Category Archives: Sierra Leone

Learning About Africa: Sierra Leone, Mudslides, and Absent Media

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It is the rainy season in Sierra Leone. The country being close to the equator, these rains are intense and this year it has been worse than usual. Early on the morning of August 14th especially heavy rains caused dense flooding and then mudslides that killed hundreds and left hundreds more homeless in and around Freetown.

As soon as I heard of this I looked at my paper of record, The New York Times, and could find nothing when I searched. After a few hours there was a brief AP article. While I got my news of the disaster through other sources I continued to watch the Times because it showed what sort of priority they gave to this. Tweeted them to ask why not, but it made no difference. Eventually some articles appeared and have continued, but you have to look for them as they don’t show up on the front page or even in the World section of their app. (Here’s a good piece also wondering about the lack of world attention on this disaster: “400 dead. Hundreds missing. Where’s the world’s outcry for Sierra Leone’s mudslide victims?“)

Then, even more disturbing to me, my constant retweets and facebook shares of articles (from other news sources) were minimally retweeted, commented upon, or shared either. (My great thanks to those who did.) I’m not sure why not. Perhaps people just weren’t looking at these when they were posted. Perhaps facebook hides them if they are shares or retweets. I don’t know other than it reinforces my sense of how Africa simply doesn’t register in America. Why, why, why is this?

For those who don’t know much about what happened and is still happening in Sierra Leone here are some sources:

I was back in Freetown a few years ago, the first time since living there as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-70s, and spent time traveling with a former US ambassador who pointed out to me the deforestation (due to people needing wood to make charcoal), the out-of-control building on the hills impacting the watershed, and the huge increase of impoverished  inhabitants (who came during the war and never left) who have created new dense communities that are highly susceptible to any sort of disaster be it mudslides or Ebola. This is a vulnerable country that needs to be attended to. It is a country with strong historical connections to the US from the Gullah to the Amistad and more.

Horrible things are happening in the US right now. But horrible things are happening in other places too and we need to keep them in our thoughts too, learn about them, consider them, and remember them. It isn’t just the US. It isn’t just North America or Europe or Asia. It is the whole world.

I am a member of the Friends of Sierra Leone, a group consisting of former Peace Corps Volunteers like myself, Sierra Leonean nationals, and others who care about the country. We have a place for donations and you will see a note as to how the money is already on the ground with a local NGO doing good. The article, Sierra Leone Mudslides: How Can I Help?,  is an excellent article with links to various organizations doing good work in country.

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BYE BYE EBOLA

This says it. Please watch, remember, honor, celebrate, mourn, most of all — don’t forget. More about the video here.

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Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown

As heart-wrenching as it is for me, I have been watching this obsessively as the places are so familiar to me.  Just imagine your city or town so deserted for such a reason.

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Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “

Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say.  He begins:

It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?

And then he writes some hard truths.

Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

And

The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.

And

For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?

And concludes:

If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?

 

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Learning About Africa: Coping with Ebola in Kenema

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While Ebola seems to be off the  New York Times front page, the articles are still there.  “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)

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Learning About Africa: The Realness of Ebola in Sierra Leone

This blog is a platform I normally reserve for the important issue of fashion in Sierra Leone, but this week, I’m struggling to find a fashion angle. Unless you’ve been living on mars, you will know that West Africa is suffering the worst ever outbreak of the world’s most deadly disease – Ebola. I traveled to Kenema district last week for an assignment to write about the outbreak. I live in Freetown and before leaving, the epidemic hadn’t really kicked off here. ‘EBOLA!’ (said with a loud voice and chuckle) was something that was happening in villages, places that didn’t affect the urban folk of Sierra Leone’s capital. I knew Kenema was a district suffering huge case numbers, but nothing prepared me for what I saw and heard in one of Sierra Leone’s most brutally affected areas.

From Human Tales of Ebola.

And here is a  New York Times video from one of the villages most affected.

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Learning About Africa: Ebola

Yet again Africa is in the news as the other, as a place of horror and misery.  So just a few reminders:

Ebola is not throughout Africa. You don’t need to worry when coming into contact with someone from the continent or someone who has been there recently. Africa is a big continent and Ebola is not everywhere.  In fact…

Ebola is currently in three West African countries:  Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But…

Ebola is not an air-borne illness. You will not contract it by being in the same plane or auditorium or building as someone who has it or has come from one of the countries where it is prevalent. In fact…

you would need to be directly exposed to fluids from someone with the illness to be exposed. And that means that it is in the affected areas, in direct contact with those who have the illness, that you would be most at risk.  And that is just not true for those of us living in the United States. So stop worrying about getting it here. Instead worry…

that those in the affected areas do not have the basic health care we in the United States take for granted. And so while there is indeed not a cure for Ebola,…

with the sort of hospital care we in the US take for granted, treating the disease in early states, many who are dying would be saved.  But…

in the affected areas that sort of care is rare.

To learn more please read:

Stop Worrying About Ebola (And Start Worrying About What it Means)

As WHO Warns Ebola Death Toll is Underestimated, How Should Global Community Handle Dire Crisis?

 

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