Peace Corps departure from Bo city
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I’m now sitting in terminal B48 at Heathrow Airport. I’ve never been through Heathrow before, but I quickly got an idea of its immensity when a seemingly simple flight transfer involved a twenty five minute walk, two security checkpoints, and at least five separate customs junctions (that I thankfully didn’t have to pass through).
The last twenty four hours has felt like a bomb exploding- the last seventy two hours really, when we were first received our evacuation notice- but in the last day we all hastily left Bo city in the early morning for Freetown and Lungi airport. I say bomb, because from the moment we all left Bo we scattered like shrapnel. Some to Freetown, waiting for flights that might not be available until after the weekend, some to Lungi airport for a short wait, and several others immediately whisked away on a flight. I was in the last of the three groups, on an Air Brussels flight by afternoon. The scattering didn’t end there, as we’ve all been forced to make fast and difficult goodbyes to close friends that we will all hopefully see in the near future.
There is a soft timetable for our return, very flexible, and if anything will stretch in length, not shrink. There are many factors that must be stabilized to preempt our return to the country. I’ve heard quotes of our hold being anywhere from two to twelve months. Anything can happen over such a period of time. My greatest fear, personally, and that of many of my trainee friends, is that the virus will not be contained in a timely manner and there will be a high rate of attrition amongst us; people not willing to wait the potential length of time it might take. It’s a legitimate concern, and one that shakes my conviction as well.
Several barriers remain to the containment of the Ebola virus, and they range in their scope and implications. Political motivations, cultural barriers, economic mindsets, and social behavior all pose varying risks to Ebola’s potential to continue spreading, or if handled properly, its possible containment. I do not want to dive too deeply into any one of those reasons and this moment, but I do no want to share some of my opinion on the matter. Yes, this virus has been sensationalized to some degree in western media. To what amount, I don’t think I’ll really know until I’m back in the States and talking with people to hear their side of the situation, what they think, what they’ve read.
But what I do know about the virus, it is surprisingly fragile. Direct contact with an infected individual or primate is needed, or contact with their bodily fluids or blood. The virus can be suppressed if detected early in an individual. Granted I am no MD myself, but I have been given many credible sources from in- country, proper prevention training, and a good amount of reading on the subject to be able to answer some simple questions on the actual processes of the virus. But it is not my focus or strong point.
I far better understand why the virus has persisted and spread. And these are the four reasons that I listed above. At key moments and locations in country, poor management decisions were made that allowed the virus to spread and endure.
Again, I do want to stress the safety of myself and all of my colleagues; not only the fifty-four other trainees, but also the current and finishing volunteers in Sierra Leone, as well as actively working Peace Corps individuals in all three countries (Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia) that are to be temporarily withdrawn, numbering about 340 in total. Peace Corps has handled the situation fantastically, arranging travel plans for hundreds of individuals, soon to be dropped off at their doorsteps in America. If there is any positive from our departure, it is that our leaving should help galvanize a population that in many ways has failed to realize the seriousness of their own situation. Peace Corps’ well- cultivated reputation of sticking out when things become untenable has won a lot of friends, and has also motivated people to change when Peace Corps feels it must leave. We all hope and believe the latter is true.