“I think an Ebola survivor’s house collapsed this morning,” said Katie, a friend who works for an international NGO in Sierra Leone. She looked tired as she approached me, phone in hand. At the edge of the hotel lobby, a colleague waited for her at a café table. It was mid-August, and I was two days into my first visit to Freetown, the country’s capital, in almost 10 years. Outside the hotel lobby’s doors, the circular driveway was flooded, as it had been for days. One expects rain during the rainy season in one of the wettest places in the world, but this much was unusual. The Western Area, where Freetown is located, had received more than four inches of rain that week, and triple the region’s seasonal average in the previous six weeks.

I waited in the restaurant off the lobby in...

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