ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The government of Zimbabwe has ordered its citizens to stay home. This may sound familiar, but this is happening in a country where health systems and the economy crumbled long before the coronavirus. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports that despite relatively few cases, people in Zimbabwe are taking the threat seriously.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I caught Njube Mpofu on the third day of lockdown.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROOSTER CROWING)
PERALTA: I ask if he's at a farm because I hear roosters.
NJUBE MPOFU: (Laughter) I'm right at home.
PERALTA: He's at home actually, which is hard for a guy who usually spends his days running a beer garden. He says this lockdown has made a bad situation worse.
MPOFU: To tell the truth, I really don't understand how we're doing it. But somehow, we seem to be surviving.
PERALTA: The past few days, he has had to cross the border to Botswana to find food. Water and electricity are normally rationed. But since the lockdown, he's gotten neither. It hurts, Mpofu says, but the lockdown is the right thing to do.
MPOFU: It is a brilliant idea because the moment you start spreading, you won't be able to stop it.
PERALTA: He takes a pragmatic view that Zimbabweans have suffered so much, they know when to set aside political resentment.
MPOFU: Everything has been abandoned, and we are focusing on life only.
PERALTA: Zimbabwe has, for years, been watching its economy and politics collapse. Inflation is running in the triple digits. People don't have money to buy basic food. Hospitals go without Tylenol. The capital city has few chemicals to treat their water. And now the coronavirus has found its way to this southern African country, dealing it yet one more blow.
(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE BEEPING)
PERALTA: I wanted to call Pastor Evan Mwarire because the last time I was in Zimbabwe, he talked about how Zimbabweans always thought they'd hit rock bottom only to realize they'd fallen even farther.
EVAN MWARIRE: In regions like ours where people have had calamities of such a nature happen, we turn to the rest of the world in a time like this. And we kind of say, welcome to our world.
PERALTA: Mwarire himself has lost family members to the AIDS epidemic. He survived cholera and typhoid outbreaks, lived through two major economic collapses, and he left jail alive.
MWARIRE: I would say to the rest of the world that there is one thing that we have left when we are in trouble, and that is the hope that we will see tomorrow.
PERALTA: Zimbabweans, he says, have learned that lesson over and over. There is hope, always hope, he says, of a new tomorrow.
Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.