In Sierra Leone, the month of December has always been the month of festivities. The country has a majority of Muslims but its unique live-and-let-live culture established since the turn of the 19th Century allows both Christians and Muslims to celebrate Christmas as they do for the Muslim holidays, but December is special. The weather is warm; the cool Harmattan wind brings down the temperature in the evenings making this period the most pleasant of the year. Since the late 70s it is also the period when Sierra Leoneans from the Diaspora, called the JCs (Just Come) flood the cities with their latest fashion, accent, and ever welcome dollar notes. Merry making usually starts at the end of November, with weddings, parties, carnivals, moonlight picnics on the pristine beaches, lunches, and for the younger, launches of new albums. The officially designated holidays of Christmas day, boxing day and New Year’s day are marked by masquerades of “devils” parading the streets of Freetown with often irresistible music dictating the motions of gyrating young men and women.
This year, the streets, bars and nightclubs are silent at night, and not even the Silent Night carol can be heard. Curiously, this is the first time too that the city has experienced practically constant electricity consequently not even the din of the diesel generators can be heard at night. Government has decreed an Ebola Christmas. No traditional New Year’s Eve church service, where all and sundry rush in before the clock strikes midnight to get the blessings of the Most High for the new year; so the tradition goes. No shops after 6 pm. No large parties. Markets must close at midday on Saturdays.
Ebola Xmas is a time for reflection.
Soldiers will enforce this, while Ebola workers will comb the houses for any suspected cases. Some hope this will bring down the rate of infection in the city. Some wonder whether infections take place in churches or in shops after 6 pm? Others hope there will be faster response to the 117-hotline when bars are shut and street traders kept off the street. Still a few believe that the quarantined houses will now be better supervised and food rations provided promptly during this quasi lockdown. No matter, the people will believe anything as demonstrated when Freetown woke up at 2 am en masse to take a bath of saltwater as instructed by a message from Whatsapp.
This Christmas the Diaspora are missing, and the dollar bills not easy to come by. In two weeks the currency has depreciated 10% against the dollar. The bars are empty, and the Brewery is piling up debt, the hairdressers are empty, ladies are not rushing to do their hair just to stay home. Tailor shops are empty, no one is buying new clothes to attend Ebola burials – in fact only a few are allowed to attend funerals. The street hawker must make her/his money in 6 hours on Saturdays. In this most lucrative part of the year, particularly for low-income businesses, we now have a slump. Ebola is hitting the pockets of the masses; apart from health workers, the vast majority that have succumbed to Ebola is not the well-to do.
Ebola is stealing Salone’s 2014 Christmas, and there is no Christmas with Ebola.