David Banks: The further away from the Ebola outbreak you are the greater the alarm it causes

Journal columnist David Banks is in Ghana, where the outbreak that is frightening the rest of the world doesn't even top the news agenda

Graham Harrison/MoD Crown Copyright/PA Wire Testing blood samples for Ebola
Testing blood samples for Ebola

Curiously, the further away you are from the West African epicentre of the deadly Ebola virus the greater the alarm it causes.

My forays into the worldwide web, power cuts permitting, indicate that much of the angst and agonising over a possible pandemic is taking place in big city newsrooms across Europe and North America. Near neighbours of the worst-affected countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – are on the whole more sanguine.

Ebola, after all, is an aircraft-borne disease of the business traveller: those fortunate few Africans with the funds to span the globe are far more likely to unwittingly pack a potential pandemic with their passports than their dirt-poor kin are to transport infection; most Have-nots rarely leave the confines of their own districts.

As a result, reports of the epidemic’s progress are carried matter-of-factly on the nightly Ghana TV news, rarely taking top spot and more likely to be in third place behind ‘more important’ items such as the stalled economy, an embarrassing cholera outbreak (viewed as a blight on the image of one of Africa’s better-developed countries) and the shenanigans of local politicians.

So it was left to a text message from my friend Keith, he of the freeze-dried sense of humour, to remind me of the concern being felt at airport arrivals desks across the developed world.

“Ebola has reached Spain,” he wrote. “It is probably heading for Godzone at warp speed, so much safer to stay where you are!”

How right he is. Life in this former colony, seen from my banana palm-fringed veranda, continues untroubled by Ebola, save for a welcome renewed emphasis on hand-washing and personal hygiene. Given the traffic gridlock, road rage appears the more likely to cause loss of life.

My son’s madder-than-hell decision to hit the brakes, blocking the road as he leapt from his car to remonstrate with the hooter-happy cab driver behind turned to shame-faced guilt when he realised that his startled victim, while infuriating, was a septuagenarian with a pacemaker who was driving a child to school.

Reminds me of the time, I told him by way of consolation, I was cut up at a traffic roundabout when I was driving my young niece Tina, then a child but now the successful owner of a country cookware shop in Kelso. Shaken by the near-collision, both I and the idiot who had almost killed us stopped our cars.

I leapt out and unleashed a volley of undeleted expletives at the pensioner target of my abuse who, apologetically, climbed from his car to reveal his dog collar, chandelier-like crucifix and bishop’s purple vest.

“Sorry, your Grace,” I muttered, offering a shy wave to his equally shaken wife in the passenger seat.

Was he a real bishop or just on the way to a fancy dress party, I found myself wondering as I continued the journey. What did it matter? The get-up got him out of a tight spot.

Since that day I have taken to carrying a detachable, starched collar and Gideon Bible in my glove box. You never know…

:: My son’s foundling bakery business has turned an important corner: he has managed to persuade a street vendor to sell bags of his rolls at a busy traffic light junction.

She was unwilling at first. “THIS is my business,” she said, pointing with all the pride of the CEO of Goldman Sachs to the neat piles of 90 pesewas stacked on her little table. “It’s change for the taxi drivers.”

Apparently they hand over a one cedi note for each pile of pesewas, giving the woman a ten per cent commission, and they need the change when they fill a cab with four passengers going in the same direction, each paying a fraction of the regular fare.

Fat passengers, I was horrified to learn, uncomplainingly pay double. I am trying to walk everywhere, to avoid embarrassment.

Just don’t mention the Ghana Fat Fares to that bloke at Ryanair!



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