Francis Mwenda has probably had the most dramatic start to 2020; from a doubtful wedding day to a honeymoon that ended in the unlikeliest way — in quarantine.
A week ago, the new couple boarded an Emirates flight from Dubai International Airport on their return home, looking forward to a good rest before resuming work the following Monday.
But hours after touching down, the couple was booked in separate rooms at the Kenyatta University Conference Centre together with tens of others.
Mwenda could never have imagined this turn of events in the days he and his wife, Rosemary, had toured the best sites in Dubai and the nearby emirate of Abu Dhabi.
He talks of his experience at the quarantine centre where mealtimes are unbelievably hilarious. Food is served for all of them and is left at the reception before they come in turns to collect it, but only after the waiters 'have fled'.
“They shout “food” after placing it at the reception and taking off because they think we could infect them with the virus,” Mwenda told The Standard in a telephone interview.
A typical breakfast comprises of an egg, a few slices of bread and a cup of tea, while for lunch or dinner it is beef stew served with either rice or ugali.
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None of his peers in quarantine has developed any symptoms yet even though none of them have been tested, apart from the usual monitoring for coughs and fever.
He is, however, able to meet and spend some little time with his wife outdoors as the facility enjoys huge open spaces that allow people in isolation to interact.
Mwenda says being under compulsory quarantine is not easy, especially if you're straight from honeymoon.
"However, we have dozens of friends, family and fellow church members that have been calling, texting and praying for us: A friend drove more than 100 kilometres to bring a laptop, a brother from church spared an afternoon and brought us snacks and my pastor sent books for us to read. We have found solace in God's word and particularly Psalms 124 has been our encouragement. We have also found more time to read and pray," he says.
Among the reasons he had to settle for the Kenyatta University facility is because the prices would be lower than at the selected hotels, which charge up to Sh12,000 a day.
“Just coming back from a honeymoon after a wedding, it is expected that we could not afford to pay two hotel rooms,” he said, adding the State has not told them yet the cost of the accommodation which he has found a way to enjoy.
To get going, the isolated people have formed a WhatsApp support group where they would communicate with each other, sharing updates they are receiving from their receptive outside world.
The internet is providing the much-needed connection that they need to get by, even though it is the younger and tech-savvier people that are disproportionately enjoying it.
For the elderly, Mwenda says, interacting applications such as FaceTime or Netflix for watching movies is “quite not their thing” so their options to get through the 14-day quarantine are limited.
At times, some members of the group find time to work out by jogging around the facility as a way of killing time. It is a luxury that people detained in hotels across town, like Sakayo Wambua who is putting up at the Boma Hotel, does not have. For Wambua, his movement is restricted to his room where he spends his long hours reading, sleeping at times or doing press-ups.
Saturday, March 14, was Mwenda and his fiancé’s big day, just hours to the government-imposed ban on public gatherings that would have effectively put off the wedding, at least as planned.
They would proceed to the honeymoon the following day well-aware that there might be disruptions, but went ahead as every aspect of it had already been planned and paid for.
A partial lockdown restricting movement had already been imposed and visits to some places closed to the public. “We were still able to enjoy our stay throughout the eight days,” he said.
Mwenda is among the hundreds of Kenyans whose lives took unprecedented turns thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, which has already infected over 500,000 people globally.
In Kenya, one person out of 42 infected died last week prompting the State to order a 7pm-5am curfew which too has turned the lives of many upside down.