“People die here everyday, randomly and without good explanations.” I say this sentence in every longer conversation I have about Sierra Leone. It was always something very much matter of fact to me, just another statistic that I have saved in my head among the other key health indicators: maternal mortality 1165 per 100,000 live births, infant mortality 92 out of 1000, average life expectancy 48 years, GDP per capita 1500 USD per year, poverty rate 52%, 35% of pregnant women are teenagers, literacy rate among women 25%, ranking in the human development index: among the last 10 countries in this world. I am so used to these statistics, it doesn’t really move anything anymore in my mind, just some thoughts on how they were measured and if the right statistical approach was used. They are all screaming out that something is terribly wrong in Sierra Leone, that life years are wasted, families regularly hit with disaster and confronted with sickness and death.
I was never someone who was moved a lot by death. For me, the time of my and every one else’s death does not lay in our hands and is out of our control. I believe that we have a life after death and that death is just another milestone in this universal existence. In highschool, the best essay I wrote was titled “The aim of life is to be ready to die” and I lived according to it. The aim of life is to be ready to die. When it was someone’s time to reach that milestone, I normally thought that it was more or less justified and that life for us continues. Grandparents die after a long life, last stage cancer patients die after long treatment, only in rare cases are there exceptional deaths. My grandfather is receiving palliative care after few years of heavy medical interventions that kept him alive, including a bypass heart surgery ten years ago. His body has long been ready to die, but modern medicine wasn’t allowing this, giving his soul time to reach the point where he is ready to die. You do not get that time in Sierra Leone. There is no modern medicine, there is no working health system with heavy medical interventions and bypass heart surgery. You can be lucky if the clinic you are consulting with your pains has a qualified nurse who happens to be around and some painkillers in the shelf who are not expired or stocks just happened to have run out.
I was never someone who was moved a lot by death. I realised that people attend funerals regularly here in Sierra Leone, I realised that people tend to die younger than what I know from Switzerland. However, when one of the uncles of my closest friend died of Ebola or when the father of my night guard suddenly had to be rushed to hospital, dying of unknown causes and making my strong young guard crying out loud, I didn’t feel a lot. I didn’t feel a lot when the father of one of my best friends here died and avoided going to the funeral (it was Ebola times, after all, is what I told myself). I didn’t feel a lot when people kept commenting on the fact how lucky I was to still have both of my parents alive (why should they be dead, they are only in their fifties anyway?!). I just had my wake up call, literally. I woke up at 4am this morning to a text message from Kapry, saying that his sister in law has passed away. She was the wife of Lansana, whom I know well, the mother of an 18 month old girl who likes to dance to Nigerian music and she was my age. She was not ready to die and she shouldn’t have. Sierra Leone let her down and Sierra Leone also let the other 3500 women down who died during the last year in childbirth of preventable causes. Sierra Leone also let the 25,000 children down who die every year before they reach their 5th birthday. We let the 4000 people down who died because of Ebola, but a similar epidemic (even worse – as it is endemic) is happening in Sierra Leone in the front of all our eyes, written in all statistics. People are dying here all the time, randomly and without good explanations. And they are not given the time to be ready to die, they have not lived their life to the fullest of their possibilities, they have not had time to accept their fatal illness or had time to note down how they would like their funeral to happen. Sometimes, it is not possible to be ready to die – and it is up to us to change that, for everyone, especially in Sierra Leone.
I apologise for my ignorance so far. I apologise that it took me two years of living here to be shocked at a message of death. I apologise to all Sierra Leoneans and Africans for not giving you the time to be ready to die. Rest in peace, Madame Marie Kabbah, and thank you for waking me up from my ignorance. Let us hope and pray that your daughter will reach her 5th birthday and live way beyond that, enough long to be ready to follow you to where you are now.