The undocumented Covid-19 harrowing tales

Be part of this eye-opening three-part series, “Lived realities of Covid-19 tales”

By Catherine Murombedzi

THE invisible Covid-19 tales will be felt for life, by a few.

“We had a nasty two years” would be the statement. For some, unclosed bereavement is imprinted in their unseen inner person, the struggle continues.

In this first part, we talk to “survivors”. The slings and pangs that butchered the victims’ hearts can only be known when one listens to the untold Covid-19 tales.

It is stranger than fiction — for those reading this instalment and those who sat down with Girls and Women Empowerment Network, (GWEN) in Chitungwiza, recently, the Covid-19 “survivors”, harrowing tales, are a reminder of the future that was prematurely ushered, literally forced down the throats and the choking effects are felt as the stories unfold.

Usually, survivors are those who battled Covid-19, either in a hospital or at home. So who are these other “survivors”?
They are now mothers, Covid-19 induced motherhood.

“I am 21, my baby survived a near-death experience. For three months she was hospitalised in Chitungwiza Hospital with pneumonia….were it not for my mother who visited that morning, we would have buried Miriam. I was only 19 and didn’t know the difference between a sleeping and an ill baby,” said Juliet.
Juliet narrated her inter twinned sad life story. Born in rural Rusape, parents divorced when she was eight years old. With mum chased away from the rural home, Juliet remained behind, taken care of by her dad’s sister, Tete Chipo.

Tete Chipo emotionally abused Juliet, calling her names.

“Offspring of a lazy mother who failed to satisfy my brother, …like mother like daughter… you too will be chased away by your future husband…,” endless name-calling was the order of the day.

Tete Chipo’s husband had brought a man home one day, with Juliet eavesdropping, overheard; “she is the one, ready to be married, how many cattle will you drive home my in-law…?”

That was enough to have her bolt off.

Next day after school, the teenager never set foot in Tete Chipo’s home again.

Juliet walked for 25km to her maternal home where she was warmly received.

Juliet was set to resume school the following term. With a frail grandmother, Juliet was sent to her mother in the city one weekend in March 2020. She intended to collect groceries and medication for her maternal grandmother.

“The lockdown was announced as I waited for my mother to get paid the following weekend. In a way, I was happy to enjoy the city life although I pretended to care about my grandmother who was ill. My mom worked for a corn (maputi) making company in Chitungwiza.

The company temporarily closed.

After two months, we ran out of food. It was dire, surviving on porridge, with no rentals, we were on the verge of being asked to leave.

In the meantime, I started selling freezits and sweets by the roadside to help mum raise the rentals. The landlord said half payment was better than none. My mother also did house chores for neighbours and got something.

Our efforts were not enough, at times we went to bed on empty stomachs. Mum could not dare buy meat, lest the landlord demanded his full payment. You know the tenant/landlord relationships, a lodger can’t live large,” said Juliet.

Young girls selling wares on street corners are a target of men with cash. In most instances, it is the vulnerable being taken advantage of.

“A young man became a regular customer, buying some goods from me. We became friends. My cousin, who also sold her wares beside me, noticed the flicker of love from the client. The two became friends and in no time my cousin would give my mother mealie-meal, cooking oil and cash. My mother was informed of the customer and I was the only one who didn’t know of the source of the well wisher’s freebies,” said Juliet.

Juliet and the customer became friends of the heart. The heart is known not to reason, it was never made for that.

“My customer asked me out, we dated for some weeks.

He was fun-loving and generous too. He worked as a builder, as you know, the construction industry was not incapacitated by the lockdown restrictions. One day, I came back home late around 8 pm. My mum chased me away.

I went to my cousin who lived with her husband and her baby nearby. She also sent me away and insisted I go back to where I was.

“I have a husband and a baby, and we use a single room, I can’t take you in,” she closed her door in my face.

Standing in the dark, with nowhere to go, I sheepishly walked back to my boyfriend’s lodgings. I knocked, he opened the door and welcomed me. I was surprised that he was not shocked to see me, but being homeless, I was relieved,” said Juliet.

“The next day his landlord asked me if I was pregnant, to which I said no. She took me back to my mom. My mother angrily told the landlord that I had to go back. Here I am, got married at 18, because my mother’s grumbling stomach ushered me into an arranged marriage.

Pregnant after a month, Juliet was to later learn that the whole episode was pre-arranged, the unholy trio between her mom, cousin and lover.

Asked if she was happy, she answered.

“I don’t know, all I have known is that life gave me lemons, and at least, I have lemonade now. I love my baby and my husband continues to support my mum and step-siblings. He is hard-working.

I stopped selling sweets by the roadside. He should provide, I can’t do that with a baby strapped on my back. In fact, he is jealous and won’t allow me to be selling by the roadside again, lest men seduce me,” explained Juliet.

A sad tale of Juliet and her ‘Romeo’.

Alice talked of the alarm clock and chibhorani, (borehole) tales.

Alice’s husband, a builder too, was working in Chipinge when the lockdown was affected.

“I am a mother of two minor children.

I am 26 years old and my husband is a builder. He was working in Chipinge and it made no sense to come home when the lockdown was announced in March 2020. He would send money through EcoCash.

Only big supermarkets accepted that form of payment. Tuckshops demanded United States dollars. It meant setting up the alarm and waking up at 2 am to be in the queue if I had to get cooking oil, sugar and any basic goods,” narrated Alice.

Besides moonlight sojourns to purchase essential goods, water was scarce too. At the borehole, the Marshal borehole commands ruled.

“Covid-19 is one disease that disturbed the status quo of every aspect of my life. Water was scarce. You know Chitungwiza faced water rationing, during 2020 and 2021. The supply got so erratic. Taps were dry for days on end.

“A well-wisher drilled a community borehole. Our Councillor called for representatives to attend a small meeting since we could not gather. It was agreed we all contribute to buy a pump and install solar power to run the borehole. We contributed, with those who failed only allowed to fetch water after the “owners” had fetched,” said.

The borehole scenes were chaotic and a self-appointed Marshal became king.

“The Marshal asked for payment if I needed to fetch extra buckets. Some young girls even exchanged sexual favours for water,” she nodded revealing the agony and abuse females faced.

Alice stated that each household was allowed to fetch two 20-litre buckets.

“On a normal day, I use six 20-litre buckets. I have laundry and napkins for my minor children. I needed bath water, it was just impossible to maintain hygiene when I was menstruating. We kept the bath water to flush the toilet.

“We are lodgers at a house where three other families and the landlord live. We often had running stomachs owing to a lack of clean water. Luckily, no one died from diarrhoea and Covid-19 which required frequent washing of hands.

“We fell ill from these two, there was no hospital to go to. We self-treated—one required to pay for the Covid-19 test itself. I got a terrible fever which I suspect was Covid-19. I steamed and used garlic, lemons and onions. Self-treating and sharing of herbs became the norm,” said Alice.

Dr Isaac Mpofu, a family practitioner said overuse of lemons and self-prescriptions could have caused harm to some people.

He said some patients now reporting with severe stomach ailments could have excessively used home remedies during the two years.

“One of the major side effects of drinking too much lemon water is heartburn and acid reflux. For some people, particularly those with acid reflux, overuse of lemon, garlic and other concentrated herbs resulted in acid build-up.

“Despite garlic’s many health benefits, too much of it can cause discomfort, including upset stomach, bloating and even diarrhoea,” said Dr Mpofu.

Covid-19 showed the nation’s lack of disaster preparedness.

If another pandemic were to hit us, how prepared are we?

Look out for part two of the Covid-19 lived realities three-part series.

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