Soap And Pamphlets: With Anti-Ebola Patrols In Sierra Leone

Teams of volunteers were combing the country to try to stem the spread of the virus during a recent three-day quarantine.

A woman washes her hands outside a community health center in Ebola-affected Freetown.
A woman washes her hands outside a community health center in Ebola-affected Freetown.
Paul Benkimoun

FREETOWN — After a compulsory three-day quarantine, life has mostly returned to normal here in the capital of Sierra Leone, and elsewhere around the West African country in the center of the Ebola outbreak.

According to the Ministry of Health, 22 new cases have been identified and 60 bodies of Ebola victims have been discovered in the West of the region, which includes Freetown. They were immediately buried.

But the goal of the controversial confinement operation of the six million inhabitants of Sierra Leone was mostly to inform the population in order to slow down the epidemic, which has already killed more than 560 people in the country.

For three days, in deserted streets, patrols of volunteers wearing white T-shirts displaying a "Kick Ebola" slogan, alongside the UNICEF logo, traveled the country aboard trucks loaded with bars of soap and information sheets about the virus.

Christiana Massaly, the head nurse of the West district in the Freetown headquarters, was aiming to reach her target over the weekend: to cover more than 400,000 homes. "We have more than 1,000 teams on the ground, each including a health care professional, a teacher, a young person and a member of the association," she says.

The operation was launched with difficulty last Friday, especially because there was insufficient material.

Alpha Sissay, a community worker at a health center in Regent, a village located in a mountainous rural area a dozen kilometers east of Freetown, is nonetheless sure of the utility of his mission. He operated with the same team for three days — a medical and social worker, a nurse and two teachers.

Wash, wash and wash

At daybreak Saturday, after following a steep path surrounded by lush vegetation, he and his team stopped outside Harulde Makayah's house.

This elderly woman with braided hair has basic notions of the Ebola virus. But Jeneba Sisay, the medical and social worker, makes clear to her how quickly the virus can be transmitted via physical contact. She also explains the importance of washing hands, and urges anyone who sees a member of the family showing signs of the disease to use gloves or plastic bags to care for them.

"Some would like more soap, but the government decided there would be only one bar per home," Sissay explains.

On the other side of the street, outside a concrete house, it is again a question of soap. Prince Kanu, a teacher, describes how to properly wash hands and, most importantly, dry them by shaking them without wiping them.

"We touch our face with our hands more than 100 times per day," Sissay adds. "The virus can be transmitted through the mucus membranes of the eyes, the nose, the mouth but also those of the vagina.”

Prince Kanu explains how to remove gloves or plastic bags used when touching an infected person: They must be turned inside out before burning them.

By now in Regent, the population is particularly well aware of the dangers. Besides the daily discussion programs the national radio station SLBC broadcasts for its listeners, punctuated by some of the dozen songs on Ebola, it was from this village that Olivet Buck originated.

Buck was a doctor who died after being infected by a patient. She worked at the Lumley Street health center, in the Wilberforce neighborhood. Located on the heights of Freetown, Wilberforce houses embassies and barracks, but Lumley Street looks like a slum.

Outside his house, Thomas Vandi, a bulky 39-year-old, explains in a deep and resounding voice that he has had enough. "We can't stay inside all day. We must go out to earn a living and feed our family."

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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