I wake up to the buzzing of the air conditioning and to a notice of new travel restrictions. A new covid variant called omicron has been discovered in South Africa. Many countries are now closing their borders to travelers from this region. Zambia, where I currently live and work as a volunteer at the UN, is also covered by these new restrictions.
On my kitchen table is a coffee machine that is not mine. It belongs to one of my friends who had to move up his planned return trip to make it back to Ireland before the flight was canceled. Since her contract expires in January, she assumes she will not be able to return to Zambia. She therefore had to move out at record speed and left the coffee machine with me, sold the car to a friend and left the dog with her landlord. Other friends will receive visits from family and friends this Christmas who no longer know if they will be able to return to Sweden.
The UK is one of the countries that has included Zambia on its no-fly list. You are therefore not allowed to enter the country if you do not have British citizenship. It is still possible to fly from Zambia to Sweden - but with a stopover in Addis Ababa, which does not feel completely safe given uncertainty in Ethiopia.
And we also do not know how long this flight will continue to run. Swedish newspapers report about flights from South Africa that have been canceled and Swedes who can not get home for Christmas. The uncertainty makes it difficult to plan for the future. If we are heading for another lockdown here in Zambia, should I travel back to Sweden while I still can? If I travel home, will I be able to return, or do I have to leave my little house that I have just started to feel at home in?
These questions spin around in my head while I eat breakfast and anxiously follow the news on TV. I leave the coffee machine standing and drink a cup of tea instead, before I walk to work. In the office, mouth protection is still mandatory in the corridors and group rooms.
Over lunch we talk about the new virus variant. Many colleagues believe that a new lockdown may become relevant. Many are also beginning to worry about how the outbreak will affect their work, which has already been greatly delayed by the pandemic. Zambia, where many people work in the informal sector and many people live near or below the poverty line, has been affected hard of the pandemic. Promises about vaccines from the western world have not been fulfilled. My problems suddenly feel small and affordable.
On the way home from work, I stop at one of Lusaka's many shopping centers to buy a plastic Christmas tree. I still do not know if it will be a hot or cold Christmas for me this year. But I'm still one of the lucky ones. What I really wish for as a Christmas present is that the western world keeps its promises about vaccine distribution, so that we can all celebrate a covid-free Christmas next year.