Les Roberts – Freetown, Sierra Leone – November 22nd, 2014
Day 49: Each in their own way
I went to a house a couple weeks ago. We were trying to see if household quarantine caused or prevented secondary cases in the home. We went to a house that was not quarantined and where over a four week period, 14 out of 16 household members had developed ebola and 12 had died. Only about four ever went to a clinic because there were no beds free.
There was a neighbor….he reminded me of my late father-in-law. He was just a regular guy. If he was in the US, he would own a hardware store or be a little league baseball coach. At the outbreak peak of the neighboring house that we went to see, the 13 year old girl in the house started to show symptoms. This neighbor went and took the girl to his house and put her in the cooking hut and made her drink. When another sister got sick, he brought her over too. When the second sister started vomiting blood, he cleaned out a bedroom and moved the 13 year old into his house… and she lived. Now, the family is disbanded and the 13 year old lives with this neighbor. She got teary eyed as we discussed her family… but those two now have a lovely bond that is clear for all to see. I am sure that the neighbor didn’t really know exactly what he was doing, but he just desperately needed to help, and help he did. That is a really nice aspect of this crisis. As with all crises, little people are doing their part for the big picture, even if it is trying to help by the most indirect of means like teaching children at night in this chapter of closed schools or cooking for others.
Every day, seven days per week, John makes me breakfast. He stands out in the meal area at my hotel cooking eggs and making sure the spread is proper. He is the master chef of the hotel and very witty and good natured. Every morning, we have a little shtick that we go through where I ask him what will we be having for breakfast and every day the answer is something else: a Lapland omelet, a hopeful omelet, an Australian omelet (from way south, with a pouch, that has a little baby omelet inside). It is always the same omelet, just with a different name and explanation. He speaks Japanese with my Japanese colleague, he speaks French well, he speaks Spanish. It turns out that he is a Sierra Leone born, high end chef from London. When Ebola arrived here, he just had to come home to help. His 15 year old daughter thinks it is fine he is here. His 23 year old daughter was visiting for the summer when the war broke all those years ago and was pretty traumatized; she is not at all understanding about John being here. He cooks here at a hotel filled almost exclusively with WHO employees and members of a Scandinavian logistical group call IHP (who are unfalteringly reliable and competent in a way WHO and most everyone else is not). Being a chef is not very logically related to stopping ebola… but John wants to help and what he knows how to do is cook, so he is cooking. And my life is richer for it in many ways.
This outbreak is really ugly and is out of control. But, there are a lot of nice faces of human nature in Sierra Leone these days.