Virtual social events new normal in shutdown reality

Sunday May 17 2020

virtual

Since coronavirus pandemic rendered physical meetings impossible, people are congregating through social media platforms to witness events including weddings and funerals. POOL 

By Daily Nation

One of the most memorable images captured in the recent past is that of a man toasting a glass of white wine towards his computer’s camera.

Under normal circumstances, a clink could have been heard of glasses colliding, but this was an online toast, witnessed by the Voice of America.

“Cheers, guys,” the man says. “Thanks for having me here.”

An excited lady, who is part of the party being cast via Zoom, the online video-conferencing software, answers him: “Hey! Cheers. Thanks so much.”

It is part of the new normal. As business meetings moved online as a response to social distancing advisories by governments across the globe towards containing the spread of Covid-19, so did casual gatherings.

People are hosting birthday parties, weddings, bridal showers, get-togethers and other informal engagements online as they contend with the distancing measures and restriction of travel in various parts of the world.

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American photographer Teshorn Jackson, for instance, held a party via video conferencing platform Zoom on May 5 with her Kenyan friends. He had been in Kenya earlier in the year and fell in love with a local woman. On her birthday, he hosted a party for her from his house in Dallas, Texas.

“My appearance was a gift for her birthday. I knew the (social distancing) would cause her to not have a party so I told her, I’d gift her my services. I’ve done other parties for clients in other countries during the quarantine,” Jackson, a music enthusiast, told Lifestyle.

He added: “Virtual parties are now becoming a thing.”

A sample of posts publicly shared online illustrated how virtual parties are taking root all over the globe, especially in the United States that so far has the highest number of Covid-19 casualties.

“I am hosting a baby shower via Zoom. Any ideas for what to do to make it awesome?” Maureen tweeted to her Twitter followers on May 5 from her home in Alaska.

“Just attended my grandpa’s 100th birthday party via Zoom. His 95-year-old brother was on the call, as well. So wonderful,” Elisheva posted from the US on May 11.

“Mother’s Day tea party via Zoom was super cute and fun!” posted Elizabeth from Illinois on May 11.

Zoom and other teleconferencing solutions are helping eliminate the physical barriers and according to Samuel Munguti, a social entrepreneur, they are helping humans cope with an unprecedented development.

“If platforms like Zoom were not there right now, the world would be in a more chaotic position,” he told Lifestyle.

“To me, Zoom is a social enterprise because they have given millions — not just populations but also entrepreneurs — a lifeline to continue running their businesses, which is good,” added Mr Munguti, the founder of Farmers’ Pride that deals with sale of farm produce by use of technology.

In case one wants to host an online party, Teshorn Jackson advised, one should ensure there is good quality audio from the host’s side. The choice of music should also be spot on to keep attendants excited. The host, he said, should also set the right tone.

Ms Stanko, 26, and her spouse had planned have a church wedding in the US city of Pittsburgh on April 18. Earlier this year, she flew from Kenya to the US city of San Antonio, where her fiancé was living, to finalise on the wedding plans.

Her parents were to fly to the US to witness the union but it was not to be. On March 14, President Donald Trump’s government put a halt on international flights to the US as a way of containing the spread of Covid-19.

By then, her parents were in Kenya, while the groom’s were in the US. Weeks later, authorities in the US banned gatherings of more than 50 people.

“By each tick of the clock, it worsened. The odds seemed not to be favouring us,” Belver said. It did not help matters that while leaving for the US, she had taken a fiancée visa which would be valid for only 90 days.

Since they did not know when international travel would resume, the couple settled on a courthouse mini-wedding in San Antonio, the groom’s hometown town that is 2,400 kilometres away from the venue of the originally planned wedding.

Their first idea was to wed through A Justice of the Peace: a special court with powers to preside over weddings in the US. But it hit a brick wall as the judges they approached ruled their case as non-essential or tripled the charges.

They thus channelled energies towards a church-administered wedding as per their original plan. “As believers who wanted a wedding in church and all the blessings that comes with church weddings, we felt like it could still happen. We got a minister and used our house as a sanctuary,” said Belver.

Given the drastic changes, they only spent $96 (Sh10,244) of their initial $5,000 (Sh533,527) budget.

“Everything was done slightly different,” Ms Stanko, says of the simple ceremony that was planned and executed in under 24 hours. The wedding happened on April 13, five days earlier than the original plan.

It was a private ceremony with 24 members only — from both US and Kenya — admitted into the virtual meeting.

Her aunt moderated the meeting, ensuring no “virtual gatecrashers” wandered into the Zoom meeting. The bride, the groom, the pastor were the only individuals whose microphones were unmuted before they exchanged the vows.

On average, it was a simple wedding: No long procession, no glitzy cars forming a bridal procession queue, no razzmatazz as is typical of a wedding. Belver did her own make-up and styled her hair. Her fiancé groomed himself too.

“There were no long speeches and the usual church service of two to three hours was wrapped up in under 30 minutes. The rest of the time was created for a chitchat with my Kenyan family and friends,” she said.

Later, all those in attendance were allowed to join in singing and during the cutting of the cake and mingle with one another. So, are they planning to have another wedding once normalcy resumes?

Belver said No. “We’ll have a different anniversary celebration. That’s when I’ll put on my gown and renew the vows,” she said. “The Bible was read. And a prayer. And that marked the beginning of my life as a wife.”

Stephanie Achieng’, 25, followed wedding from Kenya.

“It was a success. The vows were beautiful. It was an honour to attend the wedding and witness my friend get married,” she said.

“However, the bride did not wear the gown she yearned to,” she added.
Mululu Primary School alumni.

We had an overnight Karaoke night via Zoom and we liked it!

David Manza, 27, and 35 other primary school mates had organised for a get-together on April 24 but after the Health Ministry called for social distancing as a measure of containing the coronavirus spread, that could not happen.

WhatsApp group chats, he says, was not adequate to satiate the delight of the planned meeting.

They even contemplated postponing the meeting. That, too, was not a great option to many. So, they settled on virtual meeting, agreed on the time and “it worked out greatly; more than even our other meet-ups”.

“Catching up online in a new platform was really wonderful. The Karaoke started at 10pm and ended at around 5am when everyone else had left the meeting,” said Manza.

The meeting ID and password was shared on the WhatsApp group with the team, after which the members joined and the party took off.

The thrill, Mr Manza recalls, was unmatched. Team members abroad shared their experiences of quarantine and living the corona-battered times in a foreign land.

EXCITING MOMENT

The joy of hearing his friends sing “especially those I thought would not” was fun.

“We shared jokes and watched each other enjoy. The moment was exciting,” said Manza. “It was fascinating to share memes via the ‘share screen’ option on Zoom.”

Johnstone Vusena, 28, a group member, volunteered to moderate the meeting. He selected the individuals to speak according to the agreed modalities.
The members were to “raise their hands” whenever they wanted to contribute and the moderator would unmute their microphones. In instances when the sound froze, they chatted on the side bar.

“I punished those who could not obey the rules by removing them momentarily before admitting them back to the session. Missing bits of the entertainment was a discipline mechanism for them,” he laughed.

“I never thought we could do something like a Zoom karaoke party,” he added.

“Sometimes I could mute everyone to allow the person singing to sing but since it is a free package, people could unmute themselves and start interfering with the guy who was singing.

Other people joined the conversation and couldn’t figure out how to enable their audio so I had to call them to explain to them how to do the set-up. It was intriguing and, to spice it up, we agreed to get inebriated. We had lots of fun and laughter throughout the night until dawn when the party ended"

On the morning of May 8, Dedan Kimathi University of Technology held its 9th graduation ceremony. But unlike previous years, this event was beamed online as the university administration adhered to the social distancing advice from the government.

One of the graduates was 21-year-old Elias Njiru, who got his degree in business information technology.

“While I’m glad to have completed college studies, I had never imagined that in the end of the four-year course, I was to graduate virtually. This was until coronavirus gripped the country,” Elias told Lifestyle, adding that some students wished the idea was put on hold until normalcy resumed.

Mr Njiru had hoped the ceremony would be aired in mainstream media as well. The event was brief and lasted a few hours.

“We were not advised to don in any particular way and, except the university’s administrators in the boardroom, I doubt the graduands were dressed in formal regalia. I was in pyjamas following from my bedroom,” said Mr Njiru.

GRADUATION CEREMONIES

“From attending several graduation ceremonies, I can tell there is always the pleasure of donning the graduation regalia after four years of struggle. This is what I missed since ours was not an ordinary graduation,” he added.

According to him, the idea was unfathomable, seemed far-fetched, sounded impossible and unattainable until the time he was conferred with the powers to read and write remotely.

“Totally novel!” he remarked, “The ceremony was devoid of glitz and grandeur as ‘traditional’ graduation ceremonies always are. It was characterised by downtime and the streams kept freezing. All the same, we graduated.”

He wishes that once normalcy resumes, the university will organise a ceremony for award of the certificates.
“We are not used to the concept of virtual graduation,” he said.