HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Things to do in COVID-19 lockdown


Official lockdown in South Africa kicks in on Thursday at midnight but my wife and I are generally homebodies and have been self-isolating for a week and a half now. It’s really not that big a deal. If you love your partner and she’s your best friend and favourite comedian – as mine is – it’s actually quite fun. Why else would you marry someone if not to spend every waking moment with them because they’re you’re favourite human, right? Ergo, staying in doors for the next three weeks as per presidential orders is going to be a breeze.

However, there are a few things that have come up for me in the past 9 days and I thought I might share some takeaways as a public service for those of you who are not used to staring at four walls, working with your back toward the fridge and finding opportune moments to take designated timeouts from those you love most.

As much as I love limiting socialising and freeze up when I have to talk to people “out there” in the great wide strange beyond, I do miss going outside. As a freelancer and someone who works from home daily, my schedule is built around my gym time. It’s a great reason to leave the house, get some exercise, get pumped and force myself to get a necessary dose of fresh air and sunshine.

To be clear, I hate going out, but I don’t hate being outside, in fact I need it. I need to be active outside and run an errand and do the shopping. I need to busy inside the home as well as in the world. Not socialising, just busy. And in this way, the past couple of days have been hard. It’s having an impact on my mood, my mental health, my sleeping patterns and I find myself unable to take the breaks I so often took in a not so long ago period when life was more normal, so I am working all the time.

Who knew I had so much work to do? But downtime is important. Getting away from your computer and your diary and phone is important, so how do you consciously do it indoors and what do you do to fill that time with limited space and resources? I’ve come up with a few ideas.

I’ve been on a strict workout programme since November, but it requires a lot of space and a lot of equipment which I cannot afford or fit into my house. If you’re in the same boat, try swapping out the lifting for some 15- to 20-minute high-intensity interval training sessions. In fact, I started doing a “100 burpees a day” challenge. I’ve managed 300 so far (in 9 days) because another thing you can and must try is to fill as many moments as you can with peanut butter and jelly toasts washed down with a glass of milk. Remember to take before and after lockdown photos so you can keep track of what I like to call bread-back syndrome.

If you have a feline friend – also known as a landlord – try teaching him tricks. Sam, our cat, has long been able to follow instructions to sit before he receives his meal but this is the perfect time to extend skill sets and so I have started. We’re working on high-fives (also known as slaps on my hand), fist bumps (also known as slaps on my hand) and eye contact on command (also known as villain-like sneers in my direction and Olympic quality side eyeing). Now, don’t feel disappointed in your failings. I for one wear my injuries proudly. If we’re going to be dramatic and act like we’re in a war, we may as well have the scars to prove it. My latest addition is puncture in my scalp after attempting a gentle forehead bump.

Now this one doesn’t give you a necessary break from your phone, but it does tend to take your mind off things for a bit. Download a foolish puzzle game on your phone like Candy Crush or Toon Blast or my recent discovery. Best Fiends. Compete only with yourself and see how many levels you can clear before you reach peak anxiety. Remember, the end game here is peak, peak anxiety. You must dream the game and your sleep should be filled with falling beads on a colourful screen with pop-up warnings of impending doom. Then, the ultimate gift, total relief when you delete the app. You have achieved the ever-trendy self-care. You, my friend are a #selfcare influencer.

Do not pass begin. Do not go to the hairdresser. Because you shouldn’t and because you can’t. Instead, evolve your boredom into barbering. Grab that kit you bought when you had hairdresser aspirations and practiced on a teddy bear (true story) or, your closest kitchen scissors (how bad could that turn out), or a nail clipper (my sister once cut her fringe with one) and get to snipping. I treated myself to a trim on Sunday and I have to say, I did a fantastic job. Of course I can cut hair, why have I been paying people all this time? If you fail, just shave it off. You have 21 days to grow it out again. It’s the perfect time to get a full view of the shape of your skull. Is it perfectly round, or are you, in fact, Humpty Dumpty?

Now, while you can’t fulfill your lifelong dream of becoming a synchronised swimmer during this spell of free time that doesn’t come along often, what you can do is master the art of synchronised panic. It’s easier than it sounds. Here’s my strategy: pick 3 things to freak out about. In my case, these categories are:

  • “The economy is going to cave, I understand none of it and my savings and retirement annuity are going to plummet. Are they? I don’t know. WHAT. IS. GOING. TO. HAPPEN?”

  • “I’m going to go broke. I’m going to go broke. I’m going to go broke.” (There is no need to overcomplicate this one. This is enough.)

  • “Is my dad going to die? I can’t see him. That’s okay. No, it’s not. Wow, this game is stressing me out. Is my dad going to die?”

Once you have these categories, start to cycle them in your head. Really squeeze those mind grapes and squeeze out the world’s finest panic-wine. Never stop. Peddle them round and round like a doping professional athlete. And then, go wash your hands.

Before you know, 21 days will have passed and you will surface a stronger, more skillfully stressed human being. With really clean hands.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.