27: Thurs 9 April

Africa, India and Rockall – the world in a day

Up early enough to run a bath, watch Al Jazeera news at 8 (which includes a live rendition of a speech from Ali Khameni, Iran’s Supreme Leader, putting brave face on things – but he looks frail at 81 and frequently consults his notes). Then I soak for 30 minutes. What a way to start my day.

The news has made me reflect about the effect of the virus in countries like Rwanda, Uganda, the Congo, Ethiopia, and Sudan where the medical facilities are negligible and the threat of Boko Haram and the insurgents add another immediate a threat to the rural population. And in India they are threatening harsh prison sentences for refusing to obey Modi’s instruction to wear a mask, however crude. If prisons here are incubating Covid19, Indian goals are a certain death sentence.

A call comes from Tanzania, it is one of my oldest mates. His family, part Irish part Chagga (the mountain people), have run a hotel on the slopes of Kilimanjaro for generations. But all is silent there now. Local staff have been laid off as there is no-one climbing the mountain anymore, nor will there be for months yet. A lone Maasai, armed with spear and bow and arrow patrols the grounds at night, where intruders are more likely to be wild animals than humans.

The coronavirus could well spell the end for the tourist trade that brings in so much to the Tanzanian economy. The family are all in lockdown, and with no income coming in face an uncertain future as do those other families subsisting in local villages and on the plains below. 

He tells me of a family friend who came to visit England and stay with this brother who apologised for the cold wet weather,. “You have no need to apologise,” said his Chagga guest. “When I come to England I am breathing freedom.” 

That reminded me of a public meeting at the Freedom Forum in London many years ago where there was debate about the meaning of being British. Most of the English ’celebrities’ on the panel were waxing lyrical about vague superficial attributes of the country. But it was the immigrants and refugees who spoke up powerfully about the Rule of Law, open justice, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly – their reasons for choosing Britain as a home.  As someone who has worked in many countries where such things are theories best not spoken about in public I have often felt that people here don’t realise how lucky they are.

Speaking of freedom, I snuck out to have a mid-morning coffee in a neighbour’s garden – sitting way beyond the statutory 2 metres apart. I touched nothing, sat on a disinfected chair and even took my own mug of coffee. But it gave us a chance to swap notes about our internment, and the way Mother Nature is reasserting her rights as humans take a back seat. But don’t tell anyone. When I revealed my first cycle ride in three weeks, I got a bollocking from my son for breaking out of house arrest.

Had a chat with a local lawyer today who told me his firm is doing a lot of will and probate work at the moment, including for families of some Covid19 casualties. So sad. But have you made YOUR will, just in case? It pays to be prepared, especially in times like these. I need to see if mine needs updating. 

I spent much of the rest of the day sawing wood from the eucalyptus tree and a magnificent magnolia tree that died on me. I have an open fire in my study but there are so many boxes of paper that I rarely dare use it. Instead I am building a store of small logs for relatives with wood-burning stoves.

The sun was hot this afternoon and everything seems to be bursting with life after yesterday’s thorough hose down. By the time of the No.10 press conference I am ready to stop.

An Indian journo friend gets in touch to check “that all is well … at this crazy time!” We all seem to be communicating more and further afield than we ever have before.

More grim news as death rates continue to rise. After a much need tea it is time for the next few chapters of ‘The Master.’ The grandsons seem truly captivated. The author of ‘The Once and Future King’ was a bit of an odd character, and a conscientious objector who lived and wrote in Ireland during World War II. T. H. White certainly knew how to tell a good story. It is no surprise that J.K. Rowling claims his Arthurian tales were among the inspirations for her Harry Potter saga. 

A good natured noisy ‘clap’ for NHS workers and carers everywhere this evening. I added a bell to the proceedings this time. Everyone waves to each other as if we are all stranded on desert islands, near enough to see each other but without the means to reach each other. Will we talk and visit each other when all this is over?

My house guests come in to announce that tonight he plans to make doughnuts and flatbread, under instruction from his mother back home North Africa who is watching over him on Skype.

Now I shall put down my pen and finish off Noughts and Crosses before bed.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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