Alice, 24, walks house-to-house this afternoon selling leafy greens. She carries them on her head in a rubber bucket large enough to shield her face from the hot sun. Alice moves onto a friend’s veranda to sit and relax for a short while. She drinks a cold ginger beer and shares her story.
I entered primary school at St. Joseph in Freetown at the age of four or five. I lived with my aunties and mother then because my father, brother, and sister died during the rebel war. After attending primary school to class four, my mother and I went to live with her sister in southern Sierra Leone. I discovered much later that we moved because of my late father’s jealous girlfriend. She caused so much stress that my mother decided to change towns. Sadly my mama died soon after settling into our new home. She had a very painful stomach illness and I believe the jealous woman put a curse on her.
My aunties in Freetown took me in again to support my education. They paid my school fees for classes five and six. One school day, I felt very weak and then everything went dark. Someone told me later that I fainted in front of all the teachers and students but I don’t remember that. They said my body began to shake. My auntie took me to the hospital and the doctor diagnosed me with epilepsy. They gave me medicine but I don’t remember the name. My auntie decided to pull me from school after that. I left class six around thirteen years old and never sat my National Primary School Examination (NPSE). I left Freetown to live with my other auntie and I thought back to that jealous woman. Maybe she put a curse on me too.
After I lived with my auntie for a few years, a man met with her to show face—he asked to marry me by offering money. My aunt told him about my epilepsy and that my father and mother passed away. He promised her that he would find a way to heal me. She felt happy and agreed to the marriage. I was eighteen years old at the time.
I don’t understand why my husband always goes to his village without me. I don’t even know the name of the place. He never even introduced me to his family. He doesn’t treat me well or send nice things for me. We had a son together two years after our marriage. I was 20 years old by then. I raised the boy by myself until his third birthday. My husband would never contribute money to our son’s food, clothing, or medicine. One day he took the boy and I never saw him again. It’s been two years. I heard my husband remarried in the village and has his own children now. I’m frustrated because my auntie wants to put my son through a good school, but my husband won’t bring my boy. She regrets her decision to marry me and blames herself for believing the man’s false promise to heal me.
A group of boys walk near the veranda where Alice has been resting. They mock her and call her crazy as they pass by. She stares into the distance, pauses for a few moments, then continues her story.
People in town provoke and mock me because of my epilepsy. I still live with the seizures. I don’t want to enter school again because I fear that another attack will happen. People will mock me even more. I just want to work in the market or sell around town. I would consider attending school again only in a safe environment where I won’t be shamed.