Hail our unsung heroes

The past months have been traumatic for us all. But, for some people, doing their jobs during the pandemic has meant potential infection – each and every day.

Recently I came across a very touching Facebook post by a British chap called Brian Wilson. It touched me deeply and made me think. This is his post (I’ve quoted it verbatim, warts and all):

Ok, I don’t work for the NHS (National Health Service) and am not a carer. I just work as a bin man. And, unlike the majority of people, I have to go to work so that the majority of you can get your waste taken. Every time I and my colleagues go to work we are scared. Scared because we come into contact with so many people who could have the virus or could be carriers.

We do this coz we are dedicated and want to play our part in helping the nation during these frightening times. So please, when you do get to have your bin emptied, but side waste not taken, stop moaning because we are trying our best.

Just think the person who would normally check these things could be in isolation, or even worse, in hospital suffering from the virus. We are turning up every day and doing the best we can under tremendous stress, working extra hours just to make sure you can get your waste taken. So, stop your moaning and complaining and be nice. We as frontline workers deserve it.

Could I please ask all my Facebook friends to share this as bin men workers are putting their lives on the line too. Thank you.

Now I know what you’re all thinking: why am I writing about a “bin man”. I’m sharing the thoughts of Brian the bin man because he represents the many unsung heroes of our time. There are millions of people around the world who, while doing their jobs, are putting their lives at risk.

Take truck drivers, for instance. I have been following the trials and tribulations of cross-border drivers very closely. I’ve also been sharing related news on social media (there’s always massive interest; each post reaches thousands and thousands of people).

Some of those drivers have been subjected to the most inhumane conditions (unhygienic quarantining, for instance). The queues at many border posts have been insane – and I’m guessing that social distancing goes out of the window when you’re queuing for days on end.

They are calling us ‘corona’

As an aside, some people are now blaming truck drivers for spreading Covid-19 in Africa. “They are calling us ‘corona’. We are not corona, and we have certificates on the vehicles, but they are still calling us corona. Why?” Muhammed Ali, a Tanzanian trucker halted last week at Uganda’s Mirama Hills border crossing with Rwanda, told Voice of America. He carried a paper certifying he had tested negative for the virus.

Truck drivers working within South Africa face scary times, too. Take Kenneth Setati, who drives for Vector Logistics, for instance. He delivers frozen and chilled foods in the Limpopo province and – like most truck drivers – he’s on the road five days a week.

“Life on the roads is different now,” says Kenneth. “I have clear roads ahead of me when I drive. It is a lot easier for me to drive and I am able to deliver quicker. There is no traffic at all. I also see police on the road every day and there are a lot of roadblocks.”

Challenges galore

His life is full of fresh challenges, thanks to the arrival of Covid-19. “Food is a major challenge while on the road,” he says. “There are no prepared foods in the stores, so often we have to go without eating, or we just eat bread. When your stomach is empty, it is difficult for your mind to function. Many public toilets, which were previously open, are also now closed.”

Kenneth worries about spreading the virus to his family. He has a wife and two children (six years old and one year old). “When I get home, I am stressed. I worry about whether I am carrying coronavirus. I tell my family not to hug me anymore, not until the coronavirus is dead. This upsets my children – they are not used to this. I try my best to explain to them that, in time, this will pass, and we will be able to touch each other and hug again.”

American truck driver John Mulrooney tells a similar story. “It is hard out here,” the driver told Trucknews.com recently, while fighting back tears. “I don’t think people really understand the gravity of what we are facing because of Covid-19.  We are that much more alone.

“We can’t go home, sit down, put our feet up, watch television and make a cup of coffee. Life on the road is hard at the best of times, but during this pandemic it is worse. There is no interaction with people. We are alone, isolated in our trucks. When I get back, I have to self-isolate and I still won’t be able to interact with or hug my wife and family to make sure I don’t give it to them.”

Fellow American truck driver Wayne Cragg concurs. In a recent interview with thedenverchannel.com, he revealed that he had left his home New Year’s Day and he’s been running every day since then.

According to the Los Angeles Times, about 70 percent of America’s freight travels by truck, and many of the country’s 3,5-million truck drivers are busier than ever during the Covid-19 pandemic, transformed into essential workers keeping shelves stocked with medical supplies and groceries.

Truckers play a critical role

“In the war against the virus, America’s truckers are really the foot soldiers that are carrying us to victory,” President Trump said during an event honouring truckers on the White House lawn this month, The Times reported recently. “Truckers are playing a critical role in vanquishing the virus, and they will be just as important as we work to get our economic engine roaring.”

Many truck drivers in that country are worried about protecting themselves from the coronavirus. Wayne told thedenverchannel.com that some drivers are choosing not to go into hot spots because they’re scared of being exposed to the coronavirus and not having the proper protection. He says a number of rest stops are closed and drivers can’t find masks or disinfecting wipes. He has been using a T-shirt as a mask during pick-ups and deliveries.

Wayne wants protective masks and gear provided to truck drivers, especially the many who are now scared to go home out of fear they’ve been exposed to Covid-19 while out on the road.

“My parents, who are elderly, can’t see me because I’m a truck driver,” Wayne told thedenverchannel.com. “I don’t know when I’m ever going to see them again.”

Without truck drivers such as Kenneth, John and Wayne, we would all starve to death. There are many more people out there, performing an essential (but sometimes unappreciated) service.

To all the Kenneths, Johns, Brians and Waynes of this world, I would like to express my gratitude. Your efforts are not in vain. I know I speak on behalf of millions of people (not just here in South Africa, but all over the world) when I say that we appreciate what you are doing for us. Our thoughts and prayers are with you when you face danger each and every day. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

CHARLEEN CLARKE is editorial director of FOCUS. While she is based in Johannesburg, she spends a considerable amount of time overseas, attending international transport events – largely in her capacity as associate member of the International Truck of the Year Jury.
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