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Kenyan returnee’s first-hand experience of night parties inside isolation camp

“For what I had gone through, landing at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was a big relief. Finally, I was home.

But after picking our luggage, we found security guards waiting for us. I thought. This is it. There was a desk with officials asking us to tick the hotels or government facilities where we wished to be quarantined.

NEW HOME

The costs were being given in dollars. Not shillings. All of a sudden, it looked like another country — 70 dollars, 40 dollars a night.

By now we were all weary, hungry and getting angry. Some guys would just tick… Jacaranda, Boma… whatever. Their companies were paying for them since they were out on official duty.

The rest of us, the wretched of Covid-19, said we weren’t paying a dime! Then the hostility started. Someone was preaching ‘social distance’ to us, but we told him, “tumeshuka ndege moja shoulder to shoulder”. We were, by now, an angry lot. Very angry.

My husband had come to pick me up, but he was informed that he couldn’t even touch my luggage, let alone me. So he left.

We decided to change the money but the teller at the airport informed us that they had instructions: “They shouldn’t touch our money. It was contaminated.”

I was now wondering, then how are we to pay for the hotels, if at all. Tempers rose… Finally, the National Youth Service buses started streaming in.

We could see them from the glass walls. It then started raining and we were requested to “kindly” board the buses to Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC), or wherever, and I didn’t care, to ease congestion as other arrivals were on the way.

We were informed we would only pay Sh500 a night. But we told the guards we wouldn’t pay a cent. At 3 o’clock, we boarded the buses to begin life in a quarantine camp.

I kept wondering: “How did I find myself here?” That question lingered in my thoughts. I started recalling the journey.

NO WRITTEN RULES

Majority of my friends had urged me to get out of Madrid while others, including my husband, felt I’d be safer there.

That traversing those airports and planes was riskier than staying in Madrid. But none, apart from my daughter and Carl, my host’s son, shared my fright and anxiety. If I had been locked up in Spain, chances were, it would be indefinite.

So I relaxed and tensed less believing my decision had been the best and was for my own sanity. But then, how would I survive this quarantine camp?

My new home. Here, we had travellers from China… from Wuhan itself! Others would cringe in their stomachs on learning I had arrived from Madrid. We were all suspicious of each other.

No one felt safe but we had two things in common. First, no one outside the camp wanted us near them. Secondly, we were all happy to have made it before the midnight March 25 deadline!

With these two common issues uniting us, we decided to work as a team. However, different people understand simple instructions differently.

Quarantines are supposed to allow people to keep distance, keep to their rooms and take personal responsibility not to spread the killer virus.

But how was that possible while we had common wash areas and eating spaces. No written rules were given to us. No medical personnel addressed us.

Only caterers, security and cleaners were around the camp. Electricians, too, were on the ground fixing and installing new hot showers.

SHORT HOLIDAY

I took a shower, changed clothes, called hubby for personal effects and took a nap. I was now ready for my 14-day sojourn.

However, when my husband arrived he was neither allowed to speak to me nor come near the gate.

A guard, from some security firm, and an Administration Police officer told him to drop the bag and leave.

What had changed so much that I was being treated like a criminal suspect of some sort? It was depressing to say the least, but I told myself “ni wiki mbili tu”.

It looked like we were on a short holiday as we waited for directives from the Ministry of Health. To our surprise, such directions never came and it dawned on us — we were on our own.

It was now every man for himself. Personally, I decided to keep distance by only interacting with my two friends. Still, I’d still hear different people’s narratives.

Some escapes from Qatar, Dubai, UK and so on. These were stories of desperate Kenyans dashing home to beat the deadline.

Rebooking and paying exorbitant, nay extortionist, fares just to get back home. There were young guys excited to interact while observing distance at least to ease their anxiety.

Everyone was introducing themselves based on where they arrived from and all seemed bliss. Evening came and the polite outside caterers laid the table.

PARTY BEGINS

There was variety of food packed in plastic containers. I noticed that the caterers had no masks, nor gloves! We raised our concern and communicated that it was not acceptable.

Come evening, the parties began! Apparently, there was enough alcohol to open a club in the camp. I was so disappointed.

I locked myself in my room and started reading some Daily Bread booklet. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to speak on phone.

Still outside there were young people dancing…there was blaring music! How now? Did these youngsters forget why we were here?

My friend from Karen was so disgusted. She suggested we leave the following day but we were informed it wasn’t going to be easy to change camps. We were caged! No way out…and it was only the second day!

I realised that just like me, a majority hadn’t informed their folks that they were in Kenya already. On my part, I opted to make a post on my Facebook page telling everyone I was home. That was after a three-day silence.

At this point, I realised to my astonishment that no one cared about the virus. Save for keeping distance, the mood was relaxed.

Lunch was served outside and everyone was all smiles exchanging greetings.

A happy ignorant lot, I thought.”