University student James Tayali gives his opinion on the ebola outbreak.

Ebola reaction among African community in the East Bay

on October 28, 2014

Nigerian Independence Day is Oct. 1, but for U.C. Berkeley Nigerians the party took place a few days later, at a hall near campus. It was a party crowded with people and colors from Nigeria and the rest of the African continent.

You saw young Nigerian women in their bubas, the Nigerian blouses; their iros, wrap skirts; which in Yoruba usually worn with gele, the head wrap.  People sang the national anthem.  The smells of the broiled beefsteaks, platters of groundnut soup and garlic chicken, and puff puff, the fried Nigerian donut dessert, wafted through the room.   Four young women shifted through different African dances, mixing the traditional with the modern, jumping from goalala to bobaraba to yahoozee, dancing in their mini wrap skirts.

But there was a somber note to the afternoon, as with many other gatherings of African communities throughout the East Bay – the constant talk of the epidemic that has already killed more than 4000 people in five African countries, including Nigeria.

A young lady quieted the crowd and summoned people’s attention.   “What do you guys know about Ebola?” she asked.

From the back of the room, someone said: “Thousands of people have died.”

A woman called out, “I heard it has been estimated that 1.4 million people will get infected by January if it’s not contained.”

Some of these numbers are familiar by now to anybody watching the news about Ebola. But among African communities of the East Bay – in celebrations, social gatherings, beauty shops, restaurants, churches, and mosques — this news is something different.  For many people, word of the epidemic is coming from home, from the frightened call from a family member or the daily anxious conversation by Facebook or Skype video chat.

My own family for example, lives in Sudan.  So far there are no reports of Ebola in the city.  But from personal experience I know that there is no real border control between Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a country that is not prepared to deal with infectious disease.  So when a news report appeared recently a town in Congo had been quarantined after a confirmation of 52 Ebola cases, <http://www.who.int/csr/don/2012_10_26/en/>

Orientale town in Isiro region in Congo has been put under quarantine by the Congolese health ministry after the WHO confirmed more 52 cases, which meant a threat much closer to South Sudan, Uganda, Ethiopia, and to my own family.

African communities in the East Bay are diverse groups, from a huge variety of nations, with complicated differences in cultures, religions, and languages. Now Ebola is the dread they have in common.   The voices recorded here express some reactions, from West Africans and other local people directly connected to parts of the world in which Ebola is a real threat, on a massive scale, to human life.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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