Ibrahima Barry (Translated from the French by: Jennifer Akerman)
It was the end of the university’s academic year. After finishing my sociology exams in Conakry, I was in a hurry to join parents, brothers and sister on holiday in N’Zérékoré.
My father, surgeon-physician and Deputy Director of the regional hospital, was pleased with my work because he had great hope in me, his eldest son. My family vacation took place in the warm atmosphere of familial reunion.
As for my father, he was very busy getting involved in the fight against the hemorrhagic fever of the Ebola virus that was ravaging the Guinean forest.
Thus, on Monday, September 15, 2014, he announced that he was leaving early the next morning as part of a mission led by the Regional Governor and the Prefect of N’Zérékoré to raise awareness among the populations in Womey, a sub-prefecture area.
The Fateful Day
After I woke up on Tuesday, September 16, I asked for news of my father. My mother informed me that he had already left, accustomed as he was to respecting appointment times. We did not receive any phone-calls from him during the day, although he usually would telephone us to hear our news. Our mother, my brothers, my sister and myself all tried to call him without success. The answering machine said he was unreachable. We told ourselves that he must have been very busy, and waited for the evening.
At around 7pm, the General Director of the hospital in N’Zérékoré, Dr. Yamoussa Youla, accompanied by Dr. Bah, came to our home where they found us following a RTG program. Seeing them at that late hour without our father intrigued us, especially because they seemed worried.
“I did not want to come and see you until we had news of Dr. Barry.”
“The Mission of Awareness was taken hostage and when we called the missionaries, their phones were off. Military personnel went to Womey to control the situation, and the Ministers of Health and Communication are currently on route from Conakry to N’Zérékoré.
“So, you have no news of the missionaries?”
“For the moment, only the Governor and the Prefect have been able to escape and return safe and sound.”
I then asked myself how they were able to escape leaving the others behind when they all left together under the direction of the Governor and the Prefect.
I did not close my eyes all night thinking of my dear father:
“Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he in the bush, or hidden somewhere, or lost in nature?”
All the members of my family passed the time by calling him without success, without sleeping, until the morning.
The worried neighbours, friends and collaborators of my father who had heard the news then invaded us.
Thus, we spent Wednesday, September 17th in total unease. Personally, I stayed optimistic by telling myself that I needed to keep my composure, consoling my mother, my sister and my younger brothers, as the eldest of the family.
According to the information I received from the neighbours, the ministerial delegation arrived to N’Zérékoré, and went directly to Womey. On Thursday, September 18th, there was still no specific news.
For this reason, the staff from N’Zérékoré decided not to work and go see the Governor and the Prefect demanding to know what happened to the other members of the mission that they themselves had directed to Womey. The Director of the hospital was finally able to convince them not to go in front of these authorities, but instead they stopped working.
The afternoon of that same day, the Minister of Health and his delegation came to the hospital to take some bags and products before leaving again for Womey in the company of several doctors.
The Macabre Truth
In truth, the eight missionaries had all been massacred by the population in revolt, and were buried in a mass grave covered with sand in the courtyard of the school. The villagers had fled, taking refuge in the bush. The only people who were left in the village were the elderly people that could not manage to displace themselves.
The eight assassinated missionaries consisted of:
- 3 doctors: my father, Dr. Mamadou Aliou Barry; the Prefect Director of Health, Dr.Ibrahima Fernandez; and the Director of a Private Christian Health Center.
- 3 journalists: 2 from the rural radio (Molou Chérif et Sidiki Sidibé) and 1 from the local private radio station Zali FM (Facely Camara)
- the Sub-Prefect (Moriba Touré)
- the Pastor
The doctors unearthed the eight bodies in the presence of the ministerial delegation, wrapping them in the various bags taken from the hospital to bring them back to the city of N’Zérékoré. Around 5pm, the remains were transported to the cold room in the hospital morgue; soldiers were posted on guard and instructed not to allow anyone to see the bodies.
A cousin trainee in medical emergency department of the hospital went to the morgue around 7pm, but was prevented from seeing the bodies. On Friday, September 19th, the Director of the general hospital informed me that the ministerial delegation would pay a visit to our family. We received them under a tent in front of our house the presence of a large crowd.
The Minister of Communication, on behalf of the Government, confirmed the sad news of the assassination of our father, Dr. Barry, while the Minister of Health, Colonel Remy Lamah cried in grief.
I then decided to go to the hospital morgue, because I would not be convinced of my father’s death until I saw his body. I met a few doctors and soldiers who blocked my path. I introduced myself by saying that I was the first-born son of Dr. Barry, Deputy Director of the hospital, and I wanted to see my father’s remains. They refused, and I responded by saying that I would not leave until I saw his body.
The soldiers informed the management of the hospital whose members met and finally allowed me to enter the morgue. I saw my father’s body lying as if he was sleeping, but they didn’t give me much time before they ordered me to leave again.
I returned home with tears in my eyes, and I informed my mother and my brothers that our father had in fact been assassinated in Womey- a village that I do not know, but will never forget.
Finally, we were informed that the funeral would take place in N’Zérékoré at 2pm the next day. I asked the Minister of Health to allow us to have the body of our father at my family’s disposal so that we could bury him in our village of Sallia, Sub-Prefecture of Bantignel, Pita. The Minister begged us to accept that all of the bodies, without exception, be buried here, in N’Zérékoré.
We had no choice, and when the time came, I went to the morgue. I helped carry the eight bodies that were loaded onto a military truck headed for the cemetery. I followed behind the truck in a car, and participated in the internment of the bodies.
At the end of the burial, the Minister of Communication, on behalf of the government, said that justice will do its duty, and that those who participated in these assassinations will be arrested, brought to trial and condemned. A sum of money was given to each family member.
Conclusion: Broken Lives
Faced with this tragic destiny, what will become of my family without my dad, the pillar of a harmonious and united family, the unfailing support of our village community attached to the bonds of solidarity of the extended family? What can I do, a young student without experience confronted with the role of the eldest son who must replace the father? The sight of the eight lifeless bodies at the morgue, the remains of well-known and respected personalities, sends shivers down my spine. This atrocious spectacle marking the dramatic and terrible end of my dear father was a shock that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Ibrahima Barry is pursuing a Masters in Social Actors and Local Development through Guinea’s new Socio-Anthropological Analysis Laboratory, in Conakry (Guinea). This narrative is adapted from a version published in March 2016 by l’Harmattan Editions (Conakry) in a collected volume of works by young others titled Ebola.