Madiana rests outside of her roadside shop with two of her good friends. They talk as her young daughter plays and does household chores. They encourage Madiana to talk about herself and she agrees. Before doing so, she and her daughter pose for a portrait in the shop’s doorway.
My name comes from my grandmother and father, Madiana from her and my middle name from him. My first name means ‘unplanned daughter’ in the Mende language. My mother didn’t plan to have another child so I definitely surprised her.
I opened my shop with the help of government microcredit loans. If I find another way, I’d never take loans again. They’re expensive to repay month after month so I usually see losses. The business isn’t doing as well as it could.
Night falls as a man stops by with a generator for Madiana. He fills it with fuel and connects its power cable to the shop. The engine starts, powering the shop refrigerator and veranda lights. Madiana excuses herself and enters her shop to load the fridge with soft drinks, alcoholic beverages, homemade ginger beer, and water. She tells the rest of her story a little at a time.
I attended school but didn’t reach far. I finished primary class six, passed the National Primary School Examination (NPSE), but never started junior secondary school one (JSS1). At that time my father couldn’t afford the school fees. Then the rebel war came.
Madiana gives a graphic account of her civilian experiences in the Sierra Leonean civil war. She insisted on sharing this story because she hates the wickedness of war and never wants it to return. Readers are strongly discouraged from continuing if they feel the details might disturb them.
I was twelve years old when the rebels entered our district on January 6, 1996. I lived in a village with my father and little brother. The rebels reached us on April 21, 1996. I will always remember the day, a Sunday. They killed some villagers and captured many others including us. They took everybody to another village and put us inside a big hall. People from neighboring villages would get thrown inside too. We all sat on the ground and waited. The rebels stole food from neighboring homes to feed us. Whenever somebody asked to use the toilet, rebels gave them a plastic bag.
One day the rebels accused my father of being a Kamajor, a Mende warrior who defended civilians against the rebels. They cut off one of his ears and forced him to eat it. He had no choice. They gave him water to drink after. The next day they did the same to his other ear. Then they killed my father in front of me.
Some days I saw rebels forcing boys to have sex with their mothers. They asked many questions to make sure of the relationship. One time rebels bet on the sex of a pregnant woman’s baby. They argued back and forth. Then one cut her open to check. He held the baby up and said “I told you so” to the other man. The mother and child were left to die.
I stayed with the rebels until I was thirteen years old. One day my brother and I managed to escape into the bush. They couldn’t find us and gave up. We made our way to our mother who managed to avoid the rebels entirely. She cried so much especially after I told her they killed my father.
Today I have five children—three girls and two boys. I want them to attend school and choose careers for themselves. All Sierra Leoneans should learn, especially if they want to go overseas. I want to go myself to do better things for my family. I would find work and send money back to my mother and my children. She’s very old now and it seems like I never did anything good for her. I want to build a house for her.