DV33If Jean-Paul Sartre were to write the play "Huis Clos» at the moment when the Covid-19 creates a psychosis, he would assert with more conviction than before that "hell is the others." It would not be surprising that most of us would concur with him. Perhaps we do not dare to speak like Sartre out of benevolence towards others. Sartre explains his position by saying that if relations with others are twisted, flawed, then the other can only be hell.

I have just returned from Benin after three months of field study. I had a short stay in Togo when a few cases of Covid-19 had been identified. I traveled on motorcycle taxis, buses, and planes. I shook hands, ate in restaurants, and in Africa (several people share the meal in the same dish and drink in the same bowl), friends and families.

Through the radio, we got information that two people were infected in the South. The virus was said to have not yet arrived in the north of the country. The Republic of Benin quickly acted to ask the bishops to suspend the gatherings of the faithful for any meeting. From that moment on, out of respect for the instructions given and out of caution, I respected the distance of one meter. I was not shaking hands. But on two occasions I was stuck, forced to eat in the ‘African way’. I could not ask for my share of meals apart; it could not be well seen among the Bariba milieu. I still dared to talk about the Covid - 19 and the instructions to follow. People did not take it seriously: they did not think the virus could do the Baribas any harm. Should I have withdrawn from the fraternal meal when this meal was prepared to honor me? What could I have done? I trusted and took the risk. During the meal, one of the diners said that he had just returned from a gƆƆ yeru (the ceremony for the deceased that brings together many people from all over.) This news went through me like a thunderbolt. I lost my appetite. However, I could not suddenly stop eating because it would not have been culturally well-regarded. I tried to eat despite the anguish that was in me. I could narrate many incidents of possible contamination of the virus.

DVVWhat could assure me that I did not infect anyone? Because I went to places where there were infected people. In turn, I could have contaminated others in places I stayed, and possibly in Paris too, which was my destination. What a risk! What stress! I started developing hypertension. I thought I could die. But I had to prevent someone from dying because of me. Animated by a benevolent thought, I wore a mask and arrived at the Parakou station. People sitting there pronounced the qur'anic verses on me because with the mask I was for them, a personification of the Covid-19. According to their understanding, only the infected should wear a mask. It is funny that they were not scared by the virus but by the visible mask. As I mentioned, for Sartre, the other can only be hell from the moment the relationship with others is twisted and flawed. If I behaved like him, the other could not see hell in me. But from the moment a difference is noticed, hell is created. Likewise, on arrival in Paris, among the passengers, only the one who did not wear a mask caused fear and created hell for others.

In this experience, I learned two things: first, I wondered how I was able to escape the virus. There was no merit, rather a chance. Believers would say that it was God who protected me, atheists would argue it was a chance, scientists would talk about a good immune system, tourists, an adventure that ended well, etc. “I call it (the race of) human life.”

Secondly, as the lockdown is being lifted, we are called to a new culture of distance and precaution. Vis-à-vis the other and ourselves, we have an indispensable responsibility, that of preserving one's own life and the life of the other. The situation that sets in can help us to live better but also can create psychosis of the virus everywhere and in everything. Let us be careful and follow the health guidelines. Don't we say, "health first"? What is the point of opposing these sanitary measures against the spread of Covid-19 and endangering the lives of loved ones? At the same time, let us stand against imaginary fear and anguish. An Indian saying can cheer us up: "The brave person dies once but the fearful dies at all times." I have been isolated twice: once in Benin and a second time here at Lhomond Street in Paris. During the isolation period, I had nightmares, and in my sleep, I sometimes shouted out loud, "Watch out! Stay away. I might contaminate you. Fortunately, I am healthy, and I have not infected anyone. The nightmare is over. Life goes on with confidence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                               VINCENT Dominic Xavier, SMA