Life Happens Forward But We Understand It Backwards

Dear Yuri,

In Ethiopia, there was no total lockdown as the government tried to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods, because even before COVID, there are many poor Ethiopians who contemplate which meals of the day to eat or which members of the family should eat them.

But the pandemic brought blessings too. Hygiene used to be a luxury, but hand washing has now occupied its rightful place in our infection-prone way of life. We dusted off our Amharic dictionary and remembered we have not one but many words for ‘quarantine’, and we repurposed our forefathers’ gesture of greeting – the bow from the waist.

Dear Yuri, although the world is going through a once-a-century show of inexplicable power, it’s also striking how things are still the same. You’d think someone would do or say something radical, something befitting the situation. But nothing. Just scrambling to maintain the status quo despite of it, without a moment of silence to stop and listen if what hit us has something to say. A moment of silence to ask ‘what is it?’ before ‘how do we get rid of it?’ The Ethiopian writer Abraham Verghese wrote ‘life happens forward but we understand it backwards’.

Sometimes answers appear in something I see or read. Including in Leviticus where it begins “These are the animals you are not to eat” and a long list of animals follows – animals that did or did not spill the virus over to a human in Wuhan – which ends with “and the bat.”

What else could it be but a history willed by Him? Who else but God?

But then I hear in lockdown domestic violence has increased. Men are hitting their women. Many are not stopping to ask. It happens forward but we are only going to understand it backwards.

Linda, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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