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At least 500 people died and more than 800 were reported missing in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown on August 13-14, when heavy rains swept away everything in their path. Kenyan Poet Shailja Patel reflects on the tragedy.

What language have we that can grieve Sierra Leone's mudslide disaster? Its enormity and horror smother thought.

To have the ground you walk turn on you. Devour your loved ones. To be forced to bury your family in the same mud that swallowed them.

How do you re-inhabit, re-cultivate, re-build, a terrain of mass death? A landscape that gulped over a thousand lives in a few minutes?

It was a tsunami of soil. The element you plant in and build with. The source of food and life. Descending on you. Suffocating you.


Death by water. 

Death by soil. 

Death by state failure. 

Death by capitalist greed. 

Death by climate catastrophe. 





I want us to do the unbearable work of staying with grief. To let grief undo us. That's the necessary precondition for transformation.

The psyche recoils from this labour: seeing mass death simultaneously in its entirety and in the intricacy of interdependent lives. Understanding our own vulnerability to the uprisings of the earth.


Work these muscles. 







Be fully human in this moment. 

On, and for, and with, our tortured planet.  


* SHAILJA PATEL is Guest Writer at Jozi Book Fair #JBF2017 August 31 - September 3. @shailjapatel