Saturday, 18 April 2015

SIERRA LEONE : RETURNING TO A NEW NORMAL

SIERRA LEONE: RETURNING TO A NEW NORMAL.
Flying into Lungi International Airport on Sunday 12th April 2015 was no different from when I flew in, in April last year. The land space looked the same. Surface structure looked the same as well. But a year ago faces smiled easier. Last year when someone smiled it easily became a laugh. One year on smiles fizzled out before they reached the eyes. At the entrance to the terminal building everyone queued for the mandatory hand wash. This also was not there last year.
Checking through immigration was quick and easy, but the airport seemed lean. One year ago it was busy, robust. Not so this time. I forgot myself. I stretched out a hand for a shake to a friend who worked at Lungi and had come to help me evacuate my luggage. My hand was left hanging. My friend busied himself fretting about my luggage. I collected myself. I did not need to remember. The memory was there all along, only sub-surface. Now it imposed itself on me: Ebola.
We got to the airport shuttle that would take me to the sea coach terminal. I thanked my friend. He barely looked me in the eyes. My sister had done the needful a day before, and all arrangements facilitated for getting me to town so I was sure my friend's reticence was not as result of pending obligations. We boarded the speed boat. Carefully guarded salutations were exchanged. Each passenger sat disciplined. Not the easy ' laid-back' ride a year ago. Ebola had abraded the collective 'easiness ' inside Sierra Leone. The sea coach ride to town was serene. Waves hit against each other as we sped along. Forced by the noisy quiet I sank into deep thoughts. How would my family react to me? Mama, my brother, my sister , my nephew, my little girl, my big boy, my nieces -- how would they react ? How would I react on seeing them? Would their psyche be so abraded as well, that they would stand aloof -- devoid of emotion not yielding to even a handshake? Tears pinched the corners of my eyes not because I was weak, but just because I could not bear to keep thinking the thoughts.
It was about 3.00 O'clock in the afternoon. I threw my eyes at the passing waters. The sunlight threw a shimmering silver pattern on the dancing waves as we sped along. There was beauty here. And warmth too. But is there now? Is this aloofness -- the' non-touch technique' -- the new normal? Would a smile be a always careful, henceforth?
My heart beat a little faster. We were almost at the Jetty at Aberdeen. As we turned into the Jetty I sighted Mama. She always had her 'head-tie' (enkincha) tied in a particular style, so I picked her out easily as she stretched her neck to see whether I was in the boat. Going on mid-eighties, mama was slender naturally. But now she looked very thin. Still agile and active, nonetheless something seemed missing. My eyes searched further. I saw my sister. She was still round but I could see she had lost some weight. I dragged on a bit before disembarking so I could watch without being seen. From the side as I watched. I felt something was missing. Not something tangible. Something effervescent. I could not place a finger on it. Then she saw me -- my sister. For a fleeting second the thought came to troubled me: Would I shake a hand-- her hand? It was the right thing to do wasn't it -- to NOT shake .
The thought lasted but a fleeting second. There was no reasoning this -- no reasoning here . I left my luggage, dashed forward and hugged her. Mama saw us and dashed towards us we hugged and my little jumped into my hands . They were all stronger than me -- emotionally. I chocked back a tear. Mama could not hold hers back it filled her eyes. We were raised with a different kind of closeness -- a different kind of attachment. We were closed in that embrace for no more than thirty seconds. When we pulled apart a few eyes were on us. But for me the bonding was good enough. There was a new normal in Sierra Leone and it has its own benefits but I was happy I could feel the heartbeat of my sister, see the tears well up in mama's eyes and experience the joy of my little girl's embrace.
At home an hour later, the evidence of Ebola's terror in Sierra Leone was visible too. The thinking and worry had gotten the better part of the family. The stringent measures had formed a part of their daily lives but for us there was still some warmth -- not from the hot African sun but from the love that glows within our hearts. And in my heart of hearts I pray this would not be the story of my family alone but the story of all Sierra Leoneans, who today or tomorrow may yet retell the Ebola Story.

                        ......... Victor Omotayo Sawyerr 18/4/2015
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