Sunday, 21 September 2014

Lockdown in Freetown (Part 1)

Last light: 1849 hrs
Time start: 1720 hrs
Time finish: 1801 hrs
Weather: 27C
Humidity: 79%  
Circumstances: Ebola Crisis: 3-day lockdown in the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, Freetown

'Lockdown in Freetown', a catchy line. Could be a movie title. The genre would be horror. That's what's happening here.  

I've been running around the inside perimeter of the hotel grounds. That's my run for you today. However, and more importantly, I'd like to provide you some perspective on what's happening here on the ground with the curse of Ebola. 

The run? The army teaches one how you can train anywhere. I've worked out a circuit accordingly. Includes the internal and external fire escapes, press ups, burpees, and sprints in the tennis courts, and pushing hard on all steps and inclines. I've figured out a 10 minute circuit. Right, the aim is 4 times round. Forget about early morning for this one, late afternoon before sunset it is... 

A few posts ago (Post 19 - London) I first wrote about Ebola. That was 04th August. 47 days ago. Less than 7 weeks. At that point 729 people had died in Liberia, Guinea & Sierra Leone. The State of Emergency had also just been announced by President Koroma. The country at the time desperately needed help from the international community. It's been painfully slow to arrive.

47 days ago Ebola was a huge story. Since then its had to compete for column inches with other incredible news events. Such as the Islamic State group and beheadings of two US journalists and a British aid worker. The conflict in Ukraine continuing unabated with a death toll put at nearly 3,000. Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 being downed by a missile with the loss of 298 passengers and crew. Syria's civil war moving into year 4. Not to mention Israel / Gaza, Boko Haram and the kidnapped school girls in Northern Nigeria. Oh, and the Ice Bucket Challenge...

In the intervening 47 days the combined death toll has risen from 729 to over 2,500. Probably an underestimate. Medical systems have broken down completely. There's a severe shortage of everything - medical staff, clinics, beds, you name it. Ebola's now either out of control or close to being so. The net result of shortages means infected people cannot be treated, they infect others. Vicious circle. Initial media reports say 92 dead bodies have been collected during this lockdown. This was by last night (end day 2). The death toll in Sierra Leone has now passed 500.

There is hope. There has to be. The Security Council thankfully adopted a resolution this week declaring the Ebola virus a threat to international peace and security. The resolution was co-sponsored by 131 countries. Amazing. Finally the attention required and warranted. The UN is gearing up. Why so long? The US and British militaries are also gearing up. About time.  

Margaret Chan declared this week, "This is likely the greatest peacetime challenge that the United Nations and its agencies have ever faced." Margaret is director-general of the World Health Organisation. 

Posts 21 & 22 took place in Florida on family vacation. I'm now back to reality with a bump. Big time. Arrived back in Freetown Weds evening past. One night in my humble apartment then into hotel luxury for lockdown. Freetown is normally serviced by 47 flights a week, now there's only 5. We're being strangled. Last 2 carriers standing - SN Brussels & Royal Air Maroc. You can't begin to imagine the devastation this isolation is having on the economy. 

Most affected, as always, are the poor in what's an already extremely poor country. No safety net here. Most people hustle to make their 5,000 Leones a day. This means you barely survive. You can eat. Le 5,000 isn't much more than $1. If you're fortunate to have a half decent job, like my divas, you assist extended family and others. Sierra Leone diaspora will also be sending money back to help. This a cash based economy, money has to circulate. It's not. The result. Suffering.

Hey divas, you have great jobs, not half decent ones. I'm asked a great deal about the divas, since this blog began in late Jan this year. They're both fine and keeping well. Normally, there's massive hugs when I return. Not these days. No one touches anyone else. We have many creative West African style handshakes in Sierra Leone. Not these days. We touch right elbows at the moment for some strange reason. There is another exception. Ex-pats. As you may know, in Anglo Saxon culture we're not generally the most tactile of people. Unlike Southern Europeans and Latinos where any excuse will do for bodily contact. There is an exception of course. Anglo Saxons generally like a drink or two in a crisis (or any time for that matter). Reserve goes out of the window. We had an enjoyable evening of Texas Holdem last night with a whisky or two. Yep, later we all became like those soppy Southern Europeans. This morning all back to normal. We really should be more careful in these precarious times...

There's still some humour around in this misery. Funny incident last week on Air Maroc. The headline; 'Former minister Barry Andrews was among four Irish people left "shocked" after an Ebola scare on a flight out of West Africa'. 

Apparently the cabin crew suddenly donned protective suits and masks in belief one of the passengers had Ebola. They 'isolated' some poor soul with a temperature in the toilets. I say funny, maybe not if you're a passenger watching this drama unfold. There was no protective anything for the shocked passengers. 

Last week the 'super' police here (OSD) were seen in 2 trucks with their normal blue fatigues on, but also wearing brightly coloured marigold washing up gloves. There's still the odd chuckle.

I usually try to keep these posts to around 1,000 words, this time I'm only half way through my list of prompts and I'm past that total. This means, to be continued... I haven't even started the run yet...

Moreover, this hotel building has a fantastic history I want to write about. The 3 days in here have been funny and surreal in equal measure. For British readers think, Hi De Hi & Maplins. The only activity we haven't had is bingo. So for now only Part 1, (second installment later this week)...