To find Andrew Kondoh, walk through the gates of this city’s largest cemetery, where teams in moonsuits bury more than 50 bodies in white plastic bags each day. Look for the man with the wispy goatee and big belly, who is overseeing one of the world’s most chaotic, dangerous graveyards as if he’s done it all before.
That’s because he has.
Twenty years ago, when he was 13, Kondoh took it upon himself to guard a heap of bodies, people killed by rebels during the country’s civil war. For three years, as the pile grew, he protected them from being trampled or picked at by dogs. When that conflict ended, Kondoh made a promise to himself. He was done working with the dead.
Then Ebola surged in Sierra Leone.
“It’s like I’m back there again,” Kondoh said. “Except this time I don’t see the faces in the body bags. I just imagine them.”
In Sierra Leone, war forms the silent backdrop to the country’s newest tragedy. It was war that destroyed the nation’s infrastructure, leaving behind a decrepit medical system. It drove away the doctors. But it also produced resilient men and women like Kondoh, who have felt compelled to act as the death toll mounts.
The fighting started in 1991, when Kondoh was 11, and ended when he was 22. Rebels swept through the country, murdering civilians, raping women and abducting children. The army pushed back, committing its own horrific abuses, as diamond mining rights hung in the balance. Somewhere between 10,000 to 50,000 people were killed.