Today Sierra Leone was officially declared “Ebola-free”, having successfully gone 42 days (two incubation periods) without a new case of Ebola. In neighboring Guinea, where the disease outbreak began, health workers continue to struggle for its eradication, working to save patients only a few miles from Sierra Leone’s border. When I was in Sierra Leone in August 2014, I never imagined it would take so long to beat this disease, which claimed the lives of 4000 “Saloneans”; dealt a massive setback to an economy that was still rebounding from years of war; and virtually destroyed its nascent tourist industry. Causing no shortage of alarm to my friends and family back home, I tried to get out and meet some of the brave people struggling to maintain a sense of normalcy, and see a little of the once-bustling capital – and shared my experiences in a handful of blog posts.
I remember one day getting caught in a massive rainstorm one day while I was downtown, and I sheltered under the roof of one of the buildings along with about a dozen folks who were clearly from the lower economic rungs. I bought a couple of cokes and shared them around as we waited. A group of about a dozen boys – aged 8 to 13 or so – had been playing soccer. When the rain started coming down in earnest (torrents), they simply stripped down completely, and continued playing, barefoot and without a stitch of clothing, on one of the streets of downtown Freetown!
When I think of Sierra Leone, I also think of people like Sergeant Marsh. To explain who Sergeant Marsh is, I’m re-publishing below a post I had previous shared in the (soon-to-be defunct) blog site I put together in my “100 strangers” photography project. Hopefully he and all of his fellow Saloneans will be able to move forward and put this terrible disease behind them for good.
Sergeant Marsh stopped me when I was walking through a market in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and asked what I was doing. “Taking photos,” I answered. He had a very serious, stern look and I thought he objected to this. “Have you been shooting all of this?” he asked, gesturing at the people and the flooded road in the street market. I told him I was a tourist, and I had snapped a few photos. He explained to me that he patrolled this area, and in the market, the vendors all threw their trash in the gutters, which caused them to get blocked, and the rainwater (it had been raining for days) then ran in the streets. It was his job to get them to stop doing this. He introduced me to his colleagues, who seemed utterly bored by the whole thing, and emphasized the presence of the “female constable.” He asked what I planned to do with the pictures I was taking and I cautiously offered, “share them with friends on Facebook so they can see what it’s like in Freetown.” He then insisted that I provide a positive caption – I should upload these photos to the internet, and tell the world that Sergeant Marsh and his colleagues were keeping the streets safe. That people should know this is a safe and nice place to visit. At this point I asked if I could also snap his photo. He agreed, and repeated what I should put in the photo captions, and re-introduced his colleagues.
Check out how sharp his uniform looks. Sergeant Marsh is doing his part to keep the streets safe, and wants all of you to know that Freetown is a wonderful place to visit. I think he’s doing a great job. I hope I run into him again so I can tell him I have made him “stranger number 84″ in my “100 strangers” project.
You can check out the other photos I took in Sierra Leone in this Flickr album.