IT WAS an overwhelming fact that an epidemic had broken out and even men of God could only predict about our doom. How could we get out of? And though there were many prediction of doom, I was not freak about them. After all what crime could cause us such God’s anger? Unable to find answers I saw the emptiness of our frustration and the ugly attempt by supposed men of God to escape reality into the zone of uncertainty.
I then made up my mind to accept the reality that it would be a long but hard fight against an unseen enemy. My patriotism had awakened, and there could be no turning back, since running away was not an option.
The chilling news apart, I could hear loud noises approaching my Bushrod Island resident when I had gotten ready to leave the house to join other colleagues of the task force. I knew dying was not an option to make me afraid. I would keep my senses open, and ensure that all preventive measures were adhered to.
Then I heard a knock at my door and rushing towards me, right after the door flew open and in apparent confusion was Solomon Jerboe, a member of our Ebola task force.
“It got me,” he said breathlessly.
“What got you?” I replied with surprise in my voice.
“My wife Catherine.”
“What happened to her?”
“She complained of headache and later she began to vomit and before I knew what to do, she was gone.”
I felt a sensation of anger and shock. I remembered Jerboe’s wife Catherine. If she died as the husband was reporting then of course I would have to know further details of her death.
“Did you touch her?”
“What else could I do?”
Moving away from him, I brought out my chlorine water and began to wash my hands and my arms. I instructed my friend to do the same and told him to remain at the door, while I went inside for a moment. I returned with a shirt and a pair of trousers and told him he would have to change into the new clothes.
“You don’t think I get the Ebola, do you?” Jerboe said, fuming.
“It is not what I think,” I said, “it is what need to be done to protect yourself and myself since you are here with me.”
“Dixon,” Jerboe said, “I don’t need you to humiliate me with this act.”
“You call this an act?”
“What else should I call it?”
“We are fighting an invincible enemy called Ebola,” I said, “and what I am suggesting is one of the ways for anyone who may have apparently made contact with someone killed by the disease.”
“I don’t have Ebola, period Mr. Dixon Zeon,” Jerboe said, and turned, walking away from me.
“I never said you have the Ebola,” I shouted after him, “just to take precaution since…” the morning echo drowned my statement for Jerboe had bent the curve and furiously making statements about how foolish he felt about being humiliated by his friend.
By the evening, Solomon Jerboe was dead, and after tests were conducted three days later, the results said he died of the Ebola virus.
Though I realized Jerboe became a victim of denial and would not accept steps that could have saved his life, his sudden death came over me like a gloom. Jerboe’s demise brought me so close to what I never expected. The thought of my encounter early that day brought tears to my eyes and how close I came at being infected filled me with horror.
I, nonetheless blamed myself for my friend’s death and many questions assailed my mind. But in the end I realized that the fight against the Ebola Virus demanded the religious adherence to instructions and customary practices, including the suspension of cultural and religious methods of burying the dead.
To deny and fail to follow simple instructions when tragedy of death struck these days in Liberia could mean fatal, as I saw plainly in the case of Solomon Jerboe.
The increasing number of Liberians who had succumbed to the virus was staggering and I knew that such increasing statistics was due to denial and the apparent failure by the victims to take simple preventive steps.
WHEN MY wife Jennifer returned from the market, I was still sitting at the entrance to our room, with my head bent over my arms, in deep slumber.
Slender and imposing looking, the young woman silently walked pass me to enter the room, but first of all she lowered herself to the chlorine bucket and washed her hands thoroughly from her shoulder to her palms.
“Why are you sitting here like this?” she said, as I slowly lifted my head.
“Oh,” I replied.
“I hope you are ok?”
“Yes,” I replied with little interest, “Jerboe…”
She interrupted him with, “I heard the story down the road.”
I gave a deep breath with a grin.
“Not too good,” I remarked, and lowered my head on my arms.
“What caused his death?”
“Denial of what?”
“He was here in the morning,” I told her, “but would not accept my suggestion to even wash his hands with chlorine water as a protection, since he was the last person to handle his wife’s body.”
“He was a fool.”
Yes, a fool he was, and now dead. I knew many more would die because of their inability to accept the reality of the situation.
What was killing them was a dangerous enemy, deadlier than the recent civil-war that raged for fourteen years. With failures throughout the organized health system; with funds expended without positive results to calm the spread of the virus, I could not envision what the future would be like.
Many more people would die, that was sure enough. Like many, I felt like I was in a cage, waiting to face slaughter. For a people that had suffered fourteen years of calculated horror to face another enemy, the worst one that was revenging on everyone, could mean some prophetic fulfillment on a grander scale.
I consoled myself that proper and unemotional handling of issues was the best means to survive the carnage. Secondly, adopting self-preservation methods were also another means to survive the scourge.
I was determined to live through it, and was also resolute to keep my mantra going as long as I had to go: die Ebola die, I said and repeated it several times though I knew there was no place to run.
MOST OF the reasons for the rapid spread of the virus were also due to the refusal to change traditional burial ceremonies. More often than not, reports said a family had perished because the members had flatly refused to believe that a deceased relative was killed by the Ebola virus, and would go ahead to bathe the body, getting it ready for burial.
Sadly, several days after the burial, one family member, who participated in the washing of the Ebola virus infested body, where the deadly virus was full-blown to take new resident in other bodies would die.
I was horrified to hear such a report. Daily reports on the numerous radio stations and many print media, newspapers, were filled with horrible stories of the ravages of whole families decimated by the virus.
I believed then that the forced acceptance of new methods for burying the Liberian dead ought to be introduced and it was apparent that the Liberian government would not be too happy curtail civil liberties due to how far had happened in the fight against the insidious enemy. It was in such gloomy atmosphere that fresh reports filtered into Monrovia that a recently dead Imam, whose congregation had scooped water used to wash his body for blessing by washing their faces in it had all perished.
I COULD feel my stomach rumbling but not for hunger. It was clear to me that the tragedy in the country was mostly one of denial. And so a day after the mass deaths of religious men and women who sought blessing by dipping their hands into the water used to wash their spiritual leader’s remains, I found myself in a form of discussion about the ravages and how to contain it.
That many people were dying was no news. Something had to be done.
I decided to take a walk through the community on Bushrod Island and maybe pay a visit to some friends I had not seen for several days. Ten minutes later when a motor bike deposited me near the Point Four Junction; I sauntered on the main road observing what was being done to support the efforts to stamp out the virus from the community. The morning weather was cold but with a mixture of heat under it, as the unpredictable rains were shadowboxing the community.
Across from a church, a congregation of people watched my movement, and as usual I did not imagine that something unusual could happen.
Motorbikes rushed towards me, dodging me while others rushed from behind me. Business centers on each side of the road open to customers that seemed not to pay attention to what was being advertised. I kept my attention focus beyond and then I saw what seemed as people moving away from a house located to the left side of the road. There could be no telling the meaning of what was going on there.
The enemy, Ebola had struck a family, and in my own frustration tears welled up my eyes. It was clear that like the Americans and others who had escaped from Monrovia, I needed to escape, too. But the question was: to where?