August 2nd, 2014 was a memorable day for most Atlantans. If it does not ring a bell, on August 2nd the first Ebola Patient, Dr. Brently was flown into Atlanta and checked into Emory hospital by the CDC. I remember the day clearly. I was running errands with a friend in Decatur when she nonchalantly tossed out a piece of information that would rock me for quite some time. “You know, today they flew in the American doctor from Africa who was infected with Ebola and took him to the Emory Hospital. He’s five miles down the road from us right now. I’m kind of freaked out. I mean it’s really scary, the thought of a disease like that spreading through the U.S.” I agreed as any normal person would, however the gravity of the situation managed to escape me. Day by day her words reappeared from the corner of my mind, until one day they finally sunk in. This could be like another bubonic plague, wiping out an entire population. Or it could be like polio, where mothers isolated their children in fear of catching the virus. In this case people were filled with a misinformed fear, a fear of the unknown, the what if? Situations like these prove to us, we are not that much different than we were fifty, a hundred, or even a thousand years ago. Fear still captivates our hearts because in these moments we realize we are only human and no matter how much we attempt to control nature, nature still controls us.
In a recent interview by BBC news, Dr. Tom Frieden alluded to this point, “I’m optimistic we can but it’s far from a sure thing,” in response to a claim that he was confident in the ability to bring the number down to zero Ebola cases. There is no way of knowing for sure whether we will be able to eradicate this epidemic. For us Atlantans it may seem unjust. Why should they bring in all of these patients with a life threatening disease into our city? How can they do this to us? But, the real question should be how could they not do this? Should we let our momentary fear paralyze us from solving quite a bigger problem? Should we let our momentary fear paralyze us from living our lives?
Recently, I attended an international conference for Slow Food in Turin, Italy called Terra Madre. One of the stories from the opening ceremony really stayed with me. The representative from Sierra Leone told a story of how Ebola has changed their daily lives. “Every half a kilometer we are stopped for temperature checks. If our temperature is higher than 38 degrees we must be sent to quarantine. We cannot walk in groups of five or larger. Children cannot attend schools. Our markets have been shut down. We have no way to exchange food anymore. We used to laugh and embrace each other in the streets. Now we must lift our arms and shake our hands in the air to show joy towards one another,” he finished trembling with anger and sadness. I sat among thousands feeling like an ant, so small and insignificant to this monstrous problem that has changed the way an entire society lives. So today, I tell myself, there are greater things out there beyond us. We live in a global society and we cannot be afraid of what may cross our shores.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Atlanta Council on International Relations.