Who has become my enemy? In the aftermath and ongoing struggles with the Ebola outbreak

I was recently chatting with my friend from SIM, Bob Blees. His organization is on the battlefront dealing with the Ebola outbreak in Liberia. He stated the problem in a way that had never occurred to me before when he said “the problem our friends in Liberia now have is that their “enemy” may now be their own family members. The article below explains. It is told from a first person perspective.

Bob states “These details areshared from first hand accounts from Liberians living with the Ebola crisis on a daily basis.”

I never close the door to my office any more. I am afraid of catching Ebola.   I don’t want anyone to touch my door knob, not knowing if that last person who touched it will be an infected Ebola person.  So I just leave my door open all the time.  I began to fear this several months ago as the Ebola epidemic raged throughout my country of Liberia.  Some days the fear will overcome me and  I will call my wife at home and beg her to not leave the porch and keep the children in the house.

When I leave my office I am always careful to hold my arms close by my side and to not touch the walls or doors in the hallway.  Even the sweat from an infected person can contain enough virus to infect a person coming in contact with it.  In our hot and humid climate, even a damp spot on the painted wall, can remain damp for more than a day after a person passes by.  And because people infected with Ebola are often weak, and unsteady, it is very possible they would bump the walls as they go down the hallway.  So I just keep my hands and arms against my side, not wanting to take a chance of touching the wall.   As I pass by the treasurers off ice I notice a peculiar thing.  The women sitting at their desks handling cash are all wearing rubber gloves.  It was said that someone handling money died of Ebola so all those in our office now take no chances.  They all wear rubber gloves when they work with paper money.

As I step outside I am careful to wash my hands after touching the door to the office.  I walk along the road toward my house and cannot help to notice the foot prints in the dust on the road.  I think to myself, “An Ebola person could have just passed by here, and these very foot prints could be theirs.” The Ebola treatment center is just a short way down the road ahead of me, so the very real possibility exists that someone sick has just passed by.   It gives me the shivers to think this way.

In August I lost 25 members of my extended family in less than one month, to the Ebola disease.  As the disease hit the area of the country where I was born, it ravaged my family.  10 members of the family on my father’s side, and 15 members of the family on my mother’s side all succumbed to the disease in less than one month.  I dreaded to hear the phone ring in those days, as it was always a report of another uncle, aunt or cousin who had died.  I could not go to visit them, could not comfort them, or go to the funeral.  The grief I felt was too much to bear.

Recently I received a phone call from my father.  He was crying on the phone.  He asked me, through his tears, to beg my mother to not go to church anymore until the epidemic is finished.  I had never heard my father cry.  My mother insisted in attending all the prayer meetings at church as her strength is in the Lord, and only He can save our land.  My father begged her saying “We can pray together at home and God will hear us” but she insisted on going to church.  Too many of our friends and family have died.  My father was filled with fear, and begged me to implore my mother as he felt that I was the only one who she would respect now, since he felt he had tried everything.  The sadness I felt at that moment was so heavy.  Every day I fear for my parent’s life.

Now I am getting near  my house.  My wife and children have not gotten sick.  We pray daily that we will all stay well.  With the children we  practice safe and clean habits of hand washing, and keeping distance from others.   My fear is not so much for myself each day, as I know what I, personally need to do to stay safe.  But while I am away at work my wife must go to the market to get food, and the children go to play.  I cannot control where they go and who they touch. I have no way to protect them and feel so helpless.

Now I am at home.  I want to greet my beautiful wife with a hug but that thought that she may have gotten infected gnaws at the back of my mind always.  I want to bounce my kids on my knee, but know that there is always a chance that they may have encountered an Ebola infected person that day, without knowing it.  It is so difficult to put these thoughts completely out of my mind.  I know I need to do this if I want to stay connected and showing love to my family.  But it is really hard to forget the almost daily reports we get of sickness and death from Ebola among friends in the community and family members and friends upcountry.

During the war it was easy to know who the enemy was.  The guys with the guns, and the cutlass were the enemy, and as a family we could huddle together, and pray together and do all we could to stay safe.  Now the “enemy” is the person I love in my own home.  Try as I might, it is so difficult to ignore the nagging thought in the back of my mind, which is there constantly, that I may become infected from touching a member of my own family.  How can I stay spiritually and emotionally connected to those that I love the most, when I live in constant fear that I may become infected with the deadly disease?

The greatest challenge that our Christian family faces today, and all the friends we have in our church, at work, and in our community, is how to remain connected and compassionate with those we love so much.  We all pray daily, constantly, that the Lord will keep our loved ones safe each day.

But still the disease rages.  Yes, there seems to be good news.  It appears that the rate of increase in the infection is reducing in some areas.  But until the number of disease cases for a given week is zero, we must be always on our guard.  The Ebola center down the road from my office says they “only” have 90 occupied beds out of over 260 available.  At any other time in history, since the disease was discovered, to say you are only caring for 90 people who are dying, would be not news for rejoicing but a great tragedy.  Now we see these numbers as an improvement.  How easy it would be to let our guard down now.  We need to pray more than ever that this terrible disease will be eliminated from our country.

Can our families ever feel really comfortable again, hugging, shaking hands, and touching?  I pray that somehow we will all be able to deal with our loss and grief, and once again connect with those we love.  May God bless our country, and remove this terrible disease.

 

 

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