• You have no way of knowing when you will see each other again
It has been a little over a month since Kenya went into partial lockdown as a measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In essence, the time we have been in the partial lockdown feels longer than it is. We seem to be living in an endless time loop, where we are stuck indoors, seeing the same faces and doing the same things repeatedly. As a result, many people and institutions feared what this would do to marriages.
Countries like Malaysia urged wives to avoid nagging their husbands during the lockdown period. A sentiment that caused an uproar across the globe. Others feared a forced lockdown would ignite domestic violence cases.
In South Africa, it has been reported that 148 people have been charged with crimes relating to gender-based violence since the country went into lockdown on March 27. Other places, such as Dubai, have resorted to extreme measures of shutting down courts, thus suspending all cases of marriage and divorce until further notice.
Most people are worried about the effects lockdowns will have on marriages where husbands and wives would be at each other’s throats because of being cooped up together for too long.
Rightfully so, but I pondered the opposite. I wondered about people like me, who are in long-distance marriages because of unavoidable circumstances.
I have not seen my husband since early August 2019. The plan was to join him in Europe as soon as my travel application was accepted. However, as the concerned embassy explained, the application process can take any time between six months and a year.
As the global standstill caused by the coronavirus endures, who knows how long it will be before the anticipated reunion? While my partner and I talk on a daily basis, I cannot help myself from living in anxiety on his situation. He is alone in a country with no family; he lives alone and works from home. Other than phone calls with family and work conference calls, he has little contact with the outside world.
I find myself pushing him to do things, as I fear for his mental and physical well-being. In the words of the Malaysian government, I am turning into a ‘nagging’ wife of sorts. In a way, I have come to realise it is a coping mechanism, attempting to douse my anxiety. Knowing I am completely helpless in case of an emergency intensifies my trepidation. The feeling of helplessness being in this situation is devastating. We have no way of knowing when we will see each other again.
I am not the only wife going through this struggle. In Nairobi, Amani* (not her real name) is going through the difficult time of parenting her six-month-old daughter alone, while her husband is based in South Sudan. Although Amani’s husband visited the family in February, the family was supposed to reunite over Easter, as it would have been their baby’s first Easter. For now, the family has no inclination of when they will be reunited. “We are hopeful that in August, we might be together again,” Amani said, adding that baby would be 10 months old by then.
Amani tries to include her husband in the daily life of their daughter. She sends him videos of her doing ordinary things so he does not miss out on the little things. Regular video calls between the father and baby help in uplifting her husband’s mood, as he is all alone in a foreign country.
In Malindi, a mother of two, Latifa*, is the second wife of a Kenyan emigrant in Dubai, where the man lives with his first wife. In an average year, her husband visits her a couple of times, but for now, his visits have been cancelled for the foreseeable future. Latifa laments that the current situation has made it hard to maintain her relationship.
Since her husband is on lockdown at home with his first wife, there is hardly any private time for the two of them to talk. Latifa is worried that if the disease is not defeated any time soon, then her marriage might be in trouble. “I’m not sure if he will feel it is safe to travel for some time even after the borders are opened,” she said.
Latifa is a stay-at-home mum and relies on her husband for the family’s upkeep. As it is, movement in Dubai is restricted and her husband has a hard time finding ways to send her money. The next couple of months are going to be tough on all of them, she said.
While others fear that close proximity with their spouse will cause rifts in their marriages, they should be grateful to have their loved ones in sight. The alternative is a tormenting reality that Amani, Latifa and I are intimately familiar with. The only thing that keeps us going is the dream of a corona-free world, when we are finally reunited with our loved ones.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.