Friday 26 December 2014

We survived two wars and we'll get through this, says Irish hotel owner

Gabriella Jozwiak

Published 16/08/2014 | 02:30

Liberian women singing in Monrovia after praying for help with the Ebola virus
Liberian women singing in Monrovia after praying for help with the Ebola virus

An Irish hotel owner in Ebola-struck Liberia has vowed to stay open even while the deadly virus rages through west Africa.

The Mamba Point Hotel in the capital of Monrovia has never closed throughout its 21-year history, including during two civil wars.

Director Anna O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes said the Ebola epidemic was no different.

Herself and husband Chawki brought in experts from the United Nations to brief staff on the emergency.

"They explained the importance of hygiene and chlorinated water," she said. The epidemic has so far killed more than 300 in Liberia.

Stringent protective measures are visible throughout the building, with anyone entering expected to wash their hands in chlorinated water. Employees have their temperature taken and recorded daily, a measure guests can also request .

"Our hygiene level is very high with food anyway, but we've been on super-alert regarding hygiene at a time like this," said Ms O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes.

She said she believed it was important the hotel remained open to accommodate international visitors arriving to tackle the outbreak. It is currently housing staff from the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Because of the hotel's reputation for safety and security, its restaurant has become one of few trusted places to eat for resident UN and diplomatic personnel.

"If I left then some of the staff would leave as well. When they see me, they're reassured," said the owner.

The virus has hit the hotel economically with business down to less than 25pc of what they would normally expect.

Ms O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes has much experience of crisis survival. Having lived in the country for 27 years she has fled two wars.

Born and bred in Dublin, she first came to Monrovia for a Christmas holiday in 1987. The 23-year-old fell in love with local Lebanese restaurant owner Bsaibes. They were married eight months later.

The couple set up a pizzeria in the city, but Ms O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes was forced to flee Liberia soon after. Liberia's first civil war lasted from 1989 to 1996 and claimed more than 200,000 lives. Ms O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes left Monrovia in April 1990, on the last flight out of the city with her 18-month-old son, Alexi.

"I was in Ireland and it was very traumatic, because I didn't know what was going on." Her husband later escaped and joined her in Dublin.

The Bsaibes family returned and set up the hotel in 1993. Mamba Point has hosted important guests, among them former Irish presidents Mary McAleese and Mary Robinson, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Queen Noor of Jordan.

Now Ms O'huadhaigh-Bsaibes is preparing more tense months ahead. She has not left the hotel compound for nearly three weeks and said she wouldn't leave until the outbreak subsided.

"The Ministry of Health here cannot handle it. We need foreign aid, we need trained doctors.

"I come out here dressed nicely and I have a big smile on my face - that's to keep up moral. But we're very worried about it."

Irish Independent

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