Encounter at Buduburam (1)

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Beyond the shadows of the night, guttural voices of fear sang their melodious tunes of hopelessness beyond me. They were coming, I thought, as I gazed at what seemed like human shadows in the distance, over tombstones. Goosebumps descended on me, and my eyelids jerked repeatedly.

“Gogo-diko”
“Gogo-diko….diko…diko.”

The situation was greater than I could handle. I froze, and my eyes diverted to my left, at the sign, standing crookedly across me, at Area Z of the Liberian dead at the Gomoa- Buduburam Refugee Center, and my heart almost missed a beat. I wanted to take to my heels but I could not muster the courage to do it. This was survival time, I thought to myself but could I make it successfully to safety even if I tried? I could not convince myself that there was any chance of running away from the cemetery. After all, some of my best friends were buried here. And they could provide me with some protection.

“Gogo-diko”
“Gogo-diko”

The eerie sounds again. I stretched out my neck and saw something resembling someone in all white attire standing at the far side behind a couple of tombstones at the Liberian refugee graveyard at the Buduburam Refugee Center. My eyes had somehow adjusted to the darkness and I saw some fellows beyond the tombstones. Here in Ghana, there were so many scary stories about what happened when a person died. I had heard some Ghanaian friends say that in the particular area that was being used as a refugee center for Liberians the dead had always come back. But I could not agree since until

Liberians settled in the area there was no cemetery very close and the nearest one was in Awutu, more than fifty kilometers away. It was not that I was a skeptic who did not believe that such phenomena existed. Though my friend’s death was three years today, I had always come to honor his memory, alone at the burial grounds. I always felt it brought us closer together.

Another thing was I could not agree that any loved one who had died could return to haunt me. Now on the contrary I was being sought for or simply being haunted for coming to honor my friend’s memory. I had loved my friend Jack Wilson and we had shared many things in common.

On many occasions we traveled to Accra together and wherever you saw him I was with him. It was death that separated us. My friend, within two weeks that he got sick from a strange disease, died and I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to him. Until today I could not tell what caused his death, since in fact an autopsy was too much a financial burden for me to have requested from the medical authorities in Ghana.

Since he was buried at the Liberian only cemetery, I had made it my duty to visit his grave in my belief that he would recognize our friendship and if there was any way of knowing what he was thinking, he would understand that his death was the most difficult experience in my life since both of us arrived at the refugee center in 1990. Now I was seeing people crouching and moving up and down beyond the graves. Then a violent whopping sound of breeze and a cry of mortal pain thundered overhead. It was followed by a muffled sound of terror echoing beyond me. I wiped beads of perspiration from my face, despite the coolness of the night.

“Gogo-diko”
“Gogo-diko diko…diko”

It was the voice again. Was my friend or any of the dead calling for help? What exactly was that sound suppose to mean? I wasn’t sure what to do alone. Goosebumps descended on me and I felt like throwing up. And as suddenly as I felt nauseated, I saw the apparition standing behind several tombstones away beckoning me to come closer. The individual’s two hands were outstretched, requesting me to come closer.

Then I saw another fellow from another tombstone, in all white, it appeared to me. This was no joke!

My right hand shot up in a vain attempt to look at my electronic watch, which was to say I was trying to turn on the little light embedded in the watch to know the time. On three occasions I failed because I could not turn my face from the characters beyond the tombstones. I was not sure why and did not even known whether it would help me in anyway. Area Z, where the cemetery was located, was a little farther away from the residential quarters. Though the camp had grown from few smaller houses as well as tent houses into several thousands of brick houses, making the area to resemble any of the Liberian communities in Monrovia, say New Kru Town, for example, where I resided before and during the course of the war, the Cemetery’s isolation could give one the chill and provide you with feelings of uncertainty. I guessed it was located in isolation to give the dead some peace of mind in their eternal resting place, so that light perpetual would continue to shine on them.

“Gogo-diko”
“Gogo-diko”
“Diko…diko…diko…”

I tried in vain to control my legs, which were busy knocking together. I thought I was a brave man, but here for the first time in my life; I realized that when push comes to shove, I could not put up a brave stand. Under the normal circumstances, I would not have agreed that I was losing it since when I was in Liberia, where many of my friends and colleagues died by stray bullets, we had buried them behind houses in shallow graves. And never did any of the dead in Liberia haunt me. But then I realized that I was not in Liberia. In this confused state of mind, I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. It was not the first time I had come to honor my friend’s grave at ten in the night. I had always come, for our friendship’s sake!

Now, the number of individuals beyond the tombstones was increasing, that was clear. Then it appeared that I was regaining some self-confidence, as from nowhere I recited some biblical verses that I could not remember where I might have read them: “The Lord’s my shepherd and I shall not want,” I shouted aloud, “If this is the work of the devil,” I continued in the same loud tone, “let the blood of Jesus Christ rebuke thee.” I could not remember when I considered Jesus as my personal savior nor God as my humble father. I was not the church going type and it was not because I did not believe in the existence of God or the usefulness of a church or a mosque, I was simply too busy doing other things that going to church or a mosque, I thought, was just too much for me. But somehow I knew that ancient Israelites always depended on God during their trying times, and many Liberians had done the same during the war. And so here at this critical juncture, I called upon the power of the Divine for sustenance and support.

After denouncing whoever was behind the tombstones for nearly ten minutes, my self-courage returned and it gave me some confidence and a ray of hope. By this time, my legs had responded to my expectation and they were no longer dancing under me. I continued to rebuke the devil, whom I had suspected was behind my present predicament, and then all of a sudden I began to sing a famous song that I had heard some church-goers sing back in Liberia. The surprising thing was that I had never made any attempt to practice the song but here I was, jumping up and down, clapping my hands, as if I had a cymbal or some instrument to accompany the music, as my shrill voice echoed throughout the cemetery, as I intoned, “I will abide with thee oh my gentle Savior; forget not thy servant for it is in thee alone have I sought refuge.”

When I looked at my wrist watch, it was 12:00a.m., but I still had no courage to leave the cemetery. The cries of fireflies and the silence of Area Z were all the more overbearing. But coupled with the occasional eerie sounds and what appeared as apparitions beyond the graves or the tombstones, which was too much for me to bear, yet I stood there paralyzed, unable to walk away.

“Gogo-diko”
“Gogo-diko…diko Gogo-diko.”

The dead were apparently crying for help and the cries continued to shrink my courage, or any courage that I had been able to muster to hold on. I could not say I was about to collapse in front of the tombstone that was few meters away from me. My mind was whirling and demanding as well as creating all kinds of stories in my head. And the more I looked beyond where I held my ground, the more there appeared to me that several people were beyond there, engaged in some activities. But if that were true, why come to the graveyard for that? I could not shake my self-confidence and for the first time since I started coming here at the anniversary of my friend’s death, I was confronted with a situation that was far beyond me. In truth, I had heard stories about ghosts and how some, unwilling to rest eternally, had come back to demand from the living the rites that were denied them.

It may seem silly that when I was confronted with such a difficult situation, my mind was directing me into the sphere of horror, and therefore create more uncertainties for me. But one question that kept coming back to me was: Suppose there was a world beyond the grave, then what? Were the dead as happy as the living? Could anyone victimized return to the earth to retaliate?

As confused as I was, I could still not leave the hallowed ground of the Liberian dead. I would hold on, I murmured silently, and see the end of this entire episode.

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