Acronyms and abbreviations are the next contagion. They’re the next-generation viruses.
I’m not sure about you, but I’ve kind of had enough of the latest alphabet soup of acronyms. SOP is one I spent much time with today.
SOP is not the Afrikaans word for what I am having for supper, which is delicious vegetable soup.
SOP actually stands from Standard Operating Procedures and it’s what most schools and businesses around the world are grappling with in a post COVID-Lockdown world. Every institution and enterprise globally will be enacting innovative ways to navigate the new society we find ourselves in.
The Health and Safety SOP may have something in common with my daughter’s homemade sop. It’s also a careful blend of a mixture of ingredients, all aimed at making us strong and keeping us alive. Our family dinner fortifies us against the cold, and in the same way, all our planning will offer protection.
But what I can’t get used to is the hand sanitizer. It’s true that after the alcohol fumes have evaporated, some of the sanitizers actually smell okay and the one we have at school doesn’t dry out your hands either. But to be honest I’ve stopped putting on perfume to go to work, because one squirt of Eau du Désinfectant and my Yves St Laurent (fifty bucks a droplet) is overpowered and I am… Germex Girl! What worries me more though is that I drink an enormous amount of tea and I am wondering how many cups could put me over the legal limit from the hand sanitizer I’ve just used before touching the teabag!
They can be found in every conceivable place now, these ubiquitous little bottles of Virus Vanquisher. I wonder whether one day when COVID-19 has been defeated by vaccine cocktails, they will fall by the wayside like swords did when we stopped actually clutching our enemies’ hands and dropped our swords at peace parleys. What will the universal gesture of greeting become, sans spray bottle? A little touching of the forefinger to the thumb in a cute spraying gesture?
The other acronym that is starting to grate is PPE. It sounds like a horrible combination of needing the little girls’ room and my least favourite lesson at school. Don’t get me wrong, but burly women in bulky, padded jackets (long before K-Way dahling!) blowing a whistle in my face until I leaped into an icy swimming pool was not my idea of intellectual pursuit. After school, I promptly gave up swimming and now only dip my toes in the shallows in late Feb, if at all. Mind you, I live in Cape Town: if you dip your toes into our ocean on any day they are likely to come back seconds later as pre-packed frozen pork. But I digress…
We’ve always had Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) but now the term conjures up images of hazmat suits and gloves, which is not far wrong of course. While it may save us on lipstick, it is playing havoc with my hearing as I can no longer read lips – clearly something I have been doing unconsciously for a while. My mother always said I’d go deaf from playing all that rock music so loudly!
It’s a weird kind of formal dance we are developing: first the spray-bottle greeting, then we do the chicken neck extension as we lean in (keeping 1.5m apart of course) to catch what someone is saying and finish the sequence by doing the double-take shake as we try to ascertain whether we actually do recognize the masked ‘stranger’ before us. The COVID Tango.
Even COVID is an acronym : CO’ stands for corona, ‘VI’ for virus, and ‘D’ for disease. Idnkt. (I did not know that!)
They’re everywhere these nasty little acronyms and abbreviations of words. Acronyms are the more evolved of the two because they have really taken over the sentence by swallowing up the nouns. They are spreading fast and attacking the nervous system, causing sudden bouts of uncontrollable screaming. (Often patients can be heard yelling, ‘WTF!’ at inopportune moments.) No need to wait for a vaccine against these critters though – tea, chocolate and a good book in bed – that’s all it takes to cure the Acronym Virus.
It’s a war out there. Venturing forth from lockdown today felt like creeping out of my foxhole or trench to sally forth to do battle with the enemy army, a covert (get it?) force of invisible soldiers.
Not that I have the faintest idea what it feels like to be an infantryperson on the front line of a battle, and the only thing I know about foxholes is ‘foxy’ ladies’ in jodhpurs chasing wee creatures to death. The closest I have ever been to death itself was when someone tried to strangle me once (No doubt others have wished they could do me in, but someone actually tried once. I’m still here, however, so guess who won that fight?!… but that can remain a story for another day.) Then there was the chemotherapy…but that was more like imagining death as an option because chemo was so agonizingly unpleasant… again a tale for another fireside though.
But the elements of a movie about twenty-first century urban conflict are all there in this death-dance with a coronavirus:
For the first time in centuries the world war is one in which all countries share an enemy. And the virus has no alliances. It is an axis of evil all on its own, unless you consider Diabetes, Hypertension and Asthma its allies. There’s no shortage of finger-pointing at possible partners in crime, mind you, with Trump vacillating between blaming China, The WHO, the Democrats and the media for being in league with the virus.
2. War Correspondents/ Propagandists (and it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference)
As with any modern war, events unfold live on TV. So, you have your obligatory war correspondents: those talking heads on TV who spout commentary all day and night are worse than googling your symptoms for frightening the bejesus out of you. It’s only when they interview the likes of Professor Salim Abdool Karim that I realise we shall be all right with him at the helm of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19. (Prof K has been voted the sexiest COVID-19 scientist by some ladies in the deep South – well they put it a little cruder, but still, not only is he a measured and eminently lucid academic, he is rather cute in a grandfatherly way.) From someone who watched the first Gulf War unfold on TV (That was when I was going through my chemo) as well as living through 9-11 and its aftermath in the US, I find these reporters often spread panic far more than information. They have to fill a 24-hour news cycle and so much of what they do is speculate…and confuse.
Choose wisely who you watch. Avoid almost all politicians. They are conflicted between the health and economic crisis, and their own next election. And yes, I know I sound a little Trumpian in my criticism of the media, but choose carefully which ones you take your truth from. Remember ‘Pravda’ means ‘truth.’ Remember Squealer in Animal Farm and choose the views that do not defend or glorify politicians.
In fact, the press plays a massively important watchdog role in a war. They are the ones who warn of excesses by authoritarian forces and remind us that emergency measures should not become the norm in surveillance and curtailing of freedoms and abuse of power. Study who owns media houses to see whose interests are being served.
These are different from political allies. They are ordinary folk and in the COVID War they are ordinary citizens who just Won’t. Stay. At. Home during lockdown. You know the ones who don’t wear a mask because they ‘can’t breathe nicely’ with it on or aver they are ’not scared to get this virus, because they are young/healthy’…. (insert other obnoxious, entitled utterings). These are the ones who defy the regulations and who in two weeks will either be ill or have passed on the virus to some poor cashier at the supermarket or their elderly parents.
We won’t mention Nkosazani Dlamini-Zuma’s dodgy dealings with illicit tobacco kingpin Adriano Mazotti because the ANCasked us not to pick on the ministers. But, ja… There will always be those who profiteer in a war.
Any conflict involves a complex network of spies on both sides, scurrying around gathering information and exposing the underbelly on both the human and alien invader side. And they are spending lockdown with binocs surveilling their neighbourhoods for humans out after curfew and joggers nipping over the dunes for a quick paddle in the sea, posting their pics on Facebook Neighbourhood sites like ‘Wanted’ posters, shaming the offenders and turning in the collaborators.
The important spies in this fight are the scientists and doctors who are devoting their waking hours to finding a vaccine and uncovering how this little bugger works. Move over James Bond and Jason Bourne -these are the spies we really need.
The enemy spies and reconnaissance guerillas are unseen, jumping easily from one coughing cyclist to the next one in his unprotected slipstream. They live among us, invisible until we touch our eyes or scratch our mouths. Like Mata Hari, they lurk on our lovers’ lips and in their hair, but they are scarier and more prolific than the Army of the Dead in GOT, because they are unseen and unstoppable.
As so many times throughout history the easiest cannon fodder have been the drafted serfs who are forced into a war not of their making to serve on the frontline and take the brunt of the distant generals’ and nobles’ wars. Spare a thought for the poor who didn’t bring the virus here (they can’t afford to fly) but will ultimately pay the price of the virus just as they have with HIV. Think of them in your safe, air-conditioned car on your way to your salaried job, while they commute in crowded public transporters (Oh, come on taxis are definitely going to try to defy the regs!) and return to their tiny homes to take the advance guard of corona to their elderly parents and tuberculoid roommates.
6. Foot Soldiers
Then there are the foot soldiers, you and me who ‘also serve who only stand and wait’ in lockdown and the advance guard in the hospitals, petrol stations, shops, police stations and clerks in government offices; teachers in their nests; farmers in their fields; truckers on the road. Don’t forget security guards and sanitizing company works who can be seen spraying down offices like the nuclear scientists of science fiction movies, in their Hazmat suits. I really hope all the essential workers will finally be rewarded financially for being the cannon fodder of this disease.
When this is over and people no longer clap at eight o’clock, please vote for salary increases for them. Like soldiers in combat, many will not receive medals and state funerals. And they are dying for us, folk. Doctors and nurses are bearing the brunt of enemy fire: by mid-April, 17 000 Italian doctors and nurses were infected with 159 medical personnel being among the dead. And that’s just Italy. Sadly, they seem to be operating like the field hospital in M*A*S*H, using their wits and making do sans proper PPE.
When we go out in our masks we circle other people warily like combatants in a fencing match or Star Wars Jedi knights, facing down our nemesis on a narrow ledge, our hoodies our cowls, and hand sanitizer our lightsabers. Please don’t believe Mr Trump that Lysol injections are the way to go if you’re scratching around for an adequate weapon (that one is firing blanks, my friend), or the Madagascans peddling untested plant-remedies like Thabo Mbeki on steroids. Please don’t fall prey to the anti-vaxxers refusing to contemplate a vaccine cure in the future. How do they think we got rid of smallpox, for goodness sake! You don’t need a ray gun. Just wash your hands!
8. Body Armour
A word on masks: there is an entire universe of sub-cultures evident in how we are wearing masks: from the disposable medical ones; to the pretty, lacy, hand-made ones or the crudely sewn efforts of the needlework-challenged. Then there are the wannabe bandits with their bandanas tied cowboy-style across their faces like train robbers.. Trendy people don a variety of snoods and infinity scarves in multiple colourful shades and fabrics from surfer cool to cyclist flashy. The ‘boets’ of course stride through the shop in their artisan masks for chemical spraying with all sorts of filters and respirators. My favourites so far have been the old lady I spotted at the pharmacy in her ingenious McGyver-inspired mmmshield fashioned from staples and one of those plastic envelopes you put in office files, and the man who went shopping with his tiny boys armoured up as a miniature stormtrooper and some masked Marvel creature that was scarier than Joan Rivers sans make-up (Okay that is a bit mean, but if she can dish it, she should take it too).
We cannot fight on the beaches (well, not in Lockdown Level 4), but we shall fight on the school grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
With apologies to Winston Churchill