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College Student Wonders: In Hardcore Kenya, Is COVID-19 Lockdown Needed?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In Kenya, the government has ordered a full lockdown, and those rules will be enforced by security forces if needed. But many people are still walking the streets, and some ask, is this really necessary in a region with so many other threats? NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: In this time of coronavirus, I meet Samuel Mang'era (ph) in an empty hotel bar. He sits way across the table from me. I'm thinking, the millions of coronavirus particles released in a sneeze or a cough won't make it all the way here. He unlocks his phone and begins to read his Facebook post.

SAMUEL MANG'ERA: (Reading) This is an open letter. Dear coronavirus, welcome to Kenya.

PERALTA: Kenya has so far reported 25 cases of COVID-19. They've ordered a lockdown and have asked people to stay home indefinitely.

MANG'ERA: (Reading) A few things you should know - here, we don't die of flu. Don't be surprised if you fail to succeed. Everything fails in Kenya.

PERALTA: Mang'era, a college student who acts and writes, reacted by writing this poem on Facebook. Kenya is not excited to host coronavirus, he writes. The locusts, the biggest infestation in 75 years, got here first.

MANG'ERA: (Reading) We also cannot afford to pay you too much attention because we are really, really broke.

PERALTA: I look at him - he's a slim guy with a wry smile - and tell him while this is funny, it's also really sad. He says that's what he wanted to capture - the humor you have to have to live in this tough a place.

MANG'ERA: These things come and go. We just have to accept.

PERALTA: Even without coronavirus, death is everywhere here. The roads are filled with these station wagons that are called Proboxes. In Japan, they were recalled by the manufacturer for being dangerous. But here, Proboxes provide essential transport.

MANG'ERA: In Kenya, we survive by Probox. You will get 15 people bundled in the same Probox.

PERALTA: So the same thing that is just killing people in other places - here, it's a way of life.

MANG'ERA: It's more of a way of life because we don't have an alternative.

PERALTA: Samuel Mang'era turns back to his phone. His open letter to coronavirus is full of bravado. But it is also an admission of deep vulnerability.

MANG'ERA: (Reading) We are more likely to die of a cholera attack than to be killed by you. For us, every day is a run escape from death. We are the walking dead.

PERALTA: As he reads, I overhear the only other customer here talking about the coronavirus. Kenyans live hand to mouth. How will they stay home? How will they survive this lockdown? But death, Mang'era reads, it can befall Kenyans any time.

MANG'ERA: (Reading) And we are not scared. If it comes, let it come. Why worry over what we can't control? Everything dies, right? Even you, corona, will die.

PERALTA: Even you, corona, will die.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.