My friend, a South African working in Nigeria has had to close the hospitality space due to Coronavirus. In addition, she cannot travel home to see her family because she might not have a job when she returns. Her employers love her as I do. I had not seen her in seven weeks due to the lockdown. I was beyond excited to see her. I am very fond of running off to her space when I have difficulty in finishing a chapter of the book I am currently writing. Wink. Wink! Or when I have a difficult proposal to crack or when I just want to get away. It is peaceful and well-kept and a two minutes’ walk from my home. My escape when I do not want to be found.
So, I run into her in a supermarket and I was so pleased to see her approaching until Snap! I remembered Coronavirus, Social distancing. It was a crazy moment. My routine greeting for Ankia is a hug and both of us were left speechless in an awkward moment of no hugs. It is our new reality. We could hardly see each other’s faces because we were both wearing masks. She cradled both her hands in a faux baby rocking mode and burst into laughter. There you have your hug she said. It was hard but this is who we are now. It’s harder than we can imagine.
As a people, our default mode in our communities and in the cities for dear friends and family is a hug and a handshake. As an Igala woman, when I go home, I go round hugging Aunties and cousins and sister in-laws and Aunty in-laws. In most Nigerian societies, a hug is a sign of warmth and just camaraderie. Now I try to imagine a new brave world without hugs.
I know what a hug does. We kind of dissolve into another person’s arms and it is beyond physical but also spiritual. It is as if we gave up ourselves, we passed on our burdens to a trusted significant other in a hug. I know
Two weeks ago, a cousin called repeatedly at 1a.m but I was already asleep and missed her call. When I woke up the following day and called, I could sense that she was feeling low. She missed her children; they were all abroad. Her husband had travelled. Her staff were not coming to work. She missed her mum who had long since passed. Just those moments when you feel vulnerable and just need someone to talk to. Add this to the mix of media overload on Coronavirus and she said she cried for two hours. This is us, brittle humans caving slowly under the weight of the Coronavirus fall outs.
Thankfully the luck down had been eased so I took time out to visit with her, mask on our faces and sitting metres away from each other. I took gifts to cheer her up and sat around for about thirty minutes. It did her a world of good. But we could not hug each other. If anyone needed a hug at this time, it was my cousin but the virus had forbidden it. These are such strange times that we must be collectively strong to get through it. Who needs you now that you can help out of a hole? Who is suffering emotionally now? It’s time to make that phone call and help someone up. It’s time to check your security guard and give him palliatives. How is your house help doing, a friend, your cousin? Stretch out your hand to someone today. It may not be a hug but you would have made a difference.
I know what a hug does. We kind of dissolve into another person’s arms and it is beyond physical but also spiritual. It is as if we gave up ourselves, we passed on our burdens to a trusted significant other in a hug. I know. Children understand it when a mum hugs them when they are hurting, lovers get it and friends yearns for it. When someone is grieving, you reach out with a hug, when they are happy, you celebrate with them with a hug. The simplest of things elude us now. A simple hug which I so badly need now but I am sensible enough to hold my fire. Tomorrow will come as sure as the sun shines. But that hug is not imminent. It will take time. Let’s find creative new ways to show our affection. As simple as a hug is that we miss, the things that make people happy now are also simple, a wave, a smile, a call, a note. We are an extension of each other. Humanity just needs kindness now. It’s not how important you are or how brilliant. It’s that simple smile at another. And this too shall pass. Amen.