In the beginning, I thought the pandemic would only last a short while, a few months at most. This illusory hope kept me from panic-buying the first ticket home to Malawi I could find. Fast forward to over two years later and I still have not been able to make it home as, like many people, a combination of travel restrictions and school uncertainty has kept me in Vancouver. Home has subsequently become a distant memory, like an old song I would sing along to in the back of my dad’s car or a childhood TV show I would rush to put on after school. Something that was once familiar has now become alien.
Being essentially locked down in Vancouver amid a pandemic without the comfort of loved ones nearby or intimate childhood settings has been a harrowing experience. As someone who has lived alone for a large part of the pandemic, I can honestly say that it has been a distinctively strange and lonely ordeal. The worst part of all has been trying to maintain sanity alongside the hellscape reality that is online university. While many communities, including Black-led clubs and organizations, have done their best to maintain unity and connection throughout the pandemic it often feels hard to get involved on a personal level. The biggest challenge is steeling myself to join another Zoom room after a full day of gawking at my laptop screen.
Living in this reality for over two years has created a deep-seated longing for home, even if the memory of home itself has grown fuzzy. 2021 was going to be the year that I would finally make the trip back, a Christmas miracle after three years of coal. However, well after my tickets were booked and my hopes were raised, the Canadian government dropped the news that eight African countries, including my own, were banned due to the emergence of the Omicron variant. While it is understandable that a government would take whatever action it sees fit to protect its citizens during a global health crisis, something about this travel ban seemed like a targeted overreach. Malawi had not had the Omicron variant detected within its borders at the time of the travel ban but had been added to the list of banned countries. At the same time, people who lived in countries outside of southern Africa that had detected the Omicron variant were free to fly into Canada at their pleasure.
Beyond the initial confusion of the travel ban’s implications, I was left heartbroken once again at the prospect of spending another Christmas without family. I had to come to accept the bitter reality that Christmas 2021 would be yet another one spent a long way away from home. But in the midst of my sorrow, my joy was restored by the welcoming hands of a friend who invited me into their family home for winter break.
Throughout my whirlwind experience of the pandemic, I have found myself caught and comforted by my friends. While my relatives remain far away, I have been able to rely on the patchwork of friends I have made in Canada for tangible love and support. As I navigate my youth through these unprecedented times, I have learnt that the companionship of a friend can taste just as sweet as my mum’s homemade rice pudding.
Alongside my friends, I have come to appreciate the quiet discomfort of uncertainty in the future. This enforced state of precarity has bred a desire for spontaneity and seeking new adventures. From getting tattooed to starting a podcast, the unique experiences I have amassed during this pandemic will remain memories that I will fondly hold on to forever. Amid the hard and soft lessons these pandemic years have taught me, the greatest has been a learned resilience to life’s unexpected plot twists.