Guinea: Ebola is killing traditions and customs

Marcel with his colleague, happy to see the bottles of chlorine water for handwashing to prevent Ebola, hanging near his father’s home in N’Zerekore in Guinea.
Marcel with his colleague; both are happy to see bottles of chlorine water for handwashing hanging near his father’s home in N’Zerekore

By Marcel Lama, Logistics Coordinator Emergency Response Personnel

Guinea is my home.  I work for Save the Children responding to different emergencies around the world so it was only natural that I should return to my home nation to support our Ebola response.

I knew from the outset that this would be a story I would one day tell my children.

 

A difficult homecoming

But being with my family and relatives without being able to live our normal life has proved very hard.

There is no direct contact, no community dancing during wedding ceremonies.

One of the hardest things is the need to avoid visiting people who have lost their beloved ones to Ebola, to be unable to share their loss, to offer your condolences or to provide a shoulder to cry on.

Still, I have no other choice than to be an example for those who look to me for answers.

 

Wanting to shake my father’s hand

As part of an assessment in the forest region of Guinea, I was able to visit the town where I grew up.

After such a long time away, it was so difficult to meet my Dad. I was not able to shake his hand, to give him a kiss and get closer to him to show my joy of seeing him after almost two years.

My Dad lives in one of the areas worst affected by Ebola and my home town has witnessed high resistance to the presence of the disease – only 50km away,  a health team was murdered in September.

I knew I had to be careful, and that the topic can often be contentious. I was quietly relieved to see water bottles filled with chlorine water hanging in the compound; it reassured me that my family was engaging with the need to fight the virus.

 

Ebola kills traditions

Marcel's father
Marcel’s father

Since I am unable to go home frequently, when I do return it is normally a celebration.

My heart sank when, at the end of the meal, I had to tell my Dad I would be returning to my hotel due to the health and safety restrictions we have in place.

It was the first time in my life I had gone home and not been able to stay overnight in the house where I was born.

 

A sad and empty hotel

At the hotel, we are the only guests. Everyone has gone for fear of contracting Ebola.

I remember a few years back, the same hotel was the landmark of the region, a hub of commercial activity, with lots of expats from mining companies. The local economy thrived, thanks to its guests.

Today, it is as quiet as a cemetery.

I left with a heavy heart. It was so painful to see how much has had to change because of this deadly disease, and how much more will have to change if we are to bring Ebola under control.

But if the world engages fully in this fight, the changes to customs and habits will be a small price to pay.

I look forward to the day I can embrace my Dad and my family, and know that the battle has been won.

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