Accidental Tourist

Media hysteria, Fortnite overkill and trying to stay sane in self-isolation

Stephen Haw returned from a weekend away to find himself under 'house arrest' in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here's a little taste of what lies in store for all of us as we enter lockdown

22 March 2020 - 00:00 By Stephen Haw

Image: Illustration: Piet Grobler

Yesterday I was sitting on the banks of the Zambezi, 30km from the Victoria Falls, marveling at the rushing water and wondering whether it knew it was destined to become the smoke that thunders.

Today, on company orders, I'm at home with a self-isolating family, trying not to catastrophise. I have a bit of a headache, which might be a hangover, though I suspect it has more to do with a wife who thinks she can still go to work (she can't), and a son who sees this as his opportunity to introduce me to his many Fortnite skins.

What I do know is that the imagined bliss of an escape from the hell of other people has fast dissolved into the realities of stockpiling, handwashing and thinking about my elbow should I feel the need to cough. It's only day one, and already I'm living in corona central. Do I panic; do I not panic? Do I panic about not panicking?

"Dad! You won't believe it. I've just 'taken out' Midas. Come see, quick!" I resist, partly because if I give in to all his demands, "working from home" will quickly become "gone awol".

But I also resist because I know what he doesn't: that Midas is seriously wounded, and has been for quite some time. I worry about Covid-19 eating the global economy, my money, his future; about how an unpredictability has been loosed upon the world.

I felt it at Victoria Falls airport, coming home, how suddenly every second person was wearing a mask, and surreptitiously scanning everyone else to assess their threat potential. How people quickly moved seats to create the maximum possible distance between themselves and others. How few dared to look happy.

I dreaded arrivals at OR Tambo and the heat gun, and what might happen if I tested positive, or worse, a false positive ... because then I'd almost certainly get it, even if I didn't have it. And what would that mean? Somewhere in my mind, it meant a hospital in Tembisa.

For the first time I felt fear, not fight or flight, but something more latent, darker, more unknowable. I went to the bathroom and washed my hands, once more with feeling. I turned down my mother's offer to pick me up from the airport (for her sake), and hazarded an Uber home rather than the Gautrain.

For the first time I felt fear, not fight or flight, but something more latent, darker, more unknowable. I went to the bathroom and washed my hands, once more with feeling

I've just heard that a British woman who passed through The Falls before me has tested positive. I know that the chances of my being infected are slim, but imagination is the enemy in such matters ... "Hands, touching hands, reaching out, touching me, touching you."

As of now, I no longer laugh at all the memes, though there are a few that hit home. I love the one that references The Shining, with Jack Nicholson and his family driving to the Overlook hotel with a caption that reads: "A couple of weeks of isolation with the family. What could go wrong?"

And I also like the Vietnamese hand-washing dance, which my son found on TikTok, because it's a fun way to get everyone keen on the basics. In fact, I'm going to insist the family perform it every 20 minutes. But other than that, I'm going to try to avoid the torrent of media-driven hysteria.

Oh, and I'm also going to take F Scott Fitzgerald's lead, given when he was quarantined in the south of France during the outbreak of Spanish Flu in 1920.

"The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month's worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us."

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