John, 59, sits quietly in front of his friend Madiana’s shop while waiting for his phone to charge. He eats roasted peanuts and watches pedestrians pass along the main road.
An officer from the nearby police station walks over to talk with him. The policeman mentions his literature degree and quotes a famous line from Romeo and Juliet about sweet-smelling roses. He then remarks proudly that their town has many educated people—some graduating with double masters and others with doctorates. After their conversation, the two agree to meet tomorrow and the officer leaves for home.
After finishing his peanuts, John begins to talk about his life. He shares fond memories of his uncle then talks about his civil war experiences. He ends by explaining his current predicament and shares a message for the Sierra Leone government.
I began thinking about my future even as a child. Back then I knew I’d become a prominent somebody in this world. I knew I’d find a way to serve Sierra Leone and do something great for my country.
I was born in Naigoihun village, Njala Komboya chiefdom, Bo district, Southern Province, Sierra Leone. My father, Martin, sent me to school early in my youth. I learned how to read and write even though he never had the opportunity.
One day his brother Alex sent a letter to him. I attended primary class seven at the time so I could read it to my father. Alex promised that he’d visit our village during the upcoming Christmas break. My father waited with anticipation. As the day approached he bought a chicken, two big bunches of plantains, and native rice. He wanted to receive his brother well.
My uncle finally arrived and all of us felt so happy. Family and friends visited my father’s house to greet Alex, the famous teacher from Kono. Everybody enjoyed themselves eating, drinking, and dancing. My uncle set aside time during his visit to talk with my father about family issues. Alex asked who passed away since his last visit, then he gave money to my father for the traditional burials.
The visits continued every year until Alex fell sick. I remember he always complained of stomach pain. He came to live with us for the next six years until I reached the age of twenty. Then one day the famous teacher from Kono passed away. My father gave him a proper burial according to our traditions. First, people pounded native rice into a flour-like consistency. Then they added sugar and water, mixing everything into one big tasty ball called ‘Lewaa Gatie’ in Mende. They placed a single kola nut on top, then called family members around the village to eat their share. I don’t know why they placed a single kola nut on top, it’s just our tradition.
In 1979, not too long after Alex’s funeral, I visited Moyamba to sit my O-level exams. I stayed with Patrick, his wife, and his children in the police barracks. He was my father’s other brother and, at the time, a detective in charge of the town’s crime division. Patrick found work for me as a primary school teacher so I ended up living in town for many years.
I remember the beginning of the rebel war because Patrick met with an accident in 1996. He was driving from Freetown to Bo when his tire blew out. He thought the rebels shot at him, but the tire simply hit something sharp in the road. He panicked, swerved off the road, and died in a crash.
One day during the war, a message on the radio announced that each district should now defend itself against the rebels because the military grew tired and could no longer continue. This marked the start of the Civil Defense Force (CDF). I knew this was my chance to serve Sierra Leone and do something great for my country. First I needed to join the Kamajors, a society of elite Mende warriors. The current paramount chief Ella Kobolo Gulama paid the initiation fees for people born in Moyamba. As an outsider from another district and village, I decided to pay for myself. I became a full Kamajor after my initiation.
The rebels attacked Moyamba on June 21, 1996 during a heavy rain storm. They split their forces strategically. One group entered the town over the steel bridge and another by the main road. I fought side-by-side with Sheku Kabba, the leader of the Kamajor society at the time. Unfortunately he died during the battle after being struck by a rebel bullet. He collapsed and his hand hit the surface of a puddle. The water flew up and hit me in the leg. I immediately felt fear. Kamajors believe that touching a fallen warrior will cause an enemy’s bullet to find you. In the next moment a bullet struck my leg where the water splashed me. I couldn’t fight anymore after my injury, so I spent the rest of the war hiding in the bush with my wife, children, and other families. I began teaching the children of our hidden community. The rebels never found us.
Disarmament finally arrived with the Lomé Peace Agreement and anybody with a weapon had to surrender it. Sierra Leone then registered all war-wounded and amputees through the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA). They never registered me because they called me an ‘ex-combatant’. The program should’ve been for all people affected by the war. I feel unappreciated because I fought to help protect my country. I never received any benefits or even a home in the quarters they built for amputees and the war-wounded. I’m still stressed about that.
Let the Sierra Leone Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) be effective. The current Commissions of Inquiry are starting their investigations from 2007. They should investigate all the way back to 1996 when the war started. Let them look into monies that should’ve reached the war-wounded and amputees. Answers must be given for peace to remain in Sierra Leone.
I would be very happy if I received a house from the government. I would even build my own if they gave me some money. Many more people are in the same situation as me—they never received any benefits after the war. Let the government help us all. I want to be without stress by my 60th birthday in August.