These are times we won’t forget. When President Museveni made the announcement last Wednesday that closed all schools for all ages across the country for a month due to COVID-19, I was standing in a grocery store watching it on their televisions for sale. A handful of Ugandans were also gathered around the screen commenting on his long pauses, the content of his proclamations and his struggle to explain a word that English lacked. Apparently in his mother tongue, there’s a word for the intake of breath before you sneeze. We shared that experience together. My children were restless, completely unaware of the import of the moment.
Christopher and I proceeded to finish our shopping. We had originally thought to be in Kampala to attend a graduation for one of the clinic staff members. It was cancelled. We decided to travel anyways to see friends for the weekend, get supplies for the clinic and do our own grocery shopping. Since we live so far away from town, we’re used to stocking up. Now our shopping list for ourselves and others felt oddly like hording.
The crisis escalated quickly while we were traveling. Wednesday the President closed schools, limited Ugandans’ travel, forbid gatherings of more than 10 people for all public gatherings including weddings and funerals, and banned people entering Uganda from the worst hit countries with COVID outbreaks. Friday the schools officially closed, Christopher spent many hours trying to find face masks or hand sanitizer for the clinic without success. Students made a mad dash for home. Here, countless students are in boarding schools a good distance from their parents’ villages. Saturday, the President spoke again and every store you entered required you to wash your hands before entering. Sunday, the first recorded case in Uganda was reported, the international airport was completely shut down, churches across the nation was cancelled. Now any flight that arrives or departs has to get special permission from the President. US citizens in the country wanting to leave are waiting on news from the US embassy to arrange one or possibly two more flights out. No guarantees and very pricy tickets! Monday, we drove back to Karamoja without incident. I was relieved to find there was still meat in the grocery stores in Mbale and stocked up on some other essentials.
We spent the weekend with old friends we hadn’t seen in months, some over a year. The fellowship was exactly what I needed to temper the mayhem. To remind me of God’s faithfulness in supplying what I need even before I know I need it. I’m so thankful for His body.
Yesterday night, the President spoke again. All public transport is now suspended for two weeks, no one should have more than 3 people in any private vehicle, all non-essential services are closed, even government offices have only limited staff.
We are now at 14 recorded cases in Uganda, all tied to flights that entered the country in the few days before the airport shut down. In another two weeks we’ll have an idea if it has leapt the boundaries of quarantine and entered the country or if the scare will pass.
Tests are limited, as elsewhere. Results take time. It may be everywhere before we know it. The consequences are beginning to settle in. Christopher called our pharmaceutical supplier for the clinic regarding purchasing the Tylenol-equivalent. They don’t have any more to sell. Uganda gets most of its medicines and health supplies from either China or India. That supply chain is broken. Uganda does make its own hand sanitizer, as a by-product of sugar, but right now demand outstrips supply. The medicine used to treat a wretched yet common disease in Karamoja, brucellosis, is no longer available in country.
We closed our preschool with the other schools last week, but I was able to sit with some of the teachers today. We encouraged each other that the Lord knew about this before it even happened, that He isn’t surprised or trying to scramble to clean up the mess. He knows. He is greater. And He is good. We prayed together. We sang about how good God is and how He cares for us. I encouraged them, that we are in this together and prayed for the Spirit’s peace to guard their hearts. They are remarkably calm. Before I arrived at the meeting, they had already spaced out the chairs and no one shook hands. We laughed together at a story one of them acted out. I told them if anyone wanted to sing or pray together, I’m around. We’ll see how the Lord leads in these coming days. We pray to be His hands and feet, however that looks. Isolation feels like withdrawal, but if it saves lives I’m going to risk it. Isolation takes self-control, which I don’t usually engage (really?! How many times a day am I supposed to wash my hands?!). Isolation requires submission, submission to the law of the land in this case and a surrender of my own agenda. Loud splashes of great acts sometimes seem simpler than the quiet small moments of holding back.
But right now, as I told the teachers, our work is to trust in our perfect, loving, good God. Let us begin there and see where He leads. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing about the moments when His light shines brighter than fear or disease. I know this will be a time of purifying, calling back and strengthening His children. We can claim the peace that guards our hearts. We can walk in light now. Walls don’t limit our love for our neighbor or devotion to our savior. Seek His face and you will find it.