The Sierra Leone CCP Oral History Project Pt. 2

As a part of CCP training, participants receive interviewing instructions and interview various members of Sierra Leone society. As a collection, these interviews provide a diverse overview of various segments of Sierra Leone society. This oral history project documents events surrounding the Ebola outbreak of 2014 in West Africa. In Sierra Leone, where the outbreak was first reported in early 2014, CCP participant Jongopie Cole asked citizens about their opinions and experiences with Ebola and also documented a case of an Ebola victim who sadly passed away several days after the recording was made.

Ebola: An Oral Testimony by Jongopie Cole

(Transcript translated from Krio)

Jongopie: Good people. How are you? This is the Cultural Conservation Program, CCP, Salone (Sierra Leone). My name is Jongopie Cole. Today we talk about a serious sickness, called the Ebola virus. This sickness has killed many of our people and has caused our country to fall behind. But first, I will tell you how this sickness came about. Ebola is a sickness that has resurged after 20 to 30 years from when it was discovered in a country called Zaire in 1976. This illness was discovered in a river that they call “Ebola River”, in one part of the country, and because of movement the sickness reached another country, Sudan, and over 284 people ended up with the Ebola virus. In addition, in 1994 the sickness was found in Cote d’Ivoire when a young female ethnologist performed research on a dead chimpanzee in Taï forest. Eventually, she herself caught the Ebola sickness. In 2014, we heard that the Ebola virus had reached our neighboring countries of Guinea and Liberia and killed many people. We didn’t take it seriously and not want to hear it. Shortly thereafter, we found out that the sickness had reached our country but people were in denial. I listened to someone who told me how the sickness came into Salone. 

Commentator 1: Well, the sickness came from one the lady who came from Guinea and came to see to an herbalist for treatment in Kailahun (eastern province of Sierra Leone). The herbalist treated her and told her she was okay to return back to Guinea. On the way back, the woman died on the road and two days later, the herbalist who treated her died as well. Shortly after, the whole household of the herbalist contracted the virus. They showed symptoms and were vomiting and then all died. Because no one believed, that made the sickness spread across the country. (Date: August 27th, 2014) Because of this sake, I began listening to people who had things to say about the Ebola virus. 

The following three interviews were recorded on August, 30th 2014 

Commentator 2: Well my view is that, I haven’t seen anyone sick with the Ebola virus but other people emphasize that the virus is serious? I don’t deny the fact that the sickness exists, it does exist, but the way that the people emphasize it and deliberate on it, I don’t think it’s so serious in this country. That is my own view. 

Commentator 3: The sickness exists, because you see a lot of people who are sick and they take them for testing. Yes, the reality is that the sickness exists. 

Commentator 4: Well, this Ebola sickness, you hear them say it is in Salone, but I’ve never seen symptoms of it and really, I don’t believe that it is in this country. 

Jongopie: And because most people do not believe, this sickness has begun to spread to all parts of the country. 

The following recording was an actual incident in which the documentarian visited a friend and witnessed his friend’s brother ailing.

“I am dying, I am dying! Miatta, I need to go to the hospital. I am dying. Call my aunty, my body is feeling warm! I have a high fever, you guys are running away from me now. I am dying, call aunty. Miatta. I am dying! Miatta!” “Oh, my brother! Oh, my brother! (Family members wailing).” 

Below is a testimony by Ibrahim Bio, whose brother was previously heard wailing and in pain. 

Commentator 5: I am Ibrahim Bio. I am one of the people who denied that the sickness was real, but ever since my brother died, now I believe that it is real. One day my brother came back from work at the office, at night. When he came, he told my aunt that he was feeling feverish in his body. He said he felt like someone hit him with a stick. My aunt advised and said ‘in the morning, you will go to the hospital’. And he said no, that he won’t go to the hospital because if he goes to the hospital, they will give him an injection and he will die. So he decided to wait, and in the morning, his brother began vomiting. He vomited heavily and ran frequently to the toilet, we all became scared and stayed away from him. Because of this sickness that everyone is talking about, we stayed away from him. So my aunt decided to call 117 (Emergency number). But when she called, my brother began to cry. He suffered, he really, really suffered. I saw my brother as he was dying. We had to stay away from him. He continued using the toilet frequently, by this time he was vomiting blood. It just took over him, this sickness. He was screaming from pain. The sickness really took over him. After six days, my brother died. After my brother died, that’s when 117 called us. When they arrived, they started doing some type of test on my brother and then they took his body away. They soon discovered that it was Ebola that he had. So they decided that all of us in the household were at risk. They quarantined our house and blocked our entrance with soldiers and police. So we could not go anywhere. We could not talk to our neighbors. But when we were inside our house, truth be told, it was difficult for us to survive because many of us had things to do to maintain our livelihood. So, when we were in the house, we suffered and there were no basic necessities available in our home. Every now and then, the authorities sent us food that was delivered by the soldiers. They began to really treat us like slaves, like dogs. That’s how they really treated us. They locked us up for 21 days and in between those 21 days, in the beginning it was just so difficult. We didn’t talk to anyone. We weren’t allowed around anyone. After those 21 days, they left us. They checked all of us and said that none of us had the sickness besides our brother. Now I try to advise people. They always say that Ebola doesn’t exist. Ebola exists and it kills! 

Jongopie: Within a month, the sickness turned into an epidemic in our country. What I mean is that, it entered all of the streets and towns and people just began to die every day. Because of this, the president declared a 3-day (September 19th to the 24th) home shut in for an Ebola campaign to rid the country of the sickness. 

Excerpt from President Koroma’s speech given on September 16th, 2014 

Jongopie: Salone people listened to the president because they had become tired of the Ebola virus. But after the three day lock down of the country, I asked people what they thought about it. 

The following interviews were recorded on September 22nd, 2014

Commentator 6: For these three days we thank God, because nothing happened and we are here. It has not been easy but we thank God. Now, they are saying we will get will get more quarantined days because of Ebola. 

Commentator 7: Well this three day shut down, I don’t think it makes any sense, because even though they kept us in the house for three days, we are still going back to the same thing. We are still getting cases of Ebola, and people are still hiding their sick. So, I’m not sure it makes any sense. It was difficult for the masses, some people didn’t even have food to eat. Some people were grumbling about the situation. So I don’t know, I’m not sure it makes sense. 

Commentator 8: The 3-day lock down by the government is a very good idea. Although, initially people did not like the idea, but at the end of the 3 days, people were in the houses, some were tormented because they were used to going around town and conducting their daily businesses. But at the end of the day, the results that yielded from this shutdown have been very positive, in the sense that a lot of sick people were discovered. A lot of corpses that people had inside their houses were also discovered. Now the supervisors and volunteers can go around talking to people and getting their opinion. And as I said, they results have been very good. People said, if they did the lockdown it would lead to various problems, but it turned out to be the opposite. We could not predict this outcome of the amount of sick people that have turned out and the amount of people that died. So in my own opinion, it would be better, although maybe not in the distant future, to let the government run another lockdown. I believe that within 3 weeks, 21 days, if anyone else is affected by Ebola, they will come out by the tenth day.

Jongopie: For the sake of this outcome, I asked people what their hopes are for the end of Ebola. 

Commentator 9: Well, the way I see it, Ebola will end, but it will take time for it to end because people still don’t want to accept that Ebola exists. 

Commentator 10: Well basically, I hope that by this December the disease will have ended. According to the medical teams, they say that the Ebola virus does not survive high temperatures (too much heat will lessen its power to quickly damage the cells in the body). 

Jongopie: My good people, thank you for listening. I want to say thank you to the studio engineer who helped me bring this recording to you, Sinneh Njai Sesay.