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Sierra Leone, the tears after the blood

By Umaru Fofana

Samuel Pessima stands still – looking lost in something. He is surrounded by poverty emanating from long years of neglect for John Thorpe village, some six miles from Freetown. 3,000 people live in a community with virtually no toilet – unless of course if you count the dumpsite as one.

In what looks like saying blood oozed out after a stab, 30 people died in this community during the cholera outbreak in 2012. “Despite promises during the elections that toilets would be built, here we are” an old man laments to me. No surprises to know that Ebola has wreaked havoc on this community perhaps more than anywhere else in the country.

The asceticism Pessima exudes tells of someone who has something on his mind, eating him up. On 23 September 2014, the 14-year-old lost his mother. Fatmata Thullah – a businesswoman – died after contracting the Ebola virus apparently during one of her business trips. She would be the first to get infected here. Two months later, 140 other people would die of Ebola in a community of about 3,000 people, according to Hassana S Kamara, the Assistant Headman and village Development Chairman. Hassana carries a small piece of paper wherever he goes, containing disaggregation of the numbers of people killed by Ebola at John Thorpe: 61 women, 30 men, 33 girls and 17 boys.

When I visited the village a few hours ago, I saw Pessima standing in front of a disused rundown house in a rundown community, as tear runs down his cheek. Yes, that was home for mother and son. He would still be a happy lad today despite the acrid poverty and inhabitability of the house.

Fatmata Thullah infected his sister, Ramatu Kamara who would die a few days later, but not before infecting her husband and several other members of their family. Today Ramatu’s husband Mohamed Mansaray is a social mobiliser in the community having recovered from the deadly disease. He moves from house to house urging people who fall sick to report to a health centre. Today the people are willing to do that because OXFAM has built a holding centre which will be handed over today, 14 January, to the International Rescue Committee who will run it.

Talking to me Mohamed breaks down when he thinks about and mentions his wife and children lost to Ebola. He brings out his scarf to wipe away his tears. He breaks down again, this time for the “neglect” his community has suffered. “No interest is paid to the community otherwise those deaths would have been avoided” he laments, before going into a tirade of the basics the society lacks – clean drinking water, toilet facility, electricity, jobs, etc.

As I leave to take further look around John Thorpe, I hear a baby crying – screaming virulently. As someone who’s attracted to children, I stop to poke some jokes to see if that will stop the tear. 16-month-old Fatmata Kamara starts sobbing. She’s hungry and they bring her KANYA to eat. It must be Gari Kanya as it looks seedy. As she struggles to grab it, it falls off her hand onto a very dirty ground. A woman, apparently her aunt, picks it up and starts to blow it. I stop her from giving it to the baby.

Young Fatmata sits on the lap of a woman who can possibly not be her mother. “That’s her grandmother who’s now looking after her” Benedict Sheriff, a community health volunteer tells me. Grandma Amie Bangura tells me of how her daughter, Yanna Kamara, died of Ebola. “She started complaining of body pain, and then vomiting and diarrhoea, and then she died” she tells me chronologically. “Where is your granddaughter’s father?” I ask. “He also developed the same symptoms and went away. We have not seen him since” she says.

Also sitting beside Amie are two girls probably between three and six years. They are another of Yanna’s daughters. With other relatives they are all crammed in a mud house that’s partly broken with unlocking doors.

As we walk further down towards the wharf, the community volunteers show more houses where families have been decimated. One of them is abandoned. There, 15 members of a family used to live in. 13 have been wiped out by Ebola. 19-year-old Alpha Sankoh and his 38-year-old mother, Fatmata Sesay, are the only survivors.

Alpha’s mother tells me of how she lost her husband, her four sons and one daughter almost within a week. She tries to stay strong but she cannot. She breaks down as tears icicled down her cheeks.

“I cannot continue living in this house at least for now” she tells me. “I used to live here with my husband and my children who are no more” she tells me, and breaks down again. “I fear the spirit of my lost family members and I fear for me and my only remaining child” she says as she looks to her left and pulls Alpha nearer to her.

Alpha is still alive today because his grandmother drove him away after he refused to tend to his dad which involved touching him. He tells me that he would go greet them in the morning but would not go inside the house, let alone to touch them. His 10-year-old sister, Kadiatu Kamara died in a taxi that’s still parked in front of the house. She had nowhere to be taken to and no one to even take her there. She crawled until she lost her life inside the car.

Communities surrounding Freetown like John Thorpe could be the reason for unrest in future if measures are not put in place by those they voted for. The tears that are following the blood that has been shed by their lost loved ones could come to haunt our peace and quiet.  They are taken advantage of because of their ignorance and the tribal nature of our country’s politics. Schooling even in the best of times is a nonstarter. But come elections, nowhere is unimportant. But even fools get clever sometime.

© Politico 15/01/15