Some things are just fun to write about.
On this day 8th August 2014, at exactly 05:43am, my aunt rang me up with a very urgent news that required that I acted upon it at once. Apparently, it was a matter of life preservation, at least to her. She had instructed me to drink a salt solution first thing that morning and to add some salt to my morning bath water. I took this news in good faith, but I also took it with a pinch of salt (no pun intended).
A Nigerian reader might perhaps be wearing a mild grin by now, but if not, it’s probably because they’re unaware of the “Ebola Frenzy”. In not many words, let me bring you up to par without boring you with details. In the context of my writing the details aren’t too necessary.
A man called Patrick Sawyer flew into my country Nigeria from Liberia on the 23rd of July and slumped in the Lagos international airport just after alighting from the plane. He had died from the deadly Ebola virus. It caused a lot of stir in the media and public. Health agencies were on their feet round the clock to monitor the health status of the passengers who were on board that flight with Mr. Sawyer, to pacify the public through sensitization and panic control, and to do everything else the health professionals are good at. I can’t say they didn’t do their jobs well but my country is very large—the 7th most populous nation in the world at approximately 177 million as of August 14 by United Nations projection. That’s about one-seventh the population of China, the most populous nation in the world at approximately 1.3 billion souls. What I’m saying is that word didn’t seem to have gone round well enough, especially in the rural areas.
What I’m about to narrate happened in some parts of my state, even then, I had a feeling they weren’t happening in isolation.
So I pondered the message and thought: does it mean that table salt is no longer toxic to health? Did the Federal Government “really” issue this instruction or notice or memo (whatever it is fit to be called)? I didn’t even begin to ask why health authorities didn’t specify the dosage for the salt prescription, but my final decision on what to do was influenced by my knowledge that table salt can be toxic to the body. Come to think of it, our sweat and urine are saline-based, leading one to figure that if the human body should secret a substance, it is usually in most cases because the substance is toxic. For every gram of table salt the body consumes, it requires about 30 times the same quantity of water to neutralize it. Salt draws water from the digestive tract, thereby inhibiting intestinal digestion. It also worsens ulcers, and aggravates high blood pressure. Aluminum Hydroxide is also added to salt to increase its ability to pour; now aluminum is an alloy and if it keeps finding its way into your brain, it can lead to Alzheimer’s disease.
So I took a warm bath and a warm breakfast which consisted of noodles and left for the day’s work, and not a whiff of salt to go with either; not in defiance to instructions, but in compliance to routine.
All day long I occasionally found myself in places where someone would, apropos of nothing, initiate a discussion on the Ebola virus, and they weren’t always talking about its scourge, but rather, the frenzy.
“I’m not bothered,” said a young man in an office I walked into, “all the borehole water in my area is salty anyway. What’s the point adding salt to salty water?” And we all laughed heartily.
“My elder brother’s wife called me from Lagos,” narrated a young Secretary elsewhere, “she told me that my family should drink a salt solution that morning to make me immune to the Ebola virus. That was just five minutes before my daughter’s godmother called me with the same news, but added that my whole family should bath with the salty water. It was 4am in the morning and we all did it before even morning devotion.”
“Same with me, my husband got the news at about 2am.” said her colleague. My eyes darted from one staff to another as they narrated their experiences with the genuine excitement of a new found salvation.
“I hope you all know that this whole thing is someone’s expensive joke?” came a young man’s voice from the adjoining office.
“W-H-A-T!” they all shouted.
“Samuel, you think the Ebola virus is a joke?”
“Hey, that’s not what I said.” the voice retorted.
“What exactly are you saying? You always act like you know it all but you don’t know anything. I’m sure you don’t know that someone died of Ebola last night around Kpiri-Kpiri” said the young spitfire secretary. At this point I rolled my eyes and turned to leave. I could hear Samuel convulsing with laughter from inside. In truth, nobody had yet died of the Ebola virus in my state and the said dead wasn’t killed by Ebola at all.
Later that evening I paid my dear aunt’s family a visit.
“It’s all lies. A complete joke.” she said. My eyes widened in excitement, glad I didn’t have to do any convincing.
“How did you find out?” I asked.
“Well, no one seems able to point out an authentic source of this information. Everyone I asked always said they heard it from someone who in turn heard from someone. It is either a call from Lagos, Onitsha, or Ghana, or a text message from an in-law, brethren, or godmother. It’s not on the network news or tabloids, nor is it known to be issued by any legitimate health agency.” I just listened on, a subtle smug expression played on my lips and a cocked eyebrow to complement it.
“I’ve always emphasized the importance of verifying information before passing it on.” I finally said. “It sounds so simple and logical but many people don’t remember this bit of chore; and when they don’t, they become another pawn in the rumour-mongering campaign.”
“This is so annoying,” she said, “how can someone do this to people? I’ve been so uncomfortable today from the salt water.” I then learned in the ensuing conversation that her family was woken up by her neighbours at about 4:30am to break the news, followed suit by witnesses from Lagos and several states apart. They performed the salt-bathing ritual to the letter while calling me at that wee hour to do likewise. It was now a real cause for laughter. We laughed so long and hard that our sides ached. Then just when it would appear that the mirth was over, someone would say something funny, triggering another bout of harder and longer laughing and shrieking, and the whole thing kept recurring.
“Imagine bathing salty water without soap or sponge!” her teenage daughter would say, “I’m as sticky as yam sap!”
The whole room would burst into convulsive laughter.
“The children of our backyard neighbours are still stooling non-stop!” my aunt reported emphatically.
The laughter was deafening!
Shortly her eldest son, a boy of about ten years old, returned from bloc rosary. He could not believe what he was hearing.
“You mean…oh my God!” He fell silent and covered his face in shame. We prodded him a little and spoke up.
“I feel so stupid right now. A girl in the prayer meeting actually told us it was all a lie and I challenged her very well. She’ll be thinking I’m a real “mumu” right now. Are you really sure it’s fake?”
By now, half the people in the room were literally ROTFL.
For the next hour, we were sharing more incidents that were as hilarious as something out of “Night of a Thousand Laughs“, like the man who rode on his motorbike from hamlet to hamlet, clan to clan announcing the supposed “good news“. With fuel pump price at N97/litre, you couldn’t help believe him and be convinced by his actions so as to just go ahead and immerse yourself in a drum of salt solution, speaking of which, someone actually immersed his entire family in a drum of salt solution!
The price of salt quadrupled, no kidding!, from N50 to N200 per sachet! So did bitter kola, which was said to make the “medication” more potent. People became walking “pillars of salt“. From this whole saga, I saw two negative human weaknesses hold sway. Yes, the two greatest weapons of psychological and spiritual warfare that oft prevail over mankind: Ignorance and Fear.
Many people acted because they thought, as it had been made to look, that the Ebola virus was air-borne. There were reports of a substance being fired into the air to sterilize the atmosphere, and perhaps, ward off or kill the Ebola particles. Whether this event really occurred somewhere or in someone’s imagination is best left to the rumour mill where it belongs. This is perhaps the greatest practical demonstration of the severity and gravity of the ignorance I’m talking about. It would give a reading of magnitude 9.9 if measured on a Richter scale!
This is the real Killer Virus because it is the medium via which all manners of other viruses, diseases and pestilence which plague mankind ride upon. Seriously! You let it into your life and you automatically become a Universal Recipient (AB) for various kinds of vices and phobias. In summary, fear is pre-rigor mortis.
Look how fast it spread, flying on the wings of gullibility and the radio waves; look the havoc it wrecked on the country’s landscape within half the time of an adult’s night’s rest. To think that several hundreds of thousands of people were bathing in salt at the same time per hour between 3am – 7am that Friday morning is sickening. And thousands more were clutching salt solutions in waters cans for the rest of the day. Some even used it as disinfectants!
The aftermath of all of this is that some of those who clutched salt water cans were later in the day, and the following days, clutching their terribly sore stomachs, stooling all the way to the emergency ward, some of who died hours later from high blood pressure and dehydration. Some others joined the rest who were clutching their stomachs from laughter aches. These are but the two extremes which emerged from the saga. I don’t know which party to feel sorrier for: the fellows who died (may their souls rest in peace) have their cases already closed, but the latter, mostly, apparently have learned nothing, putting them in an almost similar condition. I mean, this is not the first time this kind of rumour has occurred. Recall, the “acid rain” rumour or March 2010, or the killer number you should not answer or you’ll slump dead: they range from the desperately daft to the direly devious; but they are all damned deceptive. More contraptions of apparent facts will yet be conceived and God knows the zillions of His fear-stricken “children” who will be scuttling around perhaps with alligator pepper and bulbs of garlic ground and grated into sticky pulp and applied all over the body!
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power…and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV). Being afraid is probably the normal thing to do under such circumstances judging by the mass of people that fell for that hoax. After all, “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and many are they that find it, and narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that leads to life and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13 – 14 KJV). The keywords here are “many” and “few“. What I’m saying emphatically is that if you fell for that joke, you need to do some “serious” work on yourself.
Fear does not come from God. The phrase “do not fear” occurs 365 times in the bible: that’s one for every day of the year; and when God gives an express command like that and you do contrary, it amounts to sin. That is, for a Christian, being afraid is a sin because you’d be denying the power of God. Giving room to fear drives faith away without which “no man can please God” (Hebrew 11:6 KJV). Fear causes you to “trust in your advisers with all your heart and lean on your own understanding“, contrary to “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5 – 6 NKJV).
It was really a shameful sight to see Christians: intellectuals and illiterates alike, scuttling about for salt and bitter kola to apply the same remedy as everyone else who does not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They quickly forgot that “a thousand may fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.” (Psalm 91:7 NKJV).
Life abhors vacuum. If you don’t believe in something, you automatically believe in an opposing concept, whatever form it might take. I pity atheists and agnostics who already claim to believe there is no God or the possibility that God exists, because often times they don’t realize that they have already come to believe in something else which God calls “every high thing that exalts itself above the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NKJV). That is what it’s like to not have faith. You will have something else, most likely fear, which opposes your ability as a Christian to be found pleasing in the eyes of God. Summarily, it is impossible for a Christian to run around with salt water and bitter kola in the Ebola season and stand pleasing in the eyes of God. If you’ve repented from that foolishness in your heart, God has already forgiven you. If you have not, do it now and God will forgive you. You cannot chant “I am the head and not the tail” only to turn around an engage in “taily” activities. That’s hypocrisy!
Everything in life speaks, “but whose report shall we believe”. We are in the information age and information spreads at light speed: at the click of a mouse, at the push of a button, at the tap of a screen, at the hold of a speed dial, at voice command, at the glance of a TV screen, at the flash of an ad, at the run of a cron, at the…you know how fast I mean! This speed is not often used to achieve good alone, but just as often, to achieve evil. This is why you have to stand guard as a soldier, guarding your heart and mind: “guard your heart with all diligence for out of it springs the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23 NKJV). “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he.” (Proverbs 23:7 AMP). What you let into your heart crystalizes into your mind and becomes a component of your soul— your very being. It becomes who you are and who you present to people. It becomes who or what you tell people. So what do you prefer to tell people; rumours, facts or truth? Verify the authenticity of information before you accept it because the moment you accept that information, you “cannot” help sharing it.
In conclusion, if you are a Christian, truly believe in Christ and His words. Stop “having a form of godliness but denying its power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5 NKJV). Remember, life abhors vacuum. If you truly believe the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, you will find it hard to gullibly accept every rumour that flies around these days, much less, pass them on. The rumours would rather die at your door step. How would you feel if someone who became hospitalized or who died from high blood pressure and dehydration because they applied an overdose of the false salt solution medication for the Ebola virus actually received that information directly from you? You see what I mean! Some people are in that ugly situation right now. Peoples’ heart have become numbed: should the Government or health agencies begin now to issue a warning or information that would help people not to contract the Ebola virus, can you now predict what the reception would be?
So I urge you, “be not conformed to the world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2 KJV).