Facing Covid with grace, love and the moon

by Esther Katts
5 June 2020
5 June 2020

‘There is a sureness in the skies remaining faithful while everything around me slips through my hands,’ writes the author about coping in the time of the coronavirus. In her small town in Northern Cape the response to pull together has been affirming.

I’ve been struggling to put word to paper since the Covid-19 outbreak and subsequent lockdown. Words and days have held no meaning. I stopped counting as we went from one stage to another, instead allowing the moon to guide me as she did my forepeople.

I’ve been following her as she changed her face from full to half to crescent and back again. “Mammie look at the banana moon,” Miss M calls out in awe as we play outside at 10 am, the crescent moon still roaming the skies. There is a sureness in the skies remaining faithful while everything around me slips through my hands.

My days are taken up by lullabies, wiping tears, playing dress-up and baking sand cakes countless times to comfort a three-year-old who keeps on telling me “I’m so sad, so vely, vely sad.” But why Miss M? ”I have no friends,” she answers.  She is wetting her bed again and reassures me every night, “Mammie you are my best fliend in the whole world.”

Friends have meaning and moms are functional. She needs friends that come and go. There is rhythm in that too. She needs people to make sense of the world around her. We need people, period.

With my eyes fixed on the skies, Winter crept up behind me and took residence in my bones. Suddenly in her wake I took note of the small sadness just above my navel. Sitting there while I move around in my days. Sitting there and looking on as I clean up around me. Eavesdropping as people share their fears and questions about Covid-19 when I call on SaveAct members for a survey or just a simple how-do-you-do.

She never leaves, not even when you laugh. She sees your father turning eighty, all vulnerable and frail. She ties your hands behind your back as you massage your 63-year-old friend Ouma’s left hand, which is lame after a blood clot to the brain stole her voice and turned her words into guttural sounds. In the women’s ward where I visit her is a 70-year-old-woman who had a heart attack, a middle-aged woman who slept through all the talking and a young woman with second-degree burns from a lovers’ quarrel.

“This is the last straw, I have to leave him.” She is telling me her story as if by hearing herself saying it out loud she will believe herself. Words can be empty and ice-cold too and are sometimes so slow in catching up with the heart. Women are still battling age-old realities.

A week ago I received a whatsapp. Oom Jakob Oortman from Leliefontein had a heart attack. Oom Jakob is a 70-plus subsistence farmer who daily walked over 10km  into the mountains to graze his animals. He was healthy with just a deep craving for smokes. Many moons back I wrote a piece on indigenous knowledge and subsistence farming based on stories he told  me, naming it “‘n Pa se tien gebooie soos voorgehou uit Jakob Ortman se lewe” (A father’s ten commandments based on Jakob Ortman’s life). My people have a saying when they love somebody naturally: “Jy sit been oor kruis in my hart”(You sit with crossed legs in my heart). Comfortably and easy, that’s how I love this old man. He cannot die. I won’t let him. Those are the thoughts running my through my head, as if I’ve turned into a god overnight.

Based on the number of infections (205 on June 15, 2020), the impact of the virus on Northern Cape has been relatively mild, but these hidden vulnerabilities lurks dangerously behind the face of Covid. Chronic illnesses combined with high levels of unemployment, poverty and hunger are the things that people fear more than Covid-19. And studies now link coronavirus deaths with chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure and diabetes.

So how do you find your place in unsure times? How relevant are savings when people have no income?  I’m driven by action when I fear sitting still.  Marie Curie’s quote resonates: “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” I believe this with every cell in my being. So I took action.

Biepstad Covid Action group was formed to help our community. People from all walks of life came together to donate food, find sponsors, identify and hand out food parcels where needed. Over time our elders joined us too. The old believers, the ones who go to the mountains when we need prayers, took their place next to the vegetable table, cutting butternuts in half. Grace their gift.

Local savings groups donated their social fund contribution to help where needed. I bask in the goodness of people these days. To date we’ve helped 306 vulnerable families through these donations. But food parcels are short-term relief if one wants to address food security for the poor, so helping people to set up food gardens was our next step.

With a once-off donation from Rural Women’s Assembly we bought vegetables and seeds to give to people who showed interest. Young people cleared a piece of land where they aim to set up a community garden. In the meantime, applications were made to Food for Africa for seedlings and more seeds. But seeds take time to germinate and community gardens need investments. In the meantime people are hungry. So for now we will continue to hand out parcels as long as we can and find peace in the hope that we’ve seeded.

How Covid-19 will really impact on savings groups only time will tell. I know that these groups offer a social safety net to members that will serve as a springboard for community interventions as we find our feet in this challenging time.

Whilst my soul mourns what has been lost and I learn to be conscious of my sadness and place in this world – I read this on the wall of a Facebook friend from Pella: ||Nā !khais kaise a tsûsas tawab ge Elob |Khoma kaise a kai. !Khomâis |guisa hî re. It is the ancient tongue of the moon and her people. Translated it means:  “At the place where we hurt the most the grace of God is bigger. Just hold on. “

Can that be enough for now, while we hold on to grace and do what we do with love?

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