Introduction

Kabaima sits in a chair on the elevated veranda of his son’s house. It’s nighttime and he relaxes under the light of a single solar-powered light fixed in the veranda’s ceiling. His daughter-in-law prepares various food items for tomorrow’s market with the aid of her phone light. His great granddaughter sits on the veranda floor reading her school textbook.

Kabaima wants to tell a story with a moral so he decides on a Mende folk tale. He heard it retold during a revolving loans workshop given by the Movement for Assistance and Promotion of Rural Communities (MAPCO). The NGO invited him as an observer to give feedback on the two-day training. Thirty others attended as participants and all listened closely to the story. Kabaima leans forward in his chair and begins. As he talks, his great granddaughter begins to show interest in the tale. She closes her textbook and scoots closer to him. His daughter-in-law finishes her work and sits down on the veranda steps to listen as well. The two never heard the story before.

Kabaima's Story

A young woman named Kadi lived in a small village. Kadi’s mother and father encouraged her to attend school when she reached the proper age. She had a difficult time with the lessons and the teachers called her a stubborn girl. She felt ashamed and left school. Kadi then tried studying the Quran. She couldn’t focus long enough to learn Arabic because the letters confused her. Years later, she married a handsome man named Boake. Kadi admitted to her husband that she never completed school, but he didn’t mind. They married in a small ceremony. The two soon had a son together and the small family spent the next ten years living humbly and peacefully.

Kadi began to feel as though she could do more. She told her family that she wanted to help bring money to the house. A few weeks later she came across an older woman visiting the village. Kadi talked with her and learned about the woman’s great success and wealth as a master agriculturalist. She lived in a town far away from the village. Kadi begged the woman for work, boasting of her farming skill but admitting her lack of formal education. The older woman accepted as she felt impressed by Kadi’s honesty and motivation. The two came to an agreement that Kadi should work for ten years and would receive all her pay afterwards. They also decided on the total sum Kadi would receive. In return, the wealthy woman would see to food, lodging, and all other necessities. Kadi went back home to tell her family and after many discussions they agreed. She left her husband and son with much sadness but with the determination to give them a better life.

Kadi spent the next decade working and living well with the wealthy woman. She missed her family in the village but never visited them—she kept very busy and transport money wasn’t part of the agreement. Kadi spent her free time meeting many people in town and planning for her family’s future. During her final week of work, she asked if the woman remembered their arrangement. The woman nodded and laughed, telling Kadi that she already withdrew the money and kept it hidden and safe somewhere inside the house. As the woman rose to bring the money, Kadi stopped her gently and refused to collect it. She felt respected and cared for throughout the ten years, and she began to see the woman as a mother. Kadi also learned so much about the agriculture business and made many contacts. She now knew how make money very quickly on her own. Kadi only asked that her mentor continue to advise her in the future. The older woman agreed.

The next morning Kadi woke early to a wonderful smell. She soon heard her name called from the kitchen. She entered and saw the table covered with many loaves of bread. The wealthy woman set aside three for Kadi—two small and one very big loaf.

The woman then gave Kadi four pieces of advice. The first concerned the bread. Kadi should eat one small loaf in each village she passes. The big loaf must be shared with Kadi’s family after reaching her home. The second piece of advice concerned the path leading to the first village—Kadi must not take any shortcuts on that road. The third piece of advice concerned the second village—if Kadi hears anything strange at night, she must not rush to investigate. The wealthy woman then shared a fourth piece of advice meant to guide Kadi throughout her life—don’t make any rash decisions before knowing all of the facts. Kadi appreciated the woman’s wise words and agreed to follow them since the woman had more experience than herself. Kadi left happily, knowing that she’d use her new knowledge to become a very successful business woman.

Kadi reached a crossroads on her way to the first village. She saw a man and woman in the distance and rushed to meet them. Kadi asked them to host her for the night but they said it wasn’t necessary. Instead they directed her to a foot path branching off from the main road. They said the shortcut would take her directly to the village before nightfall, then she could stay at a house there. Kadi agreed and walked along the winding pathway. She continued until she lost sight of the main road and the helpful couple. Suddenly she remembered! The wise woman told her to avoid taking shortcuts on the way to the first village.

Kadi quickly retraced her steps. She laid eyes on the main road again, but the couple had vanished. A different woman stood on the main road and called Kadi over. The woman asked how far Kadi traveled along the path. Kadi replied that she only walked a short distance before changing her mind. The woman looked up to the sky and thanked God. She told Kadi that the foot path had many dangers. Attacks against lone women were frequent in the area and rumors even mentioned cannibalism. After they talked, the woman took Kadi to rest at her house for the night. The next morning Kadi thanked the kind woman and continued her journey along the main road. 

Kadi made good time the next day. She reached the first village and ate one of the small loaves. The tasty bread renewed her energy and strength. She rested for some time, then continued the journey. Kadi reached the second village by late evening. She quickly found a place to spend the night—a kind villager’s house. She washed and began to eat her second loaf of hearty bread, but before she could finish she heard a loud and fearful noise. It sounded like a person screaming! Afterwards she heard a man yelling “Someone come quickly! If you don’t help me I will surely die!” Kadi was very brave and jumped from her seat to leave the house and help this person.

As she unlocked the door to her room, Kadi remembered the wise woman’s advice that she must not investigate any strange noises at night. She relocked the door and went to sleep. She woke the next morning, packed her belongings, and talked with the kind villager that hosted her. Kadi mentioned the strange noise she heart last night. The woman thanked God for keeping Kadi safe. She said that an escaped prisoner from the town has been terrorizing the village recently. He yells strange things at night to bring people outside, then he attacks them. The police still haven’t caught him because he hides in the forest during the day. Kadi thanked the woman for her help and continued her journey.

Kadi walked and walked until she finally reached her own village at dusk. She didn’t go directly to her house. She grew afraid of what she might find there after being away for so long. Maybe someone in her family passed away. She now wished she visited them at some point. Kadi camped in the forest where she could still see the veranda of her house. She began to feel hungry and thought about the very large and heavy loaf of bread in her bag. Maybe she could just take a small piece. She quickly dismissed the idea since she remembered the wise woman’s words. Kadi didn’t want to make any mistakes. Kadi suddenly saw her husband emerge from the house with a chair and sit on the veranda. She grew so happy! After some minutes a very beautiful woman came to the veranda and served food for him on the veranda table. Kadi felt a rush of jealousy and anger! She thought “Is this Boake’s new wife?” She wanted to grab her bag and run back to live with the wealthy woman. Kadi would tell her about unfaithful Boake!

Kadi then thought of what the wise woman might say, that she ignored her final piece of advice. Kadi didn’t want to lose her mentor’s respect, so she decided to wait until tomorrow morning to discover all the facts. Early the next day, Kadi walked directly to her house with conviction. She knocked on the door heavily and heard her husband shout “Who is that knocking on my door so?!” Kadi replied angrily “Boake, it’s your wife!” She heard the door unlock and it opened slowly. Her husband threw his arms around Kadi and hugged her tightly, raising her from the ground. Kadi felt some happiness but it didn’t show—she still felt very annoyed with Boake.

Her husband then called for their son and he hugged his mother tightly. Her son rushed back inside and returned with the woman from the veranda holding a baby girl. Kadi looked at the woman scornfully. Her son said “Mother, this is Isata, my wife! And look, your granddaughter Mariama!” Kadi only remembered her son as a young boy and didn’t realize he’d be married by now. All of her anger disappeared and pure joy entered her heart. With this good news, she remembered the big and heavy loaf of bread in her bag—surely it would feed everybody on this joyous occasion!

The family went inside and gathered around a big table. They tore open the large loaf of bread and found money inside! Everybody helped to count it and Kadi realized that the wealthy woman gave her much more than promised. The family prospered after this day for many generations, and they never forgot the sacrifices of Mama Kadi.