DAKAR (Reuters) – After Senegal ordered universities to shut over the coronavirus outbreak, Ousmane Issaka, a student from Niger, found himself having to sleep on the pavement outside his shuttered dormitory in Dakar, with packed suitcases at his side but nowhere to go.
Though he had displayed no COVID-19 symptoms, Issaka, 24, was concerned about inadvertently taking the virus back to his home village of Bengou and had decided to stay put following the March 14 order.
Most of his 80,000 fellow students at Cheikh Anta Diop University had crammed themselves onto buses or rushed to Dakar airport before flights were suspended and borders closed.
Issaka said he and a few fellow veterinarian students from Niger spent two nights sleeping rough on foam mattresses laid on the cracked tarmac in the eerily silent street outside his dormitory.
“We had to spend a lot of time on the beds, suffering as we waited,” he said, alluding to the discomfort and uncertainty.
The university then learned of their plight and put them up in off-campus housing left empty by the exodus.
The university could not be reached for comment on how many foreign students it is housing during the shutdown, but at least 20% of its student body come from abroad. Regional freedom of movement allows many West Africans to work or study in nearby countries.
Senegal has so far confirmed 412 coronavirus cases and five deaths since the first case was registered on March 2. Niger has reported 655 confirmed cases and 20 deaths since the first case was registered there on March 20.
TRYING TO REASSURE PARENTS
Issaka’s group of around 15 Nigerien students have tried to isolate themselves, while maintaining as normal a life as possible. They keep up with their studies online, play soccer and send regular updates to anxious family members.
“All they ask about is the disease,” Issaka said in his new shared dorm room, which was cluttered with half-unpacked bags and a prayer mat laid neatly to one side. “We try to make them understand that we’re really okay.”
Issaka is resigned to waiting out the epidemic far from home, but misses the buzz of student life. The nearby campus is deserted. Clothes-lines under dormitory windows, normally heavy with students’ washing, sway empty in the breeze.
After completing his studies, he plans to return to Niger to set up a fish farm in the countryside where his family has worked as fishermen for generations.
“All we want to hear one day is that we’ve reached the end of this pandemic,” he said.
(Reporting by Estelle Ndjandjo and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Gareth Jones)