Anyone who has spent any time immersed in Guinean culture will be able to confirm the ubiquitous nature of the phrase “du courage”. You’re sick? Du courage. You can’t find work? Du courage. You’re having a fight with your wife? Du courage.
The phrase roughly translates to stay brave and in area of the world where luck and chance play a large role in daily life, it is excellent advice.
The national motto of Guinea is “Work, Justice, Solidarity.” Here in the United Sates, we are quite familiar with work and justice. In 2010, when unemployment rates soared to 10% we considered it a national crisis – compare that to the latent 60% rate of unemployment faced in Guinea. And the United States is famed for its justice system, which although flawed, unfortunately functions at a rate incomparable to most other countries around the world. But solidarity, the feeling of unity between people who have the same interests and goals, is an area in which we lack.
In the Guinean context, solidarity is seen on a daily basis. It can be a young woman preparing meals for the surrounding elderly neighbors and single males because they have no one who will prepare for them. It can be a mother giving her hard-earned money to another mother who needs it more than she does. It is seen when a young man helps out his neighbor in the rice field while knowing he will not be compensated. Or perhaps when a community pools funds to help celebrate the marriage ceremony of a young man and woman.
A recently married man and woman at their ceremony.
Guineans are united, and in my short time in Guinea I began to feel a part of something. Now, when I call my friends and host-family back in Guinea, we ask about each other’s health, the health of loved ones, how business is going – the typical Guinean salutation is much more in depth than “How are you? Fine”. And when we get through asking about Great Aunt Fatou’s health, the conversation inevitably turns to the current situation – “When are you coming back? I don’t know” and it always ends with “du courage”.
When uttered, “du courage” signifies a level of solidarity between companions. It says, “You are down, but I am here to tell you to be brave and that we are together and we will pass through this hardship together.”
When first in Guinea, I thought it was silly for people to advise me to stay brave while I was stooping over the latrine all day. How will bravery help me fight diarrhea? What I need is medicine and rehydration!
Oral rehydration salts, also known as the best friend of every volunteer who has ever had diarrhea. They are also being used as supportive care for Ebola patients.
But let’s return again to the context of Guinea (taken from the WHO country profile):
The under-five mortality rate is 101 per 1000 live births, compared to a global average of 48 per 1000. Life expectancy at birth is 58, compared to a global average of 70. Prevalance of tuberculosis, malaria, and HIV are all significantly higher than the global average. The maternal mortality rate is 3 time shigher than the global average. Only 20% of the population has accessed to improved sanitation conditions. The country has an average of 2.6 physicians per 10,000 citizens.
When access to resources is so difficult chutzpah, bravery, and a certain oomph are needed to survive on a daily basis. People fight tooth and nail just to live in Guinea, but they fight together. You are never alone — extended families open their arms and their hearts to feed even the most remote relative. Care is communal. Strength is found in numbers. People stick together.
So, to all my friends in Guinea — du courage. To all our neighbors in Liberia and Sierra Leone — du courage. To the doctors working in the field — du courage. To all those involved in combating Ebola — du courage. To all those who have lost a friend or family member due to Ebola — du courage. To all those who have been misplaced from their home due to Ebola — du courage.
You are down, but I am here to tell you to be brave and that we are together and we will pass through this hardship together. We will fight this — together.
Please consider donating to one of the following organizations who are continuing to work to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.
- MAP international is providing protective suits for health workers treating Ebola patients.
- Unicef is providing protective equipment for health workers and supportive medication for patients.
- Doctors Without Borders, those working on the ground to treat Ebola patients, claim to be fully funded for the outbreak but are always in need of more money and will likely still be working in West Africa once the outbreak passes to deal with the fallout of the healthcare infrastructure.
And please read this Time Magazine article written by the President of Doctor’s Without Borders to get an accurate sense of the desperation on the ground. More people are needed.
The epidemic will not be contained without a massive deployment on the ground. WHO in particular must step up to the challenge. And governments with the necessary medical and logistical resources must go beyond funding pledges and immediately dispatch infectious disease experts and disaster relief assets to the region.
For my U.S. readers, please consider writing a letter to your representative.