Monrovia — The kids chatted happily as they gathered around a community well, carrying buckets and jerry cans to fill with water for their households. They were in a buoyant mood, but it wasn't long before the conversation turned to the deadly virus:
"Don't touch me!" the only girl in their midst snorted, pulling back her small frame so that the rubber bucket she held flipped backward over her right shoulder, "You ain't know Ebola in town?"
It was as amusing as it was surprising; and I thought it was money well spent on Ebola sensitization. But her friends hit back: "That thing that scan", a Liberian colloquialism that means "It's only a scheme".
Their reaction epitomizes the mixed views among most Liberians ever since Ebola cases were reported in March after reports that some of their compatriots in northern Lofa county - close to the border with Guinea, the epicenter of the current outbreak - had contracted the disease.
The existing political order at the time is to blame for some of this: rival politicians were in a virtual dogfight ahead to October's senatorial elections (and the next presidential election in 2017 apparently), throwing accusations and counter accusations at those they claim were responsible for the budget deficit the country grapples with.
Some pundits even fueled the degree of apprehension when they started questioning the "actual motive" of the U.S.$1.2 million that health ministry officials projected that they will need to combat the disease.
"They want steal the money; no Ebola here", callers on radio talk shows would allege. This view permeated so widely that when initial reports of new Ebola infections appeared to abate, comedians adopted it as a new fun theme: "Ebola ran away as soon as it heard about the U.S.$1.2 million", a popular on-air personality quipped.
Even musicians were quick to put rap lines together for a song titled "Ebola in Town". The new music warns Liberians of the dangers of the deadly virus: "don't touch your friend….no eating something," it blared out of local pubs as dancers crafted new moves that involve no physical contact.
We were all in near panic mode in March following confirmation that samples taken to a French lab came back positive. The Ebola virus had actually crossed over from Guinea as had been feared. "Why they didn't close the border?", some questioned hysterically. "This thing coming killed all of us". Images of East Africa's Ebola victims began to spread on social media, with frightening posts that the disease was capable of "wiping out entire civilizations".
Some have even chosen to abandon the Liberian-style greetings, which involves a firm handshake followed by the characteristic loud snapping of the thumbs and middle fingers.
The act is so common that it's still considered uncultured not to meet an acquaintance's hand, despite constant reminders of the modes of transmission. This prompted my distribution of little bottles of hand sanitizers amongst members of my small household. Everybody is required to carry one along as they take on their daily chores, stopping every now and then to pour the liquid in their palms.