Buried by ebola
Text by Daniele Bellocchio
Photographs by Marco Gualazzini
The Convicted: Buried by Ebola
The passing of time, the logic of science, the concept of future, the prospects of medicine: forget all this, forget all certainties secured, any guarantees of recovery, any pledges on old age. All has collapsed, crumbled, here in the regions of North Kivu, the land of Ebola; There is only one certainty: fear.
We are all exposed, all at risk, all condemned to endure the power of the virus, the infection, the atavistic suffering. There are no reassurances, no means of defence against the outbreak of the virus: one can only live constantly side by side with death, every individual’s destiny linked to a common fate. An egalitarianism of the damned lashes down on everybody, fate cannot be predicted, destiny is a gamble and there are no laws, probabilities, or statistics to give us hope. Science itself falters here in the epicentre of the outbreak, where funeral processions mark the passing of the hours, drumming the rhythm of the end, eating away at people’s nerves, reminding them they are alone, vulnerable, at the mercy of their psychoses, overwhelmed by the impatience of the present and deprived of the right to build a future.
They are prisoners of the disease, of solitude, tortured, incessantly, by a curse which condemns them to separation, to abandonment, to the injustice of segregation and barriers. It is so disgraceful to immerse oneself in the suffering of others, attired with gloves and goggles, swallowing frustration as you utter condolences from behind your mask: yet there is no solution. It is the price to pay if you want to narrate this modern-day plague. Infected with mortification and despondency you will not be able, not even at a later stage, to come to terms with yourself because mercy and survival will never be able to share the same space inside your conscience. But there is neither solution nor alternative, and as you take part in the funerals pain and helplessness reach their peak.
Inside the morgue in Beni the bodies are lined up in rows: coffins of different sizes and colours are laid out in the narrow hall, where a civil protection operator, a former Ebola victim who recovered and is therefore immune to the virus, continually sprays them with a solution of water and chlorine. This is the moment when the possibility of contagion is at its peak, the corpses’ secretions are highly infective. The slightest contact, a last kiss or a caress, is enough for the disease to spread and reap yet another victim. Off-road vehicles and lorries incessantly transport women and children, the victims of Ebola.
Outside the morgue, desperate hieratic cries fill the air, mixed with sobs and tears. The gaze in the eyes of Acha Masimengo’s friends and relatives is terrifying: they are the eyes of a people to whom history has preserved an inheritance of endless suffering, which exists beyond time and man. Acha was 32 years old. She contracted the disease while assisting her best friend and died after four days of agony. Her sister and mother clasp a photo of her in their hands as they drag themselves through the streets, screaming and weeping, reminding you that you have ventured into an inferno, where all logic and value has been overturned by the disease.
In the sky, swollen clouds, rife with tropical rain wrestle with the timid sun; on the ground, tear-drenched prayers accompany yet another coffin to the graveyard just outside the city, where the forest lays siege to the age-old compassion of few sparse flowers between the crucifixes. In this cemetery, created with the outbreak of the epidemic, coffins have just been laid to rest. They are crammed next to each other and even the space to bury the dead is running out. A pit has just been dug out and the burial men, after putting on protective suits and gloves, carry the casket and lower it into the ground.
The dead girl’s name was Esperance Kavira Balikwisha, she was 13 years old. As army and police officers, hiding behind masks, oversee the funeral ceremony, the girl’s father, walks alongside his daughter’s coffin alone. He moves slowly, carrying the weight of infinite sorrow and a cross bearing the girl’s name. ”My daughter had malaria. She went to the hospital to be treated. She caught Ebola inside the hospital.” He speaks in a soft wisp of voice and goes on to explain: “They took her to the Treatment Center and for three days I prayed that she would make it, but she didn’t.”
The funeral comes to an end and evening falls: the man remains alone, in ascetic silence, looking down at the soil-covered tomb. He is alone, statuary, he has no consolation, no relief as he stands frozen, his gaze lost in emptiness. He is a shadow, scanning through memories; on his daughter’s tomb, he imperceptibly moves his lips, reciting a last goodbye to his little girl. It the most painful of griefs, pain lashing at your soul, doom that breaks innocence, the awareness of a tragedy which grinds down the present, reducing it to a constant harrowing scourge.
The following day the pain becomes unbearable when a cluster of people gather to attend the funeral ceremony of Liliane Kapinga Ebaribi. The casket with the corpse is laid down outside the funeral parlour while her mother, relatives and friends file past the coffin keeping a few meters distance, to say their last goodbye to the little girl.
Lilian Kapinga Ebaribi, aged 3, who died from Ebola on 28 July. Her father, Tambue Engoy Emanuel, a member of the military, and her mother, Julien Faida, deny the existence of the disease, claiming that the child was poisoned, and that Ebola is a conspiracy on the part of foreign countries to wipe out the people of the Congo[/caption]
Her mother walks leaning on her two sisters, her grandmother pauses a few seconds and waves goodbye to her grandchild while her father stops and blows her a kiss. The procession heads towards the cemetery. A slow, sweet, moving chant stirs tears and pleas as they come to a halt in a green field where a soldier, with slow gestures so as not to disturb the sacredness of the service, finishes digging a small pit. The sun is setting; a hasty, rapid sunset, as if not wanting to dwell on the rhetoric of African sunsets.