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Passing the night at Mile 38 checkpoint

April 9, 2015 By Alusine Sesay

I left Freetown for the province on Wednesday, 1 April. I took off late in the evening at around 6pm onboard a mini-van. At Shell, New Road, Kissy, in Freetown, the driver issued all passengers tickets, and everybody paid before we left.

While seated in the cab, the driver expressed worries saying that ‘I will like to reach at Mile 38 checkpoint before 7pm’. Being curious as a journalist, I asked the driver as to why he was worried about the time and the Mile 38 checkpoint. Having taken me some time since the outbreak of Ebola without embarking on an unofficial trip to the province, I was oblivious of the measures being implemented at the checkpoint. The driver then replied my question in Krio saying that: “The police den nor dae allow motokar for pass nar the checkpoint after 7pm (The police are not allowing vehicles to pass through the checkpoint after 7pm),” he said. I then asked as to the rationale behind such a measure. “To prevent the spread of Ebola,” the driver and others in the car replied. Then the conversation went on until we finally reached the Mile 38 checkpoint where we met fleet of cars ranging from trucks, mini-buses, taxi cars, mini-vans and a few private jeeps in a long queue. Naturally our driver packed just behind another mini-van that was among the cars prevented from either leaving or entering into Freetown.

It was around 7:30pm and a police officer approached the driver and ordered him to park the car in the correct order, which he did. “We are going to sleep here,” the driver informed all passengers. “We will leave early in the morning at 7am,” he continued. Shocked, I came down from the car, took a stroll and scanned the vicinity with absolute curiosity.

Mile 38 is an open space surrounded by grassland. The vicinity is not open to facilities like guest houses or even space for strangers to pass the night. The township is sparsely populated with few houses. The area is painted with police and military officers all of whom carrying guns. The township never sleeps as traders are almost always everywhere, selling different types of food stuffs for 24 hours. It can be very cold at night because of the heavy downpour of dew in the area.

On that particular night, I saw stranded passengers both from the provinces and Freetown moving helter-skelter in search of possible solutions to the challenges that confronted them. It was really a tough struggle! Untold suffering! Having planned one’s destination, then one is caught up in a war-like situation. Alternatives were not easily come by. People slept on the bare tarred street. No decent food around. The resolve of human being was greatly at play. Guys went into deep sleep and snored heavily under cars and on the bare tarred street while others kept moving around till daybreak.

Having resolved to passing the night in what I would describe as one of the most difficult moments in my life after the 11 years rebel war, I and my friend who is a police officer bought some cans of beer and drank while we sat in the open observing the situation. The experience I went through that night was akin to a situation I once found myself during the war. A situation I had prayed never to repeat itself in my life. But history they say has the power to repeat itself, so I took everything in good faith because every experience counts a lot in one’s life.

I spent almost all the war years in my village, Kalangba, where I gained both primary and junior secondary school education, though I had been visiting Freetown during the holidays. In 1998 when the rebels overran the entire Northern Region, we were living in a world of terror where you were not assured of surviving the next day. Where our fate was largely at the mercy of the marauding rebels because they could slaughter you and nobody would dare question them.

Since the rebels were looking for youths to be recruited, we spent the rest of those days and nights in the bush. One night, we were busy preparing some food to eat, specifically bulgur, because that was the only food we could come by then, when some rebels ran into us and scared us away. It was really a horrible experience; an experience that always haunts my life. Everybody ran away to different directions. Alone in the bush, I was confronted with multiple of problems ranging from hunger, harsh weather and above all fear. The fear factor dominated my entire life at that fateful night. There was the fear of being bitten by snakes, fear of being attacked by wild animals and the fear of being captured by the rebels. Fortunately, I passed the night alone in the bush without any harm, and such an experience could be understood since that was during the war period.

What baffled me a lot about my horrible experience at the Mile 38 is that, I agree that we are fighting a war but with an invisible enemy that cannot ambush us while travelling at night. Of course, there is no difference travelling in the day time and night hours. All that is expected of our security forces is to conduct proper checking and weed out all those suspected of being infected with Ebola, and that can take place even at night. But to restrict the movement of people at night is a violation of their right to freedom of movement. I don’t think the security forces are even living up to expectations at that particular checkpoint because they exercise selective justice. Why is it that commercial motor vehicles are only targeted while some private cars are allowed to go through without undergoing proper screening and temperature tests? What is more bizarre is that early in the morning, passengers are allowed to board their vehicles and move away without undergoing any temperature test. To me, such a measure will not help curtail the spread of Ebola but rather add to the suffering of the poor masses, hence it must be looked into.

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