The following is based on real events.
Shakie Kamara had a hard life. He had suffered through much more than a 15-year-old would normally be expected to. When he was young, his mother and father had died, leaving him the care of an aunt, Eva Nah. Eva was not in a good financial position to care for Shakie, but she took on the responsibility with a firm sense of duty.
She had been a good caregiver within her means, which were not great. The only housing she could arrange was in one of the poorest slums in Monrovia, West Point. Their small home was cramped, but relatively happy despite the circumstances.
When Shakie had first heard the word Ebola, it was in a radio broadcast talking about a strange sickness in Lofa County. He had not thought much of it then, there were many bad sicknesses in the world and Lofa was far north.
Within weeks, Shakie was hearing from friends that Ebola had come to Monrovia. The discussions in the shacks on rainy days were conflicted. Some were very afraid of this new illness that cause you to bleed from your eyes and eats. Some said that this was a plot by Ma to get more money from America. Some said this was a plague made by white men to eliminate Africans.
Shakie didn’t concern himself with such grand things. Day to day food was a much more pressing issue for him. Eva worked where she could and Shakie also did whatever work he could for their small home.
When the first West Point residents were taken to the hospitals with Ebola, the community became tense. Several people Shakie knew had gone to those hospitals and very few of them ever returned. Not only were they fighting the ever-present plague of hunger, now a fearsome disease was stalking among them.
When the West Point Clinic was opened, Shakie was somewhat relieved. There was not a place for the sick to go. Maybe he wouldn’t get sick now. Plus, with the schools closed and the clinic in the schoolhouse, maybe Eva will get off his back about learning to read better.
The next day, Shakie saw a crowd trotting toward the new clinic. He followed at a distance (they didn’t look friendly). They arrived at the clinic. Men in the front yelled and ripped the gate off its hinges. A mass of humanity rushed into the clinic and many of the sick people were brought out.
Shakie did believe in Ebola so he avoided all the people leaving the clinic. When he saw people leaving the clinic with mattresses, sheets, and food, he rushed into the clinic himself to see what he could grab for his home.
The crowd had been swift and thorough. There wasn’t a stitch of fabric or a crumb of food left in the entire clinic. Shakie searched but all he found were a few nurses and about ten sick people who refused to leave the clinic. On seeing them, Shakie made a quick exit.
There was a strange calm in West Point over the next day. It felt like being heard for the first time in a long time. The slum had been ignored by the government for so long and they had shown them that they mattered. While Shakie didn’t like what was done, it did feel good to be heard.
The following morning, Shakie woke to a commotion outside. There, at the entrance to West Point, was a mound of debris blocking the streets. Soldiers stood behind the piles with guns in hand. A man who had an air of authority to him walked up with a megaphone.
“West Point, Ma has placed you under quarantine. You cannot come or go. If you have any sick people, please bring them to be taken to the hospitals.”
He repeated this several times. Few in the crowd knew what a quarantine was and it took a lengthy explanation from the soldiers to get the message through.
They were trapped in West Point.
Well, to be clear, people without money were trapped. The bribes to leave came quickly. People quickly learned that if they looked poorer, they could get out with a smaller bribe. Most of the residents didn’t even have the meager amount necessary to bribe the soldiers.
Shakie was on the poor side even for West Point so he and Eva were going nowhere.
The calm after the clinic had been ransacked was gone. Now West Point seethed. Through the night the people of West Point became more and more agitated. They quickly realized they would run out of food. Prices for rice and fruit had doubled immediately once the quarantine had been placed. The soldiers had not mentioned anything about food coming. No one could go out and get food to bring it back.
They would starve.
The air that night was pungent not simply with the usual smell of humanity, but with the sense that something was going to happen soon. As men sat around small fires discussing, all of them were planning how they could escape from West Point.
Shakie was not involved in such discussion. Eva made sure that he was in before dark. During these troubled times, she had kept him on a shorter leash.
As dawn broke, Eva asked Shakie to go to a small shop near the entrance to West Point to get some tea and bread for them for breakfast. After grabbing what he hoped would be the necessary funds, he left. As he approached, a large mass of humanity moved quickly to his left. In an instant, Shakie realized he had walked into a riot. A soldier with a bullhorn was yelling some final warning, but the crowd rushing the barricade was no to be stopped.
As suddenly as the crowd had lurched forward, it exploded in every direction away from the barricade. Some were bleeding, but in good enough condition to run away. No one noticed a small, 15-year-old boy with his legs mangled beneath him.
“No ma, No pa,” he screamed into the sudden stillness around him. Some trails of blood led back into sundry places in West Point, his blood left no trail, but a pool.
The soldiers didn’t know what to do and stood, paralyzed for a moment. The man with the bullhorn quickly ordered them to call for an ambulance and to tend the boy as best they could.
Despite the close proximity to several hospitals, ambulances in Monrovia take some time to arrive. Shakie was already unconscious with an inconsolable Eva nearby by the time the ambulance pulled up. Shakie was rushed to Redemption Hospital where he died quickly of blood loss.
The Defense Ministry claimed the Shakie had been killed by barbed wire, but the staff at Redemption were not persuaded. Shakie had obviously died from gunfire. The war had taught many of them what a bullet hole looked like in a person’s body.
Shakie Kamara never caught Ebola. The infection was spreading through Liberia and was slowly working out a much deadlier and more dangerous disease: panic. Though Shakie did not die of Ebola, it most certainly killed him.
The story above is based on real events. I have taken some artistic liberty, but the events are real. I do not personally know anyone involved, but I felt that the story, as much as it is known, should be told.
The image above is from Abrissa Someri and is used with permission.