First an epidemic abroad, then a pandemic at home

Oldham resident Rosetta Ceesay worked in Gambia during the Ebola epidemic, which meant she was more prepared for life here during the Covid-19 pandemic than many of us. Here she shares what she learnt during her time in Gambia, and how it has shaped her approach to lockdowns in Oldham. Rosetta’s contribution joins hundreds of other photos and written accounts in Oldham’s Lockdown Museum. Find out more and submit your own entries here.

My experience of working in Gambia during Ebola and my studies with World Health Organization has been key to my personal response to the pandemic.

Rosetta and Omar at work in Gambia
Rosetta and Omar

I’m 68 now so unable to be in the field working in Gambia now due to many factors. Flights and health mainly. My husband Omar and I went to a hospital there where only one person was allowed in at a time. Security Guard on the door, we had to walk through a disinfectant foot bath like cows do on farms.  Inside, a cleaner was up and down all day mopping floors with disinfectant, the smell of which was evident.

If I hadn’t been able to speak Wolof I’d have been lost. I held Mrs Secka’s hand. Tubes up her nose and in her arm, she feared death. This was a time when Ebola was a novel virus killing people. Dr Mike Ryan WHO Director General of Health Emergencies now, virologist, was in Congo in flak jacket and metal helmet to do his research. Gut-wrenching times.

If I could cope with that, I can cope with Covid19.

I carried on studying with WHO: Covid19-Methods of Prevention and Control, Respiratory Infection, Incident Management and so on. Knowledge saves lives especially during health emergencies. So I armed myself to go back into the field, but in what way? I do what I can, encouraging others to look after themselves and stay safe. I’ve been a speaker on webinars with WHO – New York, all over the world. Zoom Meetings Greater Manchester.

Rosetta with her self-portrait

I’m a retired but voluntarily active Research Psychologist/Art Therapist and interested in mental health during the pandemic.  My advice is always the same – The Arts are therapeutic. As an artist myself I know it does me a world of good, and I can’t wait to get back to the Theatre and Gallery. While shielding, I go to 1853 Studios and my studio is my sanctuary. I paint at home, write, make podcasts, have my own Radio show with Sonder Radio and I do it all at home sending them the shows ready to go. I encourage older people to take up a hobby or interest. Sonder do Digi courses, Manchester Cares have Zoom meetings where elder and younger friends continue to meet.  Gardening is good even if it’s just a window box or a few tubs at the door. Keep active. People laugh when I tell them I put on some chart hits on YouTube and dance like nobody’s watching because nobody is watching.  A one person karaoke is great.  I can hit all the bum notes and nobody knows. The neighbours don’t hear. Ha ha!

Being alone doesn’t have to mean lonely.  Alone at home I can still achieve a lot such as supervising what I usually do in person in Gambia at Christmas. My Team there gave out toys, sweets and clothes to around 1,500 people, mainly children. They took School Supplies to the region’s only Primary School as education isn’t free they also gave money to keep children in school. They continued our tree planting/reforestation with the Children’s Gardening Club helping and learning.  The village is mud huts in the bush. We’ve done lots there and I’m now doing it remotely and online. 100% voluntary action and we love it.

It’s good to talk. Reform Radio have Buddyline where a volunteer gives an aging person a call weekly and these may lead to Podcasts on Mixcloud. I have a weekly chat.

We can still have a good life since lockdown isn’t locked up. We aren’t in jail. We can still go out, just with a few sensible restrictions and a mask. The better we are at it the sooner we will be through it especially now there are several approved vaccines in the world. How about we all become encouragers and show our wonderful community spirit in Oldham and make every day a good day. “Life is what you make it” is true. I like C.S. Lewis’s saying:  “You’re never too old to set another goal’ or to dream another dream.” True! This is how I live my life to the full. Stay safe friends and live the dream.

Gallery Oldham