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  • Dami Afam Ade-Odiachi

Coping with the pandemic: Will lemons see me through?


Wednesday 25 March 2020. Mama Afam’s kitchen.

Minds are fraying. It’s the uncertainty of it all. Faced with an enemy that we can name, but not see, fear-filled thoughts are bursting through their mental cages. We’re grasping for security against the virus. We don’t want to fall sick. We don’t want the loves of our lives to die. So we grasp at straws, bits of information and misinformation, without much care for truth.

This is why someone in my Whattsapp reading group said: “Be careful of who’s hand sanitiser’s you use. I heard that 2 people turned into goats after using the hand sanitizer that a bus driver in Ejigbo provided.” It’s also why our parents insist on sending us tips that are more witchcraft than science.

In the beginning of the pandemic, when it was still in Wuhan, before it decimated Italy, I consumed every bit of information I could about it. It became a minor god I worshipped unceasingly. I’d wake up and google corona, at lunchtime, I’d google Wuhan, and before bed I’d google the Diamond Princess cruise.


As it wreaked havoc around the globe, my appetite for news about it decreased to nothing. I don’t need my heart colored with blues and grays. The things you feed grow. The things you do not feed starve. My lust for all news, fake and real stoked the flames of my anxiety and I suffered for it.

Living with mental illness in these days of viral plague has not been easy. My anxiety strains against my sanity. On some days, the source of my worry is that I too could become a casualty, my name counted among the lost. On others it’s that my country will find that it lacks the necessary infrastructure to feed its people, and that we stand on the brink of revolution. I hold my hand in my head and put one on the table. The one on my head is the physical manifestation of my despair. The one on the table reminds me that the future is irrelevant. I am here now. The table is here now. The future is not. The table is real. My fear is fantasy.

I don’t know the benefits of keeping a halved onion in the corners of your room. I can’t be an advocate for micro-dosing on chloroquine or its more effective cousin, quinine. But, I know about the things that make me feel strong and healthy. My multivitamins, my vitamin C, an apple a day, a moderate amount of exercise, and lemons.


23 March 2020. Mama Afam’s Kitchen. Lemon tea prep.

I have always loved lemons. I love them more than limes, which I turn to before I consider oranges, which I prefer to grapefruit. My love for citrus fruits doesn’t extend to tangerines. The way they’re typically eaten is disgusting to me. The peeling of the skin, the separation of the parts, so much labour for something less satisfying than a lemon, an orange or even a grape fruit. They are my version of haram.

I don’t quite know why I like lemons so much. It could be the tang, the colour, sometimes a very Nigerian green, sometimes a sunny yellow... But it could also be a thing I read that traumatized my boyhood.

When I was very young, I can’t say how young, but young enough that I wet the bed without shame or consideration, I learned that 188,899 men signed up for Britain’s 7 year war with France in the late 18th century. 133,708 died from disease, primarily scurvy - the result of a vitamin C deficiency. Only 1,512 were killed in action. In 1795 they made it law for lemons or limes - naturally rich in vitamin C, to be included in grog, an alcoholic beverage which all sailors drank to hydrate. The paradox isn’t lost on me. Alcohol and hydration are not natural room mates. Medical practices of old will never cease to be a constant source of amusement. Can you believe that it was once standard practice to cure Syphilis with arsenic?


21 March 2020. Mama Afam’s Kitchen. Lemonade prep.

When my “ronxiety” (corona virus related anxiety) flares, I walk to the kitchen and make some lemon tea. Lemon juice, extracted from one lemon, one English Breakfast, Assam, or Earl’s Grey tea bag, 2 cubes of sugar and one teacup. The smell of it is soothing to my grieved spirit. And the taste? A tonic for my bruised heart. A coping mechanism for the ages. And when my anger at my helplessness burns hot, I soothe my soul with lemonade. Lemon juice extracted from 2 lemons, 4 cubes of sugar, water, and ice. The cold glass takes my mind off the fact that even at this moment, there may be a microscopic battle being fought in my veins.

Stay Safe, Keep Healthy and Happy Days, Always.

Afam

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