21 days have passed and I can finally tell the world about my latest project. I had to wait 21 days because I needed to be sure I was Ebola free. On the 27th of December 2014, I left my incredible wife and two beautiful children to to go Sierra Leone to film a documentary around the recent Ebola outbreak. My wife stayed home with our two-year-old daughter and our eight-month-old son for almost three weeks. I have no misconceptions: she was the brave one.
The experience of shooting Hero with a Thousand Faces was life-changing. Every single day I saw and learned things I had no reference for. Below are the first things that come to mind.
Every school in the country has been closed for nine months and though there are hopes of opening them soon, no one really knows when it will be safe.
Almost no doctors are willing to deliver babies. This is because there is so much blood during childbirth and no one knows who has Ebola and who does not – at least until the symptoms start. Across an entire nation, thousands of women are giving birth on their own. This is scary for more reasons than I can count.
Checkpoints have been set up EVERYWHERE. You can’t leave a town or village without getting your forehead scanned at least 5 times. Each time you are scanned with a forehead thermometer you are at risk of being detained and sent to a Community Care Center (makeshift hospital).
The entire country in under a strict quarantine. Besides going to the market to buy food, all public gathering has been banned.
Nobody touches anybody. No hand-shaking, hugs, or little gestures of love. You meet someone and you nod hello. Even this has huge ramifications of peoples psyche if it goes on for too long.
Drive for more than a couple minutes and you see will see at least one home cordoned off by red and white tape with a member of the military stationed outside. These are homes where someone has recently died of Ebola. These homes are under quarantine. This means no one can leave for 21 days. If you have a job or a farm you can say goodbye to both. Your job will most likely be gone and your crops will be dead by the time you are out. If no one else in the house gets Ebola the quarantine will end after 21 days. If someone does, it starts again. I visited a number of entire villages that were under quarantine.
Everyone who dies in the entire country – whether they die of Ebola or anything else - is buried by a nameless team in PPE (Hazmat suites). The team arrives at the house, sprays it down with chlorine and places the body in a body bag. They then burry the body and throw their PPW in the grave while they spray off with chlorine. There are no last words by the family. There is no time spent grieving over the body.
I could go on for quite some time. The country has truly been brought to its knees by this virus.
Yet amazingly, it is not these things that most stuck out to me while I was there. Instead it was the beauty and magic that emanates from those who are fighting this war. The Ebola fighters are more numerous than could be counted. These incredible heroes, these brave men and women who are risking everything to stand against this darkness were mesmerizing to watch. They come from every part of society and are found in every city, town and village. All have suffered the loss of family and friends but rather than letting it destroy them, they found a strength they never knew they had.
The people of Sierra Leone are not hopeless or despondent as I had imagined before I arrived. They are courageous and fearless and they are winning this war. These Ebola Fighters are the focus of our documentary. Please check out the TRAILER and see how you can get involved!