Iye and her sister Mariama sit together at Iye’s house. They just bought food from their good friend Kadi, who always stops by with a large woven basket filled with fresh fish. The catch comes from Shenge Island, where Iye used to live during Sierra Leone’s civil war. Iye, Mariama, their other sisters, and the rest of their family lived in town before the war. They scattered across the country when the rebels arrived. Iye fled alone, not knowing the whereabouts of her family. She talks about living on Shenge Island, returning home after the war, being friends with Kadi, and reuniting with Mariama.

Iye's Story

I chose Shenge Island because I had someone to help me there; they gave me a fine place to stay and good food to eat. I lived there for three years and the island is very beautiful. My tribe is Sherbro and in our culture the men do all the fishing so I bought from them. They would always give me extra because they came to know me well. I then sold the fish to others. Business was very good. I’d have many fish remaining so I’d take a boat to Tombo to sell.

Mariama (left) and Iye

During the war, good roads didn’t connect the islands and the rebels couldn’t enter because the sea surrounded us. They didn’t have the boats and only walked on the mainland. I felt safe traveling from Shenge Island to Freetown by sea to visit my children and sister.

I moved to my hometown when the war finished. I sold fish out of my house for some years after returning. I would travel to Tombo to buy fish from my friend Kadi. After five years of saving money, I opened my own cookery business. I haven’t named it and I don’t want to because the business is too slow. I’m even thinking about changing my cookery to a shop where I can sell mayonnaise, sardines, cheese, sugar, Ovaltine, milk, and more.

Iye stands between her sisters, the older Janet (photo left) and younger Mariama (photo right)

Before the war Kadi and I didn’t know each other—we lived in two different towns. After rebels left my hometown, Kadi moved there while I still lived on Shenge Island. When I returned home, Kadi and I met as neighbors across the street. We’ve been friends ever since. Kadi returned to Tombo, her hometown, but still brings fish to us.

I reunited with my sister ten years ago. Mariama told me that she went to a village to escape the rebels, but I forget the name of it. We were so happy and glad to see each other again. We live very close together now. I have no plans to return to Shenge Island because I’m happy where I am. We have reached peace in my country. My message to Sierra Leoneans—don’t ever give up and try again whenever you fail. Try to stand.

Iye poses with a print of her portrait