CULTURE, COVID-19, SICKNESS AND DEATH: IS IT TIME TO RELOOK AT OUR CULTURE?
CULTURE, COVID-19, SICKNESS AND DEATH: IS IT TIME TO RELOOK AT OUR CULTURE?
“We have seen that when a people in peril can save themselves only at the cost of a quick and dramatic change in their habits and beliefs, they usually prefer to perish.” – L. Sprague and C de Camp, Citadels of Mystery By CHISHIMBA M. LUMBWE SITUATION ANALYSISTHE mortuaries are full; hospital beds in both …
“We have seen that when a people in peril can save themselves only at the cost of a quick and dramatic change in their habits and beliefs, they usually prefer to perish.” – L. Sprague and C de Camp, Citadels of Mystery
By CHISHIMBA M. LUMBWE
SITUATION ANALYSISTHE mortuaries are full; hospital beds in both private and public hospitals are full to overflowing; oxygen is in short supply; health care workers are completely overstretched and many admitted patients cannot get the needed attention; health care workers are getting infected from their patients and many are getting sick and many are dying; patients die in cars waiting for beds; many patients are sent home to recover or die there; Covid vaccines ni diamondi!Basically, many thousands of Zambians are seriously sick and dozens are dying each day. Yet, wait for it… millions of Zambians still do not believe that Covid-19 is real! Millions more, whilst acknowledging the disease, will not, for some reason, do what is needed to prevent themselves and those near and dear to them from getting the disease!Wow!
WHY DO I SAY THIS?• Go into any open or closed market in Zambia and check how many people are not wearing masks. In any case, why are masks in public places and spaces not legally mandatory and enforced?• Check public vehicles – mini buses, intercity buses, and include those trucks and buses taking mourners to bury Covid-19 victims – and see how many people are not wearing masks• Pass by any funeral house and check how many insist on mourning their loved ones in person and thus exposing themselves to the virus and possible illness and even death• Go to any cemetery and see the crowds that turn up to bury their dear ones and thus expose themselves to the virus and possible illness and even death• Before the forced restrictions, remember the crowds that attended weddings, cilanga mulilos, church gatherings – with vociferous choirs that projected the virus not two meters but possibly five or more metres – and the thousands who crowded in bars and restaurants thinking, no doubt, that they were somehow immune, but then ended up dying a few weeks later? The louse that wonders too much will eventually meet with fingers that will crush it. In Bemba we say – Inda yaenda muno, ikasuka aikumana neminwe• We were warned about a third wave in the cold season that was likely to be worse than the other waves. How much heed do we pay as a nation?I have looked after patients with Covid, and seen at close quarters their fear, their panic, and their sheer desperation to cling on to life. Only those who have seen the spoor of the lion can warn you of the danger lurking in an area – Abenda ebaleta amakasa yankalamo.Currently, we are having more deaths per day than the United Kingdom, which has a population of 70 million. For a country of 18 million people the official Covid-19 statistics of infections and deaths are grim. Multiply the daily stats by three times or more and you are closer to what’s pertaining in Zambia.
HOW DO I KNOW THIS?Because I know dozens of patients who have consulted me with classic symptoms of Covid-19 such as a flu-like illness, fever, breathing difficulties, loss of taste and smell and a positive test. You can only verify what you have seen with your own eyes – Ico balinga umushinku cintu umwene.IS IT OUR CULTURE KILLING US? IN MY OPINION, YES.• Why do we risk our lives and end up getting sick or dying because we insist on going to funerals and burials of Covid-19 relatives, friends or public figures?You, in Lusaka, hear your uncle has died from Covid-19. You immediately get on a bus and head for the funeral in Kitwe! Two weeks after returning… The baboon that has not yet been cut on its private parts walks with its legs wide open – Kolwe ashilabengwa enda naponona.• Why do we think it is so important to attend weddings, kitchen parties or cilanga mulilos that may lead to us getting seriously sick and even dying? The civet cat that has not yet had a beating continues boldly on the path – Inshimba ishilanwela mupeto, ipamina inshila• Why do we tolerate people who refuse to distance or wear masks and therefore put our lives at risk? I cannot count how many times I have had to force people in booths and small shops to wear a mask before serving me. One careless rat led to the death of many – Koswe umo asongesha abengi• Despite the mounting deaths in Zambia and clear evidence that vaccines can save lives why are millions of us still hesitant and many plainly anti-vax? The young bat fell and died due to carelessness – Mwana mulima nafwa; ngemikatile ububi!• Why do we still insist on taking our Covid dead for burial in their villages of origin? If someone dies from Covid-19 infection, then quite likely someone else from that same household is incubating the virus or has active disease. So, moving that centre of contamination to our home village is criminal, and may result in our relatives in the village contracting and some dying from the disease. Where is the sense in that?WHY?• Is it because of the literacy rate which is about 87 percent?• Is it because of generalised poverty? Millions of Zambians live, apparently, on the proverbial less than US$2 a day.• Is it because of load shedding?• Is it because of the number of public holidays? 15 At the last count.• Is it because of something in our diet?• Is it because of something in the air we breathe?• Is it something in our genes?• Is it because we have too many political parties?I DON’T THINK SO• Can it possibly be because we are in the Tropics, nearer the equator than Denmark, and the average temperature here is higher than in the temperate regions?• Can it possibly be because we are majority Christians and the UAE is mostly Muslims and Israel is mostly Jews?• Can it possibly be because we eat maize meal (nsima) here and the Brits eat potatoes and the Chinese in Wuhan eat mostly noodles?• Can it possibly be because of something in the water we drink compared to the water in Australia?• Can it possibly be because the country is land-locked?NO. I DO NOT THINK ANY OF THESE APPLY• For starters, Singapore is even nearer the equator than us but is managing the Covid-19 pandemic admirably.• Italy has a temperate climate but has had a massive hit from Covid-19.• Switzerland is landlocked but is managing the pandemic admirably.• Americans, on average, live on more than $100 a day, but they have mishandled their Covid-19 response spectacularly (in the initial stages anyway)• England has eight bank holidays, seven fewer than us, but also got badly hit by the Covid pandemic• India is largely Hindu and Indonesia is largely Muslim and both have been severely affected by the pandemic.• South Korea has a literacy rate 10 percentage points higher than Zambia but still got a massive hit. India is 10 percentage points lower than Zambia but it also got severely affected by the virus.Purely from a scientific point of view, it would be interesting to know if there is any correlation between severity of Covid pandemic in a country and factors like GDP, GDP/per capita, literacy rate, number of ethnicities, latitude, altitude, number of neighbouring countries, being land-locked, number of registered political parties, genetic markers, the male to female gender ratios, the number of women in leadership positions, the urban to rural population ratios, the religious nature of citizens, the age of the president, the gender of the president etc. Be mindful, however, that correlation does not equal causation.
MY THEORYWhile we wait for answers through research, I do have a theory. My theory is that our parlous Covid-19 state of affairs has to do with our CULTURE.ON THE GROUNDI do know that it is a very difficult question for a Zambian who is the family elder to keep away from some family functions. He or she is expected, without fail, to undertake some family duties. Other family members will be saying: We are waiting for Ba Chite.In case of family events in the Covid-era it is a difficult question what family responsibilities to fulfil. Difficult, yes, but not with an impossible answer, when that answer is possible death. Many of us know friends or acquaintances or social media contacts who attended a Covid funeral or wedding or birthday party, or cilanga mulilo and ended up sick or dead one to two weeks later.So, is executing that cultural responsibility really worth dying for? Or, put another way, which of these responsibilities is worth risking your life for?Granted, in this country, if a mother, father, spouse, or child dies one can hardly keep away. I know that our ancestors used to say: The one seated at home is just as likely to die as the man who is up and about – Cafwa mukwenda, nope ekele. But in this Covid-19 era, I have to disagree with my ancestors!Fellow Zambians, we cannot continue staring at the abyss and then leaping into it like lemmings. One definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over and over and expecting a different result.People, our fatalistic take on life, our disdain for science and the way we mourn our dead, must change. Countrymen and women, it’s time to reset some of our cultures.TYRANNY OF CULTURESteve Biko recognised the tyranny of culture and said: In the past, we had been enslaved, but we should not allow our culture to enslave our future. To this, I want to add that neither should we allow our culture to kill our future.Do not get me wrong. There are many things that I admire about our culture. The communal responsibility, the “I am my brother’s keeper attitude to life,” and the “humanism” philosophy of rural life served us very well.However, many Zambians still cling to traditions, cultures and many firmly held ideas that are detrimental to progress, and in some instances detrimental to health.These need to be extirpated. Progress often needs change. Some change in our traditions and cultures is overdue. It is a moot point that everyone loves progress, but few people want change. But with the Covid-19 pandemic, change is what would save Zambia.The Covidiot who does not listen to the warning bell and pays no attention to it ends up dead as a doornail – Icikutwile, tacumfwa ndibu.A LOOK AT HISTORY• 150 years ago, chiefs were buried with freshly martyred citizens• 125 years ago, children who developed their first teeth on the upper gum were thrown in the river by their mothers without a backward glance• 100 years ago, widows were expected to sleep with a relative of the late husband in a cleansing ceremony• 50 years ago, husbands who lost their wives were given replacement wives by the family of the late woman. Ditto for widows• 30 years ago, every first degree relative had a right to any working man’s or woman’s salary• In 2021, …So, culture does change, and usually for the better! This is the time our ancestors would say: Legs, do not shake! We have arrived at the lake where people drown! – Mukonso witelententa! Twafika pa cimana bantu!Dear Zambians, as can be seen from the many indigenous proverbs used in this article, clearly, our culture has a big role to play in our daily lives. I am sure Zambians with more knowledge than I in the other local languages can add proverbs or idioms that can further enrich this narrative.Finally, this disease has killed many thousands of Zambians, and will kill many more thousands. Situation wii, umwipishe – This situation is very, very bad and so we must respond accordingly!Icaisa ulubilo, naiwe cikonke ulubilo.