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Another Letter from Monrovia - Life in the Time of Ebola

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As the state of Liberia crumbles in almost every way, Michael and Yvonne Weah and their fellow Liberians struggle on. But I'll let Mike tell you what life is now like in Monrovia, the city named for U. S. President James Monroe:

"Today is another wet day in Monrovia. It is raining as usual, and we are all complaining as if we expect something different to fall from the sky during the rainy season. It makes good conversation, the weather, but what we can't ignore is the clotted drains overflowing, spilling into the streets, blocking the flow of cars and people. The drainage system, newly built by a Chinese company, is smaller than what we had before the war. I know we know better, and as we watch them work, I know we want to say, "but why can't you make it larger for the future city? Before the war, we were 500,000 to 700,000 in Monrovia and now, we are 1.2 million and growing fast." But as the saying goes, " You don't look a gift horse in the mouth." Gift? The iron ore mines, the bauxite mines and the list goes on ... all to our Chinese friends.

"But then I turned on the TV and there was a huge plane from China. It was unloading emergency supplies for the Ebola crisis. Monrovia was its last stop after dropping off consignments in Conakry (Guinea) and Freetown (Sierra Leone). I couldn't see the sign "Gift from the People of China," but I know it was pasted somewhere knowing the supposed "copycat" reputation of the Chinese. Our other friends would not have failed to have it in a conspicuous place, as they always do, written in bold large letters.

"The Chinese have delivered. The Chinese are here. No Chinese worker has been evacuated. The Liberian President said to the Chinese Ambassado,r as she looked over the list of the Chinese gifts: Friends in need are Friends in deed- an old maxim that has been over used but rings true when we see that huge plane from China at Roberts field, the gateway to Liberia. The last four planes we saw, where the ones taking out the two Americans and the Spanish priest and the one not mentioned, the Liberian Americans and those green card holders. The Catholic priest passed two days ago.

"The experimental drug to fight Ebola is now on its way. We tried prayers, bitter kola and two days ago, everybody in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia took a holy bath of hot salt water. The night before, we all received a text message saying that a renounced pastor (sure it was not the one who predicted the outcome of the World Cup) had a vision that the new revelation for the prevention of Ebola was a bath in a hot water salt solution. In the old days, and as we Liberian say "in normal days," meaning before the civil war, it would have taken a month to get the message out.

"But like the Arab Spring, it took a few hours to get the word out to the three countries and to get the coal pots cracking, carrying the price for a bag of charcoal, our main cooking fuel, upwards. We took the bath and the next day, Ebola still showed its face.

"The news from Perry Town, just outside Monrovia, is that a household is infected and a woman who had arrived from Harbel (Liberia), died from the disease. The people from the house have fled and have gone where?

"The hot salt water bath failed. So what? At least, we tried. Now the "wonder drug" is on its way but only in a limited supply. The question is who will get it and how it will be give. A national lottery? Who you know? Nepotism? Or will it go to the one who pays the biggest bribe? The byword here, even before Ebola took center stage, was corruption. But let's ask a more serious question, a pressing concern: Will the drug work?

"They say that to get the drug you have to read carefully and sign a consent form and a waiver. But there is a problem. The illiteracy rate in Liberia is about 57% and this will be compounded by fine print, and the special language on the back one needs a magnifying glass to read and a professor of law to explain. Many of those of us over 55 - the guys from the "normal days" - can probably read and we have our reading glasses. The fine print may not be a problem. But for those born just before the war, during the war and after the war, who make up about 60% of the population, with an education system which the President said is a "mess," will be at the mercy of a Liberian lawyer who may be part of the corrupt legal cohort. But let's be real here. What is a form with fine print that you don't understand, if it will give you the only chance to live? What I have seen of Ebola, there is no time to read the fine print. I will sign.

"While we wait for the experimental drug to arrive and pray for our two American friends in Atlanta, Aunt Jon, age 96, is taking her salt hot water bath. All day she complains about her skin feeling sticky and itchy. Her great grand children look at her, their eyes saying 'what is a little inconvenience if it is the only hope to keep the Ebola away until the wonder drug gets here to Monrovia. Will she be one of the ones to get the drug?"