I Am Multi-Skilled: Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives. It has greatly impacted on the way we work, socialize and worship. Further, it has wreaked havoc on our economies, industries and well-being. Until a vaccine is found, we shall have to adapt to what is being called a “new normal.”

Because the vaccine is months away from us, I have settled down to my new normal which includes working from home or, teleworking in corporate lingo. My work day has not changed and my work schedule is pretty much the same. I wake up at half past six in the morning and do an hour-long home workout before taking a bath. Usually, I am at my desk and ready to work by half past eight. I take a lunch break at one o’clock in the afternoon and then knock off work at five o’clock in the evening.  My workload has also not changed much. I still do the same amount of work, if not more, in a day. The odd thing is that at the end of each day, I have lots of left over energy.

I am not fatigued and looking forward to collapsing on the sofa as is the norm when I go to the office. In fact, I don’t feel sleepy until eleven o’clock or midnight. However, if I go to bed earlier than eleven, I will still fall asleep and sleep soundly through the night but I will wake up before my half past six alarm and be full of energy to face the new day. I have also noticed that the hour-long workouts I would struggle through are now like child’s play. When I complete the workout, I add on a kettlebell or burpee finisher to expend some of that extra energy. But even with these extended workouts, I have lots of energy left over at the end of my work day.

I made this observation to a friend and she suggested that perhaps, it was the commute to and from work that drained me. But I don’t think that was it. My commute is actually very smooth. It takes me fifteen or twenty minutes tops to get to the office. My route is on one of the recently constructed bypasses that has free flowing traffic. There are never any traffic jams on it. So why did I have all this leftover energy at the end of each day?

I did not know that my friend was so invested in deciphering the reason for my excess energy and was therefore surprised when she called me back two days later with a new theory on why I felt full of energy.

“I think that the personality trait concepts are the reason for your extra energy,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mentioned your concerns to a psychologist friend and he gave me some insights that I found quite interesting,” she responded.

“Do share,” I said curiously.

“Well,” she said. “He told me that human beings can be divided into two broad personalities; extroverts and introverts. According to him, we all have some amount of both introversion and extroversion. However, we always have more of one trait than another which is what ends up defining our personalities.”

“Interesting,” I said.

“And it is about to get even more interesting,” she continued. “According to him, extroverts gain energy from social interaction. Conversely, introverts recharge and gain energy by spending time alone.”

“So are you saying that I am introvert?” I asked.

“You know that you are,” she said laughing. “I think what was draining you was the social interaction in the office. You had to spend time with people and meet and talk to them. The fact that you have an open office with workstations set-up does not give you an opportunity to be alone and recharge during your work day.”

She paused and then continued speaking, “Now that you are home with little or no social interaction, you are constantly recharging and your batteries are running on maximum.”

“That sounds like a very plausible explanation for the way I feel these days,” I said.

“I thought so too,” she said. “And my psychologist friend went on to suggest a few ways to channel your new found energy. He said that introverts find it easy to arouse their minds while extroverts need to work harder to arouse their minds. That is why extroverts are often thrill-seekers, they cannot arouse their minds by themselves and need that outside stimulation from adventuring and socializing to get their minds switched on.”

“We learn something new every day,” I said.

“Yes we do,” she said. “Because as an introvert, you easily self-stimulate your mind, what you may be feeling now is over stimulation of your mind because you are constantly recharging. My psychologist friend suggests that you channel this mental stimulation to perfecting or expanding your hobbies and to learning new skills.”

That conversation was an eye-opener to me. My so called “new normal” should have actually been my normal. The life I was living before this pandemic was abnormal to me, and to many, I am sure. Now I  understood why I was so demotivated on weekends. I would stay indoors up to Monday when it was necessary for me to go out and earn a living.

The solutions my friend had given sounded doable.  The first thing I thought of doing was broadening my writing hobby. Writing this blog was not helping me expend all the extra energy. I needed to write another novel. I challenged myself to first try and write something set in modern times and not the historical fiction that comes so easily to me.

As if on cue, my sister sent me a call for contributors to a book on sharing human experiences of COVID-19 by Langaa Research and Publishing Common Initiative Group. I worked on a synopsis and they accepted to include a chapter by me. So I worked on my chapter and submitted it. I will let you know when the book is out so that you can support me and other African writers by purchasing it.

After writing that chapter, I saw that I could actually write stories set in modern times. I felt that I should push myself further out of my comfort zone and write a romance novel set in modern times. I took a free online course from Reedsy Learning on how to write a romance novel. It is actually a simple course where they send you daily lessons on email that you read at your convenience.

After the course, I dove head-fast into writing my romance novel. I don’t intend it to be as long as my first novel, Wamukoya Netia, that had 97,000 words. I think I will limit this one to under 75,000 words. So far I am at 50,000 words. The book will have a prologue and six chapters and I am now starting on chapter five.

Something new I learnt about myself in writing this romance is that I cannot write a book with a female lead character. In the beginning, I had made the lead character a woman and I really struggled. I just could not see the world through her eyes. When I switched to a leading male character, everything fell into place.  Writing the story became as easy as cutting through butter with a hot knife. I am hoping to release the book in October so look out for it!

Writing the book was not taking up as much energy as I anticipated. This, coupled with the fact that one has to be in the zone in order to write, left me with several days of nothing on which to expend my extra energy. Do not ask me what “the zone” is for I cannot explain it. You have to experience it for yourself. There are times when I just draw blanks and cannot even put down three words. The only remedy is to walk away from your manuscript.

I thought that I should expand one of my other hobbies which was cooking. Cooking is one of my most favourite things to do and I have always wanted to learn how to make samosas, especially the samosa pastry. I went to YouTube to get lessons and the first channel I landed on had a recipe that was too top drawer for me. Besides speaking in a forced American accent, the instructor was telling her audience to do things like put lemon juice in the samosa pastry so that it does not get the small pimples when deep fried.

For me, all the samosas I have ever eaten have had the small pimples. I didn’t know that eating samosas without small pimples was now a thing. Something else that irritated me was that she was using a plastic ruler to measure the rolled out dough so that she could cut it in even strips. I mean, what happened to good old “eye-balling” as a way of measuring.

Disappointed, I gave up, but “big-brother” internet is always watching. I kept getting advertisements on samosa recipes on all my social media handles. My top suggestions on YouTube were also on samosa making. I visited a channel known as Mapishi Rahisi, by a Tanzanian lady who teaches people how to cook stuff using simple recipes, ingredients and kitchen equipment. I went straight to her video, Manda ya Kufungia Sambusa.  Despite the different Swahili, I understood and followed her instructions and made my first samosas.  The pictures are not so clear as they were taken very randomly with no notion that I would use them in a blog.

Here they are:

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Here they are served with avocado kachumbari (otherwise known as guacamole in other parts of the world) and mushroom soup:

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Right about this time, I was sent a care package from the village with many sweet potatoes and I decided to learn a different method of cooking them. I felt that I should try sweet potato pie and went online to check out the recipes. I quickly found out that a sweet potato pie was not what I thought it was, that is, sweet potato crust with some sort of filling inside. A sweet potato pie actually had the sweet potato as the filling and not the crust.

I wanted something with sweet potato as the crust and failing to find any suitable recipes, I came up with my own; a minced beef, bacon and onion filling with a sweet potato crust. The end result was actually amazing. Even, I was surprised at how good it tasted.

Here is the sweet potato crust thing (I don’t know what to call it) before it went into the oven:

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Here is the sweet potato crust thing out of the oven:

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Sweet Potato Crust

I also love baking cakes and would bake one every other weekend to pass the time. Here is a pound cake that I baked:

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Expanding my hobbies was fun but now, I wanted to learn new skills. I decided to start with plaiting hair as I needed to know this more out of necessity than entertainment. With the social distancing rules, neither my daughter nor I could go to the salon. I had to do her hair and mine. I have previously tried and failed miserably in plaiting lines (cornrows). As I was busy searching for YouTube tutorials on how to do cornrows, I came across this South Africa stylist known as Eve Mafupa with her channel called Natural Sisters.

She has several tutorials on doing what she called needle and yarn cornrows. I watched the tutorials and the end results were so beautiful. In explaining the origins of those cornrows, she said that when she was in school, the girls were always made to cut their hair short. During school holidays, they would want to cornrow their hair but it was still too short to grip. They used the needle and yarn method in order to grip the hair and have it come out neat like regular cornrows.

I tried this way of plaiting lines on my daughter and they came out fabulously. Here is the first style I did:

Needle Yarn Cornrows

Here is another style I plaited her using the needle and yarn method:

Needle Yarn Cornrows

After this, I needed to learn how to fix braids in order to keep my own hair neat. I have a thick afro that is difficult to manage.  Braiding is, therefore, my go-to hairstyle.  I tried the needle and yarn cornrows on myself but failed. I just couldn’t do them without seeing where the needle was going. Braids were the answer. I watched several YouTube tutorials on how to fix braids but none of them was simple to follow. The braids always unravelled or came out lose and not firmly attached at the roots of my hair. I came up with my own method which I will work on  perfecting before trying to explain it to others. Here is the result:

 

 

Top View of Braids

Braiding lessons, are still ongoing and because I do not have many heads to practice on, I looked for something else to learn between hairstyles. Needlework has always eluded me. I am usually limited to mending torn seams and reattaching lose buttons. It would therefore be a good challenge to try and  make something from scratch.

I had some kitenge fabric that I had purchased in Kinshasa back in 2018 and not found a good tailor to make me an outfit. I decided to tailor it myself. First, I looked around for a haberdasher to get proper fabric scissors. I landed at The Woman Shop where they have many sewing items and accessories. They also had sewing machines but I wasn’t ready to go that far. I would stick to hand stitching for the time being. While at The Woman Shop, I also found some good black spandex fabric that would go well with my kitenge print.

The first thing I made was a dress for my daughter, following a design from one of her other dresses. I must say that I am a master of “eyeballing” for I cut the dress out without using any pattern. Here is the end result:

Dress Front View

From the back view below, you can see how the black spandex material blended in nicely with the kitenge print. Now the dress can expand with her as she grows:

Dress Back View

P.S. I also did the hairstyle she is wearing in the above photos.

After her dress, I embarked on a skirt for myself. I used one of my official skirts as a pattern to cut out the skirt, so that I would get the right shape and size. I decided to make it with the kitenge at the front and back and black spandex side panels.

Here is the end result:

Skirt Side View

 

What skill should I learn next?  Photography would be interesting and may help me with good photos for my blog.

Author: Didi Wamukoya

11 thoughts on “I Am Multi-Skilled: Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. This is just brilliant! I love the write up and new found skills. I hope as many people come across this for inspiration.

  2. I think human beings are inherently multi-skilled. It is the rat race that prevents us from tapping into those skills.

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