Or maybe I should rename the post to “No Ebola around here”.
Thank you for all of you who have been asking about the Ebola situation here in West Africa and your concerns for our well-being.
In Benin the disease is almost unheard of. We know it is there in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, but those places are far geographically and ethically-wise.
Nigeria who is next door, had a few cases a couple of months ago, but they were smart and isolated them immediately, so it didn’t spread. 2 weeks ago Nigeria was declared Ebola-free (that happens when the quarantine passes and no new cases arise).
Don’t get me wrong, It is a real disease and I don’t downplay it. Our Salesian friends working there are desperate with lots of orphan children. The thing with diseases and Africa rural mentality is tradition: a disease is a disease that most likely came out of witchcraft, either if it is AIDS, Ebola or Malaria. For AIDS there is no cure, for the other ones there is, but what is the point of having a cure or treatment if most people in the rural setting don’t have access to it? People die the same of Malaria than of Ebola. So in their minds is just another disease, period. I am sure the chamanes and witch-people are having lots of work these days over there.
Apart from the spirits dimension, there is also the social dynamics: Ebola is killing people, but its true power comes from poverty and political instability. The public in the affected countries has been conditioned to fear instruction from the government. Those in Liberia and Sierra Leona grew up or endured convicted war criminal or wannabe dictators who conscripted child soldiers as their leaders. Survival required distrusting and evading the government. So when health workers in official uniforms want to round up family members and friends who are “sick,” it is easy to see why the public is not as cooperative as one would like. The virus thrives while the people live in fear. But we cannot ignore that it was people, not the virus, who originally sowed distrust.
Having said that, three points.
1) The affected area is quite small. Let’s pray that it doesn’t continue to spread.
2) Ebola has been in Africa since 1970s (it started in Congo close to the Ebola river). The first case in West Africa was reported in December 2013. When I came to the Ivory Coast in March 2014 there were already posters at the airport and we were all taken our temperature upon landing. But it was not until June that the first North American doctor working in Liberia died when the whole world became paranoid. Just perspective.
3) Beware on how much of what you read and hear is true. This is a snapshot of a CNN news report. CNN is supposed to be a leading international news journal, we would all appreciate a bit more of accurate research in to what they present to the world. In this map they showed on prime TV, they confused Nigeria with Niger. That red area that is presented on the image does not correspond to Nigeria. Nigeria is below. I am sure the 175,500 million Nigerians didn’t appreciate the confusion: Niger is mostly Sahara and totally landlocked. Nigeria has lush rainforests, one of the bussiest economies in the area, a big chunk of the oil in the world and well, some other charms. I understand if us regular citizens don’t know the difference or are not very well documented on similar-named countries in a continent far away. But CNN? I wonder what else of what they are presenting is not accurate.
All that to say: Thank you for your concerns. We are lucky to have loved ones who care and worry about us at the distance. Those of you who pray, please do so for the people in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea: for the ones who have lost loved ones, the ones who are been left behind, the ones caring for them and for the governments there, who are having a real challenge with the disease. From our side here in far-away Cotonou, we are fine, but we are also vigilant. We keep ourselves extra clean and monitor the news continuously. For now I say good bye because I have classes to prepare, a curriculum to update, some fresh pinneaple to eat, and girls in the boarding home to care for.