Mahdia inferno: One of Guyana’s immense tragedies

ON the top of my list for the most deeply traumatic occasion in the entire history of this country is the Wismar massacre. That was a cruel moment in the life of the British West Indies. Second would be the Jonestown deaths.

ON the top of my list for the most deeply traumatic occasion in the entire history of this country is the Wismar massacre. That was a cruel moment in the life of the British West Indies. Second would be the Jonestown deaths.

These people weren’t Guyanese, but 918 persons were forced to take their own lives in what has to be seen as one of the world’s most painful tragedies in non-violent times in the 20th century.

Number four for me would be the Lusignan massacre. Gunmen just indiscriminately killed men, women and children in an uncivilised act of race hate. Eleven innocent souls were murdered. Number five is the Bartica tragedy when gunmen entered a commercial bank and killed people in the bank and others in the town of Bartica including policemen. A total of 12 persons were murdered.

Number six is the Buxton atrocities of 2002-2005, when, over a period of four years, Region Four, the most strategic of the 10 regions in Guyana in terms of importance to the economy and population, was held hostage to marauding killers who murdered innocent souls in a mad political act designed to frighten the Government of Guyana.

That leaves number three. For me, it is the fire at the Mahdia dormitory that at the time of writing, took the lives of 19 school children, with a few more being treated for serious burns at the Georgetown Hospital.

The horror of tragedies one, three, four, five and six are the implications and consequences for a small population like Guyana.
The total number for Lusignan, Bartica and Mahdia is 43. For a nation of just under 800,000 residents, when you add on to this figure, the victims of Buxton then maybe one of out every four citizens may have known a victim of these tragedies.

Humans tend to be particularly riveted mentally when a large number of victims are killed in one incident and the dead are mostly children. In the case of Mahdia, those children did not deserve to die so young. They were school children.

The harsh reality of our mental lives is whether we like it or not is that humans are not smothered with relentless grief when loved ones in advanced age die. We always clothes ourselves with the reality that they lived long enough to achieve things in life.

We tend to accept death for those who endure unbearable suffering. It is for this reason, many countries have legalised euthanasia. I have seen people live with cancer; complications from diabetes; cruel manifestations of Alzheimer’s; and you know that life is not to be lived in such humiliating, painful situations. You then accept the arrival of death.

But with children, the soul is tormented when at such a tender age, with so much to give, so much to offer, so much to achieve, so much to change, children die in circumstances that are too hard to accept.

At the time of writing, the cause of the fire was not yet determined, but as I type these paragraphs, my mind flew onto the death of a friend, Latchie Kalicharran, one of Guyana’s cultural icons.

My understanding was as the fire spread at her home in Kitty, she could not get the windows opened because the windows and the doors were grilled. The door was also padlocked to the grill. This is always the problem with house fires.
I believe as a matter of safety, grilled windows should carry padlocks so you can open them and jump out of a burning building. All my windows and doors have padlocked grills. At the time of writing, I do not know if the building had or didn’t have smoke alarms. But I would like to think all school dormitories must have such.

The death of 20 children in a fire at their dormitory at Mahdia is for a small population like Guyana, an incredibly painful incident. I think the mental burden will not escape any human in this country.

What are the lessons to learn? I don’t know the cause of the blaze but I will still write and say that all grilled window must have padlocks, and that smoke detectors must be a legal requirement for all dormitories throughout this country.
I am not a believer, so I should not say I pray, but I am praying it was not the fault of a defective instrument like a fan or a hair-dryer. A young lady on the East Bank of Demerara lost her life because while sleeping, her fan overheated and the house was engulfed. My deepest condolences to the people of Guyana, and the families and relatives of the victims.

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