Our Defense Correspondent C.Y. Kwanue last Friday reported that Ebola had hit the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) in a big way. Within a week the AFL lost eight stalwart and well trained soldiers to the deadly virus. How did they get it all in the way in that secluded army barracks?
One of the male soldiers received a female visitor who was believed to have been Ebola affected. But he did not know this. It is she who spread the deadly disease in the barracks.
This is a cogent, alarming and serious reminder that we Liberians, known the world over as among the most hospitable people, especially in Africa, have to be very careful today whom we welcome into our homes, places of work, our communities, towns, cities and country. In the Kesselly Barracks last week, one visitor caused the death of eight of our soldiers. We hope this is warning enough.
Just about 10 days ago in Bensonville, Montserrado County, a similar incident almost happened. Four men, believed to have links with Guinea, entered a village and moved into a vacant hut there. They were immediately spotted and approached by one of the town’s elders who asked them what they were doing there. They told him they were diamond diggers and came to prospect for the mineral because people had told them that Bensonville was “diamond-rich.”
The elder promptly told them that in this state of emergency in Liberia, which the President declared several weeks ago as part of the fight against the deadly Ebola virus, people were not supposed to be moving from place to place, but have been advised to stay where they are until this crisis is over. So the four men were asked to leave, and they did.
Liberians, with very few exceptions, are very hospitable people, who are willing, ready and able to welcome any stranger into their towns and homes, and offer them water, food and even a place to pass the night before continuing their journey the following morning. But for now, not anymore because it is simply too dangerous. Who knows what could have happened in that Bensonville village full of children had those four strangers remained there?
Today, people throughout Liberia know that as soon as they spot a stranger in their midst, they should seriously question that person, and persuade him or her to return to where they came from until we have overcome this Ebola virus. We can no longer take chances.
Ebola has terribly affected our traditional cultural practices, which are rooted in love and hospitality. Now, even in church or in the mosque, people can greet one another only from a distance. No hand shaking, no snapper of the fingers—the symbol of our friendship—no hugging or kissing, only clasping of the palms and bowing from a distance, in the same way it is done in Far Eastern culture.
This has to be done to protect ourselves and one another and keep the virus from spreading. Here, we invoke the age-old dictum (truism), HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY. If one knows one has been in contact with anyone who may have been detected of the virus, be should honest and say so and, like the two outstanding women from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Dr. Bernice Dahn, Chief Medical Officer, and Deputy Minister Yah Zolia. These women had come into contact with Ebola-infected people; so the two MOH officials, without even being asked, immediately quarantined themselves from their families, their offices and their friends.
That is what Eric Duncan did not do—he lied on the form he filled out at Roberts International Airport (RIA) and jumped on the plane to the United States, where he immediately started spreading the virus.
We have to suspend our traditional hospitality for now, but certainly treat people with utmost courtesy, respect, WITHOUT COMING TOO CLOSE, WITHOUT TOUCHING. This we must do until Ebola is driven out of Liberia.