Monday, February 16, 2015

Ebola Stops With Me

     Remember how for the first few days I was here you all thought I was just on a really nice six month vacation and maybe I'd do some Ebola response work every now and then? Yeah well that's over. I'll admit that I did spend my entire weekend lounging on the couch on the balcony and alternating my time between reading, doing sudoku and crossword puzzles (special thanks to the Pavys for the awesome care package they sent before I left RI), listening to music and just staring at the ocean, but the work week is a different story. I've been here for just under two weeks now and I'm really getting into things After arriving on the 4th, I spent my two full work days that week just reading documents and catching up on everything that CRS is doing here. Last week I got thrown right into the fire (I was going to say I was thrown into the hot zone, but I thought that might give you the wrong idea). I spent quite a bit of time organizing a master list of all the Ebola response vehicles that CRS manages -- almost 400 vehicles across four different districts (Port Loko, Kenema, Bombali and Koinadugu). Trying to pull all the data together into one spreadsheet was a nightmare. The information was spread out across about eight different spreadsheets and there were twenty different categories of information that I needed for each vehicle. Naturally a lot of the information was completely missing. Doing logistics work in Kenya was nothing compared to this.
     On Tuesday night I went out to dinner with some colleagues and learned more about our social mobilization program which I hope to get involved in soon. I'm writing my final paper for school on that very topic so I got a lot of great information. That paper is going to write itself! Or I'm going to write it. At the very last possible second. Per usual. Anyway, there's still a 6pm curfew in place for stores and regular restaurants. Only hotel restaurants are allowed to remain open later than that. So we went to dinner at Country Lodge which is situated at the top of a massive hill. One really great aspect of Freetown is its geography -- flat coastal areas that are surrounded by (mountainous) hills. It's got everything! So we enjoyed dinner overlooking the ocean and watching the sunset. I got a burger with a fried egg on top which I was quite sure I'd never have in Freetown.
View from the restaurant at Country Lodge
While we were at dinner I also saw BU's very own Ebola doc, Dr. Bhadelia, but I wasn't certain it was her so I didn't say hi. After texting her later to ask if she had been there earlier that night, I found out that it was indeed her. We were supposed to get together while she was here, but it's just been too chaotic and she headed back to Boston on Wednesday. Hopefully we'll be able to meet up back in Boston once I'm home. Anyway, on our way back to the apartment we saw the president's motorcade. On our way to the restaurant we had almost almost accidentally gone through a military road block on the road to his house. That would have been interesting.
     On Wednesday morning we had a staff meeting. Our country representative, Michael, gave a great presentation and told us "Ebola is not over. I must emphasize that. Ebola is not over so don't let your guards down. Let's be rigorous until this country is declared Ebola free." As I was sitting in that meeting I realized just how grateful I am to be here. There's only a handful of non-African staff so the fact that I get the opportunity to be here and help is just amazing to me. I'm especially excited that in just a few days of being here I already feel like I'm making a real contribution. There's a possibility of me going into the field for a couple of days next week. I think it would be so awesome to get up to Port Loko and see what's happening up there. We'll see how things go.
     Something that's been really interesting to see are the Ebola response signs all over the city. They're everywhere. Unfortunately, it now seems like people are starting to get back into their old habits which could be why we're seeing a slight increase in cases in the Western Area Urban. I've seen a lot of people holding hands (it's common for people of the same gender to hold hands as a sign of friendship while they walk) or high fiving on the streets over the past couple of days. We have to make sure that people understand that Ebola could still spread quickly if old practices are resumed. At least all these signs are still up as a reminder...

This is my personal favorite...very empowering
I have no idea what these say...

A reminder of cancelled Christmas celebrations. People were heftily fined
for even stepping foot on the beach between Christmas and New Year's

Initially, many people thought Ebola was just a big government conspiracy
     On Thursday night the power went out for the first time. It's gone out a few more times since then. I just kind of assumed that the generator would be running constantly at night so we'd never experience any power outages, but that's not the case. I was totally caught off guard the first time. I looked outside and everything was pitch black. Literally I would not have been able to see my hand in front of my face if I hadn't had my computer on to give off some light. If you're wondering why a two minute power outage is blog worthy, it's because I absolutely hate the dark. So these surprise power outages are not pleasant. They only last for a minute or two until the generator kicks on and I've started to get used to them now, but I still don't like them. Last night we had a crazy storm. I'm so excited for the summertime storms that will start when the rainy season begins in May. It's going to be amazing to sit on the balcony and watch the lighting strikes out over the water. In terms of the Ebola response efforts, however, the rainy season is likely to bring immense difficulties. As the rains come, roads will become impassable and it will be more difficult both for us to get people where they need to be and for the sick to get to hospitals or holding centers. The rains will also bring an increase in cases of other diseases, such as malaria, which produce a fever that would need to be considered to be an indicator of Ebola. Sierra Leone has set a goal of zero new cases by May, the start of the rainy season. Let's pray we can reach that goal so that none of the progress that's been made is lost.

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