Seldom one hears that a man is known by the company he avoids. This is fast coming home from the tales of many Sierra Leoneans who have braved caution to venture out abroad during these trying times of Ebola virus outbreak.
After hearing their ordeals, I breathe a sigh of relief muttering, “What’s the world coming up to?” Despite the depressed situation Ebola has plunged the country into, the joy and excitement of travelling abroad has become dim causing travellers to keep each other at arm’s length. Present a Sierra Leonean passport and immigration officials will direct you to a nearby corner until all other passengers have been dispensed with.
How do I know that? Question no further, harrowing stories of frustration and undue delays by arriving and connecting Sierra Leonean passengers lay the entire issue bear. Take the case of a Sierra Leonean who the other day was on transit to China at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. The smiling face and dimples of the woman immigration officer faded when the Sierra Leonean presented his passport. The Kenyan immigration officer suddenly inquired, “Bwana, where are you going”? The question came even though the passport had in it a ticket indicating the passenger’s flight schedule. “Don’t come too close!? Stand there and I shall see what can be done!” she instructed at the top of her voice.
The ‘stand there!’ instruction took four hours for the Sierra Leonean traveller with no one coming to tell him what the holdup was all about.
“I was a monkey in a cage with people peeping from distant corners while others peered from side offices to gaze at my direction as if I was an endangered species. If my continuing journey was not on the next day, I would have missed flight,” the disgusted Sierra Leonean told me over the phone.
It was only the alertness of a Kenyan plain clothes security that came to my rescue. Due to the Westgate incident which made Kenya to increase surveillance, the security guy may have been watching me for some time he approached me with one hand in his pocket and it was obvious hehad a revolver in there.
“Sir, you seemed stranded, can I help you,” he asked before the isolated passenger could respond, he slammed in another question, “Are you waiting for someone to pick you or need some direction, a taxi or something,” the disguised policeman sent in questions in rapid succession.
“No brother,” he replied in a rather subdued manner, “I have been told to wait”.
The immigration officer who had told him to wait had meanwhile taken a hurried exit for lunch and it was this rescuer who got the Sierra Leonean to his hotel for his continuing flight the next day. Take it as the work of an individual who is so scared of the deadly Ebola virus.
Move on to the west coast, Dakar, the capital of Senegal where another Sierra Leonean had to miss her flight to New York because airport officials were scared stiff that she might be a probable Ebola case.
After several haggling for three days during which some Senegalese airport officials questioned her on her health status, she was finally allowed to leave. She fared no better in New York where the immigration officer had to excuse himself for some seconds to put on a facial mask and gloves to deal with her case.
Dozens of such incidents abound, many go unreported. It is difficult to find fault as to whether it’s okay to happen. Sadly, Sierra Leoneans have become lepers, so to speak, being kept at arm’s length people wherever they go all because of the Ebola scourge.
The sad irony about this spectacle however is that, even Sierra Leoneans abroad are keeping their arriving compatriots at arm’s length because they too are scared. I called up one the other day and during our chat, I teased him, “I am at King’s Cross Station, wonder whether I can just stop by your home for some minutes for a chat”. That telephone conversation immediately went frosty as he struggled for an answer, “Well it could have been good for you to do that but I am on my way out,” he said.
Imagine someone I had been on the phone with for some fifteen minutes, it’s only now that he knew he was on his way out. You see what a disease like Ebola can do to friendship.
The lesson here is that it is good for all of us (Sierra Leoneans) to work together to get the disease off our backs and this can be achieved primarily by adhering to the advices of health authorities. It’s not a hard ball game ….Don’t shake hands, avoid body contacts, don’t touch corpses, report to the nearest health facilities if there are instances of vomiting, etc.
Together, we can put Ebola behind us sooner than we think. And we would not be haunted by projections which at times put you out of mind when one wakes up in the morning.
By Rod Mac Johnson
Wednesday October 08, 2014