The life after Ebola

Posted on 16.03.2015.

It was a rainy day in August, a day like any other day for Mohamed Conteh, 42. He drove a poda poda, a minibus, transporting passengers from Freetown to his home town Makeni, when the passenger sitting next to him on the front seat started vomiting. Most of his vomits landed on Mohamed. The Ebola virus disease had just started spreading in his area. Mohamed knew that the disease was transmitted through body fluids and that if his passenger was suffering from Ebola, it was likely he might have been infected as well. He immediately got out of the vehicle, washed off the vomits and called the emergency to pick up the sick passenger. He cleaned the vehicle and returned it to the owner. “I didn't want to put my wife and three children at risk, so I called my wife and told her I wouldn't come home until I knew whether I had Ebola or not.” Mohamed carefully paid attention to his health conditions. When he noticed his body temperature rose, when he felt pain in his joints and muscles, when he started throwing up, he went to the hospital to get his blood tested. At that time, Sierra Leone only had one lab in Kailahun that could do the Ebola test, 200 miles from Makeni and with sometimes impassible roads during the rainy season. He shows two swollen scars on his right hand, two remainders of the many blood tests being taken from him. The holding center in Makeni took and sent them to the lab, but never got valid results. After 19 days in the holding center, authorities decided to send him and six other patients to the Kailahun treatment center, though still not being confirmed Ebola cases. “We left at 7 in the morning and arrived at 5 pm the next day”, he remembers his long trip to the treatment center. He was suffering from severe pains in his whole body, so did the other patients. “Every bump, every pothole hurt terribly. Then people around me started dying. When the first person died, I was afraid that my end was also soon to come, but then I only focused on praying, staying awake and remaining strong.” By the time they arrived in Kailahun, Mohamed was the only one who was still alive. Exhausted and unable to straighten his stiff joints, he was carried into the treatment center, where he stayed for the next three weeks, recovering slowly. “I was one of the few fortunate ones and I was full of joy that I could see my wife and children again in this life”, he says with a broad smile. But his joy was soon tempered by reality. He had been living with his family in a small house he rented, while constructing a house on a piece of land he had bought. “Only the roof was missing and I even had bought all the materials. When I came back from the treatment center, I found out that the landlord had kicked out my wife and my children from the place we rented for fear of Ebola.” When he went to his own property, he found it devastated; unknown persons had burned his newly built structure including the roofing materials. When he called his boss, the owner of the poda poda, he was told that his job had been given to someone else. Homeless, jobless and still weak, Mohamed began his second life. “My wife was never afraid of me, she didn't stigmatize me. It was my family that gave me some hope and comfort.” A befriended family allowed them to stay in one small room of their house, so they at least had a roof above their heads. From a neighbor, he heard about World Hope International and that the NGO was looking for drivers. He never learnd how to read or write, so he just showed up at the regional office in Makeni, applied for the job and got it. “In November I started work and I am now transporting discharged patients from the treatment centers to their homes. I know from my own experience that life isn't easy once you are discharged. So I see it as one of my tasks to encourage other survivors to not give up and to be full of hope that there is a future ahead. Look at me, I was left with nothing and now I have a NGO job and I can even use my experience to help others.” Unfortunately, his brother-in-law died recently, leaving behind his sister and six children. Mohamed and his wife decided to host three of the children. “It hasn't made things any easier, but we are praying and hoping for a good future for us and the children.”


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