Full confession: I work .8 miles from where the infected ebola patient was staying. Yep, Google Maps tells me that I could walk to his apartment in five minutes. The chance that he passed by the ESL school where I work is pretty high, considering that all roads in the neighborhood lead to Wal-Mart. I might have waved hello to his girlfriend in the neighborhood parade last year or taken an application for classes from his neighbor.
Thus far, the backlash from finding out that someone who lives in our neighborhood and could have possibly had contact with our students hasn’t been too bad. We’ve had a handful of volunteers refuse to come teach their class. Last Thursday, I had to comfort and reassure a mother who received the phone call from DISD schools that her child attends one of the schools with the children who had possibly been exposed to the virus. Even though the message she received was in Spanish, she was too panicked to be able to understand that the message was just asking her to not panic.
The neighborhood, my neighborhood where I’ve invested three and a half years of my heart and soul, is the densest area in Dallas. At it’s core, the neighborhood has 41,000 people packed like sardines into a 2.53 mile area, many of them refugees and immigrants from countries across the globe.
Many of these people have undergone horrific, terrible tragedies to find their way here. The man who is missing the fingers on his left hand because he was captured and tortured by the Burmese army. The woman who lost her short term memory because she underwent some sort of horrific ordeal that resulted in brain injury when she was fleeing Ethiopia. The Eritrean man who escaped his country with barely his life, only to come to the US and be in No Man’s Land while he waits for the court system to decide whether he can claim asylum or not.
I’ve heard lots of opinions about what has happened recently. Understandably, Americans are nervous and scared. We are terrified of a disease that we aren’t sure we fully understand.
I’ve heard that the man who came to the US with this terrible disease is selfish, that he is an a$$hole, that the only reason he came here was so that he could get better medical treatment when he got ebola. The family members that were with him had to be moved to an undisclosed location because 1) the apartment needed to be cleaned, but also 2) they are probably scared of the backlash that they might receive for allowing Duncan to reside with them. A cursory search of the apartment complex brings up a review that accuses “filthy africuns spewing the ebola virus from their anal cavities like (I think you get the picture)”.
Blech. That last one gives me a stomach ache.
Here is what annoys me about Americans (all of us, myself included).
We are vastly ego-centric. We know nothing about what is happening in other parts of the world. I have friends from China and Taiwan and Thailand. They know our celebrities, our politics, our major news stories. I know absolutely nothing about what goes on over there. Most Americans don’t. More importantly, I’m not sure we care. Sure, every few years, there will be a sensational news story about the trapped miners in Chile or the terrible mall takeover in Kenya, but, on the whole, we are more content to catch a 30 second blurb on the news and then go back to talking about Amanda Bynes’ latest shenanigans.
Case in point? The CDC first reported on an ebola outbreak in Guinea last March. Ebola has been ravishing Africa for almost 7 months and I didn’t hear a peep about it on social media.
More than 7000 cases have been confirmed. 3100 people have died. The CDC website lists these grave statistics if something doesn’t change:
- By September 30, 2014, CDC estimates that there will be approximately 8,000 cases, or as high as 21,000 cases if corrections for underreporting are made.
- Without additional interventions or changes in community behavior, CDC estimates that by January 20, 2015, there will be a total of approximately 550,000 Ebola cases in Liberia and Sierra Leone or 1.4 million if corrections for underreporting are made.
- Cases in Liberia are currently doubling every 15-20 days, and those in Sierra Leone and Guinea are doubling every 30-40 days.
Ebola has been scary in Africa for months.
But, now that it’s in our backyard, we suddenly care and we care a lot.
Here’s what I’m asking for as you respond to the Dallas ebola situation: compassion. We need to be more involved with what is happening in the world. We need to care that 3100 people have died from ebola in Africa. We need to put ourselves in the shoes of Liberians as fear and panic takes told.
We need to care about the refugees and immigrants who are scared stiff about what is happening in their neighborhood. We need to be praying for the Liberian and African communities, instead of demanding that they go home or treating them like lepers. We need to understand that they are in a new country, with a new language, with a new culture and they’re terrified. We need to fight against the inevitable backlash that our refugee communities will face. We need to be people of peace in the face of panic. We need to make sure that justice and love and compassion, not fear, are what guides us.
Last Thursday, I went into the classrooms at work to do a survey. One of the questions asked that students give us information about their children. The stipulation is that their children must be here in the United States, living with them. As I was collecting the forms and double-checking the information, I asked a student, “No children?” “In Africa”, she responded as she started to cry. I pulled her out into the hallway and held her while she wept for her babies who are thousands of miles away on a continent that is being ravaged by a scary disease.
Many of us know nothing about true suffering. Let’s remember to have compassion for our brothers and sisters.