Ebola… the stuff of history books, action thrillers, and cliche metaphors. And it’s here. Well, not here here but in Africa.
I’m going to Africa in January. You might be wondering if I’m crazy. But remember, we are talking about a continent. You can fit the entire United States, including Alaska, into Africa… three times. Also, consider that the Ebola outbreak is in west Africa and our work is in east Africa. As a comparison, that’s like someone in Toronto, Canada, being worried about an Ebola outbreak in Lima, Peru. And, yes, with air travel in this day and age, risk of transmission is slightly higher. But there are zero flights between east Africa and any African country with confirmed cases of Ebola—while the Ebola cases in Dallas did nothing to slow air traffic from Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, which is the 9th busiest airport in the world.
I say this, not to downplay the tragedy of Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, where nearly 5,000 people have died, but rather to illustrate how we often misunderstand the realities of what is happening in cultures and contexts on the other side of the world. The media wants us to buy into their world where everything clear cut, fits into a 3-column spread, and wraps up with a nice little punch line at the end. But that’s not the world we live in. Whether it’s fighting the spread of Ebola, reducing HIV/AIDS related deaths, or solving the water crisis, layers of complexity inhibit our ability to reduce problems to simple one-liners.
This work takes courage. When I joined Blood:Water in 2007, our Uganda partners had just stopped hiring military escorts to accompany them to drill wells in rural communities because of Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. I can confidently say that even if Ebola did make it to east Africa, our partners wouldn’t be going anywhere. And, honestly, I would probably still be visiting them. In a context where 5,000 children die each day from water borne diseases, what we do is that important. If we aren’t willing to trust God and walk alongside communities when they need us most, then we are in the wrong business. The humility, passion, and fortitude of our African friends is inspiring. It’s our privilege to work alongside them.