know no bounds. A fact that has been increasingly clear for professionals in the medical space. More than 3,000 medics have tested positive for Covid-19. Tens of them including nurses, doctors and clinicians have succumbed to the infection. By December 2020, 34 nurses, 9 clinicians and 14 doctors had died because of working conditions that they referred to as suicidal.
There was also the matter of missing and delayed salaries. Kevin Muthoni, a nurse had worked for four months without receiving a paycheck and was found dead in his house. Stephen Mogusu, a doctor had also worked for five months without receiving his paycheck. He was 28-years old with a new baby, only months old. In a final message to his colleagues, he urged them to get out and save themselves, telling them at least then they would live to earn again.
The medics continue to protest and decry their working conditions with different segments including doctors, nurses and lab technicians among others calling for strikes to compel the government to act. Medics continue to die because the government refuses to acknowledge the inadequate protection they are receiving not least of all in the form of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE’s). They have been demanding, quality, standard PPE’s, risk allowance, the hiring of more staff and comprehensive medical cover.
It’s especially painful that doctors continue to offer a service that they cannot afford. Dr. Mogusu’s family for example could not raise the KES 200,000 he needed to be put on a ventilator. Too many medics cannot afford the treatment they provide other patients, all while being dangerously exposed to infection. And they die because of it. Meanwhile, how does the government respond to these valid concerns? Threats of firing all who protest.
It’s not just medics who cannot afford treatment. One of the first pronouncements the government made was that NHIF would not cover any costs related to Covid-19. This means that any Kenyans who fall ill would access treatment or fail to based on their ability to pay. Then the medics went on strike and the only hospitals where one could see a doctor and later on a nurse were private ones. It turns out only the rich deserve to live, which must mean the poor deserve to die. All this while people were being killed in the name of enforcing the wearing of masks, there were curfew restrictions and politicians were holding risky nonsensical rallies. Yasin Moyo, a thirteen-year-old boy was standing on his balcony watching the police violently enforce the curfew ended up being shot. That’s how he joined the list of those we have lost to the pandemic.
The intense urge to escape, to look away from all the death and pain, and dare I say evil all around us during this pandemic is strong. It even makes sense. To quote Michael the existential-crisis-angel, how does anyone do anything else with the knowledge of all that’s happening? No one can fault anyone for practising some much-needed escapism. Don’t escape too long though. Look at what’s happening. Allow yourself to feel the fear. Allow yourself to feel the pain, the sorrow, the anguish of loss, and the anger. Mourn with those who mourn. This is part of what being human is about. Also, you can’t escape it forever. Everybody’s been there. We’re all in this together (*excluding the 1% everywhere).
As we remember those we have lost, may it be with the knowledge that that is the path we too must walk and will, some sooner than others. Life is short and full of sorrow. May the memory of those we’ve lost and the reality of the brevity of life, fill us with a passion to make this world, this short life as good as possible for all of us. May we be filled to overflowing with righteous indignation at the injustices all around us that needlessly cut short people’s lives and increase their sorrow and pain.
May the inevitability of death give us the courage to stand up and fight for what we believe in, not letting fear hold us back. After all, human mortality is 100%, none of us comes out alive anyway, so it is better to fight. Fight for a world in which those in power do not run roughshod over those who have given them the mandate to serve. Fight for a world in which dignity is upheld for the living and the dead. Fight for a world in which life and death are not a function of being able to fork up the cash. May the memory of the many we have lost give us the courage to live. To truly live not just exist. To fight for better lives, for all of us.
May they rest in peace.
May we live courageously.
The impact of covid has been huge and it goes across sectors. Here is how Covid 19 has affected different sectors in Kenya. Here’s a piece on the social behaviour of Kenyans during the pandemic, The Impact Of Covid-19 Pandemic On Travel And Tourism In Kenya and another on the impact the pandemic has had on education in Kenya. Here is how the government has responded to these challenges – Health: How The Kenyan Government Responded To The Covid 19 Pandemic