Lockdown Diaries

As we find ourselves living through unprecedented times, some our General Managers have been recording their thoughts and feelings on how life has changed in their own countries. Here are a few revealing extracts from our GM’s ‘Lock Down Diaries’.

From Janet Lutterodt in Ghana…

These are unprecedented times since the business inception calling for unprecedented responses and actions with unprecedented workload for a food factory that is considered essential in a country under partial lockdown.

Yet the zeal from staff is fabulous though rigged with many individual challenges seen across the various everyday patterns experienced by staff.

In this period, reporting time to work is sometimes undetermined as you could encounter lots of vehicles cued to be checked at a Police checkpoint or on a lucky day, meet nothing at all; no police checkpoint, no vehicular traffic. Sometimes, staff are turned to go back home because some Police or Military personnel do not understand the identification given to staff as an ‘essential needs worker’. This has a rippling effect on the number of personnel required to be at post to complete a day’s order sometimes and so there is always a back- up plan on the quiet side.

Family food bills have increased.  Child care intensified, with schools closed, especially for the essential service person.

Motivated by the fact that they need to give off a percentage of their salaries to save the business, staff are seen to be making sacrifices such as working overtime when needed and not worrying about being paid. The commitment to see them come in early and leave late, sometimes boarding taxis (which are known to be very costly especially around this time) strikes an extra mark of selflessness and sacrifice.

Managers are making decisions by the clock and some working all seven days and at odd hours because now they have to do more with the same amount of time, implementing COVID protocols on site and managing the media too!

Government have eased utility bills for Ghanaians; but the strife still continues. “Stay home, stay safe” is being preached by the government and also some credible health institutions, but staff try as much as they can to come to work. Their loyalty has really been tested this time. There has been little or no agitation from staff when shift patterns or rotas are reviewed at short notice. We are all in an emergency mode.

It’s a time game; and we will persevere, and eventually come out stronger; together.

From Andre Veldsman in South Africa…

What a strange time we live in. The kids always complain when going to school that they wish they don’t have to go, and Cilia always responds with “don’t wish, you might get it!” How happy were they when they heard school will be closed for 6 weeks! But after a while they got bored (there is now a mountain bike track around our house…) as no friends can visit. Cilia found herself suddenly home schooling the kids and I do house chores when there is a free moment. How live has changed. And I believe it will probably change forever. We look differently at day to day issues now.

Covid-19 has actually had a very positive impact on South Africa. Crime has plummeted to all-round lows. Serious crime such as murder, rape and hi-jackings are about 15% compared to the same time last year. So we are actually better off believe it or not. There are more people surviving crime than those dying of Covid-19.

And I cant remember when last I could travel to work and not see one vehicle on the notoriously busy and dangerous R23 between Heidelberg and Balfour. One can now enjoy the peaceful scenery as autumn sets in.

But then there is a negative side. Very good friends of ours has their own building supplies store and depend on month end trade to get cash to pay the monthly bills. When SA locked down on 26 March, they traded almost a full month but missed the month end trade, and could not pay most of their bills on the 1st of April. They were hoping for April month’s end and now the lockdown is extended and it looks likely that they could lose their business. There are many similar stories.

Sadly the SA government is nowhere near as proactive and helpful as even other poorer African governments are. We are very much left to our own survival.

People in Blue Skies are very fortunate to work for a company that is so dynamic and dedicated to survive. There aren’t many such companies around.

We very much look forward to the busy R23 road, hectic and stressful days on site and seeing our business grow from strength to strength again.

And to have a nice braai with friends and family at the weekend and enjoy a good red wine together.

Cilia would again say…..don’t wish, you might get it. Oh, how I wish!

From Flavia Mometti in Brazil…

At the beginning to mid-March, the Covid-19 crisis seemed to be far away from us, but its scary contamination speed has quickly knocked at our doors, changing completely our operation, the individuals life and setting a date for us to shut down, without any certainty of when we would re-open. The continuous growth that Blue Skies Brazil was facing since October 2019 after so many challenges we went through in that year has suddenly been affected by this virus: the scenario where people were being recruited has changed to 240 staff between permanent and casuals dismissed, some of them desperately cried with the news that we were closing our operation and begging a chance to return once all is back to normal, the robust PND mango processing line that took ages to be commissioned sits now in High Care without any activity, processing tables have no people around and the dozens of AKEs and polystyrene sheets on the floor shows that our activity has been reduced to nothing. No raw material trucks parked at the front, no people moving everywhere, no games being played at the volleyball square. The social distance measures imposed by the government and municipalities to avoid the local contamination are seen on empty streets, lines on floors of supermarket queues to ensure people are 2 m distance away from each other, all schools closed.

No matter what difficulty we face, nothing happens without a reason. It is hard until it comes to the end, but there are for sure learnings, changes in our view of life and relationships, the value we start giving to simple things like a sunny sky, a bird singing in the morning and moments with our families that are usually completely forgotten or put behind with the busy life we have always had. Crisis are painful, but we get out of it stronger and more prepared for future challenges that will come and will never end than when it started.

We usually say that we can see the glass half empty or half full, it is our choice! I personally prefer looking at all this positively, without complaining much and being grateful that we are all healthy, we have comfort and abundance when so many people have hunger and whose conditions may be a harder battle to win than the virus itself. The crisis allowed me to identify those who were with me understanding my position in the business and the difficult decisions that were necessary to be made, it has shown me that for the first time since the start up of the operation, Brazil is considered valuable for the Group and its profitability achieved under solid basis over the past months will be missed. I had the chance to re-establish my daily exercise, needed to develop ways of sharing time between work calls and meal preparation when working from home, as well as support for my children with their online school classes. It has forced me to slow down, understanding that there will always be uncountable, outstanding things to solve which can wait the next day to continue to be completed.

Yesterday, the numbers of death and contaminations all over the world were no longer a statistic and became reality with the loss of my first relative due Covid-19, my mother’s uncle, with whom I have good memories during my childhood at the farm. Although he is not with us anymore, he has left a legacy to which we must cling: always look up, not down and live life intensely with everything good and bad it brings us. This is the way I have chosen to face this virus and get through this, being sure that there will be more gains than losses!

From David Moeketsi in South Africa…

For sure Covid – 19 virus has brought in a lot of anxiety amongst citizens of every country. Communities are behaving differently depending on the infections rates and areas, and how the Government in each country has decided to go about it. I have been following the news just to get an understanding of this pandemic, however the more one learns of this, the bigger the mind tells me that I also have these symptoms. This has led me to investigate less on this and go with what I am told, like keeping a safe distance, not frequenting areas where there are more people, personal hygiene adhered to and regularly washing and sanitizing of hands, no touching of my face tough – getting there, when one feel feverish one should self-isolate.

This has halted a lot of 2020 dreams to individuals particularly those that I come in contact with like our brothers and sisters whom I work with at Blue Skies. I have had formal discussions with our staff and have seen the sombre moment that this has brought in their daily lives. I must say that the business we are in is not only important in making headway profitably, but it is impacting and improving normal lives in a great way. It is in our eyes that we see the importance of getting it going despite the dangers we face, simply because we cannot fail so many families by giving up, but also carrying looking at our own lives like a hawk on its eggs.

Life in the streets of Siyathemba is normal as I indicated depending on the time of the day, we Africans are not used to be in our houses, we are so used to being in contact with each other, either in sports, discussions, work and different religious gatherings, hence it is difficult to control such as it is embedded in our genes if I may say so. We are also learning just like every country that this pandemic has a potential of wiping out communities in numbers, and we are living in fear of when will that touch our families, and what will be the reaction, in most cases we rely on the state to provide health care, however the state as with any family will not have enough, hence the cry for staying at home, just so the curve us flattened.

This disease has affected me greatly, my family lives in Soweto and since It was peak season, I could not travel to go see them. I planned on visiting them sometime after the mango season. Soweto being very close to the Covid 19 hotspot areas in Johannesburg, I decided to not go. I miss them dearly and I hope to see them once everything has settled.

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