CORONA  – UNDER AFRICAN STARS
During the coming weeks, or more likely months, who knows, while we anxiously wait for the corona pandemic to blow away with the wind, as silently and unknown as it blew into our unfenced and nicely manicured garden to begin with, I will share with you some impressions and reflections from the countries i feel particularly attached to: Denmark, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Nepal and Bhutan. To make it easy to read, Every new article will include all of the previous articles. Enjoy!
SUNDAY 15 MARCH 2020
corona  – under african stars
Our game ranger on the Sunday evening drive has stopped her open seated Land Rover close to the only real tree to be seen for miles. The sun is now set just behind the top of the tree, but half an hour later it has disappeared in a sea of yellow and red and shades of both. The ranger has left the vehicle to see if she can find tracks of a cheetah that has been spotted in the area hours earlier. No tracks! But she is determined to show us something memorable on our last game drive, before we return to Denmark. We explain that just driving through the bush under the star-spotted sky is plenty memorable for us. The silence is devastating, and the smell of dust in our noses and the occasional scent of animals passing by is comforting in a strange way. We tell her that we feel at home, here, under the stars. What more can one wish for, when the world is falling apart?
We had been scrambling frantically for the last couple of days, since Jeppe Kofod, the young Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs, who was now being seriously tested for the first time in the job he had been holding for a little more than six months, on Friday 13 March in a press conference announced the new reality to his fellow citizens:
“If you consider travelling abroad, don’t. If you are already abroad, find a way to get home as quickly as possible.”
It seemed like Friday 6 March, just a week ago and the day we had left Copenhagen on a tour to Botswana [both of us] and Zimbabwe [only me], was years ago. Botswana was our home for three years in 2003-2005, and we had not met the people on our list of visits for 15 years. We had been looking forward to these meetings, wondering what turns and twists their lives had taken, how their children were doing, and through them get a sense of how the country was faring. Zimbabwe was an even older friend than Botswana, since we lived there in the early 90s, but we had visited more recently, and this time it was only me going, to visit a few places I needed to see, touch and smell to be able to finish my book project. We had followed the corona experience of China, and we had read about Danes being infected in ski resorts in Northern Italy. So yes, we knew of course that the virus was out there, somewhere and somehow. We never seriously considered cancelling the trip. We also did not have the sense that this was what the Danish authorities would want us to do. But at the end of the week, we knew that our world had changed as well.
During the first days in Botswana, we greeted friends as we had always done, energetically hugging, holding hands, laughing face to face at stories about the good old days. Mid-week the news about what might in the worst-case scenario also happen in Botswana started running through the streets of Gaborone, as quickly as the virus did elsewhere in the world. Hugging was replaced by elbow touching and feet kicking. When we arrived at the game lodge on the other side of the border, in South Africa, on Saturday 14 March, we had our temperature taken at the border and were met with a precautionary distance by the hosts at the lodge. All guests were careful.
Theoretically, we might have been able to change our tickets or buy new ones right after we had heard from the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Friday 13. However [as we would learn the hard way], with South African Airlines on the brink of bankruptcy, cancelling several departures from Gaborone every day, it was difficult to figure out how to get connected with international flights out of Johannesburg. It did not help that we were unable to get through to any relevant office, probably because we were not the only ones scrambling to get tickets changed. The SAA office practice of opening later and closing earlier than announced was not helpful either.
At the end of Friday evening we gave up on having my ticket changed – from leaving for Harare and stay in Zimbabwe all of March, to returning to Denmark with Anne right away. We bought a new ticket, the last one on offer on the same flight. Considering how the world was now behaving, we felt it would be nice and safe to travel home together. Then we would have to deal with the bureaucratic challenges of getting a refund later, safely cooped up in our apartment.
An hour after our stop at the tree to look for the cheetah, our ranger stopped the Land Rover and cut the engine, then turning around to whisper that we were now number two in the row of cars waiting to observe a group of three lions, two males and one female. And she added: “Don’t speak too loudly! No sudden movements! Do not stand up in the vehicle! This may be a ‘civilized’ game park, but the animals are wild.” A little later she started the car and drove into the lions ‘den’, parking very close to the biggest male, who was in the process of devouring a large impala. He clearly had a look of contentment on his face. A short distance away, the female was resting peacefully on her side, looking tired from the hunt, but she finally rose and stretched her slim body before lying down again. The other male followed the eating feast of the older male with measured interest, not too much, but enough to indicate his right to a piece of the kill. Suddenly he rose and roared, showing his teeth, and in what seemed like no more than a fraction of a second, he had secured the hind legs of the impala and started his own feast close by.
Little did we know that night what our country would look like, when we returned 48 hours later. But we were grateful that our aborted trip to our beloved Africa, and Southern Africa in particular, had ended like this. With yet another strangely calming understanding of the basics of life.