I always get so frustrated with the media. I always hated the media for the following reasons: 1. It skews our perception on what’s important news, whether it’s blowing a story out of proportion or incessantly jabbing on about idle celebrity gossip as if reporting what kind of toothpaste the second coming of Jesus used on his first day on Earth. 2. It tears apart celebrity lives. 3. It skews how children and young adults perceive themselves and the lives they should be leading. 4. It exposes what I would often consider sensitive information to anyone who can get ahold of the articles or clips, this including reports on military strategy or even problems that are weakening the country (and thereby making them more easily targeted). 5. It often publishes photos of people suffering, dying, and crying which are completely personal. 6. I don’t care if you enjoy journalism, I still think it’s selfish to make personal gains on articles that “expose the truth” i.e. get you a higher ranking and plaster such private moments over everyone’s front page. 7. Sometimes, it just plain old reports a topic miserably and inaccurately, such as the skewed article that recently described the recording of the Daily Show mascot issue and how the non-Indians were “attacked”, defending them. And now the media drives me even crazier because there are so many fake articles circulating and people blowing up over false alarms, like the one about Facebook beginning charges for its services in November.
Well, there’s a good, recent example of the media skewing our perceptions on current issues: The Ebola outbreak. IT’S IN THE USA OMG WHAT WILL WE EVER DO. I get it, it’s bad. People are dying. Unfortunately, this is Mother Nature sending us to our rooms without dinner. You think this is bad? I’m confident it’s about to get a hell of a lot worse over the next century, and I don’t mean in terms of Ebola. I mean all kinds of pandemonium. But that’s okay, just keep living your “modern” life and leave the future up to the hands of the future. That’s the American way. Live in the now, take all that you’re entitled to and whatever else you can snag up. I’m not even sure we can’t get through the next century without blowing each other off the face of the planet with weapons of mass destruction – but that’s not my point. My point is that indeed this Ebola spiel is not what the media is making it out to be. Yes, Ebola is also an RNA virus which spreads at a faster rate than Influenza, but its R0 (R-naught) value is actually fairly low. It’s lower than HIV and way, way, way lower than Measels. With one or two cases in the US, ones which have been brought here by volunteers in Africa, those have been well contained.
And that’s the key, really – containment. I’m so saddened by this epidemic because of my many friends in Benin, Togo, and Mali. I lived a short time in Ouidah just last year. But that means I’ve seen first-hand the porosity of the international borders. I literally walked across the border into Togo. It took a few minutes to present my Yellow Card (to prove I’ve had a yellow fever shot) and to get my visa stamped into my passport. I got my credentials checked on the Beninese side, then I passed through a door beside the car gateway to have the Togolese police take my currency, represent the money I paid with postage-like stamps, and place their signed seal over the visa. On the other side of the border, it was a chaotic mumbo-jumbo of women in colorful cloth and head wraps, hacking coconuts open and peddling bananas off as people ran back and forth across the road. Yes, in West Africa you carpool. I literally would stand on the roadway between Nigeria and Togo near the Kpasse market in Ouidah and flag a car down. Actually, I usually asked someone to do it for me. When a non-black flags down a car, everyone rushes to try to rip them off. When a black person flagged one for me, I could haggle the price with someone who may not have stopped to get an overpriced deal. I would jump into the back and keep moving left, left, left…to fit more and more passersby as we progressed towards wherever we were going. I’m telling you this to demonstrate the relaxed situation over there. Yeah, I would get yanked out of the car at random police barriers and have my credentials checked, but they were just looking for non-Africans who they might be able to bribe. Rarely did they do much policing. Once we got to a country border, it was a chaotic scramble to get the passengers to pick up visas by foot and cars driving through the gate to pick people up on the other side. When I went to Lome, I actually traded vehicles at the border. The driver asked to split my fee with his friend. Rattling, smoking clunkers would roll past us with 20 feet of bundles and bananas on top – and sometimes people – and up to 15 people crammed into small vans. Oh, when in Africa.
Ebola is spreading rapidly in West Africa. It’s spreading because of the porosity as I’ve described. It’s spreading because people don’t have the same sanitation as we do in the USA. That doesn’t mean the places are absolutely disgusting, not at all. It’s just not so freaking sterile either. Lome was actually probably the worst I’d seen. It had sanitation systems, but the streets were backed up with trash. I literally walked across a field of piles of burning trash on my way to see some soccer matches at the University. Benin is a skinny country, just like Togo, so the short trip to Lome already put me within sight of the country of Ghana. And a lot of the people out there, especially more rural peoples, have some fears of the incoming doctors. Treatment isn’t that easy, even with the supplies. Keeping everything sanitary is surely another horror. And living in Ouidah, Voodoo capital of West Africa, I saw firsthand how very unsanitary practices can contribute to the spread of diseases. While Ouidah villagers throw carcasses into the street and sell rotting animals for witchcraft spells, other groups of people are also known to wash dead bodies as tradition. So what would make an Ebola-plagued body any different?
Yet probably the final sad thing about the way the media is reporting this outbreak is the complete neglect Cameroon is getting. Again, I fear for my friends. I’ve been to Cameroon twice now, having spent a total of maybe 3 or so weeks in rural reaches of the country. The rural areas have a much more sterile feel, unless of course you walk through the market area where the trash accumulates or if you walk through the actual market day where what my group would call “fish that looks way too much like fish” and chopped-in-half goats would be lying out in the sun, accumulating masses of flies. Yes, you could be standing in the beignet booth and be overcome by the stench of ruminating death. But EBOLA EBOLA EBOLA – oh wait, 80 Nigerians at a camp died in Cameroon from cholera? There’s an outbreak of that TOO spreading around? Yeah, no one’s hearing about it. Why is that? It’s not “cool” enough or there’s too much to report on for Ebola? Can’t divert the audience’s attention? I don’t know, you could also run a story on “the end of the world”, portraying the two epidemics as wiping out Africa and coming thirstily for our continent. Oh, and I’m sick of seeing pictures of these suffering people. Does no one else feel bothered by it? How would you feel if you were the front page story??
That’s just my lunchtime rant. I’ll be thinking of my friends in those four countries.