Liberian novelist Saah Millimono is seeking urgent medical treatment abroad for a hearing-impairment that has left him deaf in both ears while he also suffers from speech disorder.
Millimono lost his hearing in September 1996, following the “April 6 war” that broke out in Monrovia. Like most people fleeing the war, along with his elder sister, Christine, he sought refuge in neighboring Guinea. It was hoped that they would meet and stay with their father, who had left Liberia some years back and was then residing in Conakry, Capital of Guinea.
The trip from Monrovia to the Liberia-Guinea border in Nimba County, Northern Liberia, took about a week. The bus on which they were traveling was often stopped at rebel roadblocks where rebels fighting for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), armed with AK-47 assault rifles and machetes, would order everybody to disembark.
“Some people were taken into the bush and shot,” Millimono said. “Others were flogged and left to die by the roadside. Our belongings were seized. When we finally reached Ganta, the commercial hub of Nimba County, we had nothing except the clothes on our backs.”
Millimono and his sister spent another week in N’zerekore, a Guinean town which is about a few hours’ drive from the border. Because they had lost everything, including their transport, one of his sister’s friends, who was then working at a UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) office in N’zerekore, furnished them with money that enabled them to continue their journey.
Millimono can recall the boundless joy he felt when, one sunny Tuesday afternoon, they boarded the 60-seater bus which would be traveling to Conakry.
“I felt happier than I can put into words,” Millimono said. “And although the bus was so crowded it felt as if we were sitting on top of each other, I couldn’t have cared. A little more than two weeks earlier, I had been back in Monrovia, dying of hunger and trembling in fear for my life as the sound of bombs and bullets filled the air, while columns of smoke rose over the city, and I was just grateful to be alive.”
Millimono and his sister would spend about five months with their father in Conakry. With the April 6, 1996 war having subsided following the Abuja Accord in Nigeria that would lead to elections in July 1997, they returned to Liberia.
“It was on the morning I reached Liberia, got off the taxi at the bus parking in Red Light market, and started feeling ill,” Millimono said. He did not know what was happening to him but complained of his legs feeling like water. A few moments later he lost consciousness.
He was taken to the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Congo Town where he spent about five months. It was sometime in February 1997 that he was able to leave the hospital, only to realize that he was deaf.
“From my childhood and until the day that illness struck,” Millimono said, “I could never have imagined that I would lose my hearing. But now it had happened, and suddenly the world felt like a strange place.”
According to doctors at the hospital, Millimono had fallen ill with severe malaria. The only treatment available was the use of quinine. Millimono has since experienced buzzing in his ears, which is believed to have been caused by tinnitus, a side-effect of the use of quinine to cure an illness.
Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears.
Since 1996, Millimono has visited several medical centers in Liberia, including the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital (JFK), but has not been given any treatment for his hearing loss. He did, however, meet an Indian ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist at JFK, who advised him to seek medical treatment in Ghana where he could also benefit from the help of a speech therapist.
Despite his condition, Millimono has refused to allow frustration about his illness to prevent him from enjoying life, though the ringing in his ears has led to frequent bouts of depression and sometimes makes it difficult for him to concentrate, especially when he is writing.
In 2009, his short story, “Broken Dreams,” was awarded the Seabreeze Short Fiction Prize for Contemporary Liberian writings, while in 2013, his novel manuscript, “One Day I Will Write About this War,” which was subsequently published as “Boy, Interrupted,” was awarded Second Place for the Kwani Manuscript Project, a one-off writing prize for African writers across the continent and in the Diaspora. The Kwani Manuscript Project received more than 250 entries from across Africa and in the Diapora, with Uganda’s Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi being awarded First Place for her novel manuscript, “The Kintu Saga,” while Kenya’s Timothy Kiprop Kimutai was another Third Place for “The Water Spirits.”
Asked about how he has managed to stay positive, in spite of being deaf for about 20 years, Millimono said: “One of the things I try not to do in my life is to dwell on disappointments and things that are beyond my control. I believe that doing so would be tiring and counterproductive. That might explain why I have come this far. Also, the Almighty God has been kind to me.”
Currently, Millimono is a second year student at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU) in Monrovia where he reads Mass Communication. He spends his free time working on his second novel, “August, 1990,” which he hopes would be a trilogy of the Liberian Civil War as well as the love and lost that existed between two of his major characters.
Anyone who wishes to assist Millimono can send him an email through his Yahoo address — [email protected] — or call 0777386086/0886971780/0775740775 (his friend Robin.)