Like many other students in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), Annette Kiru was excited about the New Year, 2020. 2020 was not only a new year, but also a new decade. The promise for a new and amazing start created a bubble of joy and filled people with renewed hope and zeal for life.
Kiru particularly looked forward to making a trip back to Kenya for a few weeks and head back to TRNC for the final leg of her master degree. Little did she know the tour to Kenya would be one to never forget!
“I was in Kenya when the lockdown happened,” says Kiru noting that initially, she thought that the situation was not that serious. You see, at the time -early March- life in Africa was still ‘normal’ as the continent had reported only but a few Covid-19 cases.
“But I was shocked when within a few weeks, the number of Corona infections skyrocketed across the world. In Kenya, lockdown was implemented, schools closed and businesses shutdown leading to loss of jobs as many companies downsized”.
If you are like many people, isolation can be uncomfortable and downright scary. For many people, this can increase the risk of loneliness and depression as humans are wired to socialize. Nevertheless, being alone is a skill that many people have been forced to learn, thanks to the dreadful virus that has pushed governments to implement measures such as physical distancing to curb the spread of the virus. Instead of dreading being alone, you can lean into it.
Most of us fear spending time alone with ourselves because the practice of getting to know ourselves is a fearsome one. While it proved difficult in the initial days, Kiru soon found activities and exercises to keep her sanity.
“I spent most of my time reading and finding any online work that I could do to earn some money” Kiru observes. “I baked often because I found it very therapeutic. I did some exercises at home and seriously started doing yoga. I also took up journaling and meditation because I felt that kept me Zen and grounded”.
The biggest fear according to Kiru was coming into contact with the virus and unknowingly spreading it to her family. For this reason, she was more careful when outside the family home.
“I knew I had a fighting chance but with the statistics showing that chances were slimmer for the older people with health conditions, I was very worried about my parents.”
As a student Kiru often worried about the continuing lockdown and travel restrictions. The visit to Kenya which was meant to be a one-month holiday, had turned into a six-month stay due to the limitations caused by the spreading virus.
Thus, when the travel restrictions eased, Kiru had to take up to five tests before finally being allowed to go to her home in TRNC. During her travel, she had to have a mask all the time.
“Check-in took a bit longer than usual because of social distancing and other measures. The first thing before boarding the plane was to receive a package from the Turkish Airlines containing masks and a sanitiser.” Additionally, “food was pre-packed in a paper bag to avoid unnecessary contact,” Kiru observes.
Before leaving Kenya for North Cyprus, the young graduate student was aware of the consequences of travelling during these strange times. She was supposed to quarantine for 14 days upon entering TRNC with a negative PCR test from Kenya and an additional test upon the arrival. She admits that the information about quarantine brought her so much fear. There had been claims that some people had contracted the disease while in isolation centres. This scared her.
Nevertheless, she had decided to go through with it when she left Kenya. At the Ercan airport, a couple of people from ‘risk countries’ were placed at a waiting area. Thereafter a bus picked them and were transported to an undisclosed location. This heightened the anxiety.
“I was very anxious about where we would be taken, the conditions of the place and if I would have to pay.” Luckily, the local government took care of the bills even though she had heard that some students had had to part with a large sum of money to cater for the quarantine bills.
At the hotel, Kiru was placed in a suite with another female Zimbabwean student. Things did not look as bad as she had initially thought. With a clean room, good food, water and a chance to connect with family and friends online, she quickly eased into the daily routine.
In addition to spending some time with her new friend, Kiru also continued researching and writing her Thesis project. Her daily routine included waking up at 7 am, meditating, learning some Turkish on the free application, Duo Lingo, doing yoga, taking a nice cold shower and then enjoying some nice breakfast at the hotel balcony at around 8.30 am.
“Afterwards, I would write my thesis until around 12:00pm where I would have lunch then write some more until I got bored. Later I would Netflix and chill until dinner time at 7:00pm and end my day by calling my family and friends.”
What did she learn during the pandemic?
“The most important thing that I learned since the pandemic broke out is that things change, so I need to be prepared especially financially. I have also had to consciously think about food and nutrition,” Kiru says adding that: “I was a very poor eater but I have since started eating foods that help my body, lots of fruits and vitamins”.
Kiru is a graduate student since September 2018 at the Girne American University, pursuing masters in International Relations. She is passionate about women issues. In the last few months, especially due to the lockdown, cases of violence against women and girls including rape, domestic violence, child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM) have surged, Kiru observes with much concern. “Let’s support services that help women. Let us hold the government accountable to put in place working policies that protect women and punish perpetrators. Let us protect our women and girls!”