Graham Smith

Wedding dress rentals are way down. Condoms are no longer a hot item. And prostitutes are having trouble finding customers.

Blame it all on Ebola.

With at least 300 new cases a week in Sierra Leone, the virus is altering practically every aspect of life. And life, well, life includes love and sex. Even illicit sex.

So we wanted to find out how the epidemic has impacted these more ... intimate facets of daily experience for residents of the capital, Freetown.

When a man drives by the strip at Lumley Beach in downtown Freetown at night, he'll probably hear a sharp hiss. That's not an unusual sound in Sierra Leone. People hiss instead of whistling — to get your attention, to call for the bill at a restaurant, to buy a bottle of water on the street.

But the hissing along a stretch of beachfront road at Lumley Beach has a different purpose. It's the sound prostitutes make, and they've perfected the hiss. That's why they're called serpents.

When my NPR colleague Tom Bowman and I visited the southern Afghan district of Arghandab in the fall of 2009, we headed out on patrol with the U.S. Stryker battalion. We soon found ourselves in the middle of a firefight. A U.S. vehicle was blown up and two Americans were killed in an attack that was all too common at the time.