Nigerian student who was in Wuhan, China at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, narrates her experience.
January 2020 changed the world as we use to know it, daily; people ask when will the world return to normal? The question that agitates the mind is what will the new normal be? I have come to the conclusion that until there is a vaccine for COVID-19, the world might not return to ‘normal’. My tale of three cities traverses through Wuhan, Guangzhou and Abuja
With the goal of publishing a paper in mind, I had stayed back in Wuhan during the Winter holiday and that was going well up until, the first news of the Coronavirus spreading within the City hit me, I panicked and decided to get back home, immediately but I never made it out of Wuhan, before its lockdown; an unprecedented move in the opinion of many.
Wuhan is a city of over 11million people located in the Central of China, a major transport hub for about 9 Provinces. The beloved city of Wuhan is home to numerous universities and higher institutions of learning with over 1million students. What is there not to love about Wuhan! The bustling city life, street food, the sheer number of students (foreign and local), the cool air around the East Lake or a ferry ride across the Yangtse River? A city that never sleeps!
I woke up on the 23rd January, 2020 and the city that never sleeps had been put on a lockdown to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. There were so many information online, from mainstream media to social media, some unconfirmed news while others were pure speculations. You do need a discerning mind to decide on what’s true and what’s not.
Like the rest of the numerous residents of Wuhan, I panicked. No one saw this coming. As a student, living on campus, I was scared of being cut off from the outside world as no one had an idea of when the lockdown would be lifted. The coming weeks saw different Countries evacuating their citizens from Wuhan. As the reality of my situation became clearer, I began to adjust to the reality on ground.
The International Student Office of my university was exceptional, they ensured free meals were delivered at my doorstep, daily. For over 80 days, breakfast, lunch and dinner were served. Groceries were also arranged to be delivered at our apartment. I didn’t lack for anything. They also ensured proper information dissemination, with constant updates, I eventually had to stay off the news in other to protect my mental health.
After over 70 days alone in my room, not to forget the outpouring of love, prayers and monetary gifts, we were overjoyed to receive the news of the Lockdown being lifted, finally and we saw the city of Wuhan gradually crawl back to life, all thanks to the sacrifices of thousands of health workers- our heroes!
By this time, school has resumed the Spring Semester howbeit, everything had been moved online and running smoothly – the power of technology.
Wuhan has now tested over 9 million of its residents within less than 2 weeks, a measure said to ensure that the City is truly free – I would say only the Chinese Government can embark on these sort of projects – just like the construction of the 2 makeshifts hospitals in Wuhan at the height of the Pandemic.
GUANGZHOU: OF DISCRIMINATION AND HOSPITALITY
Seeing as my semester was almost ending and I do love to spend the summer holiday with my family while writing my doctoral thesis proposal, I decided to join the flight evacuating Nigerians from Guangzhou City to Abuja.
Guangzhou is the most populous city in Southern China, home to the largest community of Africans in China, a destination for most Africans coming to China for one form of business or the other. I had to travel by fast train to Guangzhou to join the flight to Nigeria, I was a little uncomfortable with the negative news that had gone viral on the maltreatment of Nigerians in that city
Around mid-April, while China was already getting a hang of the control of the pandemic, the news of discrimination against blacks/Africans in Guangzhou was all over the news. Based on media reportage of the discrimination, I was not looking forward to the journey as it was my first time in Guangzhou.
Imagine my relief on arrival at the Southern Train Station, Guangzhou, where Taxi people were very nice and helpful, helping with my boxes as I was struggling. The taxi ride down to my hotel was the most pleasant as the driver kept asking questions about Nigeria as we rode for almost an hour to Tianhe District. The staff of the hotel, a friend had recommended, were courteous as well.
While it became clear that my flight to Nigeria will be delayed for a week or more, along with 3 other Nigerian professors, who had arrived from other Cities for the same flight, I began exploring the City of Guangzhou.
On the 3rd day, some health workers arrived at the hotel to inform me that I would need to take the COVID-19 test as I had traveled out of Wuhan before I could get tested. We agreed on a set time for the next day. The sample was taken at the agreed time and my result was delivered to my room, seamlessly.
While I enjoyed the hospitality at the hotel, going shopping at the Mall and eating at different restaurants, the question then become, does my one single experience invalidate the experiences of the other Africans in Guangzhou? The answer is No.
THIS IS ABUJA
Must have been over 14-hour flight, but I arrived in Nigeria and was extremely glad to be back home, except that the mandatory quarantine made my joy short-lived. I was on the same flight with over 250 Nigerians who had been stranded in Guangzhou at the height of the reported discrimination and pandemic.
Some are also in the same hotel with me; a few days back, an older man, who had been on a business trip to Guangzhou mentioned how grateful he was to the Chinese Government during his stay in Guangzhou, one of the Professors then asked why he would say that considering the numerous news about discrimination and maltreatment.
He went on to narrate how he was put in a hotel and fed by both the Chinese and Nigerian Consulate in Guangzhou, after his mandatory quarantine on arrival in March. I didn’t ask any questions, I just enjoyed his short story and moved on.
The night before I put down this piece, another young man decided to also tell us lessons learnt in Guangzhou as this was his first business trip.
He arrived Guangzhou sometimes in March with other Nigerians/Africans, they were all put under mandatory quarantine for 14-days, on completion, a COVID-19 test was administered and their results were handed over to them and they were let go.
Surprisingly, they couldn’t find any hotels that would take them in, the more they searched, the more they were rejected. While the Police did all that they could to ensure they stayed off the streets, they were just trying to find a space to lay their heads.
After about 2-3 nights on the streets, they found a hotel who took them in and fed them, free of charge. At first, it was just him and 3 of his friends but once they saw how hospitable, they were. They immediately sent a message to their friends in the other parts of the City to join them.
“Till that night we come Airport, we stay for this hotel and dem dey bring breakfast, lunch and dinner, we go even go market and come back, they only say make we register when we dey comot and when we come back”
He concluded with “the thing still dey shock me say they no collect one naira from us oh, their government too try”
WHAT WENT WRONG?
After listening to these 2 stories and based on my experience, I have some questions that I might never get answers to. Like, why did the hotels refuse to take them in after their mandatory quarantine with a test result showing they were COVID-19 free?
Did a lack of communication between both sides escalate the matter? From my experience, I know some nuances and meanings are usually lost when we are speaking to each other with the aid of a translating App.
We also need to discuss the role of the media in the escalation and de-escalation of the matter. What role did the media play?
In any case, both Nigeria and China continue to build a strong relationship, although there will be similar challenges along the way, we hope that both Countries will also continue to find common grounds and resolve these differences and challenges while also ensuring mutual respects.
Conclusively, I know a lot of Nations across the earth are still struggling to control the Pandemic, including mine, I hope we can all take some lessons from China, we should take into cognizance the peculiarities of each Nation while applying these lessons.
Peace and light!
Evelyn John is a Nigerian doctoral student in China