Ebola and the Peace Corps Life

It’s been in the news that the two Samaritan’s Purse worker’s who have been infected with Ebola have been evacuated to Atlanta to receive treatment by Emory Hospital and the Center’s for Disease Control in Atlanta. My newsfeed is exploding with both expatriates and Atlantans complaining or venting their worries to the World Wide Web. I have answered a half dozen concerned emails from friends and family (thank you!), some begging me to throw in the towel and scurry home.

Here is my reality in Cameroon: I live about 120 kilometres from the Nigerian border by air. Yes, the land borders are still open and to assume Africans don’t travel would be making a false judgment call about African economic power. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have all evacuated their Peace Corps Volunteers, while having two Volunteers in isolation due to potential exposure to Ebola. As of today, there has not been media coverage of a single death or illness due to Ebola in Cameroon. I am still here focusing on my community. And I will be here until I get a phone call from one of my bosses telling me to pack my bags. To leave now would be preemptive and excessive. I came here to complete 27 months of service, and I am not backing down.

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I used to live in Atlanta less than 3 miles from the Centers for Disease Control. I am irritated when I see people posting alarmist articles about the CDC treating the Americans with Ebola flown home in an effort to save their lives. These people are someone’s daughter or son, they are parents, public servants and neighbors. The chance of survival in Liberia is small, but it increases greatly in Atlanta under the care of renowned doctors and professionals. Americans have pride in the world class medical research and care at our disposal. To deny Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol of that care would be morally bankrupt. I have personally met a few doctors who work at the CDC and they are a force to be reckoned with: they have the three C’s that are needed to change the world as an American—courage, compassion and competence. To treat Dr. Brantly and Writebol  might lead to new insights on how to treat victims of Ebola abroad. Looking at the dismal amount of research being done on viruses that tend to only affect Sub Saharan Africa and other tropical Global South countries such as Ebola in comparison to diseases that affect the Global North where a large amount of research dollars go toward cancer research which largely goes untreated here with minimal equipment available to even give a proper diagnosis is disheartening. Turning our backs on West Africa stinks of ignoring a disease because it is largely an African problem and will never be financially profitable to pharmacy companies.


On Friday, I was talking to my friend Anna about the minutia of a conversation I had with someone, trying too hard to please everyone. She said “Elise, do you know the Serenity Prayer?”. Yes, of course I know it, like peanut butter to jelly her reminder triggered that part of me that allowed me to acknowledge that I am not in control. I let it go. If I was in Atlanta, I would remind people of the Serenity Prayer. There are people protecting you in Atlanta and people protecting me in Cameroon.

With that in mind, I applaud the CDC and Emory for bringing Dr. Brantly  and Writebol home. I am proud to be an American citizen where we take on the hard stuff and deal with things even when the odds are stacked against us.

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