Madam Cecilia Ben
Cecelia squats as she mutters a few words. Tears came rolling down her cheeks uncontrollably. Her lips move up and down slowly. Her body language and facial expressions could tell that she was full of sorrows. This would be someone so dear to her heart-I wonder in my heart quietly.
At one point her voice would rise a little and then fades out. And when her voice became audible, she could be heard saying something to her deity. Yes, she is asking for forgiveness and help on behalf of the person and all those he left behind. It was in her native dialect.
The place she squatted was at the head of a grave marked R-6A30-1/30/15. It is that of her husband, Morris, who died from the Ebola Virus Disease or EVD. His body now lies at the Ebola Burial Site-referred to as the National Burial Site at Disco Hill in Margibi County.
The day was the second Wednesday in the month of March. Its National Decoration Day, a day set aside here to decorate the graves of ancestors and love ones. It coincided with the official opening of the Ebola Burial site to the public for the first time since it was established in 2014 at the height of the EVD outbreak.
Cecelia like many others have gone there for the first time to pay tributes to their dead love ones and lay wreaths as they offer prayers on their behalf. Those whose relatives and love ones were cremated stood by a hut wherein their ashes and bones are kept to pay tributes and offer prayers.
Few graves away from Cecelia, a young man squatted and sobbed quietly. Few meters away from him sat three young ladies and a gentleman. They, unlike Cecelia and the gentle sat by a grave on Row number 5. Between these graves were others marked as unknown female or male. This meant that these individuals could not be identified. No one was seen by the side of these graves.
Across the main street within the cemetery just few meters away from Cecelia stood two older women believed to be in their late 50s and early 60s. They stood over a grave offering prayers. It was that of their brother.
Earlier, they had forgotten a piece of paper bearing the identification of their brother’s grave. They had to seek help from the registration team at the site by calling his name and the date his body was brought there.
Manual check was done from a blue rooster at a fee of LRD100 or less. Here, they found it and wrote it down on a piece of paper. The grave was on Row 10.
Cecelia ended her prayers by asking God to accept the soul of her dear departed husband and that of others that lives were cut short by the tropical disease. “Forgive him for all the sins he committed,” she said. “Accept him in your bosom,” she went on. “We who he left behind help us and provide for us,” she said. “The children have not been in school since he left us. Make way for them to go to school….”
The thin lady rose up after she said her last words and walked across to where I stood. Cecelia is one of several victims who is yet to benefit from any assistance being offer to victims and their families. “I was told they divided money to victims family,” she told me. “But I couldn’t get my own because I had nobody to run after it for me.”
“My children are not in school. Life has been so difficult for us,” she explains. Cecelia spoke of the prayer she had just offered saying: “I was praying for God to forgive his sins and the sins of others who are lying here in the graves. To protect their families and provide for them.”
Up further at the Ebola burial site are graves of children whose lives were also cut short by the tropical disease. A woman sat by the grave of her little child-Praise, as she wept uncontrollably. Other family members stood by comforting her as she made her wishes. “I missed you my little angel,” she said as she wept. “Your coming brought joy to us and your departure have left sorrows,” she went on. “I had wish that you would have grown up for me to see you getting marry. I had planned that you would have had a red carpet wedding.”
Mr. Kortoson M. Pellewuwam is the site manager at this safe burial site. He says there are over 3000 graves at the site. This includes men, women and children. He says every dead body taken to the site are treated as Ebola victims.
The world health organization officially declared Liberia Ebola freed for the third time in August last year. But burials are still taking place at this site. “Besides Ebola bodies, we have streets and abandon bodies bury here also,” Pellewuwam told me.
The site is currently under the control of the Ministry of Health, but there are limited funding. It is well laid out with a computerized system. The graves of street and abandoned bodies are mark as unknown.
“It’s well organized and it looks like a western cemetery,” a foreign colleague said as we toured the EVD burial site.
By Othello B. Garblah