Gist: What the Fear of Death [EBOLA] Can do - by Charles Onyango Obbo  (Read 1553 times)

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I spent the week in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, and it is remarkable how Ebola has shaken things up.

The Ebola outbreak that is now sweeping West Africa, and is considered the worst ever, began in Guinea in February and has killed 377 people in the country.

It has since spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, claiming a total of 1,069 lives by Wednesday, according to the World Health Organisation.

Nigeria is the least-hit of the countries reporting Ebola, with the confirmed cases rising to 11, including three deaths.

A friend showed me photos he took with his phone at a high profile party at the home of one of Nigeria’s richest men recently. First, they scanned you for weapons — there is still Boko Haram to worry about — then you went to the next stop and they ran a thermal image scanner over your forearm to suss out Ebola.

At an emergency meeting of Nigeria’s state governors and President Goodluck Jonathan on Ebola, there were no handshakes. The governors were shown giving each other the “Ebola clenched-fist salute” to avoid the handshake.

Colleagues who went for a meeting at one of the nation’s leading banks, were met by a communications officer who forewarned them that there would be no handshakes, and said she hoped they would not take offence.

Take offence? No. They were more than happy not to shake hands.

Ebola check-point

It is not surprising that one of the highest selling items today in Nigeria is hand sanitiser. People coming to a meeting ask for it soon as they walk into the room.

At my Lagos hotel, there were hand sanitisers at every stair landing and several points on the ground floor.

I walked around with one in my pocket, as did most people.

It is the arrival at the airport though, that presented the most challenge. So many people pass through, you don’t want to take chances. At the same time, you don’t wish to arrive in a country with a mask over your nose and mouth and your hands in gloves, as you would be telling your hosts that “your country is infected with disease.”

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. After passing through the “Ebola checkpoint,” I checked quickly and noticed that some of the immigration officials had masks and gloves on. So I whipped out my gloves and mask too.

I have never felt more of an idiot, but no one frowned, so it made it easier. Well, there was the cab you needed to use to go places, and you didn’t know who had sat there. Out came the gloves.

Then to the forex bureau to exchange money, and some of the Naira notes you get look more deadly than the remains of someone who died from Ebola. Now that you have touched the money, you get out the hand sanitiser.

A few minutes later you have to pay for something you have bought. It is difficult to get the wallet out with gloves on, or to count the money. So you pull them off again… and with all that, you still aren’t sure that you managed to dodge the bullet.

It is both remarkable and shameful, what fear of death can do to the best of us.


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