A birthday during lockdown in Malawi

14 May 2020
Dennis, inside his house, enjoying the red velvet birthday cake his wife made him. Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - Dennis Lupenga. Malawi. May 2020
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

With cases of coronavirus rising, Malawi is in lockdown. We are supporting the Government's response to the crisis, getting supplies to hospitals and working with public media to broadcast hygiene messages across the country.

In the fourth entry of our Lockdown Diary series Dennis Lupenga, our Voices from the Field Officer in Malawi, tells us about working from home as a new dad, dirty tap water and celebrating his birthday in isolation.

Being a Voices from the Field Officer requires me to be out in communities for a long time. So it’s not easy staying in one space and speaking virtually. I have had to change a lot of things to fit in to this strange new world.

A birthday in isolation

28 April was my birthday. It was strange, as I used to have loud music to celebrate it. Food, jokes, laughter and dancing. I missed all that this year. It was just me and the loves of my life, my wife Sheila and my son Eon.

Red velvet cake. Covid-19 response. Lockdown Diaries - Dennis Lupenga. Malawii. May 2020
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

But my family and friends made sure the day didn’t go unnoticed. Sheila and Eon made a red velvet cake for me! Yummy, yummy, yummy! The sweetness was out of this world. I enjoyed every bite of it, washed down with a cold ginger ale.

Special messages bring hope

Family and friends also sent me messages on WhatsApp and Facebook. One was from my sister Deborah, who is doing her church vocational training as a nun in Kenya.

She recorded a special video singing happy birthday to me. It was emotional and I was in tears for a moment. I have not seen her for a very long time, and I never expected it.

These are trying times but we can still use technology to show each other love in so many ways – so let’s all keep celebrating birthdays!

A new routine

To feel some normalcy, I always try to dress up nicely for work. My work station is in the corner of our sitting room, which is manageable, if not always private.

Sometimes I go outside and sit under a tree where I have built a swing. It is a quiet, peaceful place when I have to make office calls or join webinars.

Dennis sitting in front of the workstation inside his house. Covid-19 response. Lockdown diaries – Dennis Lupenga. May 2020
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

When my family go to bed, I usually work again and enjoy the peace and quiet of my desk until past midnight.

Despite the difficulty, I am now able to see my six-month-old son Eon growing up every day. When the work gets tough, I just need to turn in my chair and I will always be greeted by his big smile.

Down the drain

Today my tap greeted me with muddy water. My face fell. I was reminded of how misinformed it is telling rural communities to boil their water.

Dennis’s toothbrush leaning against a glass tumbler containing dirty water which came straight from the tap in his house. Covid-19 response. Lockdown diaries - Dennis Lupenga
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

“Boil it?” I asked myself. I needed that water right away to brush my teeth. There was no time to boil it, wait 15 minutes for it to cool down, then sieve it. I felt sorry for myself.

But I am lucky, I usually have clean water. Millions in Malawi do not. People die every year from waterborne diseases. Now, with cases of COVID-19, how can we protect families who can’t afford soap and have no clean water supply? How can they dare to dream?

Non-stop snacking

Since I don’t want to risk my family’s health by shopping too often, I have started a vegetable garden for us. It will also keep me focused in the coming weeks. I have cabbages, tomatoes, onions and pumpkins so far.

Dennis watering the vegetables inside his vegetable garden at home. Covid-19 response. Lockdown diaries – Dennis Lupenga. May 2020
WaterAid/ Dennis Lupenga

It is hard to keep track of time, so I always find myself chewing something. Bananas, guavas, anything in the fridge, I just can’t stop – my workstation is right next to it!

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