"Liberia?" The taxi driver asks disbelievingly. His reaction is similar to those of most people in the past few days. Open mouths, rolling eyes, horrified amazement, warping of the cheek muscles, accompanied by a hissing sound. "Why don’t you just go on holidays somewhere? To the sea, and relax a bit?"
I arrived back in Brussels early yesterday. I have my good coffee, good chocolate and some good company. The same questions are asked to me over and again. What was it like? Were you scared? We are so glad you’re back… but I have my own, different questions.
I’ll try to explain.
Sitting in the epicentre of the largest ever recorded Ebola epidemic, is a strange place to be. Family and friends ask everyday, “When are you coming home?”.
In all honesty, I ask myself the same question too. It can be frightening to be here.
Monday was declared a National Day of Reflection by the President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, the population were requested to stay at home and consider the implications of the ongoing Ebola epidemic. For myself and the staff of GRC however it was business as usual.
The emergency response teams working at the Ebola project in Kailahun are very busy. Resources are limited, and the need is great. I soon became involved in assisting the medical team with their daily tasks.
It is currently rainy season in Sierra Leone, the daily thunderstorms attack the parched earth. The large droplets bash the corrugated iron roofs creating a deafening noise, like thousands of steel drums being struck by an angry mob. Everyone and everything stops for the downpour. Having grown up in the North West of England I’m used to staying indoors because of the grim weather, but this is something totally different. The rain comes with such force it literally takes my breath. There is not much to do but wait the storm out, and pray that I’m not called out to maternity.
Ebola is everywhere. Posters on walls, music playing from loudspeakers, there’s even a film with the same name being sold on the street. When walking, the local children have replaced shouting “Hello, how are you? Give me dollar” to “Pomwee (white person), you have Ebola over there?” There’s an active campaign to try and increase the awareness and understanding of the disease, though lots of misunderstanding and rumours remain.
The shift pattern for obstetricians is to take a 24 hour shift every three days. I’m one of the new generation of UK doctors and have never worked a 24 hour shift in hospital before, so I knew whatever happened this would be a first for me. The day itself started pretty routinely, I did the ward round and checked on how things worked and then settled down to wait for any patients.