Saturday, 23 August 2014

Hands Off!!

One of the most difficult things for me to cope with at the moment is the no touching. Usually on greeting people here the first thing to do is shake hands, or hug if you are good friends - not any more, now that Ebola is here that's a no-no.

It's not until I tried not to do it that I realised just how much we all touch each other in the course of a normal day, it is strange not to have any human touch......it's doesn't feel normal......it's lonely.

I don't think of myself as a touchy person, I'm not one for hugging all and sundry - who'd have thought I'd miss human touch so much!

In Sierra Leone we usually shake hands a lot, from formal handshakes, to the three stage friends handshake to bumping fists.......all of that is gone for now. It feels like something is missing to greet someone and not shake their hand, it feels rude and the greeting feels incomplete.

Some people are bumping elbows as a way of greeting, but to me that feels really awkward.......my approach is to give a quick wave as I'm approaching then keep my hands firmly by my side. If someone comes into my office I keep my hands beneath the desk and just smile and welcome them until they are seated. Other people keep their hands in their pockets or clasped behind their back.

Most people are avoiding contact as much as possible, but some people come in for a handshake or hug and I have to deflect that - some people have got hold of me before I've realised they are going to and I have to extricate myself and tell them they shouldn't really do that, they need to keep themselves safe.

What makes it even harder is that because I'm a westerner a lot of people presume that I can't have Ebola - I've tried to explain that I'm just as much a possible threat to others as they are to me, but people just laugh and say 'oh no, you're safe'. So where perhaps people are being careful to avoid contact with their fellow countrymen, they see so reason to take the same care around me.

Are we being over careful? I don't really know.
I know it's very unlikely that I'll catch Ebola from a handshake or hug....but really, can I take the risk, small as it is? I don't think so.......I've seen what Ebola can do, I've read the stories of the suffering, I've seen the panic on peoples faces when an Ebola ambulance passes.

Try it and see, try not to touch anyone outside your own household. Wash your hands or use hand sanitiser whenever you inadvertently brush against someone or touch a door handle or borrow a pen.

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