“We sense that ‘normal’ isn’t coming back, that we are being born into a new normal: a new kind of society, a new relationship to the earth, a new experience of being human” – Charles Eisentein
When, hopefully, it is all over, the COVID-19 pandemic would have succeeded in launching us into a vastly strange new world. The world, as we know it, would not be the same; it would have changed to the extent that the way we do things now would have been forgotten, consigned into the dustbin of history.
Even now, the change that began all over the world early this year is not about to run its full course. The normal in our lives has become abnormal; in the era of the pandemic with the attendant social, economic, political and cultural disruptions, we have since embraced the new normal.
The first clear sign of trouble was the crude manner the new normal intruded into the way we worship. The two great religions – Islam and Christianity – place a high premium on congregational prayers (especially for Muslims five times daily with particular emphasis on Jummat prayers) and fellowship for Christians, all designed to promote unity among the community. COVID-19 changed all that immediately it announced its arrival.
Lockdown of all aspects of lives followed suit with all the major streets and parks of the world becoming deserted village or ghost towns: air travel came to a halt and the seas were either empty of ships or they began to play host to those unlucky voyagers that were marooned for months.
All these absurdities have become the new normal. And we are being told every day to learn to live with it because the possibility of reversing the situation is not in sight yet. These times, they say, call for the total, the unconditional embrace of the old saying: what cannot be cured, must be endured.
But the new normal is not, unfortunately, restricted to the impact COVID-19 and its strange protocols of lockdowns, of social distancing, of face masks, of treating each and everyone as suspect until they prove their innocence. It even goes beyond the way we relate to God.
In the culture of the new normal, it is risky to take ill. Every symptom is likely to be mistaken for COVID-19 infection because this strange disease has appropriated the symptoms of all known diseases prevalent before the COVID-19 civilization. Malaria, common colds, cough, aches and pains.
The story was told of a woman who did not survive a caesarian operation but her case was recorded as COVID-19. There was another story of an elderly man who died possibly of natural causes after severe ailments and prolonged hospitalization. His case predated COVID-19. But he lived long enough to succumb finally to death during the COVID-19 era. And he was reported as COVID-19 case. Which suggests that all the known normal diseases have now come under the new normal: COVID-19.
But with this new normal, there is a silver lining. Government is forced by COVID-19 to pay more attention to the existing health care facilities. Under the new normal, the well-to-do who, hitherto, had no qualms taking their health challenges abroad for better care, are now forced to patronize the local hospitals. In the process, they have no choice but to make them better for the poor and the rich.
The only drawback and people are complaining about it, is the ease with which every little ailment is treated as COVID-19 and possibly recorded as such. As mentioned in the two stories, if for any reason you sneeze in a public place, you are a suspect, likely to be treated a COVID-19 candidate, no matter the involuntary nature of the act. And it matters not if perchance you are reacting to some allergy.
In the face of the new normal, what was normal before the era of COVID-19, has become a grotesque abnormality, taboo even.
Capt. Ado Sanusi, the chief executive officer of Aero Contractors, one of the airlines resuming operations this week, emphatically made the point that it is forbidden to sneeze on board. If you are unlucky enough to sneeze, you would be handed over to the NCDC officials on landing and treated as COVID-19 suspect. I am sure it will be worse if for any reason you cough or attempt to clear your throat at the cruising altitude of 33,000 feet above the ground.
This issue of mistaken identity is one of the reasons why parents are becoming more apprehensive with the re-opening of schools when there are no clear error-proof facilities in place for all the protocols of COVID-19.
Are the school clinics equipped for proper testing? And with this rainy season, if any child is tested or suspected to be a COVID-19 patient on the basis of shared symptoms like the common cold, blocked or running nose accompanied by cough, dry or chesty, it puts the parents in a state of anxiety. Certainly this new normal will send some parents including teachers into a tailspin.
But as we have observed in the last three months, especially starting from the commencement of the lockdown, this pandemic of the new normal is not by any means limited to COVID-19. And the new traits may not even have anything to do with this Wuhan disease that has had the world firmly under its foot and not letting up. Other spheres of our lives have been affected by the new normal to the extent that all known absurdities and abomination and cultural taboos have become part of the new normal.
Heightened crime, for instance, has taken a cover under this unconscionable paradigm shift and today the resort to kidnapping or killing of one human being by another demented human being for money is the order of the day. Rape incident is sweeping across the country with incest – fathers having carnal knowledge of daughters – is no longer taboo.
This ancient history and all other known aberrations have become part and parcel of the new normal. So are the more furious traits of lawlessness, impunity by those in high office, in your face corruption, greed and an unpardonable travesty of justice.
What about the way we speak? This pandemic also shows its ugly face and a gratuitous intrusion into the so-called Queen’s English as we were taught in those good old days. I am not referring to our popular pigeon or “broken English” or the version patented and made popular by Amos Totuala in his Palm-Wine Drinkard, 1952 novel translated into 11 languages and which has the distinction of being the first African novel published outside Africa.
But if you read that book today for your WASCE, I am not sure the examiners would respect your use or misuse of the English Language. But something egregiously more atrocious is threatening to take center stage of spoken English. Happily, there is no indication yet that it is about to join its uncles and cousins, the so-called Nigerian English that has made its dignified way into the Oxford English Dictionary – samples: buka, mama put, K-leg, next tomorrow, Tokunbo, ember months to refer to the busy months of November and December.
The most irritating of the new abuse, because it is used even by learned professors and very senior public officials that children look up to as mentors, is the construction that goes like: “ We are doing this or that so We Can Be Able (caps mine) to finish the project.” The pandemic devil here is in the combination of Can and Able.
The last time I checked it, Able means “ having the power, skill, means or opportunity to do something.” Can on the other hand means the ability (from able) to do something, having the power as in “able” to do something. The two words are used interchangeably not together. From where, for goodness sake, did we get this pandemic?
If COVID-19 can’t be cured and we have to learn to endure it as a new normal, what about this grammatical pandemic, this tautology of “can be able”? and all the other “new normal” that is clearly repugnant to our sensibilities?