On September 3, 2014, Agnes Ngekia learned by phone that her son was dead and that there would be no burial. He had died of Ebola. Ngekia is a nurse in the Kono district of Sierra Leone, and when her son had fallen ill she had diligently followed disease-prevention protocol and brought him to the local hospital. Nonetheless, not long after she learned of his death, police officers wearing blue protective gowns over their camouflage uniforms arrived at her family compound in the village of Borbodu and nailed a flimsy wooden bar across the entrance. For 21 days, Ngekia and 17 family members were quarantined inside.
Behind the barrier, Ngekia agonized over the immediate trauma; as she watched some of her other children get sick, she feared for their lives and her own. But she also worried about what would sustain the family should they survive. Rice is the staple food in Sierra Leone, and her eight acres of swampland needed to be planted with the crop before it was too late in the season. Though she and her family had the seed, they couldn’t leave the compound to put it in the ground. Normally other villagers would help, but people didn’t want to risk catching Ebola by working the quarantined family’s field.