On 18th June 2020, I went to my bank at Madina for transactions. I ended up leaving the banking hall unable to complete my business because I was heavily stigmatized as a survivor of COVID-19 but I was going to face the situation head-on.
Since I returned from COVID-19 treatment center, I have managed to surge above tides of stigmatization but what I experienced at the banking hall that day was really heartbreaking and a situation that made me very worthless as a human. It was really humiliating but I was not disappointed and discouraged.
After 22 days in quarantine, I needed some cash to sort myself out so I went to my bank at Madina, here in Accra for some quick transactions. I have a very good relationship with them but it has been a long time I went to banking hall to for transactions. Since the bank changed its name, I have never entered the banking hall. I usually sort myself out from the ATM and go my way but that day I needed to withdraw more cash and also do other transactions so it was imperative I go to the banking hall.
On entering the bank premises, I really appreciated their strict protocols in place to prevent infection and further spread of COVID-19. At the entrance, there this “Veronica bucket” filled with water. By the side of the “Veronica bucket” is liquid soap and tissue paper to satisfy the hand washing protocols. There is also a security guard who would direct anyone entering the banking hall to first wash his or her hands. The interesting thing is that one would have to use his or her foot to operate the “Veronica bucket” and that was my first time of seeing one like that.
Upon entering the banking hall, there is also another security guard who would ensure that your nose mask is properly fixed before directing you to a seat. Without nose mask, he would turn you away irrespective of your status as it is boldly written on the glass door “NO NOSE MASK, NO ENTERY”. Upon entering, the security guard would check your temperature with an infrared thermometer and again direct you to apply some hand sanitizer on your hands before directing you to sit down after asking you what you want to do in the banking hall.
After every one hour, the cleaner would come and disinfect the whole banking hall and clean all surfaces. I really loved and appreciated their stringent protocol measures in place to prevent the spread and infection of COVID-19 in the banking hall. That is exactly what many corporations and intuitions should do to protect their staffs from COVID-19 infections in these perilous times.
In spite of all the stringent and beautiful protocol measures in place, I left the banking hall unable to do my transactions because I was heavily stigmatized by people I thought are so professionals enough to know the dynamics of the time we find ourselves in. I felt very worthless as a being but I would return the following day very confrontational and not ready to tolerate "nonsense" of any kind from them in the name of COVID-19 stigmatization.
When I entered the banking hall, the security guard directed me to a seat and asked to sit down and wait till it reaches my turn so I sat down waiting patiently. It later got to my turn so I walked to my scheduled desk. The lady gave me a beautiful smile and a warm reception. She then directed me to sit down while still smiling to me and I smiled back. She was actually giving me best treats as a customer of the bank. She is not known to me but she was just doing her work as a staff of a bank whose ultimate responsibility is to give customers the best of treats and so I was happy with her.
I was in one of the locally made nose masks and I was really forcing to hold it to my nose as it was always slipping off my nose. Then a conversation struck and I told her I am in hurry to go home because I do not want to take chances as a former survivor of COVID-19. That suddenly changed everything and the beautiful lady with glowing smiles turned ugly instantly. She put on a frowned and hard face. Suddenly everything was not working as she kept shouting the system is not responding. All her beautiful smiles went away all of a sudden.
I sat waiting for the system to respond and pretended to watch something on my phone. While I was still sitting, she called the cleaner to come and clean her desk and where I am sitting but I still never minded because I have seen too many of such characters as a Police Officer. I was still pretending to watch something on my phone. I realized that another lady had come to join her. She then pointed finger above my head and whispered something into her ears but I was calm and smiling at whatever that was going on.
After a while, it became obvious that she was not going to attend to me because I had mentioned that I survived COVID-19. I then asked her whether she is afraid of me. I also asked her what if I never mentioned that I once got infected with COVID-19 and recovered? Would her attitude towards me changed?
I left the banking hall without finishing my transaction but not disappointed because the name of COVID-19 actually sound scary and probably I would have reacted the same way as she did in these times that all are try to stay safe. In fact, no one wants to hear the name of COVID-19 and let alone smile with people who once got infected so I understood her.
I left the banking hall but vowed to confront the issue at all fronts just to ensure that another COVID-19 survivor is not treated like that, especially by bank staffs who are supposed to know better. As soon as I left the banking hall I sent a mail to management of the bank and titled it “LET’S END COVID-19 STITGMATIZATION” and narrated my experience in the banking hall that day. Not quite long there was a response to my mail asking for my phone contact. As soon as I responded with my phone contact, I received a phone call from their sales manager who apologized to me almost in tears. She promised that she was going to query them but I insisted she should not but rather, they should provide the platform for some of us who survived COVID-19 to share our experiences with them to help reduce psychological fears associated with COVID-19 as that will go a long way to enhance their customer relationship in these times that we are all suspecting one another of COVID-19.
The following day I returned to the banking hall more confident that before. As soon as I entered the banking hall, I requested to see the manageress. I was directed to sit down and wait as there was another customer with her. This time I had put on a very hard face and not ready to tolerate any "nonsense" in the name of COVID-19 stigmatization as I experienced yesterday. I knew very well that that they have gotten reactions from mails I sent to their management.
Finally. I met the manageress and as soon I mentioned my name, she put on a very beautiful smile. I recounted my experience in the banking hall the previous day and she quickly apologized for whatever that happened. I took the opportunity to narrate to her my experience as a police investigator in these times of COVID-19 pandemic.
I told her how I suspected someone I was working on to be infectious but when I took the test with him, I ended up being positive and he was negative. I narrated briefly with her my experiences as one who got the virus and recovered and I told her that if there is someone to be scared of, it is those have never undergone COVID-19 test but not me because I have survived it and even in my case, my wife and son who stay under the same roof with me tested negative.
After several apologies, the manageress walked me to the desk and this time the lady saw me, smiled and greeted me. The manageress herself sat down with me to ensure that I go through with everything that I came to do in the banking hall successfully. I also noticed that lady was putting up a very positive attitude towards with a lot smiles once again. She was just at her bests again and realizing that, I asked the manageress to leave us and she left. I then took the opportunity to share my little experience with the lady. She also apologized to me and we all smiled. I left the banking hall with a lot of smiles and with a sense of a dignified human being.
I do not blame the lady for the treatments she gave me and that is why I insisted that her employers should not query her. Querying her will not solve the problem but what is really likely to solve the problem is when organizations give their personnel and staffs adequate knowledge and training on how to handle their customers and clients in these perilous times because they are also mindful of their lives and their families. Stigmatization is heightening because of ignorance and there is the need for organizations and intuitions to arm their staffs and personnel with adequate information on COVID-19.
I want end this by appreciating the management of the bank for their swift response to complaints. I would also appreciate the manageress at Madina branch and lastly the very lady who initially gave me that ugly treatment but later got to know that we are all in this COVID-19 crises together and no need to stigmatizing the one who survived it.
Together we can end the stigmatization.
Ahanta Apemenyimheneba Kwofie III*