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The centre of Freetown between Kingtom bridge and State House was midday yesterday, turned into a battlefield, as hundreds of Okada riders took to the Street heading for State House with a corpse of their colleague,
Kenema/Freetown, 10 October 2014 (IRIN) - We set off by jeep from the capital Freetown for Kenema, 240km away. While there are Stop Ebola posters all over the capital, we see very few en route. Every 15 minutes or so we’re stopped at an Ebola monitoring checkpoint to have our temperatures taken and to wash our hands in chlorinated water. Thirteen in all - it’s enough to make anyone paranoid.
After a five-hour drive we arrive in Kenema, a small town surrounded by verdant mountains. It is bustling with activity. Okado drivers fill the streets, most of them wearing wind-breakers in the boiling hot sun to prevent their passengers from touching them. The no touch message which has transformed human interaction across most of the country is less in evidence in the crowded marketplace where shoppers jostle past each other, and school-aged girls, currently out of school, hug and high five.
The nurses here wear starched grey dresses and dainty lace doily hats perched high on their heads. Despite having lost 38 colleagues, they are upbeat, they laugh, and they are strong. Their mood is of people who have survived a war and are going to stick together. Aminata Kamara’s husband just kicked her out of the family home for the work she is doing, and the landlord from whom she is renting a room is about to do the same, she said. “I thought about stopping but I stayed to save lives. We are soldiers! We’ve been doing this since the beginning and we’ll continue until it ends,”
I am starting to lose my guard. We are not allowed to touch anything - people, but also walls, doors, nothing if you can avoid it. I find myself leaning against a wall in the low-risk area, and I am starting to want to sit down and chat to people more casually. It’s time to leave. This assignment goes against all my reporting instincts: getting close to people, sitting in their houses, being open to chaos and unpredictability and absorbing myself in other people’s lives to forget about me. It is, of course, always possible to connect, and with protection we can get a lot done but I recoiled when a cleaner at the Ebola ward got too close. I conducted an interview from a car at the quarantined Mayambo village as I just wanted to stay insulated. No one is infectious unless they exhibit symptoms, so we are constantly looking into people’s eyes, trying to ascertain if they seem off, hot, dazed.