Joseph walks across town using korna-korna (shortcuts), passing through yards and greeting people on the way to his home. They respond from their verandas while relaxing in the evening’s golden sun rays. He finally reaches his house and agrees to share his story.

A rhythmic beating begins to echo in the distance before Joseph can speak. He explains it acts as a warning from the secret society to the people, advising them to stay in their homes and put any animals in their pens. If not, noisy animals will be stolen for interrupting this sacred moment. The sounds comes from sticks knocking on a tortoise shells taken from the bush. The rhythmic sounds begin to fade and Joseph begins his story.

Joseph's Story

I am the eldest of my mother’s three sons. She died when I was seven years old so I went to live with my uncle. My uncle’s eldest son John taught language, math, and social studies at the village school. He tried to put me in primary school but the principal denied me—I was too old since primary school should be started at age five.

John taught me at home from primary class one to class three. I learned addition, times tables up to five, health, and English sentence pattern and structure (ESP&S). I finally entered primary school class four at age eight. I had more knowledge than the students who went through the school system. After completing primary school and sitting the National Primary School Examination (NPSE), my father died when I was 12 years old. 

One day my grandmother told me how my mother died. My mother and her friend Lucy wanted the same man, but my mother was with him first. Lucy became jealous. At Christmas time, she came to braid my mother’s hair. The braids began to itch later that day and when her family loosed her hair, they found one fat-foot (poisonous centipede) on her scalp. It had bitten my mother’s head so the villagers used a native medicine leaf to heal her. First they boiled the leaf, then they tied it to her head. Her head hurt for a long time but she healed well. 

My mother made a case at the court against her friend. When Lucy asked her for forgiveness she accepted and my mom forgot the palava (disagreement). Sometime later Lucy cooked fufu and gave it to my mother. The next day she had horrible stomach pain and began to vomit hair. First she went to the Serabu Hospital two or three hours away. The nurses moved her to a hospital in Freetown five or six hours away but she died on the way.

After I lost my two parents, I decided never to attend school again. For three years I lived in the village without an education because nobody could pay my school fees. After my uncle’s son John completed his Higher Teachers Certificate (HTC) at the teacher’s college, he convinced me to return to school for Junior Secondary School (JSS) in 2011. He paid my school fees and uniform fees. Luckily I still remembered what John taught me at the primary level so I found JSS to be simple. When I sat the Basic Examination Certificate Exam (BECE) in 2014 another problem happened—John’s father fell while climbing a tall palm tree to collect palm nuts for oil. The rope cut, he fell on his head, and he died.

I didn’t have time to go to school after that because the Ebola outbreak happened that same year. After one year with no school at all in Sierra Leone, the All People's Congress (APC) government gave free education for two years: for me senior secondary one (SS1) and SS2. My uncle paid my school fees for SS3. Free education came back in 2018 under President Bio. This year I will sit the West African Secondary School Certificate Examination (WASSCE). After that I hope to attend university to study and become a lawyer. 

If I could talk to my parents today I would ask them to continue blessing me. That’s what I pray for every day. God give me long life and health, and maybe one day I will be the president of this country.