The slogan has been splashed and adulterated onto everything – from tee shirts, to posters to mouse mats and even shaved into people’s hairstyles.
Keep Calm & Carry On
At first it was cute; a bit of nostalgia for people who weren’t alive at the time of the Second World War when the threat of a Nazi invasion looming pushed the government to put the “Keep Calm and Carry On” slogan on a poster to encourage war-weary Britons (For the record, the Ministry of Information posters never saw the light of day after they were deemed to be too patronising. A very clever man from Weybridge, Surrey, recently gained an EU trademark for the wording of the slogan. So each time you see it on a fridge magnet you can picture a big fat cheque winging its way to him). But now it’s become annoying.
Knowing my feelings on the matter you will then have to appreciate that I have coined my own Keep Calm & Carry On slogan only because I really think it is relevant.
So Keep Calm & Carry On – Nigerian government
And against all expectations and surprising Nigerians within and without the country, the government really did have it under control. So much so that on 21st of October 2014, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially declared that Nigeria had won the battle against Ebola. No sooner had the word got out than articles started appearing on how Nigeria did it and what the rest of the world could learn.
Now, I’m no expert on the prevention of the spread of tropical diseases so I don’t know if I can add much on what exactly it was that Nigeria did to quell the epidemic. But I can tell you what it felt like to a) be contemplating leaving a what-we-felt-at-the-time was a safe, Ebola-free zone to return to the centre of hell where you would drop down dead with blood spurting out of your eyeballs if someone with a fever so much as looked at you. Well, that was the impression we were given! And then b) what it felt like to actually live in the centre of the storm.
The view from afar
The biblical plagues were apparently a walk in the park compared to the havoc Ebola was wreaking in Nigeria. Whole communities were being decimated in their millions. Airlines were pulling all flights to and from the affected countries in West Africa. Merely mentioning you had been in Nigeria (even if you had left before the outbreak!) was reason enough for you to be run out of your local Sainsburys and your kids barred from the Jungle Gym on the corner. In some places you risked being quarantined for up to a month for having flown over the fly zone of an affected country. There was a high sense of emergency and the fear and panic was evident in the voices of newscasters and reporters.
RUN! DON’T WALK!
FEAR FOR YOUR LIVES ALL YE WHO ENTER!
For Nigerians who had travelled abroad for summer and expatriates that had returned home, we didn’t know what to think or how to handle the situation. The new school year was fast approaching but who in their right mind would leave the safety of England, America, South Africa, Italy or wherever to dive into the middle of a modern-day plague? So flights were cancelled, nannies, housekeepers, chefs and drivers were given extended holidays, on full pay, INDEFINITELY and you remained in the spare bedroom of your relative (who by this time was sick and tired of seeing your faces!) with half packed suitcases in a limbo land of indecision.
Do you enrol the children in a local school because GCSEs, SATs and other exams wait for no man – rabied fruit-bats notwithstanding? Or do you brazen it out, go back to Lagos and cancel all non-essential social gatherings?
- Swimming pool party? Don’t think so! Despite the chlorine, everybody knows that water carries diseases faster than lightning.
- Kids birthday party? When Birthday Boy blows out his candles there will surely be a drop of deadly, Ebola-laden spittle that will shoot right up my child’s left nostril. No, out of the question.
- Grocery shopping in Shoprite? Only if everyone is wearing surgical masks, full-on armour plated shirts and snow boots.
Then President Goodluck Jonathan announced that no school in the whole of Nigeria could reopen for the new school year. He thanked the crowd, gave a wink and the gun to the nearest journalist then waltzed off leaving MILLIONS of parents thinking
Are you kidding me!?!
- Until WHEN exactly? You know, could you give us a ball park figure as to how long this summer-holiday-extension period is supposed to last? Are we talking a couple of weeks here (totally do-able, we’re pretty worried about Ebola too) or several months while we let the epidemic run its course (err, totally NOT do-able for any right-minded parent, certainly not a Tiger Mum!).
- And HOW am I supposed to entertain 3 kids already climbing up the walls with boredom?
- And WHO is going to cover the bills when at least one full-time working parent has to homeschool the children?
- And WHAT is going to happen to their academic progress in that indefinite period?
- long discussions into the night with hubby,
- polling your friends (in similar situations but in other countries) via FaceBook on what they were going to do,
- reading everything the United Nations and the W.H.O and your embassy had to say on the travel risk and
- begging someone from social services to give you a straight answer on whether or not it would be considered child abuse to return your child to a country that had a virtual DO-NOT-CROSS-THIS-LINE-ON-POINT-OF-DEATH police tape around it
You finally decide to risk it. You’re going back… and your taking the children with you!
The airport is like a scene from a World War I movie when the soldiers bravely march down the street and their families look on wiping tears from their eyes. Grandma and Grandpa try their best not to beg you to stay… for the sake of the children. Think of those poor, innocent babes! You avoid catching their eyes, the ones beseeching you to reconsider this foolhardy decision. Instead you take on a brisk and dementedly optimistic voice. “I’m sure it’s all been blown out of proportion and the risk will be minimal. Anyway, we’ll be avoiding all social gatherings and I’ve already told Chef that we will give our usual order of desiccated fruit bat and mangy wild monkey a miss for a few weeks, at least until things calm down.” With your attempt at levity poorly received, you usher your brood through airport security.
On the other end of your flight, apart from a bit of a queue as passengers get their temperature read and fill in forms informing authorities of exactly where they will be in Nigeria should it transpire that a fellow passenger had successfully masked the symptoms of full-blown Ebola infection and now everyone needs to spend a little time away from the rest of society, you quickly realise something. There is a palpable lack of hysteria. Everyone is just going about their day-to-day business as if… well as if the Black Death wasn’t at their doorstep. Hadn’t anyone told them they were all about to die?
Apparently not. People were still shopping. They were going to church, shaking hands (surely not!), taking money from each other, even SWIMMING!!! But they weren’t ignorant of what was going on. I mean, it was in all the papers, on all the radio stations and on the news on the telly.
Having thought about it long and hard, I can only deduce that Nigeria beat the deadly (and let’s not kid ourselves, Ebola has no known cure and as much as 90% of people who get it can die from it) epidemic by taking a rational and sane approach to it. Something that the rest of the world’s press did not! The government kept its cool. It was almost as if they all had “Keep Calm & Carry On” written on post-it notes that they stuck all round their office. The tone was serious but tempered. There were no inflammatory comments or divulging of information that that the general public would find it hard to cope with. There was reassurance and most importantly they looked to be and were doing something about it.
International health authorities heralded Nigeria and Senegal for their response. Both nations reacted quickly when the disease showed up within their borders by isolating patients, tracing and monitoring their contacts, and educating the public about how to protect themselves.
When you are fearful or panicked, you don’t behave rationally. You return to animal instinct. You see death everywhere and you look for ‘evidence’ to support your internal feeling of doom. You stress and your body responds negatively, making you ill with worry. Your immunity drops and you’re more susceptible to whatever infection is prevailing in your area. And should that be an area where the epidemic is claiming lives in the thousands….You protect yourself, you go to ground, you reach for family. And that is precisely what is happening in Liberia, and Sierra Leone. People are overwhelmed with fear – they can’t process government health warnings to stay away from sick loved ones or reason that giving themselves up into the hands of medical professionals is their best hope. The already-scarce medical resources are overwhelmed with need and medical staff go AWOL. The government are overwhelmed with the enormity of corralling the contagion; they do too little and too late.
When there is calm – as there was in Nigeria – people are reassured.
- They suddenly find the wherewithal to demand that state and government schools remain closed until there is proper provision of running water and soap… in schools that have had no walls, or chairs or proper toilet facilities for decades!
- They put up large government health warnings on their shop fronts showing someone suffering from Ebola and describing the symptoms. (Mmm, lovely. Must be great for business!).
- They submit to standing in line every school drop off and pick up so that school nurses can take their temperature with hand held thermometers and then happily wash their hands with anti-bacterial soap and water in newly installed sinks at school gates.
- They actually make use of hand sanitisers strategically placed in various locations in public places. Of course they know THEY don’t have Ebola and society has nothing to fear from them. But in a country that has an ingrained and blatant disregard for infection control, where grown men have to be deterred from ‘easing themselves’ willy-nilly (I couldn’t resist!) in public with signs that say “Do not urinate here”, it’s amazing to see people walking around with their little bottles of hand sanitisers.
Given the state of Nigeria’s electricity infrastructure, the roads, the cavalier attitude to governance and proper procedure, the way Nigeria handled this epidemic was nothing short of miraculous.
So the news that a third-grade Nigerian girl in Connecticut was banned from school for 21 days amid Ebola fears when she returned from a trip to Lagos, for a family wedding is saddening. The school’s Superintendent claimed “My staff and I proceeded in good faith to respond to this public health issue.” The decision to keep the girl out of school came after complaints from parents of her classmates. The girl’s father was told by city officials that if he tried to bring his daughter to school, police would remove her.
For Americans that view every Nigerian as a carrier of the contagion to their great land I would like to respectfully point out that Ebola landed on the shores of Nigeria in the same way it got into America. Everyone who contacted it could be linked directly to an initial case of an infected health care worker from Liberia.
The WHO credits Nigeria for quickly identifying those who came in contact with this first patient and closely monitoring them for 21 days. Nearly 900 contacts were traced in Lagos and the southern oil hub of Port Harcourt. Specially trained case workers monitored them twice daily, conducting about 18,500 face-to-face interviews. In marked contrast, public health officials in the United States have been keeping tabs “rather loosely” on most of those who came into contact with Ebola patients. One nurse was allowed to travel by plane with a low-grade fever before being diagnosed with Ebola, and a lab technician went on a cruise whilst being ‘monitored’ for possible exposure (he later tested negative for the virus).
At the time of writing there had been no cases of Ebola virus disease reported in Nigeria for 48 days (more than two incubation periods) following the confirmed 20 cases (8 of them fatal) that were reported in Lagos and Port Harcourt. The USA has had 4 confirmed cases with 1 death occurring on 8th October – meaning the USA hasn’t been declared Ebola-free by the WHO.
I wonder if British Airways will pull flights leaving Houston?