It has been more than a year since this deeply religious country embraced one of its biggest taboos — cremating bodies — to rein in a rampaging Ebola pandemic. In that time, the majority of Liberians have started to move on.Sometimes courageous and virtuous acts are rewarded, but just as often not.
But such is not the case for some 30 young men who were called upon during the height of the crisis last year.
As bodies were piling up in the streets and global health officials were warning that the country’s ages-old traditions for funerals and burials were spreading the disease, these men did what few Liberians had done before: set fire to the dead. And for four months they did so repeatedly, burning close to 2,000 bodies.
Villagers protested near the site, hurling abuse and epithets at the men they called “those Ebola burners them.” The government deployed police officers and soldiers along the dirt road to the crematory site in a field to keep angry locals from the men.
Their families shunned them as they pursued their grim work. One young man — Matthew Harmon — who lived not far from the crematory site here, said his mother refused to see him, telling him never to call again.
“My ma said, ‘You burning body?’ Then I’nt want see you no more around me,” Mr. Harmon said.
The ostracism darkened what was already an abysmal time for the men, so much so that now, a full year after the country has ceased the cremations, their lives remain virtually destroyed.
Their nights are spent with alcohol or drugs — habits they said they acquired to get through the mass burnings. One burner, William Togbah, says no night goes by when he does not dream of seared flesh. Several of the men, shunted aside by friends and family, now live together, sharing the same room in a house not far from the crematory site.
“I’m not in a good life now,” Mr. Togbah said.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Those Ebola Burners Them
Amazing story by Helene Cooper about the men who volunteered to burn corpses during Liberia's Ebola epidemic: