XXII. Entrepreneurship & Kittens

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Lumelang batho ba lefatše (hello people of the world),
Happy New Year from Lesotho! I brought in 2015 here in Thaba Tseka with some great friends. The countdown is one I’ll never forget as an all too ominous thunderclap struck at midnight. This was followed by scores of Chinese fireworks and gunshots into the air. I used the latter as an opportunity to explain how gravity works to a few of the police offers, but I don’t think it mattered. The Basotho rarely stay up past 10pm, so this was a new experience in itself.

Working at the Car Wash, yeah!

I recently received a generous grant from my brethren at the St. Mary of Vernon Men’s Club for an educational movie screening project which is still in the works. There was a surplus so I began seeking out business owners to see if I could help them improve their operations. I met one young man of 21 years who had serious ambitions of starting a car wash in town. Being the eldest orphan of 3 siblings, it was his responsibility to care for the family- a struggle that’s all too common in this country. I could immediately tell he had serious intent and dedication to making this business work. It was a matter of livelihood and I was more than happy to help. This was his first endeavor into entrepreneurship so it was a great opportunity to educate and assist.

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New pressure-washer

The first step was to create a business plan. We met and wrote one out on paper in a manner of few hours. He insisted it be done this way since he doesn’t have a computer/smartphone. I told him it was important to eventually transfer it to a digital medium for redundancy/prosperity sake. Once we crunched the numbers, he was ecstatic to realize he’d only need to wash 8 cars per day (one per hour) to turn a nice profit. One that would not only put food on the table but also allow for further savings/investment into the business. I told him a major condition to receiving this grant was that the money be used solely for his business/family and he agreed almost vehemently.

He sought to operate on his friend’s compound on the main road by the markets. This was an ideal location and also didn’t have any overhead. The grant was mainly used for the purchase of a pressure washer which cost about $80 USD. He already had a vacuum (ubiquitously called Hoovers here) and the towels for drying were a very cheap purpose. The only monthly expense was electricity which we calculated to $10 USD/month.

He’s been up and running for a month now. Business has been flowing as expected. He says some days he’ll have more business than others which is to be expected. I instructed him to keep a log for every customer he services. I plan to write a follow-up in the following months.

Kittens

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8 weeks old

Back in September when we were consolidated due to security concerns, I regrettably had to leave my beloved cat Motse behind. I ensured enough food and water was left out to provide sustenance for a month. I also gave my key to a trusted local friend to check in once a week. Alas, this wasn’t enough to keep a socialized cat caged in a house by herself. By the third week she managed to push open a window which required strength I didn’t know a cat could possess. I imagine her heat cycle was also a driving factor. Either way, when I returned, she had been out for 48 hours.. more than enough time to find a gentleman caller. Female cats have an astounding 98% conception rate while in heat so I knew she took my absence as an opportunity to multiply. And multiply she did, giving birth to 3 kittens on 26 November.

With the help of a friend I prepared a nice little nest and fed Motse milk and chicken to keep her calcium and protein levels up, respectively. Other than that her instincts took care of the rest. It was surprisingly effortless. As of now all 3 kittens have been placed in new homes to my relief. Towards the 10th week they became rather insane with nonstop kitten energy. Cuteness turned into destruction and it was time to say goodbye. It was a fun little experience however, and it turned out to be an interesting process to observe.

Here are some pictures of the little rascals:
– – http://imgur.com/a/twAjg
Thanks for reading!

XXI. Public Service Games, Graduation Party, and Christmas at Ha Mathaba

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Lakaletsa Keresemese e monate le mahlohonolo a selemo se secha!
(Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)

With 2014 officially in the books I can safely say it’s been a uniquely fantastic year. I approach 2015 with cautious optimism as I work to wrap up my open projects and make the most of my time left here. July will be my final month of service before heading back to the States. The final month of 2014 was a relaxing one. Summer break for the schools meant a lot more leisure time to travel around with my DSLR to capture the nature beauty of this area of the world. Soccer continued unabated and I was able to celebrate Christmas with my 2nd family at Ha Mathaba.

Public Service Games

The national football league takes a 2 month break for the holiday season. During this time most people travel to their home of origin to be with their extended families and clans. The civil workers take this opportunity to host a variety of sporting  tournaments under the moniker of the “Public Service Games”. I was invited to play goalkeeper for the Matichere (teachers) and of course accepted the offer without hesitation. The first game(and semi-final) was played on December 4th against the corrections officers. I didn’t realize beforehand how popular these games were. For league games there’s usually 50-100 spectators in the stands, but for this game there had to be at least 500 in attendance.

The first half was a battle in the midfield and I didn’t see much action. We scored within the first minute of the 2nd half and from here I was confident of our chances.

At the 70’ it seemed our guys began to tire. The oppositions attack was growing more frequent and our guys were struggling to come up with an answer. It came to a boil when one of our defenders committed a foul in the box with about 10 minutes remaining. Penalty kicks are something I have little experience in as they are not common in indoor soccer. But through excessive FIFA gaming I was able to employ a basic strategy. The player lined up for his shot. I correctly guessed his direction and location, but unfortunately he put it right on the post and I missed it by only a few inches. With the score tied at 1-1 overtime was all but guaranteed. Instead of playing an extra time period of 30 minutes, they instead went right into a penalty kick shootout. The scene was unreal. Almost all 500 spectators formed a half circle around the goal.

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Matichere 2014

Amidst chants and singing I could tell this was going to be epic. They had first shot so I was thrust right into the spotlight. 1 on 1; striker vs. keeper… with a disproportionally sized goal to defend. The odds are always in favor with the striker in such a situation. I guessed left, he went right. Oops. Thankfully our striker responded in kind, so it was tied 1-1 at this point. As I entered for the 2nd attempt, the chants grew louder and I could tell the crowd was rallying behind the foreigner. My adrenaline was flowing as the striker positioned the ball on the line. I knew he was going to go low-right. “Strong foot across the body,” I thought. With that I timed the dive almost to perfection and swatted the ball safely to the right. The crowd erupted. This gave us the clear advantage so long as our strikers were successful with the next two attempts. Once again, the pressure got to our striker and he lifted his shot over the goal. Eish. He was a close friend and colleague so I ran up to him after his miss and offered condolences while also promising to save the next shot for him. I don’t like to break promises and with that I correctly guessed low-right, again, and made the fingtertip save. This time some of the fans ran on to the pitch to give high-fives and hugs. It wasn’t over yet, we still had to score in our attempt. Alas, we did, and a massive celebration ensued that carried into the wee hours. That win guaranteed us a spot in the final and a chance to win and go on to compete in the national tournament. Moreover, the final was to be played in Katse, arguably the most scenic area in the country.

Fate was against us, however, and we struggled to keep up with the highly touted Police team. They beat us 0-2 in a surprisingly well-matched game. The local radio station broadcasted both games live, and to my surprise I was a major talking point. They referred to me solely as “Kopano the lekhooa” which means “Kopano the white guy”. The fact this echoed through the mountain airwaves of this remote part of this world is hilarious to me. Apparently they had nothing but high praise and respect for my keeping efforts.

College Graduation Party

One of my friends and former colleagues at Thaba Tseka High School invited me to attend his sister’s graduation ceremony. She recently earned a teaching degree from the University of Lesotho. Per tradition, her family hosted a “mokete”, or village party to commemorate her successful efforts. Having been to a similar graduation ceremony during HVV, I accepted the offer with great anticipation for the event.

It would be rather difficult to describe the day’s various performances and speeches, so instead I invite you to check out this video compilation I made:
– – http://youtu.be/a3pcKh2BgDs

Christmas at Ha Mathaba

For the second consecutive year I spent Christmas with my closet friend and his family here in Thaba Tseka. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I adopted their surname last year when they slaughtered a sheep in a traditional ceremony typically invoked when a new child is born into the clan. The sense of family is strong and Christmas is the culmination of that. Granted it’s summer and felt more like 4th of July; the core concept of coming together and celebrating amongst family parallels with the holiday back home. One significant (and refreshing) difference was the lack of commercialism. Basotho enjoy exchanging presents, but it’s of their own accord. I didn’t see or hear a single advertisement for Christmas.  Being here really exemplifies the vast difference in how the holiday is celebrated in regards to gifts. The very concept of Black Friday is ridiculous when viewing it from the perspective of a Mosotho.

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Bo_Ntate

The Mathabas wholeheartedly understand and sympathize with the difficulties of being on the other side of the planet for a holiday like this and as such made an extraordinary effort to make the celebration an inclusive experience. For example, throughout the course of the day they all made an effort to speak only English. Just imagine celebrating a holiday with only speaking your limited 2nd language.  For this I attempted to respond in Sesotho. I think I exhausted every word I knew that day. It’s this type mutual respect that has allowed me the deepest of integration within their culture- to the point that skin complexion and foreign ethnicity becomes a nonfactor.

The day began with us driving around trying to find a grill stand. I love to watch Basotho in action when it comes to last second preparations. Seems to happen every time. Yet they always prevail which is equally as captivating. After securing the braai stand we picked up some meat from the butcher and a few quarts from the bar. From there we headed back and began the festivities. It didn’t seem right to listen to Christmas music wearing shorts and grilling outside, so I put on my BBQ playlist consisting of CCR, the Boss, Johnny Cougar, and the Grateful Dead. The women stayed in the kitchen to prepare the side dishes (per cultural gender norm) and the men tended to the meat. It was a glorious feast indeed. Then it turned into a dance party to the likes of house music. I was able to briefly Skype the family which was great. Overall it was a memorable Christmas and the last I’ll be experiencing in Lesotho for the foreseeable future.

 

Thanks for reading, as always. May the New Year be prosperous and fulfilling for you all. From Africa, here’s to 2015!

XX. Soccer, Durban Holiday, and a PC Thanksgiving

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Happy Holidays my friends and family,

Milestone post  #20. Only 8 more entries left? Yikes. Summer is here and there’s a noticeable energetic vibe emanating from most of the townspeople. Everyone is outside; either tending to their gardens or having leisurely meetings with friends or family. Sports matches are in full swing and I’ve been having a blast playing in the main attraction: Bolo (soccer). A close friend travelled a great distance to see what the hype was all about. We toured through Lesotho and South Africa, covering a total of 700 miles. Upon returning I celebrated Thanksgiving in a truly grand manner with my fellow Thaba Tseka volunteers.

Bolo

Pregame tunes

Pregame tunes

The weekend of the 15th was loaded with matches. The fixtures couldn’t extend beyond  this date because the league officially enters the transfer window and break is called for the holidays. They follow the same exact format as FIFA leagues wherein the season is broken into two legs; the 2nd resuming in mid-January and going through the end of March. My team, Little Roses FC, current sits in 5th place after a string of draws and loses knocked us down from the Top 3 in November. The gaffer (manager) seems to be confident in our chances of making a run in the 2nd half. The competition is stiff and that certainly won’t be an easy task. However, the team along with myself are up to the challenge. Most importantly we’re having a good time out there. And I’m in the best shape I’ve been since high school. Playing at this altitude will undoubtedly be an advantage upon returning stateside.

Durban Holiday

The planning started around March. A close friend looked up the prices for a round trip from Chicago to Johanusburg and was surprised to find the tickets literally half the price he was expecting. I was very excited at the prospect of traveling around the region with a brother who has never been to the area, let alone the continent. And that’s exactly what we did. Having been to Durban with the parents and sister a few months back, I was thrilled to hit up the true nightlife of Durban while also spending some time in Lesotho.

We met in Bloemfontein on the 13th and spent two nights there before departing for Thaba Tseka on the 15th. I had a game the following day so not only did he get to experience the epic views from the ascent to TT, but also the mayhem that is football day in Lesotho. Unfortunately Little Roses FC got smoked that day, but that didn’t take away from the experience. We left for Durban on the 17th but took the Katse/Maputsoe exit out of Thaba Tseka. This passage is arguably the most beautiful part in the country. Perhaps it’s a bit of homerism on my part, but my opinion is not unfounded. Have a look at these stunning views:
– – http://imgur.com/a/brMqr#0

Mountain backdrops

Mountain backdrops

From here we traveled to Clarens for the night. It’s a quaint little town with heavy Victorian influence. We really enjoyed it. Before leaving we played a round of golf and had lunch at a German microbrewery which also featured some amazing Boerewors. Then it was off to Durban. Thanks to Airbnb and Uber, we saved a huge chunk of money on lodging and transport. Durban nightlife is like nothing I’ve ever seen and we had a blast meeting folks from all over the world. The entire trip went down without a hitch and it’s safe to say we plan to travel back at some point in the future.

 

Thanksgiving

3 course feast

3 course feast

Once again another traditional holiday was celebrated in the presence of fellow American volunteers. It’s always interesting since we’re all in the same situation. I suppose the best way to find comfort being so far away from family is to make the experience as close to home as possible. With that in mind, a HUGE feast was prepared using the best combination of ingredients we could muster. Unfortunately turkey wasn’t available so 2 entire chickens were prepared instead. Then all the proper side dishes were whipped up by a few excellent cooks. Stuffing, mashed potatoes, salads, even a walnut cobbler made the table. This was by far the best meal I’ve had in Africa. Celebrating with the second family of PCVs was a great time as well. I can only hope Christmas will prove to be the same.

 

As always, thanks for reading. May you all have warm and joyous holidays with your friends and family. My next post will describe the events of the public service games, and of course, Christmas in Thaba Tseka. Cheers!

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XIX. HIV Initiative & LDF Jazz Concert

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Ke thabile ho khutile toropong le lapang ea ka,

Often times I reflect upon the where and what service was for me in the immediate year prior. I remember October of last year quite vividly. I had just been introduced to principal and fellow colleagues at Thaba Tseka High School. My Sesotho comprehension was proving to be a key ingredient for deep integration into the village of Thaba Tseka, and I was well on the way to laying the foundation of everything else that was to come. Fast forward one year. Save for a brief interruption due to security concerns and now I couldn’t be more satisfied with how everything has panned out.

HIV Project

HIV education has been an objective that has eluded my service so far. Not really sure how to approach a health subject such as this, I began to look at the vast amount of resources available to volunteers through Peace Corps, PEPFAR, and UNICEF. They seemed well and good, but none really fit into the style of teaching I’ve become accustomed to in this culture. Development work is already hard enough… teaching about private matters to children in a respectful and sympathetic manner demonstrated to be an entirely new challenge.

One thing that seems to be common for children and young adults across the world is their love for media entertainment. This is way when I came across the movie Inside Story, I became instantly intrigued. A most exciting method of education is to intertwine health knowledge within a well-produced movie plot. This particular movie is about a rising football star who’s risky sexual behavior leads to the contraction of HIV and nearly costs him is career. He’s able to overcome the challenge through various realizations and support, and this is the exact message we are trying to get across to the youth here in Lesotho. What a perfect formula. Relatable and entertaining content with subtle, yet effective, life skills education embedded within.

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Project Poster to be distributed around town

One of the available resources available at my nearly abandoned and defunded site (Matheko) is a very large auditorium. The idea is to show monthly screenings of educational movies, starting with the aforementioned flick Inside Story. The high school owns a projector and screen, so that’s covered. The venue has plastic chairs so that’s sorted as well. The only thing needed would be loud speakers. With the local affinity for dance music that shouldn’t be a challenge at all. Getting youth to show up will be simple as well. Advertising at the school of 700 will surely bring them in. And to ensure attendance, I plan to offer refreshments in the line of popcorn and juice from concentrate. Each session is expected to cost about $50. A development project is only successful if it can be sustainable, so after establishing the ebb and flow of the screenings, a small $1 entrance fee for people 12+ years would allow for cyclic screenings.

Thanks to a wonderfully generous donation from my brothers in the St. Mary of Vernon Mens Club, this project is fully in the works and just about ready for action. I’d like to offer my most sincere thanks to them for their continued philanthropy. With the students out for Summer/Christmas holiday, the first showing will come January after they return. Needless to say, my colleagues and I are very excited for this opportunity at a new approach to life skills education!

 

LDF Jazz Band Concert

IMG_1170The Lesotho Defence Force jazz band made played their annual show in Thaba Tseka on October 26th. Last year’s event was a blast filled with different styles of local live music, the featured LDF Jazz Band, and lots of dancing. This year’s show lived up to last year’s precedent. Ballroom dancing, Famu (genre) music, jazz, and refreshments were the highlights. During my time here I’ve embraced the local dance. It’s fun seizure-esque style groove that involves a lot of shoulder-jerking. Getting up in front of the crowd is always a delight… and spectacle. The Basotho are shocked to see a foreigner knowing the precise moves of what I call the Shepard Groove (jiva joa loka molisana). The Jazz band even let me get on the drums for a minute to jam alongside them. Overall it was another memorable night here in the Mountain Kingdom.

Here’s a short video compilation of the various acts:
– – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RnO8_aUQnOk

I’m sad to announce retirement from ever performing the worm again. It’s been my go-to dance move since 8th grade but busting it out recently has become increasing painful. It was a good run and I’m delighted the final act was in front of 100 enamored Basotho.

 

Until next time, salang hantle!

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Moonrise over the Central Range

XVIII. Attempted Coup D’é·tat, PCL Consolidation, & Ebola

Basotho ba Ntate ba Moshoeshoe ba na le mathata. Eish.

As some of you may have read in the news: Lesotho is in fact in a period of turmoil and unrest. It doesn’t come as a surprise to someone living here as local analysts have been predicting dire instability since June for reasons I’ll explain in this post. I chose to not write about the political climate in previous entries in the hope that it would get resolved before any type of escalation occurred. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case and it couldn’t have come at worst time in my service. Of course my personal work pales in comparison to what’s at stake for the nation.

Attempted Coup and Consolidation of Peace Corps Lesotho Volunteers

As soon as I accepted my invite to Lesotho back in February of 2013, I immediately began researching the geopolitical workings of the Southern Africa region. Just like anywhere else in the world it’s ripe with complexity which requires a historical perspective to truly gauge the current climate. Without delving too much into it, I think it’s important to understand that political instability is a tell-tale sign of a developing nation. Lesotho has a long history of coups and political upheavals with a majority of them being peaceful in nature. Most of them were born not in a lust for power, but rather to remove oppressively corrupt leaders.

I’ve often mentioned in this blog how the Basotho are an incredibly peaceful culture. The nation was literally founded on a single leader (Moshoeshoe) unifying multiple Sotho tribes; not through battle or conquest, but rather peace. As such, the Basotho have always held their peaceful nature as a source of pride. It’s a cultural perspective like nothing I’ve ever seen or experienced. That’s why it’s incredibly painful to see massively corrupt government entities acting beyond the will of the people.

UN-GENERAL ASSEMBLY-LESOTHO

Prime Minister Thomas Thabane addressing members of SADC

The current unrest is a result of a few key players budding heads. In 2012 the government held elections which went on without a hitch. For the first time in the country’s history, a coalition government was formed by 3 main parties. This was a big step forward for democracy in the nation and the world was quick to pat Lesotho on the back for creating a multi-party ruling government. However, it didn’t take long for the pieces to unravel. The military (Lesotho Defence Force) is led by a man named Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli. The LDF is loosely regulated and this unchecked atmosphere allows them to operate almost independently from the government; essentially becoming the law unto themselves. General Kamoli aligned himself with one of three parties as well as the Deputy Prime Minister, Mothetjoa Metsing. In recent months, the parties have accused Prime Minister, Tom Thabane, of making backdoor deals without consent of the parliament. These accusations of abuse of power upon Thabane prompted parliament to form a plan to oust him constitutionally by enacting a vote of no-confidence. Worried by this prospect, Thabane suspended parliament for 9 months in June.

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Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli

This move would be akin to the president suspending Congress to avoid impeachment. Obviously this didn’t sit well parliament and factions began to form, further leading to unrest. It all came to a boil on Friday, August 29th when PM Thabane dismissed General Komoli and appointed a new Lieutenant General to command the military. The PM’s rational for this was based around accusations of corruption in the arena of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Komoli could not be prosecuted for his alleged crimes if he remained commander of the military, so instead of accepting dismissal and facing trial, he instead staged an attempted coup. PM Thabane learned of the impending coup and sought refuge in South Africa hours before the military showed up at his state house. The new lieutenant general he appointed was also paid a visit by Komoli’s forces who shot up his house for 30 minutes before learning he also skipped town. In total, 130 high level government politicians and workers fled to South Africa by the following day. The military raided 2 police stations in Maseru, removing all weapons and uniforms from the police. The commander of the police was aligned with the Prime Minister, so Komoli saw them as a threat. As a result, police forces throughout the country abandoned their positions and went into hiding, including in my town of Thaba Tseka.

Without police on the streets, one would think rioting and looting would take erupt in places without a military presence. However that wasn’t the case. The country continued on as if nothing had happened in the capital. This is a testament to the nature of the Basotho. I can only imagine what would happen in a major city like Chicago if every police officer suddenly vanished for a week. Chaos and anarchy would certainly ensue.

Return to Lesotho

On September 22nd, Peace Corps Washington HQ deemed the security situation in Lesotho safe enough for volunteers to return. This was primarily based on the knowledge that the police had returned to their posts and maintained a presence of order in the villages throughout the country.  I arrived safely back in Thaba Tseka on the 23rd. My friends and colleagues were bewildered at my unannounced absence for 3 weeks. As part of the consolidation protocols, we were advised to not inform anyone of our whereabouts. So you could imagine their surprise upon my arrival. It felt great to be back. My cat Motse was stuck inside (with plenty of food and water) for 3 weeks and could be more joyous for my return. I resumed playing with Little Roses FC and continued my other projects for TTHS and Matheko. I’m currently trying to secure some funding to start a HIV educational movie screening project which will mark the first time in over a year I will have a chance to work with my host organization.

Quick Note on Ebola and Mainstream Media

Prior to service, one of the prospects that intrigued me was the chance to get out of the “bubble” of America and take an external view of the country in the contrast of an entirely different culture. Back in January of this year I caught an article on allafrica.com that noted Ebola had reappeared in West Africa and there was a significant outbreak potential in the region. I decided to do some further research on the deadly virus and found it to be very similar to HIV in that it can only be transferred from human to human via bodily fluids. The only difference is how one virus immediately attacks the system while the other lays dormant for some time, slowly reducing the CD4+ T-cell count until becoming AIDS.

My revulsion for mainstream media and American politics doesn’t leave much room for objectivity in regards to assessing said institutions from abroad. Regardless, it’s rather evident that fear-mongering dominates the 24/7 news cycle of Western civilization. Whether it’s xenophobic reporting of a tiny fraction of Islamic cultures, isolated violence spun into racial controversies, or a virus affecting 0.000001% of the world’s population (8,000÷6.7b), there always seems to be a looming catastrophe on the horizon to report on. This method retains the most viewership and therefore is the most viable economic model to deliver content to the public. Furthermore, it only gets worse when you add political bias and motives within these “news” networks. Politicians and pundits only add to the fervor by making inflammatory remarks with much conviction about the other side which increases the polarity within American society. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this counterproductive combination is how amidst all the banter, facts are lost. Science takes a backseat to diatribes and the result is ignorance being perpetuated.

MAIN--Ebola-MapPeace Corps is still operating in countries like Togo and Ghana. As previously alluded to in this post, Peace Corps Washington puts volunteer safety above anything else. Consequently if they felt the risk was too high for Americans serving in West Africa they would be immediately pulled out. . Rationality, fortunately, has been maintained for the time being and service continues unabated for those volunteers. Peace Corps programs in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea have been suspended until the outbreak can be contained However, when I read about politicians promoting paranoia by calling for travel bans from Africa, it makes little to no sense. Should we really prohibit some of the best doctors and nurses in the world travel to the area that needs it the very most? I’ve been living in a country for 16 months where HIV has a 23.7% infection rate among the population. The virus is transmitted in the same manner as Ebola, so should I be allowed back into the states?

As with any epidemic throughout history, the poor take the brunt of the casualties while the affluent- in this case the nation of America- will develop cures and protocols for containment once it has breached its institutions. This particular epidemic will not go away, in fact it has persisted since the virus was first discovered in the 1970s. Unless of course the poor developing nations are provided assistance from a consortium of nations with the resources to combat the problem. This is a challenge for humanity. The Ebola virus doesn’t recognize the imaginary lines our species has drawn across the planet. There is no sense in finger pointing, political posturing, or paranoia. We have the scientific capabilities to address this problem at the epicenter. Now is the time for rational action.