A Letter to My Little Brother

Dear Carmel,

I have had the idea to write to you since last week. Finally, it has now dawned on me; and I feel I must write this letter, although you are too young to read it. It is around 6pm and the sun is setting, sinking behind the volcanoes. As I write, you are moving about the living room. Sitting opposite to me on another couch is Aunt Olive. Brother Edmond is also at home. And mother will be here in an hour, coming back from the store. In the background, there is music by Manu Dibango, the famous Cameroonian saxophonist who passed away today, sadly succumbing to a respiratory disease that has been wreaking havoc across the world.

You cannot understand why we have been together for the past week, but the disease I have just mentioned is the reason why Edmond, Olive and I are here. I will talk about that later, but Olive has been trapped by travel restrictions that came into force recently. The coronavirus that broke out only last December has killed more than fourteen thousand people around the world, and I am sure that number will have risen when I finish this letter.

After arriving and terrifying most parts of the world, the coronavirus, which scientists have dubbed Covid-19, was confirmed in Rwanda. When I heard the news, I was frightened very much because some information circulated pointing out that the first person to get infected was in Huye. It turned out later that the person was in Kigali. Edmond and I were staying in Huye town and were in the middle of the second trimester.

I just called mother and after a sense of disbelief she pronounced your name twice, perhaps thinking about your age. We will celebrate your second birthday this November, but I don’t know how we will do the celebration. One can’t be sure about the future, but the coronavirus pandemic has made us even more worriedly uncertain about tomorrow. On the Saturday we got the unsettling news about the disease in Rwanda, mother wanted us to come home quickly. That was before the Ministry of Health later that day issued directives that ordered schools to close.

The trip from Huye to Musanze is about five hours or so, but it took us more than 24 hours. We arrived the following Monday, even if we had left Huye on Sunday afternoon. With all the schools having closed, transporting students back home was the priority. Usually, one takes two buses from Huye to Musanze through Kigali. This time, it was almost impossible. We took a bus to Nyanza, hoping to find another to Muhanga, but we failed. I had a slight tussle with a driver who had doubled the price. It was a stressful day. We had to sojourn in Nyanza.

The following morning, buses were still scarce, but fortunately we found a private car that landed us in Muhanga town. It was my first time to take the trip from Muhanga, through Ngororero and Nyabihu to Musanze. In spite of the road’s dizzying corners, I enjoyed seeing the hilly landscape of Ngororero and Nyabihu. When we arrived, and I have to say this, I washed my hands like I had done all along the way, before I could pick you up.

The last eight days with you have given me an important experience. I have seen you learn to stand on your feet unaided, and then walk on your own. I’m getting to know funny details of babysitting. But with all your movements, I still struggle to find a way I can read while holding you.

We’ve been on a countrywide lockdown since a few days ago because of the disease. Only essential services are open. A lot of things have happened in the course of seven days, and probably they will continue for the next weeks. People are buying foodstuffs in panic, emptying shops, hence price hikes. Rumors about the disease are circulating across social media. Some people have spoken of the end of days. And finding an occupation during these days isn’t easy.

Churches have closed doors. Strange enough, some churches have made announcements to their followers on how they will give offerings and tenth, despite their staying at home and some even having stopped earning. I think showing such an unsympathetic face toward desperate people is disturbing.

We are staying at home, so far the safest way to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. However, we don’t wear face masks. Bold measures that have been taken – necessary as they are – are damaging. As most services have closed, I haven’t grasped how families that depend on a daily wage will cope with this trying period. It’s extremely challenging, to say the least.

My graduation is scheduled in November, but some of my classmates don’t want to talk about it. Despite the looming uncertainty, I hope the disease won’t get out of hand. As it has gotten darker outside, I’m waiting for the ministry’s daily update on the situation. I wish to see you when you have grown up.

Your brother,

Written on March 24, 2020