A UK traveller had his ham sandwich seized when trying to enter the Netherlands due to Brexit rules.
A UK traveller had his ham sandwich seized when trying to enter the Netherlands due to Brexit rules.
Image: 123RF / Natthapon Ngamnithiporn

With every month that passes, it gets harder to write this column. It is, after all, supposed to be light-hearted. But the times are anything but. I thought that being privileged enough to travel between two countries at a time when much of humanity is pretty much trapped wherever they are might have provided some relief. But it’s been an exercise in comparing different degrees of misery.

My last column of 2020 was written as I was returning from the UK, and it gave me an opportunity to speculate on how Covid-19 might develop in South Africa. At that point we were comfortably on level 1 of the lockdown. Things were looking grim in Britain, with the daily dashboard published by The Guardian reflecting about 20,000 new infections a day. While not a strict lockdown, restrictions in Scotland were already hitting the hospitality and tourism industry. Pubs had been closed and only restaurants and cafés that didn’t serve alcohol could remain open.

That, unfortunately, proved to be a harbinger of what was to come in South Africa as its own second wave arrived and the country’s lockdown was tightened again in December. The year ended with me wishing that that particular column hadn’t been so prescient. When I returned to the UK towards the end of the year, things had only gotten worse, infections having jumped to over 60,000 per day.

I had arrived just as hysteria over the so-called “South African variant” was taking off. In addition to a 10-day quarantine, I was compelled to take a Covid-19 test. By then, things had really become so bad I had no desire to end my quarantine.

But in the UK, despite the gloom, people were starting to muster something that qualified as a bit of optimism, driven by the country’s ramping up its vaccination programme.

If only that part could be a harbinger of what’s to come locally. Unfortunately, the government completely mismanaged that process, and we are now reduced to living in hope that the late scramble for vaccines will yield results.

Just as depression about the state of the world threatens to consume us, relief can come from an unexpected source

But not all the news was gloomy — even if it was about Brexit. While I was there, the UK finally left the EU, more than four years after that fateful vote.

Britain is famous for its self-deprecating humour and, for years to come, its comedians will have fun reminiscing about the first post-Brexit days, what with UK travellers being prevented from taking their ham sandwiches to the Netherlands and the likes. You see, the EU forbids meat products being brought in from outside the union for personal consumption. According to Dutch TV news, a bemused traveller, when met with police wishing to seize said snack, then offered to surrender the cold meat and keep the bread, to which the immigration official is said to have responded, “No, everything will be confiscated. Welcome to Brexit, sir, I’m sorry.”

Just as depression about the state of the world threatens to consume us, relief can come from an unexpected source. Maybe there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we just can’t see it yet. In the meantime, we can just try to find things that make us laugh. Ham included.

 Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.

 From the February edition of Wanted, 2021.

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