Despite the growing anxiety over the threat of EVD, and it is very real, we can still continue life here, almost as normally as we can and respond to those everyday strains that continue to challenge us.
A kick-about for two small street boys who were surprised to have the space between two houses to themselves, suddenly took on a sinister mood. The intimate euphoria of a well-earned goal scored between a cooking pot and mop, abruptly ended as each spotted the approaching Sierra Leone Police Officer. The President had declared a State of Public Health Emergency, a Monday to stay at home with family for ‘Reflection’, ‘Education’ and ‘Prayer’ (DofREP), and this patriotic and highly zealous officer was not going to allow these two boys to undermine his president’s decree.
The tiny, one battery, Kchibo radio crackled at 98.1 mghz with the news that a further 50 cases had been confirmed and 12 deaths, since yesterday. The door to the tiny ramshackle apartment swung open to two, tearful miscreants, quickly handed over to a mortally embarrassed mum, a word of warning from officer 521 and he was gone. Listeners rang or texted in their platitudinous prayers for the whole nation to be saved from this ‘monster of the devil’, repeatedly interspersed with a seemingly endless queue of pious politicians, each primed to remind everyone of the work the Government had done or the work the Government hadn’t done in the case of opposition party members, and the work still to be done by both.
Not half-a-dozen miles away the spattering sound of heavy raindrops hammering at the zinc-roofed, colonial shacks, the rush of overflow through the streetside drains, and the gutter splash from three stories up, spilling over the threads of tarmac across a city, ‘robbed’ of its people overnight. A deserted Freetown, normally a massive ‘anthill’ of teeming traffic, crowded markets and congested sidewalks, now silent, empty, the sound of running water replacing the sounds of car horns and the shouts of street-vendors. An eerie silence with peeping eyes staring through finger-drawn curtains and raindrops wiped from a tiny window, and hushed tones whispering reaction to the ‘breaking’ news of every broadcast, an awful, growing fear as the body-count rose and an obedient respect for the ‘Day of Reflection’ witnessed throughout the land.
By the end of Monday 4th. August 2014, the whole nation, had reflected, educated and prayed it self to a ‘standstill’, It was perhaps just as well the Government hadn’t the means to pass on the warnings about Ebola, ‘intravenously’.
At least the DofREP gave a day of respite from the daily visits of loudspeaker vans, blasting out the five preventative precautions to avoid EVD, the exact nature of which most people are still unaware, due mainly to the rapid, distorted, garbled Krio that is delivered ‘ultra-volume’ to each and every neighbourhood. Its good to see how the massive, foreign-aid funding, mainly from the UK and the US is being spent so sensibly.
To reduce all bodily contact as much as possible and to try to contain the virus, all public assembly had been banned and all schools instructed to close by mid-July. Consequently the national, BECE examination has had to be abandoned, indefinitely, with the potentially drastic consequences of dislocating the whole education programme for 2015. Police officers have regularly patrolled many of the school sites and yet there have been several ’clandestine’ Summer School Classes, held in ‘secret’, only to be discovered later and whole classes and their teachers arrested, for ‘non-compliance’ with the Government decree.
What is so heartening is the way that most sensible Sierra Leoneans have fully embraced the idea of washing their hands in chlorinated water before entering any public place. However, probably the most telling of all, is the way ordinary Sierra Leoneans have temporarily abandoned their traditional greeting, a strongly exaggerated and lengthy, double hand-shake and hug, and replaced it with a right arm across the chest and a clutch of the heart, often after firstly an attempt to shake the hand has been quickly aborted, having remembered the Ebola message of ‘no bodily contact’, at the last moment.
I thank you all for your thoughts and prayers at this time, not only for myself but also for all our staff and indeed for the entire country, so greatly appreciated, thank you so much, and I look forward to being with you again by the end of the month, and with the hope that the crisis will be showing signs of improvement.