The continued spread of COVID-19 has led to many governments around the world imposing national lockdown that prevent residents from freely venturing outside for anything more the purchasing of foods and essentials as well as visits to medical facilities should they suspected themselves of contracting the disease. In Europe and America, social media and personal anecdotes have begun to fill up with stories of people who find themselves bored by the prospects of having to work from home, with little in the way of real-world entertainment, with shopping malls, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and even parks are shut down by government decrees as measures to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.
As someone who spent two years residing in the small town of Iringa, Tanzania, visiting and working with farmers in villages dotted around the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, I see the complaints of Westerners about the difficulty of having to endure "social distancing" in semi-mandatory lockdown an epitome of "#firstworldproblems" often used on Twitter and other social media platforms. Just as the hashtag implies, for many Westerners, social distancing is a problem in that it acts as a nuisance that disturbs their usual luxury living of being able to get all the material needs to ensure creature comfort, but not a "real" issue that would threaten their very lives. The complaint of those bored by social distancing is trivial compared to millions around the world tested positive for the coronavirus and fighting for their very lives in hospitals.
Indeed, the idea that "social distancing" in the West can even be considered a nuisance is unfathomable for a person used to the daily life of rural Tanzania. In villages around Iringa, the lack of streetlights, safe roads, an abundance of dangerous wild animals, and a lack of income all ensure that there is no such thing as institutionalized nightlife, to begin with. Residents rarely venture far from their homes after sundown, and even when they do, the journeys consist of little beyond visits to neighbors' houses or the village watering hole for a chat and a drink or two. The lack of cinemas, arcades, and glittering shopping centers that Westerners are so used to in rural Africa mean that even when residents go out during the day, it was mostly for work or purchasing daily necessities. In other words, the daily lives of rural Africans are no different from the lives under lockdown that many Westerners are only too eager to complain about.
Moreover, when wealthy Westerners complain about how the lockdown has made it impossible for them to entertain themselves by interacting with others, they make a mockery of the world's poor population who are forced to live in proximity of many others even when epidemics spread in their dense neighborhoods. Various media articles have made it clear that those who can afford to live alone, work remotely, and in general be away from other people for extended periods without facing grave personal financial issues are among the world's lucky few. In contrast, informal workers in rural Africa live in small homes with multiple family members and are dependent on selling agricultural produce in crowded markets and menial labor work with dozens, if not hundreds of others. For them, there is simply no realistic mechanism that allows them to be away from even people that they are sure to have contracted the virus.
If anything, the "boredom" that Westerners complain about during social distancing today is a fact of life that many rural Africans grow up with and become accustomed to in the best of times. Westerners can fire up their smartphones and computers, open up Youtube, Netflix, Zoom, among other software and websites, to entertain themselves by watching shows or speaking to friends from the safety of their homes. But many rural Africans cannot afford the electronic devices and get access to fast-speed internet to do the same. They simply learn to live with boredom and find joy in much more mundane matters, such as the ability to chat and grab a meal with friends and family members in their immediate vicinity.
As social distancing and lockdown drag on in Western countries, perhaps their citizens may learn to sympathize more with the lives of rural Africans. As Westerners find themselves unable to access their usual entertainment facilities for a prolonged period, they may become more like rural Africans in finding much more simple joys out of what would be called a "deprived" situation in the West. And after living simply for a long period, Westerners may learn that their obsession with being stimulated constantly, through the endless array of entertainment services Western cities offer, is largely unnecessary for them to go on with their lives in a healthy, fulfilling way.
Image Credit: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Photo-illustration-of-a-traditional-isolated-rural-African-village-homestead-context_fig1_321231948