Just as I was getting into the whole Africa thing. My armpits have some strange fungal infection in them, but otherwise I am in great health. The food is a bit spicy but once my host ma stopped putting fish in everything all was well. I was beginning to enjoy bucket baths by sketchy flashlights. I was beginning to get used to riding in the Taxis as a side of beef. I was also getting used to the intense weather.
All that came to an abrupt halt on last Wednesday. We had been teaching in model school for a week and a half. I was actually getting the hang of it, and although I take compliments with a grain of salt, I was told I did very well. I think I could have been a decent teacher if I had been allowed to continue, correction when I am allowed to continue. Being a teacher has never been something I wanted to do, but working in public education on projects for environmental rehabilitation has been in my sites for most of my life. I guess that is teaching on a different level.
Anyway, after model school last Wednesday we came back to Doe Palace and the training center, which we renamed the “M L and B B Beehive of Excellence.” (Names are not listed due to privacy.) As we ate lunch, we could tell something was drastically wrong. The tension on the compound was intense. Around 5 we were called into an unscheduled session and the entire staff joined us, we knew when the kitchen and grounds staff were in the training hall we were in for some horrible news.
I know that many families and friends were happy to hear we were coming home, but we were not. Our mission was to be there for 27 months, to live within a community and learn the culture, to teach the next generation about science and math. Leaving before we were even assigned our communities feels like a failure. It feels wrong, and it feels heartbreaking. What our families at home do not understand is we made a commitment. We were prepared to leave those we love behind to be part of something outside of ourselves. We were committed to making a difference in the lives that we touched, not only in Liberia but back home. I live with the horrible fact that my parents are slightly racist. Bigotry is ugly, but by doing this, I was going to truly and finally overcome this ugly blur in my mind.
What most do not understand beyond those facts, is that we left people we love behind to face a crisis that they as a country are not equipped to face. If they were equipped, this epidemic would not have gotten so out of control. Imagine if we were to face an epidemic after the Civil War. Imagine most of your doctors, and hospitals destroyed. Those that are left are young, and barely trained. Imagine hospitals lacking basic supplies like gloves and sterile needles, would you trust them? Would you go to a hospital if you actually believed that they were contaminating you? No you would not. You would depend on your friends and family and stay in your community. You would stay and hope for the best.
This is a time to mourn and to cry and to try desperately to understand how this could happen. To top it off the news outlets in the Western World is making it so much scarier than it was. I never considered myself in danger. I am not touching sick or dead people, and I am not getting near anyone that appears to be sick. It makes me sad and angry that I was forced to leave such a wondrous place so soon. To be torn from a mission is devastating. I am back in the states in this state of limbo. What does that mean? It means that getting a job is not really an option. It means that wasting my days eating and drinking is totally in the books. It means that I have far too much time to waste and far too little to actually do.
What many are not seeing here, is that I moved my partner to Sacramento last May. I left for Liberian in June. I have no friends here other than my partner and two people who moved here last year, but all have jobs and I am left alone all day. I need a new support system. I am happy to know that some of my group from Liberia live nearby. I just need to make the connections and spend time with others. It is so hard to make new friends when you have experienced so much in such a short amount of time. I am leery that people are going to panic when they realize I just got back and was evacuated under these circumstances they will fear me and avoid me.
My biggest fear is actually that the Peace in West Africa, which is very fragile, will disintegrate. Distrust for the government and the memories of war are still very fresh and still very real for many. Under the current epidemic, with the government showing vulnerability, an uprising is not at all unrealistic. I know that many of the people I met were happy with the peace, with the current administration, but there were issues. There are things like abuse of positions and the fact that poverty runs deep in this region are not helping the situation.
There are people in country who do not believe Ebola is real. There are many who are taking it seriously and demanding hand washing before you can entry their stands or establishments. My hands are raw from washing them. I hope that these steps continue on, but even more I hope Liberia and the rest of West Africa see this as not just a failure of the government but a wake up call to rebuild the countries. If the infrastructure was in place, the epidemic may have been contained early on and the fear that is choking the region and the rest of the world would not be diminished.
I do not pray, I am not religious, but I have sent silent thoughts to this region and I hope to return very soon to finish my commitment. Until then I will try keeping my hopes alive and my faith in humanity, it really is all I can do.