In a few days, I may or may not be travelling overseas. This predicament made me think of an article I read in The Economist a few weeks ago. It was about the experience of countries that were on the verge of returning to something that could be described as normalcy. In a roundabout way, it concludes that normal might be what everybody craves, but then they might be bored soon, and seek to get on a plane to get away from it. I couldn’t disagree more.
As the writer points out, normal can be both reassuring and disappointing. You might be happy to be told that your blood pressure is within an acceptable range, but might feel less so about being told the same about your child’s intellectual ability. Needless to say, I find the idea of normal being boring hard to comprehend. In South Africa, we’ve been under some kind of lockdown for more than 14 months now, and I can’t say I’ve found it exciting.
Recent months, to be fair, haven’t been too terrible. While we were among the most overzealous at the start of the pandemic, as time wore on, economic reality meant we had to relax faster than the countries that were way ahead of us and were getting their populations vaccinated. While that has helped restore some sense of normalcy, it means we are vulnerable to a third wave of infections, especially during winter as people do more of their socialising indoors.
At the time of writing, more than 35-million people had been vaccinated in the UK, and it was opening up from a position of strength. This time in 2020, it also tried opening up before vaccines had become available and made some dreadful mistakes, such as subsidising people to crowd restaurants. Vaccines do make a difference — and this time it really is different. It has meant people who, just a few weeks ago were given the go-ahead to hug, with explicit instructions on how to do it, are getting used to life being normal again.
As for South Africans, we can’t even jump on a plane to get away from abnormal, let alone normal. I was thinking that as I scouted various Facebook and WhatsApp groups to check with which airlines one could travel. One day Turkey is an option, and the next day it isn’t. What about Kenya or Egypt? So it goes on.
That’s the kind of excitement one can do without. I also did something I hadn’t done for a while. I gave a friend a lift to the airport to catch a flight. The contrast as we drove past the deserted drop-off area at the international terminals! I counted exactly one car, just a symbol of our country’s international isolation. In front of the domestic terminals, where people were catching flights to elsewhere in South Africa, it looked somewhat busier, something more akin to normal. Some people were even hugging!
• Mnyanda is the editor of Business Day.
• From the June edition of Wanted, 2021.