Kalah ODuring the early stages of COVID-19 in the U.S. (January-March), the news was changing on an hourly basis—new guidelines, procedures, and ways of living needed to be implemented to keep the public safe. However, with its global footprint, new and fast-changing policies can be even harder to keep up with—especially for travelers, people with family in other countries, or a combination of the two. 

Kalah Ozimba, MS3 at UAB School of Medicine, grew up in Phenix City, Alabama. As a kid whose mother is from America and father from Cameroon, she was accustomed to traveling for family visits. Traveling became a regular activity and part of what helped shape her vision for the future. Visiting at least ten days every other year since she was born, Kalah had her travel routine down like clock-work.

Being raised with her Cameroonian heritage, Kalah was always surrounded by a big, welcoming family. When making the trip to visit her family, total travel time was typically 28 hours from Kalah’s door to her grandmother’s home. The first leg of the journey took her to Paris. From there, she would board another plane which would take her to the closest airport in Doula, Cameroon—where she would be united with her cousin and grandma. Her cousin, a taxi driver, would then bring them to the family’s house in Buea—an hour away.

During their most recent trip to Cameroon in March, Kalah and her father experienced an unprecedented disruption to their routine. What started like every other trip, turned into 72 hours of constant news updates and uncertainty.

Monday, March 9 – Tuesday, March 10

While word of COVID-19 was on the news and travel had drastically slowed down, there were no official restrictions in place. On the way to Paris, everything was relatively normal for the Ozimbas. Kalah recalled, there were fewer people in the airports and more unoccupied seats than usual, but even so, there was no panic or frenzy from fellow passengers.

By the time they reached Cameroon, stations were in place to take temperatures and distribute hand sanitizer. Once they passed the checkpoint, Kalah and her father were greeted by family and brought to her grandmother’s house, unaware of what was to come.

Wednesday, March 11

On Wednesday evening (approximately 1 a.m. on Thursday in Cameroon), President Trump announced he was closing U.S. borders to foreign nationals—the turning point in the Ozimbas journey. From this moment, Kalah noticed the effect uncertainty was having on people’s attitudes; now, there was panic. During the chaos, Kalah pulled from her faith and reminded herself, “Trust Jesus. Trust the Process.”

While Cameroon had yet to say anything about shutting down, Kalah’s father was unwilling to take any chances. After calling the airline company, where he spent 3 hours making travel arrangements, Kalah and her dad were put on the first flight back home later that morning.

Before leaving Kalah and her father had one mission to accomplish, Grandma’s 85th Birthday. While their family was sad to see them go so quickly, they spent what time they had left following their hellos with quick goodbyes.

Kalah Family 2

Thursday, March 12

During their journey home, travel looked nothing like it had just 48 hours prior. Filled with the nervous energy of people trying to return home—scared for what this new normal was going to look like—the airport was filled with a buzz, unlike anything Kalah had ever experienced. Now, not only were there temperature checking and hand sanitizing stations, but also more people waiting standby and no empty seats to be seen.

Post-Travel

As a country whose infrastructure is not set up to deal with the potential ramifications of COVID-19, officials have been forced not to take any chances—acting quickly and decisively. Just two days after arriving safe and sound back home, Cameroon announced they would be shutting down their borders and all flights effective immediately. Had the Ozimbas not acted when they did, they could have been one of the 50,000 U.S. citizens NBC News reported stuck overseas due to coronavirus.

By staying in contact with her Cameroonian family via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, Kalah has learned how COVID-19 is impacting them.

In Cameroon, many families have small farms and chickens. Unable to grow or make everything they need, there is a dependency on local markets. However, due to recent circumstances, most businesses have been closed. To survive, residents have turned to their neighbors or have been trading for what they need. Thankfully, in such a small community, many people know local market owners and people with goods/services that complement their own. This network makes it just a little easier for them to navigate such trying times.

In Cameroon, many families’ access to quality health care is a struggle. For people in towns such as Kalah’s grandmother, the nearest eye clinic potentially being hours away. To help, Kalah’s family, also in health care, spends time volunteering in nearby villages.

Similar to the U.S., hospitals—like the one where Kalah’s cousin works—remain open and ready to care for those infected. Fortunately, some believe that due to their officials’ quick and strict response to the spread of COVID-19, they have been able to minimize the effect of the virus in Cameroon.

Having watched and helped her family volunteer has instilled in Kalah the importance of service leadership. These life lessons, paired with her exposure to other countries and cultures, has opened her eyes to the effect environment has on health outcomes, a passion that has led her to pursue global medicine.

Now that she’s back home, Kalah is preparing for the biggest test of her medical career. What was supposed to be completed in late April, followed with working in-hospitals, has been postponed until June. When asked how she’s managing the change and uncertainty, Kalah remembered what she told herself during the journey home, “Trust the process, trust the process.”

*Dates and Times are CST unless otherwise noted.

Kalah Child Photo
Cameroon Fishing
Cameroon Airplane
Cameroon Village