I was at home watching TV and sipping on a can of malt when I got the call.
‘Hi Afro…it’s me, Ben…’
Ben was a friend who was fond of getting into one trouble or the other. I thought he was calling to explain another messy situation that he had gotten himself into. I braced myself for another long narration of tales of woes.
‘Something terrible don happen oh! Plane don crash for Iju !’
I nearly choked on my malt. The impatience in my demeanor quickly switched to the opposite.
‘You say wetin?’
‘Plane don crash for Iju oh!’
‘Where?’ My heart was now racing. Our family house was situated in Iju. My siblings and I grew up there. My parents still lived there after most of us grew up and moved to our own places or travelled out of the country. Though my parents would be in church by that time, the thought of the house was tops in my mind.
‘Where?’ I yelled again into the phone.
‘Near Toyin bus stop side for…’ Ben’s voice went off the phone as I heard him make inquiries from someone else and come back on the line, ‘…. Akande street! The plane crash enter one building for the street!’
I knew the place. It was two bus stops from our family house; a street I had roamed in my high school days when I went chick-hunting with my friends in the neighborhood.
I sat down in shock, thoughts of the fact that people were on that plane and in that house threw my mind into an emotional seizure.
Who was on that plane? Who was on the ground?
Monday morning was a sober one as the ripple effect of tragedy began to affect work in the office; a client lost someone on the plane and had to cancel appointments with us; the progress meeting was rushed as a certain sadness pervaded the room; in all the offices it was the subject of every gist.
Back in my office, I sat in front of my PC looking at its blank screen. One thought played through my mind.
Who had been on that flight?
By now the flight manifest was out and TV stations had displayed them. The internet was also agog with the list.
I switched on the system and went straight to Google.
I ‘googled’ on the Dana Air crash and the links that appeared were endless. One particular list led to a forum where a thread had been opened for members to make condolence entries. Many people answered to the thread. Some even put up pictures of loved ones on the flight.
That was when the thought of honoring the dead on my blog hit me.
Many people had seen the list of names on the manifest but not the faces that bore those names.
It wasn’t an easy task.
I went online collecting pictures from sites and forums where someone had managed to put up a picture of loved one lost on the flight. What made this an uphill task was verifying the authenticity of the photos.
After an extensive search employing the help of google and facebook and a number of blogs, I put the post which I titled ‘R.I.P – The Beautiful Faces of the Dana Air Crash’. I also dropped the link on my Facebook page.
I had meant it to be just another entry on my blog which I did just to honor the dead.
What happened in the next few days was nothing I had expected.
A friend on my Facebook page saw the entry and forwarded the link to some friends via her Blackberry. Those friends in turn forwarded it to other friends.
The link spread like wildfire.
Soon people in my office received it.
I got phone calls from friends I hadn’t seen in a long time and got connected again. They commended me for putting up the post.
I got mails commending my effort. Some even sent me their BB pin to add on as friend.
Comments flooded my blog till my photo-hosting site sent a warning that my photo-viewership was reaching a limit that would require me to upgrade my account.
I then had to go through the painstaking effort of re-loading all the pictures on another site and re-loading them on my blog. I couldn’t afford to let people down with all the traffic flooding my blog just because I couldn’t host the pictures anymore.
The comments on my blog (of which the highest I ever got was about 20) increased to 132 the first day. As at the time of writing this article, it had reached 644.
I started receiving mails from affected loved ones thanking me for putting faces to the names. People started sending me pictures of loved one involved in the crash who were not on my site. I updated the site as the pictures came in and credited who sent it. I was able to sieve out picture errors as more people mailed me.
I received mails from people who I’ve never met; people who were total strangers to me but had become united to me by this terrible tragedy. I received some mails with pictures and information that broke my heart; pictures that looked so alive it was hard to believe they were dead. All these things made these people so real and it sort of made me closer to them as I put up their smiling pictures.
The most heartbreaking were those ones taken of lovely kids and families involved; the one taken at the airport with a loved one just before boarding; an air hostess who was to be married the following month and two kids of an already widowed mother who were returning home. In fact everyone seems to have some info or the other that would break your heart
At a point I stopped typing and sighed sadly looking at the screen as I conjured my composure to come back.
Someone who had seated beside and peeped what I was doing had looked at me and asked me if I was crying. That was when I noticed that my eyes were laden with tears which refused to fall. I was one who hardly cried but what I was doing had a profound effect on me.
Even as the time I wrote this piece, I was still receiving mails of photos and info from friends and loved ones to include on the memorial post on the blog. I’ve updated several times now and have never stopped updating as the pictures keep coming.
It’s the only thing I can do to give a closure to the many affected families and broken hearts out there; and I’m glad I’ve been able to give many a comforting hug and honor their loved ones via the internet.