When I got off the plane at O’Hare International Airport I could not help but be struck by the contrast to the Roberts International Airport in Liberia – two entirely different worlds. Moving walkways, escalators, plentiful flushing toilets, temperature controlled environment, baggage ready to be claimed by the time I reached the appointed area, order despite thousands of people… Can my two worlds really be on the same planet?
I approached an officer eating his lunch at a desk for “Visitors” and explained that I needed to see an officer; he instructed me to wait and the supervisor would help me shortly. Soon there were several of us waiting for assistance. After 15 minutes a man appeared and instructed us to follow a young woman to a holding area. My passport and luggage tag were taken and I was told to wait. Eventually a man called me to come behind a partition; my temperature was taken – 98.2. Wait again. Then follow the young woman again to an interview with a masked and plastic-shielded agent. The familiar questions asked again – had I experienced any symptoms, had I been in contact with anyone who was sick, had I touched a dead body – the same questions I had answered in Liberia when leaving, in Brussels upon arrival, and now again in the US. Where was I going to be for the next 21 days? My name was on a list of 72 people to be interviewed upon arrival and then tracked today – does this happen every day now? Is it necessary when we are not containing the disease at origin?
Then I was given an envelope with a thermometer and instructions and a cell phone and taken to another holding space to receive instructions about what my next 21 days would be like. After more than 30+ hours of travel, I am in my familiar hotel room in the community of my birth, beyond amazed by the contrast from the last bed in which I slept in Liberia. I am exhausted and will sleep before reading all the instructions for the next 21 days. What I do know and have experienced is the prejudice that exists regarding West Africa, those who live there and those of us who travel there to help. We are not one human family; it is them and us – now I am “them.”
As my wise friend Daniel in Liberia has said, the health and economic and educational issues resulting from ebola will get sorted out; the complete altering of the social and cultural fabric is changed forever. I experienced that dramatically today, here in America.
More tomorrow after a bath and some rest, a luxury in Liberia few realize… with prayers and love for our family there who I miss already more than I can say…
Please keep believing ~ Deborah