Tonight I shirked the plethora of imminent-house-and-country-and-job-move responsibilities that have been piling up on me of late in favour of a night out with my girls. Four of them, to be specific, each precious to me in ways I won’t go into now, except to say they’ve always been there for me, and for that I’m truly grateful. One of these gorgeous girls is a mother, two are mums-to-be, and whilst it’s clear we are all moving on with our lives (“growing up,” some might say, though I think I speak for us all when I say we loathe that term) what is also unequivocally clear is that no matter what twists and turns we face on the journey of our lives, we face them as a united front, ‘one for all and all for one,’ as the old adage goes. We may not all be together that often, but when we are together the magic of our bond is stronger than ever. I know no matter where I am in the world these girls have got my back, and there is just no feeling like the one I feel right now, knowing that, and realising how lucky I am.
In my third year of university I suffered from panic attacks, which were the physical manifestation of my guilt at having been so lackadaisical in attitude towards academic study for the preceding two years. I vividly remember one afternoon when I was attempting to start work on my dissertation and my housemate and best friend bounded into my room and informed me we would be attending a house party that evening. Summoning some hitherto unknown strength of will I declined the offer and explained the likelihood of my failing my degree if I ventured outside the house between that very moment and the end of term, but my protestations fell on unsympathetic ears. “You’ve got 15 minutes,” my friend said, “by the time I get out of the shower you need to be ready to go.” As it happened, by the time she got out of the shower I was about as far from ready as could be-I had, in fact, become so distressed by my predicament that I had unintentionally hyperventilated myself into unconsciousness and collapsed backwards onto the bed. Needless to say, by the time I came around I was so disoriented that work was not an option-and alcohol, and indeed the house party, won out (as so oft they did in those halcyon days of my early twenties. Oh who am I kidding? They still do more than ten years later).
Why did I tell you that story? For two reasons actually. Firstly, because today I had a moment when I felt the same chest-crushing anxiety I felt that day at university, as it hit me in a tidal wave of realisation that this move to Belgium really IS happening two weeks on Saturday, and I suddenly and acutely felt a sense of loss for all the loved ones that I’m leaving here in the UK, as well as a sense of panic about leaping into the great unknown without the security of a job or social network where I’m going. Don’t get me wrong, I’m 100% committed to this move and can’t wait to start this new chapter in my life. I suppose trepidation is just a natural part of the process of acclimatisation to change.
The second reason I told that story is that tomorrow is my thirty third birthday, and as I sit here reminiscing about my uni days I find it difficult to accept they were more than a decade ago. I always thought by the time I reached my early thirties I’d feel grown up and would have life all figured out. But the reality is there is no ‘magic age’ at which we humans become ‘grown up.’ And whilst I waste a lot of breath moaning about my advancing years, I have to say that’s one realisation I’m glad to have had.
I’m feeling deeply troubled by the current situation in West Africa. Up to now I’ve done my best to avoid the conjecture and hysteria surrounding the outbreak of Ebola, but as the crisis deepens each day it is becoming harder for the eyes of the western world to ignore. The politicians in charge of the international aid purse strings have been accused of cutting aid budgets to Liberia at exactly the time they needed to be ramped up. Whether or not this is true, it does seem undeniable that the international response to the Ebola epidemic has been too slow off the mark. Experts have warned that for every 10 people currently infected a further 17 will contract the virus. And it’s only now in the face of indisputable evidence that the situation is worsening daily that a summit on how to tackle the spread of the virus was held in London today.
But it’s not just the UK who have been too slow to respond. Today it’s also been revealed an American citizen who returned from Liberia and who had come into direct contact with an infected pregnant woman – carrying her in his arms to a treatment centre where she ultimately died, no less – was turned away from hospital on his home soil when he initially presented symptoms. As a result the authorities are frantically trying to contact 100 people with whom he subsequently came into contact with, and his closest family members are in quarantine lest they too develop symptoms.
This is a humanitarian crisis, and one that could affect us all. Experts believe there is a 90 day window to halt the spread of Ebola, after which the number of infected people could rise from the current rough (and probably vastly underreported) 6,500 to 1.5 million by January. And if the authorities and aid agencies can’t cope now, what hope will they have then?
I can’t pretend I don’t have selfish concerns about the spread of Ebola across the world, but what upsets me even more than the thought of contracting the virus myself (and, God forbid, my loved ones also contracting it), is that up to now the western world has turned the other cheek. It’s disgusting that the lives of our fellow human beings across the world are held in such little regard until the moment that the scales of fortune upturn and the threat looks to be ours as well as theirs. Will Pooley, the British doctor who survived Ebola, has described the cases of a four year old boy and his two year old sister, who died from the virus within 24 hours of each other in ‘squalid’ conditions, lying naked in pools of their own blood and diarrhea. In Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, at this very moment, cases such as these are commonplace. Whole families, entire communities are being wiped out in agonising pain and it is simply not acceptable that the western world has for so long been looking on and twiddling its thumbs.
If the doomsayers are right and this virus does spiral out of control, the saddest thing is this: It will be the very politicians who got us into this situation that will have spaces in the quarantine bunkers whilst the rest of us are wiped out. And you can bet they’ll put one hell of a spin on the ‘truth’ they tell their future generations after they emerge, blinking, into the post-apocalyptic light.