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Expat In Post-Lockdown Wuhan: 'Things Will Never Be The Same'

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 8, 2020 6:47 pm

Originally from Cameroon, Pisso Nseke's work as a business consultant took him to Wuhan, China — where he was trapped when the city where the coronavirus first emerged sealed itself off from the world in January.

That changed on Wednesday. After 76 days, Nseke and the other residents of Wuhan are finally able to leave the city.

Nseke spoke to NPR's Mary Louise Kelly about what it felt like to set foot outside his apartment for the first time in nearly three months. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

You went out today for the first time. How did it go?

It was like a kid trying to cross the street without their parents. You know the feeling. It's like we're scared. And it was a little bit exciting, seeing a little bit of the city.

... We're not totally free. It's not like the storm is over. We still have a lot of asymptomatic cases, like silent carriers, so we have to be very vigilant. We still have to wear masks and social distancing and going out just for the essentials.

... It felt nice, but I didn't really feel that different. Because today I still walked out with my mask. So, the only time I'm going to feel completely free is when I'll be able to go out without a mask. And when it's going to be safe for us to completely talk to people, hang out with people and just go back like before, then maybe I'll feel completely free.

Did you get anything to eat?

Actually, I ordered a pizza. It's the first time I got a bite, after so long, almost three months.

... I got a Hawaiian pizza. ... Ham and pineapple, some cheese — extra cheese, always. It felt good.

I'm just grateful for being alive. I'm grateful that I was able to see this day because so many people lost hope. I know so many people that gave up and also so many people have died. So my prayers and thoughts are with those who've lost somebody due to this pandemic.

I was remembering the very first time we talked and ... you said, I'm not married yet. We were both laughing together, saying it must be hard to meet somebody under quarantine, not ideal conditions. I wonder, have you thought at all about when you might go on a date?

I am seriously thinking about that and it's made me think about certain priorities in life. I would like to settle down, have a family, have kids. So that is something that has really changed my perspective about certain things.

Listen to the full interview later today on All Things Considered. You can also listen to previous conversations with Nseke from January, February and March.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Every few weeks since the lockdown began in Wuhan, China, I have been checking in with Pisso Nseke - originally from Cameroon, living in Wuhan for work and then trapped in Wuhan when the city sealed itself off from the world. It's kind of come to feel like I have a friend there in the city where the coronavirus first emerged. We have talked about everything from what shows he's working his way through on Netflix to how strange it feels not to set foot outside your apartment for more than two months. Well, that changed today. After 76 days, residents of Wuhan are finally able to leave the city and Pisso Nseke got to leave his apartment. Pisso Nseke, hello. I'm so glad to speak to you again. Tell me everything. You went out today for the first time. How did it go?

PISSO NSEKE: It was like a kid trying to cross the street without their parents. You know, the feeling it's, like, we're scared. And it was a little bit exciting seeing a little bit of the city.

KELLY: I mean, start with the moment. What time did you go out? You opened your front door, and then what happened? Where did you go?

NSEKE: So today, I left my apartment around 3 p.m. I had a lot of meetings. I got to see one or two colleagues. I took a walk down the street of my neighborhood just looking around. And I realized about 60% of the people were back to their work, meaning not all the shops were open, not the gyms and certain places were still closed. But so far, people are kind of leaving their homes but just for the essentials.

KELLY: OK. Let me start by saying I can't believe you made it till 3 p.m. I would have thought you'd be tearing the door open and running outside first thing when you woke up this morning.

NSEKE: Well, actually, you know, it's like we're not totally free. It's not like the storm is over. We still have a lot of asymptomatic cases, like silent carriers. So we have to be very vigilant here. We still have to wear masks and social distancing and going out just for the essentials.

KELLY: When - tell me about just walking down your street for the first time since January. I'm just - I can't even imagine what that must have felt like to feel the sun on your face for the first time in so long.

NSEKE: Well, it felt nice, but I didn't really feel it different because today I still walked out with my mask. So the only time I'm going to feel completely free is when I'll be able to go out without a mask. And when it's going to be safe for us to completely talk to people, hang out with people and just go back like before. Then maybe I'll feel completely free. But for now, I think this is a very interesting new world.

KELLY: Did you get anything to eat? Can you tell if restaurants are going to open back up?

NSEKE: Actually, I ordered a pizza.

KELLY: (Laughter) Oh, wow.

NSEKE: Yeah, I know.

KELLY: That must've tasted good.

NSEKE: I know. It's like - it's the first time I got a bite after, like, so long, almost three months.

KELLY: What kind of pizza did you get?

NSEKE: So I got a Hawaiian pizza.

KELLY: Oh, good - ham and pineapple and all that good stuff.

NSEKE: Ham and pineapple, some cheese - extra cheese, always. It felt good. I'm just grateful for being alive. I'm grateful that I was able to see this day because so many people lost hope. I know so many people that gave up. And also so many people have died. So my prayers and thoughts are with those who have lost somebody due to this pandemic.

KELLY: Forgive me if this is too personal, but I was remembering the very first time we talked, and you told me you've been alone in your apartment under lockdown. You said, I'm not married yet. And we were laughing together saying it must be hard to meet somebody under quarantine, not ideal conditions. I wonder, have you thought at all about when you might go on a date?

NSEKE: I am seriously thinking about that. And it's made me think about certain priorities in life. I would like to settle down, have a family, have kids. So that is something that has really changed my perspective about certain things. So definitely when I'm getting married, I hope to invite you and others...

KELLY: It would be an honor.

NSEKE: ...To attend my wedding. Hopefully, it's going to happen at the right time. Hopefully.

KELLY: Yeah. Pisso Nseke, thank you so much.

NSEKE: Thank you very much.

KELLY: He's a business consultant living in Wuhan, China. He got to leave his apartment for the first time today since January.

Thank you, my friend. Stay well.

NSEKE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.