I woke up today feeling inspired to write a blogpost. I’ve had a lot on my mind lately, so here it goes…
The Ebola Outbreak in West Africa has been getting a great deal of media attention. Every day there is a news article reporting rising fatality numbers and displaying disturbing pictures of unrecognizable, masked healthcare workers with body bags. Yesterday, I told someone I was studying public health and the first question he asked was, “so what do you think about this Ebola? It seems like a movie.”
“Seems like a movie”… I wasn’t angered by this comment, because I know that for many Americans it does seem like a movie. Something happening far away, so distant from our reality that it just doesn’t seem real. I can relate to this. Sometimes I go days without checking the news because it is exhausting to find the energy and strength to care about ever terrible thing that is happening in this world. But we all pick our battles. We all feel passionate about one issue or another, because that’s what makes us humans. For the past several months, I have felt strong passion for the crisis in West Africa, and in particular, Sierra Leone.
If you know me it goes without saying why Salone, but it is difficult for many to understand. Many people who I surround myself with have had the privilege of travelling somewhere, and of those many have travelled outside the US. When you travel somewhere, you see cool things, meet interesting people, and usually take a bunch of pictures. Usually, the memory of those cool things fade away, those interesting people turn into a “happy birthday” Facebook post every year, and those pictures get put away with the other pictures from other trips. I know, because I too have experienced these types of trips and continue to experience (and enjoy) them. There’s nothing superficial or uninteresting about these trips, it’s just that’s how people enjoy their vacations and when the vacation is over they must go back to their normal, daily routine.
When I answered this person’s question with “I’m actually very personally affected by what is happening in West Africa,” he was surprised, which is actually quite common. I think people have a hard time making the connection that someone can have strong connections to a place after living there (and not just travelling for vacation). If you’ve never made true life-long friendships with people in another country, it would be difficult to understand that it’s possible. My reality was not the same as this person’s reality.
My reality, lately, has been calling and messaging my friends in Sierra Leone in constant search for answers on what is actually happening. I’ll read every status and article my Peace Corps friends post and engage in conversations with them asking how their people are doing. I can’t speak for them, but for me I feel angry, terrified, and useless.
I feel angry that something like this has happened to a nation who had such a strong hopes for the future. After the war, Sierra Leoneans would always tell me they didn’t want that to happen again – “Mama Salone must go before.” Now, only 12 short years since that declaration, they are faced with a similar fear that they felt during the war. Fear that they may become sick and stigmatized, that they may die, that the government is tricking them, that they won’t be able to have enough food for the month. Not only has the health of a nation been disrupted, but the culture and the livelihoods of thousands are being jeopardized. I am terrified that this outbreak will continue to get worse before it gets better.
I continue to feel useless as I get these reports from Salone friends and the BBC and know that there is nothing I can do now. Yes, I can donate money and yes, I can spread awareness, but that doesn’t seem like enough when I have such strong links to these people. I had seriously thought about dropping out of school and flying over there to help with … well, not too sure what, but I figured I would come up with something when I got there. I ditched that idea and came to my senses. There are some amazing Sierra Leonean and foreign workers helping to control this outbreak. And although they are understaffed and under-resourced, I want to believe they are trying their level best.
So, this is my plea to all of you. I know it might seem like a movie and you might be busy with your day, but take a few minutes to pray, have a moment of silence, or pass good thoughts to the people of West Africa. Although it may seem like their reality is not our reality, we are one people and we need to continue to care for one another.