My name is Joseph and I am from Rwanda, the first African country to put a lockdown as a result of COVID-19.
Our country and our people know a lot about responding to challenges. Over the years, we have experienced many difficulties including, the worst of all, the Genocide against the Tutsi that happened in 1994 in which over one million people were killed in a duration of 100 days.
Since the disaster of the genocide our country and our people have responded through so many humanitarian and governmental initiatives to support victims.
For the past two years, as part of my contribution to this re-construction journey, I have been volunteering to support the work of a local organisation called PsyRwanda. This organisation was founded by former counsellors of IBUKA a body that advocates for survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi. Over the past few years, PsyRwanda has been engaged in trauma healing in relation to ongoing consequences of Genocide and supporting those experiencing Gender Based Violence. This is such profound work and I have loved collaborating with this lovely group with very rich experience.
The lockdown here in Rwanda has coincided with the 100 days of commemoration of Genocide against the Tutsi. PsyRwanda members are doing an amazing work to support their groups remotely despite many challenges.
Another local group that I have grown to love is a local association of ex-mental health service users called OPROMAMER. During the lockdown, they have been among the most affected across the country. In addition to facing mental health related difficulties and additional stressors at this time, they are also facing shortage of food. Last week, we have organised a small fundraising to provide for them with basic needs, so far over 50 families have been provided with food thanks to Dulwich Centre Foundation. We are continuing to look for other means to support the remaining families.
In this document, I have been asked by my friend David Denborough to share a few tips that have helped me to manage living in a single room throughout the lockdown. To do so, I reached out to some of my friends so as to be able to come up with at least some diverse views and suggestions of what has worked for us. We are all young people – in our early and mid-twenties – living in single rooms at the time of lockdown.
Before we jump into the tips, maybe let’s quickly take a look at the challenging situation we have been experiencing while staying alone.
Some of the challenges
I remember the moment they announced that tomorrow we won’t be able to get out of the house and we’ll have stay at home the whole week. The first 1 or 2 days felt like the norm. After all, we have had some times when we take the whole weekend (2 days) without getting out of the house although this time it was against our will. But at first it didn’t resonate as something very big of a change.
We started coming to terms with the reality on Monday. Because we had shopped for supplies the day before the lockdown, when Monday came around we failed to a single excuse to do outside the house.
As 1 day, then 2-3-4-5 days passed, some of us felt like asking the government to give us at least 1 day off where people could get out and then comeback to the house so that we can be able to interact and see some faces of people. We literally started to miss seeing some faces. Deep inside we know getting out isn’t a good solution because the invisible enemy (Corona Virus) is out there waiting and we don’t want to have our full week of self-isolation wasted by getting infected or being the one extending the lockdown as a result of increased cases. We want to play our role but it was becoming too costly.
For some of us, life in a single room has presented varying feelings at different times and days from getting overwhelmed, getting scared, feeling useless, being confined, feeling down or even all of these things together.
So, me and some of my friends have chatted in order to come up with the following tips. We’re not sure for how long these skills might carry us forward. So far, we have found them useful during the first two weeks of lockdown.
What we have found helpful so far
Avoiding instantaneous change of lifestyle
Despite the hardship that might come with the lockdown, some of us have tried to keep our daily routine inside the house. We wake up at the same time, do morning preparations, and plan every hour of the day. Irrespective of the fact that we can’t get out, we try as much as possible that we go to sleep/nap, eat when we want to.
Keeping our usual lifestyle does not only help us to live through the lockdown but it will eventually be useful in future once the lockdown is over. We won’t need another week or more of adapting to the pre-lockdown lifestyle.
For some of my friends, keeping up with the lifestyle has helped them to avoid unhealthy habits like eating all the time, smoking, etc. We dress up differently every day (normal days) at home and do laundry on a Saturday and attend an online church service on a Sunday.
Enriching ourselves with knowledge
For some reason, we have all had one or more things that have been on our to-do list or Wishlist but up until now we failed to find time to complete them. The lockdown has provided an opportunity for some of us living alone to be able to accomplish or enrol in a new course, learn a certain recipe or culture, read a book, or practice a certain skill.
Without siblings or other family members to distract or even discourage us with their jokes, it is good that we try out anything new that adds/enriches our knowledge during the lockdown. YouTube is full of very useful information on a number of things we have found interesting. Others have started learning a new language … it’s the perfect time to imitate how that YouTube tutor speaks.
Lockdown not prison – talking to families/friends
Okay, although we’re are not allowed to meet or move outside the house, we’re not prevented from reaching out to our families, friends (including those you haven’t talked to for so long) or even some people you have met once in a seminar or conference and took their contact details.
We’re surprised how much time will fly in a day after we make two or three calls to our primary or secondary school friends. We have got to know how they are doing, who is struggling or pulling up well, those having families and their experiences. This has connected us to a vast network of people who care and love us. It is a worthy adventure to take and sail through.
Doing something out of the ordinary
When I made a call to some of my friends living alone in the house on how they are coping with the situation, I was surprised by one who explained to me that she had started doing some things out of the ordinary and it was helping her to manage the worry with the lockdown.
For some of my friends (as we call them “party people”) who always take time off over the weekend to go with friends to small night discos or bars, it is worthy partying in-house alone. We can dress-up on a Friday, switch on music and start dancing, discovering dance moves alone. While it might seem crazy idea, what do we have to lose after all, hang out with yourself!
Something else out of ordinary? Some of us have tried to join in making a funny video singing or performing something and sharing this with our close friends, challenging them to do the same. Have you watched that viral #DontRushChallenge? We don’t rush because we got all day around.
Planning beyond the lockdown
For me, it is important that my mind doesn’t go off the road to my long-term dreams and hopes. For some, the lockdown has presented us with a lot of uncertainty especially when we don’t have anyone in the house with whom to share our long-term goals. We have had to get back to our task-board and review our plans. Once the lockdown is shifted, perhaps this planning will help us keep our head up and optimistic for tomorrow.
Given that the lockdown caught us off-guard, we expect the same with the re-opening of the normal. When this is over, we don’t want to start regretting not having worked on our plans/prospects.
The presence of artists
We keep up the music in the house and feel the presence of many artists around the single room.
And there’s one more thing …
Some Kinyarwanda proverbs like “Nta mvura idahita” and “Ntajoro ridacya” which mean there will never be a permanent situation of struggle (it shall pass) and that resonate with hope for tomorrow, have also encouraged us during these times in lock-down.
These are some of our experiences. We would love to hear other people’s thoughts on how they’re managing life in a single room during lockdown.
I need to also say that there are some of my friends who have actually enjoyed the lockdown. They are not party people, they love having private life without disturbance and this period has given them a unique opportunity to live their life alone. You may be among such people. However, we face these experiences, I think it’s fine to explore new ways of living in the lockdown.