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A 10-Hour Ride, A Welcome With Cola Nuts, A Sad Yet Hopeful New Normal

Twins Watta and Fatta Balyon pose for a picture outside their guardian Mamuedeh Kanneh's house.

They hired a car and drove for ten hours over the most rutted dirt roads you can imagine, dodging motorbikes and pedestrians and overloaded cars all the way.

It was December. NPR producers John Poole and Sami Yenigun had come to see what happens to a village after Ebola has struck.

Barkedu is a beautiful place, green and forested. Tall hills start to rise near its border with Guinea. Cows and chickens roam around the village, which is built on the side of the Lofa River. A small stream runs through Barkedu, where people bath and wash their clothes.

The chief met Poole and Yenigun with a traditional gift – cola nuts, the kind used to give a caffeinated jolt to the original Coca-Cola, wrapped in a banana leaf.

The first Ebola case in Barkedu came in July. As the virus spread during the summer, the town was burying nearly a person a day. Some families were nearly wiped out. In all, 150 of the 6,000 villagers died.

But by December, Barkedu had been declared Ebola-free. NPR's team wanted to see how a village recovers after facing death every day. The chief, Moussa Kamara, said that despite the pastoral scene, things weren't back to normal.

"No! Life is not back to normal," he said emphatically. "It is not normal." If his neighbor lost family members and his neighbor is in mourning, "I'm not happy."

Poole and Yenigun talked to the villagers, took pictures, tried to capture the sights and sounds of a place struggling to find its balance after facing horrible tragedy.

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