voxsouley

Visiting Ebola Land – Sierra Leone Part 1

In Humanitarian Response, International Development, Sierra Leone on April 16, 2015 at 1:40 pm

Note: I visited Sierra Leone in early March, 2015. I was hesitant to be too public about my trip until I’d been back and passed through my mandatory 21-day “quarantine” period; I was afraid of alarming people as the stigma of Ebola, as I’ve personally found, is powerful. So that happened, and then I went on a vacation and posting these Ebola blog posts fell to the wayside… so they’re written as they happened, but now they’re about 6-8 weeks old! Enjoy!

2/14/15, Casablanca, Morocco, mid afternoon

As always, leaving home is increasingly harder. It’s Valentine’s day, the day I proposed to my wife in 1996. I’ll be missing some of my kids’ school events. I’m annoyed I’m going to miss my oldest daughter competing in the county spelling bee. She was her school champion about a week ago. Plus there’s a school music show I’m going to miss. Overall this was a part of the bargain, though: I get to move my family to a beautiful forever home, with an amazing quality of life and near our extended family, and I get to work from home, which I love. But I still have to travel. Thankfully, this trip will be just two weeks, though with a full schedule. I’m going to Sierra Leone to hire 20–30 people to scale up our Ebola response and recovery programming. This should go fast. Then two weeks later I go to Germany for a week-long conference/training, then at the end of March I have a much anticipated and welcome Hawaii family vacation, the kind of travel I never tire of.

If you’d asked me 3-4 months ago about going to an Ebola country I would have balked immediately. But after talking to everyone and recruiting several positions for the program, I’ve become much more comfortable visiting Sierra Leone. The disease is on the wane, and new case numbers are stabilizing and in many cases decreasing. We need to maintain a full effort, though, until the last case is over and the quarantine periods have passed.

It’s much harder to get Ebola than one would think: you have to come into direct physical contact with someone infected or who just touched someone with a full-blown case of Ebola. You cannot catch it from someone not exhibiting symptoms, unless the person just touched the bodily fluids of an Ebola-infected patient, and you come into direct contact with that person. So, people practice social spacing, a new term I’ve come to learn. No one shakes hands and people always keep 2 meters apart from each other. This will be my first visit Africa where I don’t shake a single hand for the entire visit. I will spend all my time working out of the Freetown office, which is kept Ebola-free through the daily screening of everyone coming and going, constant sanitizing, and the aforementioned social spacing.

While it will be a little strange being so close to the disease, I’m more worried about the quarantine and social costs coming home. I’m worried about staying healthy and fever free through my time in Sierra Leone, about being too public about it until I get back and finish quarantine. I’m also worried about the stigma that could lead to parents canceling play-dates or not inviting us over, although of course it would be understandable.

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