Day 4 in Liberia: Gbarnga

I’m sitting on a small veranda at the hotel in Gbarnga at about 7 am on this Saturday drinking West Africa’s ubiquitous coffee – little packets of instant Nescafe. I normally take coffee black, but the instant seems better with powdered milk. The hotel is located in a neighborhood instead of in the town. The neighbors are waking up as the roosters crow.  One ma in a neon green headscarf  is raking her yard, while a son sweeps the steps. A daughter looks stunning in her pink and blue dress as she feeds the chickens.  On the house next door a teenager has been on his phone the whole time I’ve been here. At the other neighbor, all hands seem to be cooking except for a child washing dishes in plastic dishpans.

The community well is nearby, with a constant stream of customers coming for water in plastic buckets. I’ve noticed nearly all children here I’ve seen so far in the country have footwear now. They also appear healthy, without all the big bellies of 30 years ago. Clean water seems to have become a standard here, which of course it should. As I noticed in my Sierra Leone trip in 2013 – even most of the dogs look healthy now. Everyone I see is in good shape with sharp muscle tone. Like I was when I lived here. One thing that tempts me back for a long stint is the thought of getting back in shape. In Africa shape. Physical exercise everyday either from work or walking to where you’re going. Eating organic food everyday. Not being in a hurry. Ever.

I went for breakfast. There are eggs and toast, etc on the menu for the expats that obviously stay here. I saw fish sauce over root crops – a West Africa favorite dish. “No, we don’t have that” said the waitress. I asked if I could get rice. She looked surprised but said yes.  What do you have I asked?  Fish sauce, goat sauce, jollof rice. I said fish sauce. She left to put in the order and returned saying, sorry. No fish. Only goat. After the GB and goat from the day before, I nixed the goat. I said jollof rice – then asked – do you have cassava leaf?  Again, she looked surprised, and said yes. With palm oil she asked?  Yes, I said. She said do you want fish or chicken?  Fish I said.  She left with the order and returned saying they only had chicken. I replied – just bring me cassava with peppae. Oh West Africa. When it finally arrived, it was fabulous. Of course, I had to show off by asking for more peppae, indicating I wanted more pepper heat in my meal like any local would.

Patrick came in and said we were off to see a harvest. This came out of the blue, and it’s important to be flexible and on the fly here. Let’s go! I said. We traveled a few blocks to the site that was in a swamp. We were right on time, as most of the water had drained. Tilapia were finning in the water or on their side flapping through the mud to find water. I first met Estelle, who was part of the fish farmer association I had come to work with. She introduced me to Henrietta, who owned the pond. They are the first two women fish farmers I’ve ever met. Henrietta introduced me to Mohammed, who was also a member. He is their “fish technician” and records production for the Bong County Aquaculture Association. It’s a volunteer board position of sorts. One of the men in the pond helping with the harvest I would later meet as James. I found out later he just had a big harvest that produced 1lb tilapia and 3 other species.  Henrietta’s pond is adjacent to a pig stall, so she has ample supply of pig manure, which she uses to fertilize the fish ponds. It’s the main source of food it seems for her pond.

Part of the excitement was seeing one of the workers harvesting the pond catch by hand a big water snake that appeared to be living in a hole in the dike. That would be someone’s meal today, too. After the harvest, we went to the Sumo’s house. Henrietta’s husband, John, was a retired educator who was just now getting into agriculture. He said his wife was doing the pigs and fish and she was the one with the know-how and he was trying to support her and help as he learned. Henrietta made rice with fresh tilapia in palm oil and pepper for us. I love this place. James, Odebih and Mohammed joined us, and this was when I was in for a real eye opener.

These people here knew what they were doing, where they wanted to go, and saw a future bright in raising fish in their ponds. The talk was about maximizing the potential of their operations. Even more stunning was their discussion of the money wasted by NGO’s giving people pond projects only to have the people neglect them when the NGO left because no one was now paying them to do the work that they themselves would profit from. Wow. I soon saw I was out of my league with regard to my limited work in tilapia farming 30 years ago. Time for me to catch up on the technical aspects of farming with them, and then work on the marketing that I did know with them. I got more excited as the day went on. This is going to be a great week.

I was also informed I was doing a workshop for a week!  I thought it was for a day with 5 different groups. Now the pressure was on to figure out what I’m going to talk about for a week, but the longer I spoke with them, the more I knew we’d run out of time and still have more to talk about. They said a Leprosy Hospital was having a harvest this week and they were going to help. PERFECT. I’m hoping we can put a marketing plan together the first few days, and then put it into effect and go over and sell fish for the harvest day. What could be a better learning experience for all of us? After coming home yesterday somewhat depressed that fish farming hadn’t gone anywhere in the 30 years since I left, I realized how wrong I was and how glad I am to be here.

Day 3 in Liberia – Sanniquellie

Friday Dec 2, 2016

Patrick, Tamba and I traveled up-country to Ganta last night, then this morning headed north towards the Ivory Coast border. After beautiful roads my first 2 days here, I took them for granted. Now we were back on the roads I remember. The road to Sanniquellie (S) was the red mud laterite I’d wrecked my 125 Honda on so many times 30 years ago. When wet, it’s like ice with snow on top. When liquid, like pudding. We traveled several hours to S, where we picked up Peter, a local official. We traveled perhaps another hour or more to a little village where we looked at a couple ponds that were mostly built but had not had fish.

The village welcomed us. When I shook hands with one child, all wanted to shake. When they appeared to want to hang around as the adults got to business, I told them once the meeting was over we would be giving out free injections to all of them. To that, they scattered. The village officials were gracious as always. A cup of water was passed with cola nuts in the water. I took one, split it in half with my fingernail, and bit off a tiny piece of the bitter caffeine nut. We then went across the street to see 2 ponds. I talked with the cooperative member about fish farming. We bid the village goodbye, and were gifted again with bunches of both large and small bananas. There’s nothing like the bananas here. They were my first staple 30 years ago in Sierra Leone until I adapted to the rice and sauce dishes I continue to love.

Much of the talk in the SUV during the day amongst my hosts started with “before the war” or “during the war” or “after the war”. I listened to the stories as I could. Ebola hit the country hard, it seems, but was much more isolated. As my late friend Francis said in Sierra Leone, there is no corner of the country that the war did not reach. Patrick made some very thoughtful statements that only civilians who’ve been in the middle of a war can understand. He said a dictator is better than a civil war. In a war between countries, your army will defend you. In a civil war, your best friend can become your enemy.  After hearing their first person stories of the war and just trying to survive, the hoopla over our president-elect’s courtesy phone call to the leader of Taiwan as some sort of international incident and dominating the CNN news as though it is cataclysmic is overwhelmingly trite. Tomorrow will be another insignificant event blown out of proportion and gone the day after.  I wonder how much the people care where the civil wars rage on in Syria. And Afghanistan. And Somolia. And Sudan. Wars fueled largely by arms and money from outside the countries. Undoubtedly by some of my taxes. War becomes a constant and people crave something different. Like a phone call that will be forgotten tomorrow.

I saw an article about a kid from Richburg who died in Vietnam and now has the road we take home named after him. The photo of his mother made it clear that once waged, war lasts forever for those who live through it, regardless of their role. It was a long time ago to some, but you could tell it was not for the Scott kid or his family. The generic words of praise from the politicians who took credit for naming of the road seem like they are profiting from Soldier Scott losing his life and his family mourning his death for 47 years. As if they are doing everyone in our part of Appalachia a favor. It’s their job, I guess.

I have to listen intently to Liberian English to understand. I often have to pause to determine if the language is a tribal language or Liberian English. Even then, I find myself often asking people to repeat themselves, and they asking me to do the same. There are many Sierra Leone Krio words in the language, which I understand better, but of course have not figured out which Krio words are part of the language and which are not. Liberian English is definitely it’s own language and something to learn.

We traveled another hour or 2 to a second site. We met a farmer who showed us a cooperative pond built by an NGO. The pond was a catchment pond, meaning it filled with rain and groundwater but did not have it’s own water supply from a creek. There were tilapia and catfish in the pond. The farmer said they harvested the pond once a year, and divided fish amongst the members and sold the rest in the village. They used a pump to empty the pond, pumping the water to a second smaller pond. After water, they pumped the water back and then ground and rainwater would refill it. I thought they were doing what they could at the pond and using it for what it was worth.

We headed back to Ganta, and started having Range Rover trouble. The fuel tank was low, and crap in the diesel was clogging the filter. I worked with Tamba the driver to asses things. Having a diesel fishing boat motor and now an old Ford diesel in my truck came in handy. We sent a passenger (Peter) to the nearest town for more fuel. Tamba cleaned the filters as best he could. It was hot in the late afternoon, and I drank about a gallon of water. Peter returned with the fuel on the back of a motorcycle taxi. Tamba and the taxi driver filled the tank after Tamba flushed the filters and put them back on. I cranked while Tamba used the manual pump to prime the fuel system. The engine finally caught, and Tamba said the pump piston was now solid and we were in good shape. I tipped the taxi driver well, and we were on our way. I had a hard time staying awake, drifting in and out of sleep on the way back over the poor road. We arrived late in the day in Ganta, where our original hotel was now booked, so we continued on to Gbarnga, where I will be for the week, as the schedule is for now. I expect that to change.

Rarely do these trips go as planned. That’s where the experience comes in. If you expect change, it’s not a surprise when it happens. If you don’t, then frustration is your best friend and you should stay where things are as you expect them.

Day 2 to Ganta

No rest for the weary. Plans changed and instead of several days in Monrovia, we left today and arrived in Ganta in the late afternoon. I got to know my host today. As I had in Sierra Leone, I asked him about his experience during the war, and it seemed cathartic for him to tell me about his survival and for me to hear these stories again to keep the stories and consciousness about the war alive. I told him my own story of our family and Ebola in Sierra Leone, and this clearly hit home with him. He later handed me an Ebola information sheet that he gives all volunteers, which was sobering. I met an outgoing volunteer O.T. who was a livestock expert originally from Zimbabwe. He’s started a distance remote international livestock school where he can teach farmers about anywhere they can get an internet connection, if I understood him correctly.

I also reconnected by email with an Alaskan who does these kind of volunteer assignments as a career now that he’s retired. I looked up an old email and he was telling me in it that he’d worked here and what a great person my host sitting across from me was. I soon learned that to be true our first day here. The road to Ganta was perfect. We stopped in Kakata and had rice and fish pepper soup. West African food is my favorite. We arrived to accommodations in Ganta that were again unexpected. Running water, AC, internet and satellite television.

Liberia Day 1

Left for Liberia to do a USAID Farmer to Farmer fish marketing assignment on Monday evening. During the day, I went to get cash for the trip from my bank. At the other teller was the only other customer in the bank. A white haired elder with plastic rim glasses who most in town know. I realized his daughter was the reason I was standing there. I was in a meeting with her about 15 years ago when I started trolling. She said – “I grew up here. This is a fishing town. Why can’t I buy fresh fish anywhere in my home town?”  That was the beginning of my career selling fish and the reason I was standing here 15 years later heading to Liberia to do fish marketing workshops.

So, the flight to Seattle and I arrive about 11:30 pm. A quick sleep at the hotel, and then catch the 5:40am shuttle back to the airport. The flight to DC left about 8 am. I arrived there late in the afternoon, then a 2 hour layover and the next leg to Brussels. That’s a long flight. Many Africans on my flight to Brussels as it’s a hub for West African flights. Once in there, I took the airport shuttle to the familiar T concourse. Seeing all these Liberians and Sierra Leoneon US residents – many of them now citizens – I always wonder what their stories are and how they got to the states, what they do in the US. What they do when they go home.

After 5 hours in Brussels, it’s a 7 hour 45 minute trip to Monrovia, with a stop in Freetown. It was very weird not to be getting off in Freetown. I envied those that disembarked there and wished I could go and see my family there. We arrived on time in Monrovia. Stepping off the plane, I immediately recognized that smell of West Africa. Rainforest. Cook fires. Humidity. I cleared customs, got my suitcase, and found my host driver without incident. It was about an hour drive into Monrovia.

Huts along the road with children playing under a light or young people walking along the road. Every so often a stand selling night street food. The road is good and well maintained. We arrived at the hotel, and I guess I was not prepared for this. It rivals any nice hotel I’ve been anywhere. Even a toothbrush on the sink – I forgot mine!  Such a contrast with the third world drive from the airport. After 30 years of seeing it, it’s still hard to wrap my head around.

I maintain that 90 percent of where you are in life is where you are born. Sara and I are counting our nickles, preparing for retirement. Had I been born here, there’d be no such “retirement”. Inflation is so rampant that you have to convert money to some sort of asset immediately or that same money may only buy 70% next year of what it does now. I might never have owned a car or motorcycle. My “assets” would be my family and position in my village, both of which would hopefully support me as I age. The numerous routine knee surgeries I’ve had would likely have never happened, and I might even be crippled by this age. Or not even alive It’s a place I’ll always feel out of place but always feel at home. It’s great to be back.

Mark in Sierra Leone

Ebola in Kangahun. What now.

As I sit here in my little North Douglas home next to the woodstove, I contemplate the past 2 weeks and how things have changed forever for my friends in Sierra Leone. I worked in Kangahun, a remote village in the eastern part of the country in the Kono District as a fish farming extension agent in the late 1980s. Solomon Saidu and his brother Francis Kamara soon adopted me into their families and were my keepers. We were all 20 somethings. Solomon and Francis needed only a machete (called a cutlass there) for their livelihood. With it, they could do anything they needed for their living, from cutting down a section of bush to burn it for a rice farm, to cutting cane and then splitting it to make a trap to catch crab and fish in the creek that ran near the town, to making a fence around their farm and then making ingenious traps in the fence to catch animals for meat that tried to get to their rice. I’d been a fishing guide on remote rivers in Bristol Bay and so was used to living without utilities. Getting to live full time in west Africa was a perfect fit for me, and my new brothers there were quick to accept and teach me.

I left Kangahun in 1988. Not long later, the country fell into what was called a “civil war”. It was really more of a war against the population, where the “rebels”, who supposedly were trying to overthrow the government, were really thugs who would come into a village, kill or maime anyone who did not escape, loot the town for anything of value, then burn the village to the ground and move on to the next village.

When the war found it’s way to remote Kangahun, Francis, with the help of Solomon, lead some four dozen people into the rain forest of the hills surrounding the village. When the rebels pursued them into the bush, Francis told me on my visit there in 2013 that it was not his skill, but only by “the grace of God” that the rebels, when they came to the spot Francis and his family had camped, had gone to the right, and Francis and his family, ranging from newborns to elders in their 80’s, had gone left. They fled further east and survived for 3 years in the far corner of Sierra Leone near Guinea until the rebels finally found their way there, and Francis led his people across the border and into Guinea. Mosquito, a notorious leader of the rebels, followed Francis and others across the Mano River into Guinea to the refugee camp. He came to Francis and asked him to come back to Sierra Leone, where the rebels said they would take care of them. Francis said that sounded like a great plan. He said he’d gather up his family and be ready to return to Sierra Leone in the morning. Francis had no intention of returning to Sierra Leone with this rebel leader responsible for killing and maiming countless innocent villagers during the war. That night, Francis gathered his family and fled further into Guinea.

They spent 5 years in Guinea. When I was working with Francis on his farm in 2013 planting rice, he said “you know Mark, we didn’t struggle in Guinea. We did just what we do here. We asked the local chief for a piece of land and farmed it. In fact, Guineans don’t farm by hand like we do. They farm with draft animals. When they saw the productive gardens we grew by hand, they asked us to stay and be extension agents for them”. That was a big compliment to Francis, as extension agents were usually college-educated. Francis had left school at an early age when his father died to provide for his family and was illiterate. Even in Guinea. In a land of a different language. With nothing but the set of clothes he was wearing and a cutlass, Francis made friends, gained the respect of his community, and lived pretty well.

Francis and family eventually found their way to Guinea’s capital, Conakry, then down the coast on what was likely his first boat ride to Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown. Over the next several years, he and his family found their way back up the country and back to their village. What they found was the scorched earth the rebels had left in their wake. The village was no longer there. The rebels had burned it to the ground, and the bush had taken over. Francis had to live in Koidu, the capital city of the province of Kono, until he and his fellow villagers could rebuild their village. Over the course of the next 10 years, the village was slowly rebuilt. Francis was so proud of his two wives, Femusu and Manyeneh, who made friends with a woman from the Fula tribe (the traders of West Africa). The Fula woman set them up with small amounts of goods to trade in the Koidu market. As the Fula woman saw that Femusu and Manyeneh were honest and hard working, she gradually increased their inventories for sale and the two of them did their part to provide for the family. In the village, everyone worked on the farm. Now in Koidu, there was only small plots of land to make gardens, and so learning the market business was how they survived. Meanwhile, Francis grew whatever he could in a garden, took jobs in the diamond field or whereever he could, and would return the 20 miles to Kangahun as he could to grow crops and beat back the bush that had grown for over a decade around his coffee, cacao and oil palm trees. All by hand. By the time I returned there in 2013, Francis, Femusu and Manyeneh had been back in Kangahun fulltime for 2 years. He was working a large plot of land in the rain forest raising rice, and living in rooms on loan from a village brother. Solomon had developed adult-onset epilepsy at some point, and now had to live in Koidu to be near what rudimentary medical care was available. Not only did epilepsy cause him to live a life he did not know – in the city, away from his life as a farmer- it also led to his being somewhat of an outcast. As someone “possessed” from the seizures. His wife left him. Some of his children were farmed out to other family. When I got there in 2013, Solomon looked a bit gaunt. He was still the same person who had been my best friend in the village, but the epilepsy had certainly taken its toll. When we would eat, Solomon would eat like a starved man. I asked if he ate regularly, and he said yes. Although there might be a day or two when he didn’t eat, he generally ate regularly. He was at the mercy of his extended family, and they, like him struggled to get by in the city. Solomon is not one to ask anyone for anything. If there wasn’t food for a day or two, he wasn’t going begging for it. We ate and ate during my week long stay. Damn, it was good to eat rice and sauce again. Solomon never had a seizure while I was there. When he and I went to the village, he worked and worked helping Francis and his nephews plant rice on Francis’s farm. Happy to be back doing what he loved doing, which was being a farmer. I would make sure Solomon would never be without food again by sending him money monthly when I returned home. His seizures, however, did return. Could be he was spending all the money on his children. Or could be that’s just how epilepsy works.

Francis’s oldest son Alieu,, was only a year when I left in 1988 and I thought he might not make it because he was so sickly. He was now a strapping young man of 25, living in Koidu and working as a motorcycle taxi driver. I think he finished high school as far as he could but could not continue his education in order to help his father and their family. Cheap motorcycles from India had replaced the small pick-up taxis used for transport when I was first there. The motorcycles were more suited to the brutal roads of Kono District. Alieu explained he drove for the owner of the bike, and paid the owner the equivalent of $7 dollars US a day Monday through Sat for use of the bike, and on Sunday he got everything he earned. Alieu paid for the fuel. We discussed the cost of a new bike ($1,200) and going into business for himself. We decided I would loan him the money and he’d pay me back in a year and then use the money he repaid for his father to build a house. I would ultimately be repaid by having a house to stay in whenever I returned to Kangahun. Alieu repaid the loan in 6 months. Francis had a new house less than 6 months after, built with supplies carried as needed on Alieu’s motorcycle from Koidu. Likewise, Solomon, still living in Koidu so he could be near medical treatment for his epilepsy, had a free ride whenever he needed it. Solomon’s wife would return to him later that month. The future was starting to take shape for the families after 25 years of war and rebuilding.

Francis and Solomon are once in a lifetime friends you feel more and more privleged to know as you grow older. They were my my keepers in the village. The Peace Corps shapes everyone who serves. For me, it’s been the cornerstone of my life, largely determined what I believe in and how I see the world. I left Sierra Leone with my two Peace Corps friend travelers Jeff and Jim in July 2013. They had similar experiences visiting their families 25 years after last seeing them.

A few months later, the first cases of ebola surfaced in Guinea – not far, actually, as the crow flies from Kangahun, but the distance was by bush roads and therefore not subject to extensive travel. The main roads from the Guinea outbreak went south to Liberia, then west through Sierra Leone. Our village of Kangahun, isolated from the main corridors, had been isolated from the ebola epidemic to the south in Kailahun and Kenema areas. Although four from Kangahun had died from the virus, all were living in Freetown when they contracted it.

During the first week of December, Solomon was tending to his garden in Koidu when he had an epileptic seizure. People who did not know him contacted the ebola response team, fearing Solomon had been taken down by the virus. The team responded, put him in an ambulance that had carried other ebola patients, and carried him to an ebola ward of potential ebola patients. His blood was drawn and sent to Kenema for testing. He waited several days in the ward and the result came back negative and he was released. His family decided to send him to Kangahun as he had not been in good health before his recent seizure and they thought it best he be cared for in his village.

Solomon arrived in the village about Dec. 11. He stayed with his younger brother Tamba Saidu. When Solomon was born, Solomon’s father gave him to Pa Saidu to raise as was custom to join families in Kono. Solomon had “step” siblings born of Pa Saidu and his wife Mary. The oldest was Finda, who was a teenager and cooked for me when I lived there. Her brother Tamba was a few years younger. Eia was Tamba’s younger brother.

Tamba was now the caretaker of the Saidu family and tending to the family farm. Mary Saidu had lost her husband to old age years ago, and Finda died of illness in about 2014. I spent time with Mary on my recent trip there. Mary was of the Temne tribe in northern Sierra Leone and somehow married a Kono man. I gave her a fish pin on one of my first days in town in 2013, and she wore it everyday I was there. I sent her fish from the market woman, too, for her dinner. Mary brought food to Solomon everyday.

On December, I received a text from Alieu. Solomon had suddenly died in Kangahun. I feared he had contracted ebola from the ambulance or hospital ward when taken in after his epileptic seizure. Upon his death he was tested again and the test came back negative, if I understood the text communications correctly. As his elder brother, Francis saw to his burial. Solomon was buried in sight of my former hut and across the street from Solomon’s childhood home. Both buildings were long since destroyed by the rebels during the war.

I still had my suspicions about ebola causing Solomon’s death. I looked up the incidence of death due to epilepsy and found that although it’s not common, it’s not altogether uncommon either. Perhaps he did die from complications from his epilepsy. A negative test is a negative test, right? I hoped for his sake he’d died with little pain. He’s seen enough already.

On Christmas Day, I began receiving texts from Alieu that Francis had taken ill. Francis was transported from Kangahun to Koidu, over the terrible road. He might have gone the whole way clinging to his son on the back of the motorcycle. Francis had his blood drawn at the Koidu hospital, and the sample was sent to Kenema, some 5 hours drive south, for ebola testing. The next day, his condition worsened and he was transported to a treatment center in Kenema. Upon reaching Kenema, he was directed west to Bo about an hour away. I don’t know why. Perhaps the Kenema center was full. Perhaps Bo had better facilities for advanced care. Alieu sent a text saying he’d lost his uncle (Solomon) and if his dad died, what was he going to do. That was the last communication I heard from him that day.

On December 28, I got a call from Darlington in Washington, DC. Darlington was a young boy in Kangahun when I lived there, and his father was an old blind Pa who made hand made hammocks. The Pa’s children would gather grass for him, which he rolled across his leg and wove into long lengths of rope. The rope was dyed, attached to wood frames at each end, and crafted into beautiful hammocks. I had an endless list of hammock requests from Peace Corps friends to buy them. Darlington somehow got out of Sierra Leone during the war and has been in the states ever since.

Darlington asked if I’d heard about Francis, and I said I was receiving updates via text. Darlington said Francis had died. As had Tamba Saidu. Three brothers, the keepers of their extended families, gone just that fast. I hoped somehow Darlington had received the wrong information. Not long after Darlington’s call I received a text from Alieu confirming his dad was gone. He’d seen both his uncle and father pass away and was understandably at a loss for what to do. I sent some money for his current arrangements and said we were here to help as needed.

Christian is a Kangahun brother who lives in Koidu and took care of Solomon for many years. He sent an email telling of the situation and that we must band together for the families. He said Solomon had six children and Francis thirteen. Some are grown and some are still school-age. So we wait for the families to grieve and then decide what to do. Where will the young children go? What will they need for support for living expenses. And school fees. School is not free in Sierra Leone. Education for his children was important for Francis.

After visiting there in 2013, I planned to bring Francis, Femusu, Manyeneh, and Solomon to Alaska. Not to move here. Just to visit. People who in a day when life shuts down for when the internet or computer network shuts down, can still live by their own wits, by their own hand, off the land. People who can draw their ancestry back hundreds or thousands of years on the land they live. People whose existence isn’t dictated by the stock market or joy determined by the winner of American Idol. They had their culture. They took pride in being farmers. They paid tribute to their elders now deceased. They loved their children and grandchildren.

It’s hard to fathom people who were so independent. Who had endured so much. Being taken by a microscopic virus. Letters written to my congressmen and congresswomen gained return form letters saying how hard they were working to protect Alaskans from ebola. They had no concern for those dying from ebola. These were not their constituents.

So I sit here in our first world half way across the globe with plenty of money. A hospital nearby. Friends who would do anything for me. I couldn’t get to my village now if I wanted to. They are under quarantine. Francis’s eldest son Alieu and I are in contact most days by cell phone text. “What am I going to do” he asks. “I’ve lost my uncle and my father”. I have no good answer for him.

I send some money to Alieu for now, knowing he was with his father all the way to Bo and may now be infected, too. Along with his mothers and others back in the village. I am angry that the US and the western powers ignored the outbreak for a year before taking any meaningful action, well after it was too late. But then again, maybe money could not have fixed anything. You can’t bring a country without health care to a country with health care with money alone. It takes personnel. Infrastructure. Expertise. Education. Money alone can’t make these things happen. All of them take time to develop.

Francis Kamara is a man I look up to more than anyone I have ever met. He kept his extended family alive for 2 decades of war and rebuilding. He cared for his brother. And that care lead to his infection and undeserved death. Like 8,000 of his West African compatriots.

So now I wait for the family there to grieve. To remember Solomon, Francis and Tamba. They will also be watching each other for signs of Ebola. Like Francis, his wives and children may have been subject to infection. And the same for Tamba’s family.