Reasonably, the hallowed ground should have been transformed into a memorial in honor of the lives lost, just like the 9-11 memorial in New or the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Kigali. Mount Sugarloaf could have also served as a sad reminder of the tragedy that awaits us when we do not pay close attention to our forested areas. Like the decade-long civil war, the mudslide and the Ebola outbreak, the country continues to turn a blind eye to the heroic deeds of survivors, responders-men and women- who placed their lives on the line so that others may live.
Not too far from Mount Sugar Loaf, at the other end of town, is Foulah Tong community in the Mountain Cut vicinity. That was where Natasha’s dad, Kelvin, became a local hero. During the flash flooding in that area, Kevin and his brother, Fuhard Sesay, defied the torrent, ventured out and rescued about 40 people whose houses had been flooded. The blogger captured on video their operations and posted them in record time on Facebook because: “We wanted people to see and be aware of what had happened in our community.”
Barely a month after his heroic deeds, I met Kelvin. He had been admitted to the Satellite Clinic on Macauley Street, not too far from the place where he had saved the lives of others. He was physically drained and weak. Yet, America’s Stress cellphone was on the loop. Sierra Leoneans at home and in the Diaspora were calling him to pick up monies from Western Union in appreciation of his relief efforts. They trusted him more than the government; they wanted nothing to do with the structures put in place by the government to receive assistance.
In hardly audible voice, Kelvin told me that the Doctors had diagnosed him with pneumonia. “I have overworked myself. I am exhausted. I feel pains all over my body, and I am cold,” he expressed, adding that he would not rest until he was able to disburse and account for every penny he had received from total strangers.
Natasha’s dad never fully recovered. Barely a year after, and after several visits to various hospitals across the country, Kevin Kamara died on April 6, 2018. His wife felt abandoned. Some members of the deceased family, according to her, thought he had left her millions of Leones in a bank account. Like other heroes, the State never recognized Kevin’s exploits. However, thanks to the journalist Ahmed Sahid Nasralla (De Monk), the organization, All Walks of Life (AWOL), honoured him with an award. Today, the deceased’s wife’s only means of survival is earnings from selling ‘col wata’ at Aberdeen and on Lumley beach.
Like Natasha, I also met then three-year-old Borbor at a tent set up for children affected by the mudslide by the nonprofit Family Homes Movement. The authorities had transformed the Malama Kaningo Community Primary School into a displaced center. Oblivious of how he survived the flooding and the circumstances of his immediate surroundings, Borbor would escape from the classroom-turned shelter, which his mum was sharing with hundreds of others, to go out and play in the tent. He is being raised by a single mum who said she only received 1.5 million Leones from the authorities to start life all over again.
Borbor, who was later named Alfred Sesay, turned five in May this year. He is currently in Nursery 2 at the Divine Academy at Kaningo. Every morning his mother, Lucy, would prepare porridge that she would pour into a calabash or a kettle to sell in her neighborhood. Though Borbor can read his ABC, he is in dire need of a bicycle. His mum says he always goes into panic mood whenever it rains.
I have some emotional attachment to Natasha and Borbor. These kids, just like the thousands of survivors of our nation’s recent tragedies, need not depend on handouts to live. Today, Lucy can sell ‘pap’ to take care of the immediate needs of Borbor. Natasha’s mum is also doing the same with ‘col-wata’ on the beaches of Lumley. The question remains: how sustainable are these stopgap measures?
I hope that we will use the second anniversary of the mudslide to collectively reflect on what we as a nation and people did and didn’t do to avert such catastrophe and for survivors like Natasha and Borbor. Like a drowning man clinging to a straw, I am also hoping that a memorial will be constructed in honour of those who lost their lives.
Did I hear an Amen?