32 graves

BO, Sierra Leone – 7 November 2014

The road to Moyamba is typical of what you imagine when travelling through Sierra Leone. The landscape is made of tall trees with tropical green leaves, thick bushes and forests of palms growing randomly along the banks of small rivers. The heat is humid.

The small town of Moyamba is in the southern part of Sierra Leone, 250 km from the capital Freetown. It is a quiet place with community and health centres, good roads, a few busy markets and people of different faiths living together.

Peaceful Myamba is now in the ‘red zone’ because of the numbers of Ebola cases confirmed here.
Sadly, Moyamba has become what’s known as a ‘red zone’ because of the numbers of Ebola cases confirmed here since the beginning of the outbreak. The ambulances rushing through the streets and the proximity of a construction site, managed by British troops to build an Ebola isolation centre, are the indicators of life being derailed by the monstrous virus.

We drive to the edge of town to reach the current isolation centre. Several young men and officials are getting ready to put on their personal protective equipment (PPE). The detailed and precise process takes a long time and the burial workers carefully monitor each other to make sure the layers of protective clothing are properly in place. These young men are from the town, they know each other well and have been training for months together to conduct the safe and dignified burial of numerous Ebola victims in the area.

I immediately feel for the burial workers fully covered and spraying each other profusely with the chlorine.
The first thing I notice at the isolation centre was the stench of the chlorine used to spray the PPEs, the shovels, the stretcher and even the car used to transport the victim. I can feel the acidity of the disinfectant on my face, in my eyes and on my lips. The burning feeling, in addition to the heat, is unbearable. I immediately feel for the burial workers fully covered and spraying each other profusely with the chlorine.

The victim we are here to bury arrived several days ago. She was on her own and already seriously affected by Ebola. She was 35 years old with no relatives to pray for her. She will be the last person to be buried today. It is already 5.00 pm and no burial can take place after 6.00 pm – as the sun sets it will be dangerous to supervise the strict security measures needed to perform a safe and dignified burial.

The men in white are slowly moving towards the isolation centre and enter by the furthest part of it which is marked by a thick orange barrier. Health workers have come out to pay their last respects. Others are looking at the scene from afar.

After several minutes, the burial workers come out with the victim; they put her gently but quickly in a body bag, while one of them sprays chlorine over the bag. At this stage, the body is considered safe but the chlorine is sprayed over and over again while they walk at a fast pace towards the pick-up vehicle which will carry her to the burial ground.

The sun is slowly hiding behind a beautiful mass of clouds and the end of the daylight is caressing the landscape. God’s nature is providing the last homage to this woman as we all walk silently behind the car.

She is finally put to rest under the trees.

The light is not going through the leaves any more but our hearts are still with her until the last shovel of soil covers her sick body. As I leave the ground, I have counted 32 graves, all Ebola victims.

A broken promise

I arrived in Bangui—the capital of a country at war with itself. The people in the camp were internally displaced due to the violence that has been occurring throughout the country, and the World Vision team was on a mission to document their plight.The camp surrounding Notre Dame Fatima church in Central African Republic looked like a market, full of people selling local doughnuts, fruits, peanuts and soap among other items. Some children were playing, while most adults were organising their belongings, getting water from the temporary well or attending to the smaller children. The morning sun was offering a warm and yellow light as well as a sense of peace. It was the month of March. We were part of a small group of staff who had arrived from various parts of the Partnership to begin the response. The streets had been divided into narrow paths between the old mattresses, tarp and fabric covers and old suitcases holding what remained of the residents’ possessions. As we carefully walked along the paths, people invited us to hear their stories. Most of them wanted to do it anonymously or did not want to give their surnames. “We are too scared of being caught in revenge attacks,” one person explained. One woman, Henriette, started yelling at us to make sure we could hear her message: “We are unhappy – unhappy in our own country. Who is coming for us? Help us; it is a tragedy.Each family sheltering around the church has a tiny parcel of the street. Francis was quiet, surrounded by his family: his wife and two grandsons, and he waved at us. We approached him and he invited us to sit next to their mattress, “our most important possession at the moment. Francis explained that he was an electronics technician and that he had previously lived less than six kilometres from this camp where he now survived. His house had been destroyed during the violence and he had to run with his family away from death. “We are ‘refugees’ in our own city; I live so close but I am too scared to return.” Francis made clear that the only thing that he and the other people camping around the church wanted was to regain peace and a sense of normality. It was time to leave and we made a promise. The promise was to return several days later to attend the church’s Sunday service and to share with the people the photos and videos we had recorded of them. A few days later, we were informed that a fatal grenade attack had taken place near the church.Our security officer had to deny our request to return – we had to break our promise due to serious security concerns. A few days later, I had to return to regional office in Dakar, and I have lived with my broken promise ever since. I am finding comfort knowing that World Vision has a dedicated and expert team in place and we will be able to keep our promise to thousands of survivors. With a little bit of luck and strong faith, I might still be able to attend a church service with Henriette and Francis someday in their own neighbourhood. Yesterday, the 28th May 2014, at least 15 people have been killed and several others wounded during an attack in the camp. Gunmen hurled grenades and shot indiscriminately. I think of Henriette, Francis and his family… I hope they are still alive.

Jamma Rek!

Version 2As the 2013 door is gently closing and the 2014 window is impatiently waiting to be opened, I wish you all a peaceful and safe Christmas season. A Christmas in Dakar is like a Melbourne Christmas… Despite the freshness of the African winter, the sun is still high and the air is warm and gentle. The celebrations will take place outside, near a beach and under the palm trees. Tolerance and peace will be two pillars of the notorious Senegalese wisdom.

2013 will have been a year of changes and renewal for myself and for my family. I suppose moving again to Africa is allowing me to discover and embrace aspects of my life that I have neglected for many years. So far Africa gave me more than I have offered to it. I hope 2014 will provide me the opportunities to give back to a country and region which I already love so much.

Suspended Words has been one of my many joys of 2013 and I thank you for following and supporting my attempt to find the right words and capture honest photographies. A comment and a “like” have so much impact for me. I have always need encouragements and honest feedback to allow me to grow in my life. I sincerely thank you for nurturing my new passion.

Have a wonderful new year, full of hope, love, good health and successes.

Jamma Rek means Peace only in Wolof



The chickens – photo 009

I love this photography which I took in Loumia, a rural area 80kms of N’djamena, Chad.

The chickens were going to be sold to the local market. I was offered few of them but it would have been unreasonable to bring them back with me to Dakar.

I admire the color of the fabric and most of all the life experience so pronounced through the hands.