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We have another entry for the “Lockdown Diaries” blog series! The world has been hard hit by the Corona virus (COVID 19) in an unprecedented way so there is no better time to launch these guest bloggers to get an in-depth look at how young people from various corners of the East and Southern African region are handling quarantine, self isolation, social distancing and other preventative measures. You will follow their experiences through their eyes as young people – their thoughts, feelings, highs and lows, and reflections.

Stay tuned for more stories!

Written by Lucy Nyoro, Kenya

Its 6:48pm and I’m in town. It’s the first week of curfew and it’s serious. I’m from checking up on a friend of mine who’s going through a hard time, and I’m thinking that should count as important. People are running around town trying to beat the time, the police sirens sound and it’s like an awakening even to those who seemed a little reluctant. I will beat the curfew, I’m sure of that, because I have walked this same distance for months now. But you don’t just walk when everyone is running, so I start pacing. A police officer is walking towards his car and as he opens the door, I am passing by and he asks if he can drop me home. Of course I say no, because mama said don’t talk to strangers and that is always the first instinct with strangers. He insists, but so do I, and that is where my running begins. I’m trying to keep calm and not panic with all the chaos, but it’s harder when there’s nothing normal about what’s going on. Moi Avenue is deserted; no cars, no people, all clubs and restaurants closed, and it’s eerily quiet, so I keep running. Haile Selassie Avenue is deserted too, but as a Mercedes Benz with a police officer, I assume, since its windows are rolled up, zooms past me into the distance with sirens on, I relax a bit. I take one stupid video, say a few things and think to myself, “If by any chance I die on the street, those who know me will know my voice.” Then I’m running home again. I get to my house on time, like I knew I would. I even have some minutes to spare with all the running. I’m not sure I make dinner that day, although I feel somewhat relaxed that my body wasn’t stuck in a room for a whole other day.

The effect isn’t long-lasting though. And soon enough I need to leave the house again. I’ve had a whole day indoors. I’m trying to keep myself distracted on social media. I can’t focus enough to watch a movie or read a book or cook. So I need something that doesn’t need all that much attention. I’m flipping through Facebook and twitter and instagram, sometimes Whatsapp. Soon enough its evening, and I’m worried that it’s going to be a long night. I’m not sure if I’m worried about something in particular or just everything. So I take a really long cold shower, dress and go for a walk. I take a route I’ve never taken before. I have two hours until curfew, but really, it’s not that important at the moment. I play some music and walk. Lower Hill, to Upper Hill, through some routes I’ve not taken before. I know I’m not very good with specific directions, so I’m relying with my instinct and general direction knowledge that I will be able to make it in time. Its calming, liberating and I just walk in the middle of the road and sing. Calm down, I’m not trying to get hit by a car; the road is literally deserted thanks to curfew and lockdown. Again, I’m home just a minute before curfew. Walking back home, I had so many people offering a ride. I cannot decide whether humanity is just stronger now, or maybe there was just someone who thought this would be the best opportunity to kidnap someone and lock them up in the basement of their house, so just like my mum taught me, I pass, with a full on smile. I love to smile.

Days have started fading into each other and I have to constantly check my phone to see what day it is. Last Sunday, I was talking to my mum while pacing up and down outside the hospital, and she told me how they had a service at home before going to work. That’s my mother. She’ll work even on days she should rest, she’ll work when everyone else is too tired to keep working. She’ll work on Sunday after church and say Jesus said not to leave a donkey in the pit simply because it’s Sabbath. As I start to write this article, its Monday night. I don’t actually write, I just turn on my laptop but the temptation to have a chat with my best friend even after we’ve spent the whole week and the one before that together is more enticing. Don’t get me wrong, I love to write, but then again, I love to chat too, so I leave my laptop on the floor in the living room and go to bed. I’ll get up early, I tell myself, or maybe, I won’t actually fall asleep and I’ll sip some soda, assume its wine and write with the illusion of a page-turning fantasy. Instead, my body betrays me and I end up deep asleep. I do wake up, sometime in the middle of the night and sometime just before morning light. In both times, I have no idea what woke me up, but I have a feeling I was not having a pleasant dream.

On one of the early days, just before the borders closed, my best friend and her mum were travelling back from India. I went to the airport to pick them up, together with her sister, dad and uncle. We drove home together, and the most disappointing bit was that the only way I could show them love was not to hug them, and I love hugs. I couldn’t even shake their hands, it was all Namaste as if we were preparing for a yoga workout session.

I spent days indoors, not leaving the house except to grab a few fresh vegetables for dinner. I was working then, so it was a little easier for me. There’s nothing quite like working in a sleeping gown. But I get tired of routine. To make matters worse, I was reading about the Spanish flu and somehow, I knew it would be a long time before I could see my family again. So, I talk to them every day. My mum has a routine of calling me every day, and even as everything changes, that has remained a constant. In more ways than she’ll ever know, she has gotten me through tough days just by hearing her voice on the other end of the line and knowing that even as everything changes, her love never did.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of quarantine with my best friend. On a normal day, we would be playing dress up, I’d be her make-up muse, we’d dance to random songs playing loudly in the speaker, making a new recipe and catching up on all we’ve missed in each other’s life. But this time has not been a normal day at all, and it’s not an easy time either. She jokes that she’s been in quarantine for six months, or maybe it’s not a joke. But then again, that’s her story. We’ve been in and out of hospital in this period, and I have come to hate neutral soothing colors: light blue, beige, light green…I’m sure I don’t want to see those colors in my house, ever. They’re not a bad choice, but every time I see them, I remember looking at a hospital wall, trying to detach myself from all the pain and suffering around me, because there is nothing I can do to ease it, and I don’t want to experience that. Being in a cancer center and watching the patients’ faces with little radiance, I try to imagine, how radiant they must have been once. I look at their family members and how tired their faces look, and suddenly I’m overwhelmed with the need to cheer everyone up. I want us to sing a song in the hallways of this hospital, I want us to shout and dance like this is the only moment that counts, because truly, it is the only moment we can be sure of. I want to hug everyone, and tell them everything will be okay, but I don’t know that and corona has said no hugs. So I stare at the wall; beige, light blue, light green…until it’s our turn to see the doctor, or time to leave again.

I have learnt to appreciate technology lately. I’m not exactly a fan, so you won’t find me with the latest model of everything in my house, but I have learnt to appreciate the little things that are no longer so little or irrelevant. At least once every week, I see some of my friends I haven’t seen in a while. Seeing them all together is different in a way from seeing one at a time. And so, thanks to zoom, I can do that. It’s a safe space. We talk, we plan, we share we play games and we laugh. For two hours or so, we experience the feeling that we’re all together and nothing much has changed.

When you’re stuck in a place with no hope of leaving soon, you need something to look forward to, something that gives you reason to wake up, but then, I guess that’s every day of life. So, I found something to do that did not entail me cooking food for myself. Before lockdown, I was working on, together with other committee members, bringing Amazing Minds Africa to UON. With corona, other than studies coming to a standstill, and everyone finding a way to cope, other projects came to a standstill too. We agreed as a team to find a way around corona, because now more than ever, our mental health was at stake. That’s how we started virtual buddy groups on zoom. And in more ways than one, this move has been life-changing.

Quarantine and lockdown is not exactly a good thing. It is tough, it makes you feel desperate, but it’s also made me appreciate the little things. I have learnt to appreciate moments. And celebrate small victories, like finishing work on time, going for a walk or a drive, sitting outside in the sun, watching the stars and most importantly good health. I have learnt to be thankful that I can hold my breath and smell roses, that I can taste wine and that I can enjoy a good song without pain in my lungs or stomach. And more than anything, I have learnt that we need each other, appreciate each other and be thankful for little things.

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As part of efforts to ensure all young people have access to comprehensive, life-skills based sexuality education, UNESCO screened a new video at the 18-July Eastern and Southern Africa Commitment Progress Review Meeting, on the side-lines of this year’s International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. The video, ‘Being a Young Person’, looks at the challenges young people face as they navigate the journey to adulthood, and outlines how comprehensive sexuality education (CSE), can make this journey easier, more certain and healthier.

[:pt]An initiative that brings together policy makers, young people and civil society to strengthen sexuality education and reproductive and sexual health services in eastern and southern Africa. By having adequate access to these services, young people are empowered to make their own decisions about their health, preventing HIV/AIDS and unexpected pregnancies.[:fr]An initiative that brings together policy makers, young people and civil society to strengthen sexuality education and reproductive and sexual health services in eastern and southern Africa. By having adequate access to these services, young people are empowered to make their own decisions about their health, preventing HIV/AIDS and unexpected pregnancies.[:]