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The last exit before the bridge

By Sinem Bilen-Onabanjo
07 November 2020   |   4:13 am
The bridge that connects Europe and Asia in my hometown Istanbul is such a prominent feature that we have proverbs around the signs you would see on the highway leading to the bridge:

PHOTO: Culture Trip

The bridge that connects Europe and Asia in my hometown Istanbul is such a prominent feature that we have proverbs around the signs you would see on the highway leading to the bridge:

“The last exit before the bridge.”

Literally, if you miss this exit, you end up on the other side of the city and if that wasn’t your intention in the first place, then follow a roundabout journey back to the other side, which can take anything between half an hour to three hours depending on the time of the day and the flow of traffic.

Metaphorically, the proverb is used for any situation you can’t avoid because you’ve missed the last opportunity to correct course.

Maybe it wasn’t so when we celebrated joyfully the start of a new year back in January, but gradually, with news coming out of China of rising cases of coronavirus and growing number of deaths, it felt more and more like 2020 was the year we could, if we acted fast, we could take the last exit and turn our fortunes around.

As we get nearer the end of the year, I wonder if we are now hurtling towards the bridge, all exits far behind us.

When the first lockdown was announced in the UK, back in March, people flocked to supermarkets in their droves in a flurry of panic buying, stockpiling for pasta, baked beans, hand sanitisers and toilet rolls. We saw fights breaking out in supermarket aisles as people scrambled for the last pack of loo roll. On our screens daily was saddening images and footage of the elderly and the key workers arriving too late, gazing at the ransacked shelves.

Then, for a short while in the spring, people rallied together, delivered food and essentials packs to the elderly and at risk, rounded up together to help those in need, neighbours checked up on each other, people smiled and said hello, sharing small joys and great woes together. It wasn’t exactly as romantic as Italians singing opera from their balconies and windows but it was cosy enough.

Then came Black Lives Matters, tensions rising first on social media, then on the streets as opposite factions set up protests. We saw middle aged, pot-bellied English men, who should frankly have been shielding, as they would be in the most vulnerable category, urinating on the streets.

Then came the facemask regulations and suddenly, starting with the US, all around the world, something as sensible as wearing a mask to protect others, backed by science, became a political statement.

As thousands kept on dying in one state in America, in another, Karen and co. were protesting for their right to get haircuts.

Then came and went Nigeria’s 60 years of independence. One minute we were excited by the sight of a new generation on the streets protesting against police brutality and bad governance, the evil, long-lasting legacy of colonial rule, feeling that this was finally the wind of change Nigeria needed. The next minute those shooting buds of hope were crushed under army clampdown as innocent people of this country were gunned down.

This week, as the UK prepared for Lockdown 2.0, which started at midnight on Thursday 5 November, it was incredible to see similar scenes to six months ago. Having not learned that there was no need for panic buying and two weeks into the first lockdown with much stricter regulations, the supermarket shelves were full to the brim, the British public went back out and stockpiled ‘essentials’ that are likely to last them the next two years. No one spared a thought for those who are elderly, or at risk.

As we await the final result of the US elections, Joe Biden’s win might be a small consolatory prize and perhaps one of the few good things to happen in this annus horribilis, but the fact that he could only win by a whisker and not a landslide goes to show how far gone America is when 48-49 per cent still hang on to every single word uttered by a man-child who defies science, defies common sense, serves his own interests over those of the country, gets a kick out of dividing his own country with each speech or tweet, and when things don’t go his way, throws a tantrum and his toys out of the play pen.

I believe 2020 was our last chance to remember our humanity, and remember to act with kindness, compassion, empathy, fairness and all other virtues that make us human, but alas, it seems we miss the last exit before the bridge.