Liberia’s Thanksgiving in the face of Ebola

Liberia Thanksgiving - Nusee in happier times.

Liberia Thanksgiving – Nusee in happier times.

Today – the first Thursday in November – is Thanksgiving Day in Liberia. This year most people will give thanks just for being alive.

Nusee Cooper of Monrovia, Liberia, says: “Before, it was blessings for family members, thanks for prosperity or completing high school. Now it’s basically thanks for surviving so far. Thanks I’m alive. Because it was up to 60 or 70 people dying per day.”

Ebola is a particularly cruel virus, it is said, because it feeds on the human instinct to comfort the sick. Apart from the 2,697 deaths reported by the World Health Organisation in Liberia as of November 2, Ebola has ripped to bits the fabric of Liberian society: schools are closed, contact sports are banned, traditional funerals are outlawed; people fear to get into a taxi, go to church, watch a football match in a bar or video club; no-one’s buying water or food from street vendors; no-one’s buying much of anything, prices are up and non-essential workers are let go. Grass is growing on the football pitch. And no-one does the traditional Liberian ‘snap’ handshake any more.

“It’s basically thanks for surviving so far. Thanks I’m alive.”

Nusee lives in the 12th Street Community, where houses back onto each other, separated by narrow alleys the width of one thin person. He says: “One house will affect you, because it’s a close neighbourhood. Even family members don’t come in close contact. Ebola has broken that bond. We don’t move from home. We don’t visit.”

In 2003, Liberia came out of a 14-year civil war, and then since 2008 has been hit by the global recession, but Ebola is worse. “It’s worse than the war, because during the war, you knew some safe zone – like you could go to Buchanan or somewhere you knew you wouldn’t encounter the rebels. But with Ebola you can’t run away. You’d take it with you.”

Reports say the death toll in Liberia is slowing, but Nusee says local rumours report a new and large outbreak in Grand Cape Mount County on the border with another suffering country, Sierra Leone. In total, up to 20,000 could be infected, say the epidemiologists, and there won’t be many survivors – the virus can be up to 80% fatal.

But Nusee is part of a group that is going out into the community and talking to people. Millennium Stars FC is a community soccer team Nusee and his pals put together in 1997 so children could put some distance between themselves and those who wanted to force them to pick up guns and fight. They’ve continued training local kids as they’ve grown, and playing football themselves. Until now. It’s the first time in his life Nusee’s gone this long – three months – without playing, but they’re trying to organise something else.

“If you don’t do the necessary to prevent it, if we don’t have access to these things to help us fight the virus, then definitely what the stats say will come to pass. The call is not to be complacent. Now is the time is to step up the fight. Even though we are doing it with great caution.”

Around 30 team members are going to those people that are less fortunate, those who can’t afford the necessary items, or who haven’t learnt the lessons of prevention yet, to help them mobilise.

“There are people still taking risks to play football for a few minutes for excitement. One morning, we said to them, ‘There’s no need for you guys to go and practise because you don’t know that you might have contracted the virus. You could infect up to 21 other persons in a game of football, and not just them but their families and friends.’

“It’s worked so far.”

“We’re praying things can get better and we can go about our normal business.”

To contribute to Millennium Stars anti-Ebola programme, visit www.startsomegood.com/ebolastars

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