Is this really what my life has become? How is it that this boy, raised in a commercial fishing family on Prince Edward Island, is living a life that is brushing up against the realities of jihad, radical Islam, coup d’etats, evacuations, Al-Qaeda, potential kidnapping, safety and security training classes, CSIS meeting with our directors, extreme poverty, AIDS, daily malnutrition, mass graves, guerilla warfare, car bombings, and now Ebola? It doesn’t seem real some days. It’s all there in Mali, but just far enough that I struggle to mesh the news reports with what I see, experience, and feel on the ground in Mali. There is a huge disconnect in my mind that makes this all seem unreal at times. Yet we can’t ignore it, pretending this stuff doesn’t matter.
Ebola is an almost daily thought or conversation around my circles. Not because of paranoia, rather because our work is taking us to infected regions. Now Ebola has arrived in Mali. A two year old girl died of Ebola and Malian medical teams are scrambling to quarantine those exposed. A few weeks ago the infant’s mother died of Ebola in Conakry Guinea so Malian relatives descended for the funeral and the grandmother, as
the new guardian of the infant, brought the symptomatic child back to Mali via Bamako and then on to Kayes… over 1000 km of confined bus travel exposing people all the way. Our prayer is that this Ebola situation will be rapidly contained as it had been in Senegal and Nigeria. We will know more in the next thirty days.
Where is the balance between the people who freak out and run at the very word Ebola, Jihad, and Al-Qaeda, refusing to go and serve, with those who recklessly forge ahead?
I believe the average person’s level of risk tolerance is set too low for what we do. Some people are so paranoid they will not even travel to a perfectly stable Africian country.
They have never had to look dozens of West African friends, coworkers or neighbors in the eye will trying to explain why you are leaving, or refuse to return. Only then can you understand how foolish we sound to Africans sometimes- watching as their face and eyes tellingly shift because they are unable to contain their belief that we are FREAKISHLY overreacting. They live here, they can’t leave, and will we just walk away over seemingly trivial daily life risks?
These conversations communicate much to our local people. How deeply rooted we really are in their lives, community struggles, and shared experiences is exposed for what it really is. The facade is stripped away, and the truth hurts.
Granted, most Malians I know do not consider how things might be radically different for us to walk down a street in Kidal, versus themselves doing the same thing. Ebola is certainly a more level playing field.
We are scheduled to return to Mali in a few weeks, but that hellish Ebola arrived, so now our board is consulting with a few medical people in Canada to assess the risk.
At this stage we feel it is TOTALLY premature to cancel our term in Mali because of Ebola (Read my preceding article) . However, with so much talk about locking down all flights from Ebola-affected West African countries, we are seriously wondering if we are going to be permitted to return to Canada next spring, or what might happen if we do.
We would not personally sense any issue about having to stay longer in Mali. However, we are contract workers with Man Of Peace Development, and this means that between MOPD projects we are self-supported humanitarians. If we were to get locked down in Mali next spring, it would probably result in my wife losing her Canadian contract job, and I missing my fishing season, putting my fishing business at serious financial risk.
So we are sitting here very eager to return to work in Mali, excited about going. Yet, apprehensive about how the PANIC in the West may or may not affect our return to Canada next year.
This blasted Ebola is not only tragically killing people, but also making it very difficult for development work to take place. Ebola is killing the progress of whole nations right now.
As we move forward, what will these medical advisers recommend as appropriate precautions in the face of Ebola? Time will tell.
Curse you Ebola, you demon from hell, you torturer of beautiful and precious people. Curse you radicalism and hatred too.
I resent that you have brushed up against my life, and the lives of those I love.