Liberia celebrates Decoration Day today, Wednesday with solemn reflections of hundreds of people who died of the deadly Ebola virus.
It is the 19th day since Liberia last reported a confirmed case of Ebola, the sixth day since the known Ebola patient was discharged from any of the 19 treatment units
and a year since the disease was first recorded on a Liberian soil.
This year’s event is the 98th observance of the day, after it was enacted into law by the Liberian parliament on October 24, 1916. A day characterized by weeping, wailing and sobbing, this year’s event is overshadowed by the grief of the loss of more than 3,000 people.
At an Ebola cemetery run by the International Medical Corps (IMC) in Suacoco, Bong County, relatives, friends and loved ones of some 115 people who died in a USAID-funded Ebola treatment unit began arriving at 9 a.m. to pay their respect.
The cemetery is different from others scattered around the country, with some visible along several routes nationwide. The graves are well arranged and a head stone showing the names and dates of birth of each victims. There are graves of people in their 60s, 50s and 40s but also those of 8, 10, 11 and 14-year-olds. This reporter saw graves of a one-day-old and that of an unborn child (surgeons had to get the dead baby from the womb of its mother).
A team of IMC psychosocial consolers spoke to the weeping relatives as they laid wreath and roses on the graves of their loved ones. Male relatives also consoled their despaired female relatives. And a man who lost four relatives—three children and wife— lit candles on all four graves.
“I have come to see the grave of my aunty—Annie Yarkparwolo—the woman who brought me up,” said Jerry Boway.
“She (aunty) was caring. I was a child and she took care of me. She was a principled woman. All of those who lived with her are not spoiled, he added.
“I will not forget about you; you are in my heart,” a woman cried out loud.
“Who will take care of me and my brother now that you have left us here?” Cried 24-year-old Lorpu Kollie who stood at the foot of her mother’s grave.
“She loved us the best. Whenever I cried, she was there. She did everything to prove that she was my mother. Now I can no longer see here. I am missing her very much.
“My father, too, died at the ELWA-2 Ebola treatment unit. As for him, I cannot decorate his grave.”
Kollie’s father could be one of the nearly 3,000 people cremated at the Boys Town crematorium. Their remains were on Saturday transferred to newly established cemetery for Ebola victims at Disco Hill on the Roberts International Airport highway in Margibi County.
The government of Liberia is planning to erect a monument at the Disco Hill cemetery, where all the names of Ebola victims nationwide would be engraved before the bones and ashes being kept at the cemetery will be buried.
The ceremony marking the transfer of the remains of Ebola victims was equally not short of painful memory of the horrid experience. There were 16 barrels containing the bones and ashes of the victims. They were all decorated in red and white. An inter-religious ceremony administered by prelates, Muslim clerics and traditionalists. There were exaltations, choruses and eulogies.
Children climbed up the balcony of nearby houses to catch a glimpse of the intercessory service.
The Traditional Council of Liberia exchanged kola nuts with residents of the Boys Town community who have been demanding compensation for exposure to trauma and possible hazard as the result of the five-month cremation of the unfortunate Ebola victims. “Jacob said to his children ‘If I die, carry me to my home’. This place does not represent our people,” the head of the National Traditional Council, Chief Zanzan Kawor said.
“It is a sad day; it is almost like reliving what already happened. On the other hand, it brings closure. At least their remains—bones and ashes—will now be disposed of with dignity,” added Boys Town spokesman, Tibelrosa Tarponweh.
A special prayer was offered for the young men who volunteered their services as cremators—that they get the reward of helping to what has come to be one of the darkest moments in the history of Liberia.
All 16 barrels were taken to the Disco Hill cemetery, where they would await a period of consultation and possibly an erection of a memorial bearing the names of all the victims before bones and ashes they contain can be laid to rest.
Just before being placed in vehicles by the burial team of the Liberian Red Cross Society for the journey to their final resting place, the choir of the Providence Baptist Church sang: “My Lord, what a morning when the stars began to fall.”