Agnes spends time with her young daughter Augusta and other family members this afternoon. The children eat and laugh while practicing the English they learned in school. The adults correct and encourage them. As evening approaches, Agnes begins to share her story. She begins by briefly explaining the origins of her surname. Then she changes topics to describe her relationship with Augusta’s father, beginning with how they met.
White people from the United Kingdom visited my great-great grandfather, a paramount chief, because he dug many diamonds. They gave him their surname after admiring his kindness and obedience. From that day on, that name appeared on all of our family’s official documents. Our original surname is a Sherbro name from Bonthe. I like both names equally.
One day a man visited my parent’s house to raise money for the local radio station. My father offered a meal to the stranger as is our custom. I brought the food outside and that’s when the man first saw me. I didn’t pay any attention to him. Months later he returned early in the morning. He told my mother that he wanted to marry me. She advised him to talk with my father if he truly meant it, so the man called my father on the phone and asked him then and there. My father told him to be patient, and that we must first meet with the section chief and other stakeholders.
That evening, everybody gathered in our house to talk about me and the man. After the discussion, my father made the final decision. He said that the man must make his intentions perfectly clear on an official document. He must also bring his parents to meet mine so they could all approve the matter. After that we could marry. I began to secretly date the man even though he didn’t follow my father’s wishes. My mother knew about us but kept the matter to herself. The man took me on three dates, mostly to visit friends and spend time together. He also took me to the radio station to show me how everything works.
Suddenly my father passed away even though he never complained of any sickness. One night he went out to drink beers at a bar with his friend. Upon returning home, he complained of a headache. He asked us to pray for him before we all went to sleep. In the middle of the night we heard a shout from our mother. We woke up to see our father leaning back in a chair covered in sweat. I called a community health officer and asked her to reach our house quickly. When she arrived and did her tests, she told us that he died. The nurse didn’t know what happened. We buried my dad two weeks later. I called my boyfriend and he came to the funeral and gave Le 50,000 for the burial. I miss my father.
My boyfriend and I finally made our relationship public—he felt that my father’s requirements no longer mattered. I became pregnant with Augusta at this time and my mother cared for me with the help of our family. The man left two months after my daughter’s birth and never came back. He never married me and lives in the same town, sometimes calling only to check up on Augusta. I’m angry at him for using me. Mende people call men like him ‘red dogs’. A ‘red dog’ impregnates women only to leave them.
When Augusta reached two years old, her father took her to his mother for the Easter holiday. I remember this because Augusta had a seizure about nine months later. She spent the next two weeks in a coma at the town hospital. After she woke, they kept her under observation for a few more weeks. She slowly regained her sense of feeling but none of the other four senses.
My nurse friends advised me to use native medicine since they tried everything else. I agreed and took my daughter to a man in the village. He asked me to collect any three leaves from the bush. I followed his instructions and brought them back. He added them to his own medicine and boiled everything together. He then used the cooked leaves to wash Augusta. We were in the village for two weeks and saw no progress.
I tried spiritual healing next. I took my daughter to the church of Emmanuel so I could pray and fast. The church gave us a place to live in the boarding house for five months. During this time Augusta started to walk and feel better, but she still couldn’t hear, see, or talk. The church advised me to visit a new hospital for more help. We went to Serabu Hospital hoping that their eye clinic could help Augusta. After the checkup, the eye specialist confirmed her blindness and said nothing could be done. I lost all hope and tore the papers they gave me. We went to Bo Hospital the very next day to ask more questions. They diagnosed Augusta with a mental problem. The doctor never saw a case like hers.
After that I took Augusta to a new church for more prayers and fasting. One night I spoke to God and said “Lord, I can’t carry this kind of burden alone. You have two options. Either take my daughter’s life or let her regain her senses.” Seven days later, Augusta began to see again. I quickly took her back to Bo Government Hospital to prove that my daughter wasn’t mad. They tested her and found nothing wrong with her eyes. I was so happy! They asked about her recovery and I told them about my prayer.
These days Augusta has full health and all of her senses, but I’m still worried about her. She’s in primary school and can’t recognize letters or numbers. She only draws small curved lines or zeros for every letter and number. She has no focus. I enrolled her in a school for students with learning difficulties but the fees were too expensive. I now send her to public school because of free education. I want to help Augusta. I am stressed that her schoolmates will pass her and that she will be discouraged from education. I want to send her back to the private school but her father won’t help with the school fees. I know he has a new government job that pays very well.
My advice to women and girls—don’t listen to sweet talk from any man. Instead look to his actions. Find out about the man before ever entering into a relationship. Ask around town and people will tell you about him.