Daily Life in Sierra Leone during the Ebola Crisis

11/19/14

Kelly Melton is a Children of the Nations sponsor who is currently in Freetown with a medical aid organization, helping to set up Ebola treatment clinics. She has graciously agreed to share her trip journal, to give you a firsthand view of how the Ebola outbreak is affecting the people of Sierra Leone. (Read Kelly’s first, second, and third updates.)

 
Let me attempt to paint a picture of what it is like to live in Sierra Leone during the Ebola crisis
 
There are regular Ebola updates on the radio with the number of deaths and new cases in each area. Because the schools are shut down, they are doing daily lessons on the radio as well. The other day I caught a segment on spelling.
 
Lives are not lived indoors, inside a house behind TVs, computers, or smartphones. Homes are reserved for sleeping. Lives are lived in the community, where everyone looks out for everyone's children. The sounds of family flood the streets at all times of the day. 
 
There are Ebola related signs and banners everywhere. Many of them are crudely drawn cartoons depicting the different symptoms to watch out for. There are signs urging people to stop traditional burials, and to seek treatment early. Even the British Council, where the Western Area Command Center is located, has these cartoon signs outside. You can't get away from them.
 
One of the many signs depicting the symptoms of Ebola.
                             One of the many signs urging people to visit a clinic if they have symptoms of Ebola.
 
People are always talking about Ebola, and it is clear there is a huge lack of understanding surrounding it. Rumors continue to fly through communities. I have the hardest time with the jokes. At a party last Friday, there were some local boys dancing and demonstrating their new dance called “The Ebola,” where they reenacted having the chills, then a seizure, and the grand finale of acting like they were violently vomiting until they collapsed on the floor. 
 
I smell of a mixture of chlorine, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, sunscreen, insect repellant, and sweat at all times. Yes, it is as bad as it sounds! I routinely have to defend my workspace from ants, spiders, mosquitoes, and other insects.
 
This is the first time I've ever seen anything that would resemble order in regards to driving. Now don't get me wrong, there is still that familiar chaos 99 percent of the time, with cars competing for space on the road with hundreds of people and motorbikes. But this all changes when an ambulance comes into the picture. Cars actually pull over and stop, allowing the ambulance to pass. In the five years I've been coming here, I've never seen that!
 
                                                       Walking through the narrow streets of Freetown.
 
Businesses are struggling to stay open and many have had to reduce staff. Sierra Leone is a challenging place to live and work, even during the best of times. Ebola has set the country back immensely
 
Conversations center on Ebola, even when you desperately try to avoid it and take a mental break. It always seems to make its way back into the discussion.
 
I've never see so many expats here! There are countless LandCruisers on the road with various NGO stickers on them. The few restaurants that are open are often filled with expats. You will also find them congregating anywhere you can connect to Wi-Fi. The coffee shop in the lobby at the Radisson hotel has become a sea of laptops. It's the nicest hotel in town, so most of the bigger organizations are housing their people there. It is also the CDC headquarters.
 
Living in the city of Freetown during this health crisis has definitely been a different experience compared to what I'm used to when I stay upcountry in the provinces.