Yongo and Morris: Life after Ebola
It's been nine months since a catastrophic outbreak of Ebola officially took hold in the West African nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Agnes Varraine-Leca, Action Against Hunger’s Communications Officer in Liberia, reports from Monrovia, Liberia.
Dec 13 2014
They are twenty years apart. Yongo and Morris both live in Bomi county, two hours from Monrovia. On Friday, November 21st, they met for the first time in the town of Tubmanburg’s Ebola treatment center, which they left together later that day. Since the beginning of the epidemic, 160 cases of Ebola fever have been recorded in the county. The figure may seem low but Bomi county is actually one of the most affected area in the country, if you take into account the attack rate of the virus, i.e. the number of sick people over the number of people at risk in the population.
Yongo and Morris live a few kilometers away from each other, connected by a dirt road, in the middle of the savanna. They both left the Tubmanburg treatment center with a smile on their faces, relieved to be alive – although Yongo was leaving behind her sister’s body. As for Morris’s wife, she died on October 25th, on the road to the hospital. Morris stands up and shows us how he carried his wife’s body. Until he tested positive for Ebola, he didn’t know that his wife had been killed by the virus. She was a shopkeeper, who traveled frequently between Monrovia and George Mo Town, the village where they lived with their five children. As a matter of fact, a checkpoint has now been set up on the main road leading to the Liberian capital city. Everyone traveling across county lines has to wash their hands in chlorinated water and get their temperature taken.
The following Sunday, a party was organised to celebrate Yongo’s safe return. She spent several hours answering questions from her close relatives – as well as from people not so close to her. The many questions revolved around her symptoms (mostly headaches) and about the Tubmanburg treatment center. Some people even came simply to see an Ebola survivor with their own eyes. Indeed, contrary to the rumors, not everyone in those treatment centers dies. 20-year old Yongo understands why people may be curious, but not why they would be afraid of survivors. Before she was contaminated, she knew the list of transmission factors inside out as they were being played in a loop on the local radio. When asked if she knows why she survived, she simply answers that she continued to eat, drink, and take the medicine prescribed at the center. Incidentally, she only has a vague memory of the place, that of eyes behind the masks worn by the health personel.
For Morris, returning home hasn’t been as easy. While he was away, the teams charged with desinfecting the houses of Ebola sufferers burned all his belongings, from his clothes to the beds and the dishes, before spraying the whole house with chlorine. The only things Morris owns now are the clothes he is wearing today – jeans, a red tee-shirt, and a soil-stained hat. He is a farmer but is feeling too weak to go back to work. It’s been a week since he left the center but he still suffers from extreme fatigue and muscle pains. Yongo’s mother, sitting near both survivors, encourages him to rest and tries to reassure him. Morris has a vacant look on his face and seems worried. Although the members of his community also celebrated his return, people in the surrounding villages still refuse to see him. Or to buy anything from him. His five children are staying with their grandmother for the moment, until a solution can be found to support them.
By Agnes Varraine-Leca