By Armelle Tsafack
Armelle is the Security Policy Officer and Disarmament Coordinator for WILPF Cameroon.
Lire cet article en français.
My name is “Sacrificed”. I’m a barmaid. Following the instructions, I wear a protective mask and a pair of gloves given to us by our manager. I think I’m very protected; ooh no!
Today is Friday, 1 May, 2020. I’m serving an iced beer to my first customer, X. He has COVID-19, but doesn’t know it, and neither do I. A group of three comes in, then settles at a section of the bar. The section is designed to seat four people. I approach them to first of all remind them to follow the prescribed distancing measures. They retort, “How much space does your bar even have to keep us one metre away from each other?! In that case, you will barely have 20 customers at a time.” I apologize and reconsider. I suddenly remember that for the past month and a half, I haven’t had a salary; everyone knows why.
I take their order, and wearing my protective gloves, I go to the counter. My colleague at the counter grabs the paper containing the trio’s order and the money I hand her. She prepares the order for me. I return to the table of three to serve them. No sooner have I finished than customer X asks me for a second beer, “ice cold”. I go to serve it to him, at the same time, removing the previous bottle with the Coronavirus germs on it. But at that point, no one knows that.
Another group of customers comes in. I serve as I go along. I clear and serve at the same time. I’m happy, because I’ll finally get my salary at the end of May, not counting tips of at least 2500 FCFA every evening, like I used to get before the restrictive measure ordering the closure of drinking establishments by 6 p.m. at the latest was put in to place.
Unfortunately, what I still hadn’t figured out until that moment, was that by taking away customer X’s first bottle, and despite wearing gloves, I unconsciously carried the germs of the COVID-19 and again unknowingly spread it to all the customers. Unbeknownst to them, all of them are practically trading their lives, the lives of their different families and entourage, for the price of a beer!
After having consumed for some; 2, 3, or 4 drinks, and for others, crates of alcoholic drinks, the comings and goings to the toilets of the bar begin. We are a so-called “VIP” bar: the toilets have a door, a bowl and a flush system. However, the tap has been out of order for the past 6 months. Everyone goes in and out. All the customers use the same door handle and the same flush.
I almost forgot: to drink, you have to take off the mask. The DJ plays lively music; the atmosphere is at its peak because today, everyone is celebrating International Labour Day. One by one, customers get up and invade the small spaces between the tables to let their bodies flow with the rhythm of the music. The clients are ecstatic and I can see them dancing in the tiny spaces between the little tables. “We’ve come a long way. Woohoo, it’s over! “, some are saying. An illusion of recaptured happiness.
It’s two o’clock in the morning when the last customer leaves the bar. I can go home, with the joy of being able to share the fruits of a rich evening’s work. I’m over the moon, I’ve “topped” my 3,700 FCFA tip. The wait was long, but patience has paid off, I tell myself. But I don’t know what lies ahead of me over the next few days, as well as of many others who were at the bar that festive evening of 1 May 2020. Will my 30,000 FCFA from my salary with my miserable tips be enough to take care of me if I am infected and get sick? I just happen to think that I could be infected. Ahh!!! Why me?! That would be really bad luck! I even put on my mask and my gloves. Besides, I have to live, and feed my family, and being treated for COVID-19 is free. But as we say in Cameroon, “32 giga is equivalent to 500 giga”. The much-vaunted “free treatment” might actually mean hundreds of thousands to spend, as several Coronavirus patients have testified. It would be better to forget that hypothesis! I need to rest, because tomorrow I have another day of work ahead of me. God is watching over me and he’s watching over everyone who was at the bar tonight. And yet…