By Catherine Mahony, CAFOD’s Emergency Coordinator for West Africa, who is coordinating our response to the Ebola Crisis in Sierra Leone. Please donate to our Ebola Crisis Appeal>>
I felt more apprehensive about coming to Sierra Leone than I have on most deployments to emergency situations. Not because I’m afraid of catching Ebola – I know that, with the right precautions, the risks are low for someone like me, who won’t be working directly with Ebola patients. What spooked me more was the enormity of the crisis. Forecasts for the coming months vary wildly, but we know that the situation will get worse before it gets better.
I got my cues about life in Freetown as soon as I arrived at the airport. Last year when I was here I was struck by how tactile people were, but now immediately upon greeting someone you notice the flinch: the little shock of restraint as people who are used to hugging and shaking hands hold themselves back.
My first morning was spent driving back and forth to meetings, which gave me a chance to talk to Jacob, CAFOD’s driver. I asked him how things were, and he said they were getting better. I was surprised, and questioned him further, and he said: “Well, better than Liberia.” He’s a pragmatist – he hasn’t seen his family for a month as they are in another district, and he’s told them that they must stay put. “If everyone just stays where they are, soon we’ll see each other again,” he said.
As we drove around, I noticed that the markets were still trading, shops were open and people were milling about. A sure sign that business was not so far from usual was the traffic jams that still snarled up around us. Many buildings were dilapidated, but plants burst through them, and a rogue sheep grazed, while pigs ambled through roadside rubbish dumps. It seemed like life was pushing through all the cracks, however messily. Continue reading