As Ebola Cases Drop, Liberia's Soccer Fans Are Back In The Zone : Goats and Soda Liberians cram into sports bars to cheer on their favorite teams. That wasn't happening when Ebola was at its peak. But now, the fans are gathering again.
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As Ebola Cases Drop, Liberia's Soccer Fans Are Back In The Zone

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As Ebola Cases Drop, Liberia's Soccer Fans Are Back In The Zone

As Ebola Cases Drop, Liberia's Soccer Fans Are Back In The Zone

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/370084683/370156388" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Life is slowly returning to normal in Liberia as the Ebola epidemic begins to ease. That means video clubs, where Liberians go to watch soccer, are once again filling up as stir crazy soccer fans gather to root for their favorite teams. NPR's Sami Yenigun reports from the eastern border town of Ganta.

SAMI YENIGUN, BYLINE: Sun has set in Ganta and the red dirt roads are humming with motorbikes and boom boxes. At Justina's video club about 30 or so young men are gathered to watch the champions league matches. Real Madrid is beating Ludogorets and Arsenal just put the ball past Galatasary's keeper.

(CHEERING)

YENIGUN: Video clubs like this are sort of like the Liberian sports bar, but there's no beer served, no barstools. Young men - and it's almost all men - gather here to support their squads. This dimly lit hall is filled with rows of plastic chairs in front of mounted TVs. People are passionate about soccer here, plus since so many are out of work, watching games is just something to do. But Alberto Fong says when the government announced a state of emergency in early August, everyone was afraid to come together.

ALBERTO FONG: (Unintelligible) everybody was trying to observe the rules.

YENIGUN: Fong says it's very dangerous to sit in these clubs, but everyone is trying to observe the rules. And that's how Liberia's cut the number of new cases down to under a hundred per week. And it's a big part of why the state of emergency was lifted a month ago. Those rules include avoiding human contact, staying away from large gatherings and washing your hands with diluted chlorine before entering public buildings. But there's no chlorine bucket in front of this video club. Fortunately, Fong came prepared with his own hand sanitizer.

FONG: I did come here with my sanitizer. Just in case I touch someone, I'd sanitize my hands.

YENIGUN: Holding his bottle of sanitizer, Fong says he wipes his hands if someone touches him. Not everyone here is as prepared as Fong and these sticky sweaty video clubs are jam-packed with people. Ebola seems to be on the retreat, but health officials say complacency could be what sparks another outbreak. Isaac Jackson is Liberia's deputy information minister.

ISAAC JACKSON: My ministry regulates what happens in the video clubs and we're telling people if you want to go and watch the football games, you must need to first observe the safe measures that we have put in place. Wash your hands.

YENIGUN: Ganta sits right across the border from Guinea, where the outbreak started. It's pretty lax in the Arsenal video club, just down the street from Justina's. Here, men are sitting shoulder to shoulder on wooden benches. Most of them seem comfortable, but not everyone wants to go in. Emmanuel "Good Boy" Gbormie is sitting outside, taking no chances.

EMMANUEL GBORMIE: Very, very not safe. These are all interactive areas. There's bucket to wash hands. So for me personally, I'm going to protect myself.

YENIGUN: It's not safe, he says - no bucket, close human interaction. For Gbormie, protecting himself is more important than backing his team, so he'll wait for his friends to come outside and tell him who's won. Sami Yenigun, NPR News, Ganta.

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