The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 39: Skipping School and Fooling the Police

I removed the omole to the back, behind the outdoor toilet, and put some raw grass on top. One of the policemen during his search came to the toilet area not long after I’d finished hiding the [illicitly made] liquor.

Augustine Kanjia

The family was happy with the “omole” sales. From our illegal brewing, Grannie had earned enough money to start buying building materials for a new home.

She had made the plan, and it was elaborate. She wanted a big house with rooms for each child. I was not counted. She claimed I was the owner of the house. Her intention was to keep me in her room as I grew up. And it was so. I slept on the same bed as my grandmother day in and day out.

I was sometimes ashamed when we discussed matters of home in our writing and composition classes, such as where we slept. I never told the truth, but I scored high marks. I started realizing that writing out of the ordinary and fashioning tall tales can boost one’s writing skills.

There was a big problem with our trade. Police had come to raid our hidden operation when we had just finished our brewing in the bush. No raid saw us that night. It was hot, and I was ready to play with my friends as the moon rose and we trekked back to Motema. My heart was not in brewing, but centered on my school and play that night.

I had a long way home, but something dangerous awaited us.

Augustine’s last chapter: Illicit April Brewing Rains on My Parade  Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 38: Illicit April Brewing Rains on My Parade

These were my early days. I lacked shoes and nice clothes. She promised to get me some. I did not care for material things; I knew Grannie did not have them so there was no big worry.

Augustine Kanjia

It was a crime to brew the local hard liquor “Omole,” but it was working well for us, as my grandmother had started buying corrugated zinc panels for the house.

She wanted us to have nine rooms and a big living room. She had big dreams: All her children with rooms of their own.

I was troubled at school by accusations that I stole 20 cents — everyone thought I was the possible thief, even though, this time, I was innocent. I distracted myself with my job at home, going to the bush to brew our alcohol for sale.

That Sunday evening, the rain was dark, our distance home was far. We had just created a new brewing spot and there was no shelter to cover us. We depended on the big trees for protection. Who would trust any tree in the time of a windstorm? My grandmother would have. She insisted we sit under the trees and wait for the rain and wind to pass.

My uncle, Aiah Bongu, did not like Grannie’s over-protection of me. He thought she was spoiling me, but my grandmother was the only person who understood my problem. I was allergic to certain foods, like peanut butter soup or palm oil. Only my grandmother knew it. She would protect me, which bothered my uncle.

Augustine’s last chapter: Grandmother’s New Business Opens Old Wounds Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 37: Grandmother’s New Business Opens Old Wounds

The first consignment of hard liquor was ready to drink — more importantly, to sell. People started coming to the house to buy in bulk or by tot. It cost 20 cents (Sierra Leone cents). Back then, money had value, no doubt.

Augustine Kanjia

Life did not seem to be getting any better.

And it was going to get worse: As money problems rose to the surface a school mate’s accusations of stealing led to a dozen lashes for a crime I did not commit.

Three of my uncles were now living with my grandmother and me. Our house was old and rustic; we needed a better one. I was going to Grade 4 then. My friends always laughed at me for the type of house we slept in. It was not so deplorable, but they wanted to keep me thinking I was lower than them. Glad I did not bother with their provocations.

My grandmother had to call an emergency family meeting to discuss the future of the house. We all knew it was time for action. My grandmother was a brave and innovative woman who had put a lot behind her after the difficulties of her marriage.

She depended on her children, but the children were quite poor. Her eldest son worked in the Native Police Administration. These were special village police who answered only to the paramount chiefs of their jurisdiction. My uncle had first become an army man, but was said to have left due to some very hard conditions. He was quite a strong man, but I think it was not for physical strength that men were selected and accepted into the army. He had run away at night to return to Pakidu, Sierra Leone, their father’s hometown, before deciding to join the NPA.

My grandmother was hopeful. My uncle’s full name was Sahr Motatay James. My grandmother called him Sahr Tay. As a boy, I never understood the meaning — but it was simply the short form of Motatay.

Sahr Tay did not adhere to Grannie’s call for a meeting for the house. Ngainda and Aiah were present, though, and good to go. Or so they said then.

The meeting was of importance to everyone because the rainy season was no plaything. We had already put down heavy rocks and tied wires to the edges of the house on all sides. The wires were buried deep to avoid being taken by the wind. We were still not secure.

Augustine’s last chapter: Signs of My Struggle Begin Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 36: Signs of My Struggle Begin

I sometimes wondered as a child how my grandmother made her family survive.

Augustine Kanjia

My uncle hadn’t yet found his first job. Mom had left with my step-dad to live in Bo, the largest town in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. My heart was with my mother. I knew she was striving hard to make us happy, but there were no gifts — or food or money — coming, only messages to Grannie and me.

My grandmother had only one of her three sons living with her, Ngainda. He was young and people expected him to get a good job. He would become a farmer. The road to the farm was quite a distance. It was manual farming and required real man power. He was a perfect fit for the job. His muscles were turgid and feasible.

My grandmother depended on him for a good yield. But the farm was patrolled by many birds that devoured the nursery seed or the ripened rice for harvest. This frustrated him, and he reverted to planting okra.

There was no one at home to take care of me when everyone had gone to the farm. There was no babysitting then. Your parents could leave you in the town and go about their business; they will meet you home in the evening. We feared nothing, like kidnapping or abuse. Everyone was the other’s keeper. But my grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, was never happy leaving me behind. So, I had to miss school several times a year.

Augustine’s last chapter: Family disintegrates, Pa dies Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 35: My Family Disintegrates After Pa Dies

My grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, had arrived in Motema to seek refuge not long before my dad died. It was a very difficult time.

Augustine Kanjia

My father, Pa Kanjia, had married a lot of women because he was a rich man. He had five wives. My mom was the youngest and most beautiful. My dad was aware of it, Grannie would tell me, and so were the other children.

His first wife could not speak Kono, but Mende. The family was large, with each wife having an extended family. People came from far and wide seeking help from my dad. He was happy with that because he stood for people even before his riches.

I remember my grandmother telling me that he had a heart problem, which did not bother him. But she said he was bitten by a dog. Medicine in those days was underdeveloped, so there was no proper diagnosis of the complicated illness. It was in 1963, a couple months before I was born. My dad died in the hospital, shocking the whole community. He had left quite a lot of riches.

Augustine’s last chapter: Back to How It All Started Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

Retirement looming, QCC’s Carberry reflects on life, legacy and community

“Ten years ago when I came to QCC, a lot was missing.” And now about the only thing missing is a clear picture of what’s next for one of the city’s most impactful education leaders. Augustine Kanjia sits down for an enlightening discussion with the outgoing president.

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 34: Back to How It All Started

My grandmother was married to a hunter named Kai James.

Augustine Kanjia

He was very popular and had married three women altogether. My grandmother, Kumba Ngehgba, was a local musician and quite popular, too. There were no recordings of her songs, but my grandmother would have gained a much wider audience in a different time.

She got lots of money, and her mates in marriage grew quite jealous of her. She had already had her four children. My mother, Hannah James, was the second among the four — after Sahr James, and before Tamba Ngainda James and Aiah James. My grandmother was a resilient woman, and quite tenacious and determined. But the jealousy in the house was evident.

Nothing seemed to work in those days, my grandmother would tell me years later. They were far from the police and there were no cars close by, either. Bangayima, one of my grandmother’s fellow wives, was at her throat. She would not go for Kumba’s singing, often creating a scene behind her back. The hatred was apparent. Bangayima would physically confront my grandmother to fight, which was quite a challenge for my grandmother because she preferred dialogue and peace with all whom she met.

Augustine’s last chapter: When things fall apart Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 33: When Things Fall Apart

Amid the struggle for a good life in Worcester, one of my children was brave to take a different direction.

Alice Hannah Kanjia is my first daughter. She was born out of wedlock when I was a young adult, and I did not know of her or meet her until several years later.

From Part 11: New Hope, More Troubles and a Gift

A longtime girlfriend had called me. My brother had given her my number during my uncle’s funeral in Gbaama, Sierra Leone. She insistently said, “I have a gift, I said, a gift. How can I send it?” Since I was in need I told her to send it by DHL. “You are still not serious as you are aging,” she responded. She became agitated and rude, which was usual of her. “OK,” she said, “I will send the gift to my sister in Freetown, and you will go pick it up from her.” …

We saw the house and moved directly to see the gift. About 20 meters from the house we saw a thin girl running toward me. She came directly to me and moved to hug Peter. It was then that I realized she was the gift I anticipated.

She looked lanky, tall, very fragile and malnourished. I saw the aunt, Elizabeth, and she handed the girl to me. She asked me for an identity before leaving. I had none, but she let us go anyway. (There was no DNA testing to prove she was my daughter. That was Africa; we accept and go on.)

Augustine Kanjia

She came in and out of our lives over the years, but as we did not feel safe anymore in The Gambia, Theresa and I were able to shepherd her through the resettlement process and help her reach America, which she did a couple of months before we arrived in October 2010.

Alice became recalcitrant after having her first son. She refused to return to school to finish Grade 12 and earn her high school diploma or equivalency. She was discouraged by how poorly she’d done before.

She is a loveable person, but she changed and we grew apart, as she saw me as a stumbling block to her dubious behaviors.

Augustine’s last chapter: To Be a Man is Not Easy Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 32: To Be a Man is Not Easy

My days were quite full. Not only with my new job and keeping my family fed, but with a challenging course schedule at Quinsigamond Community College.

Augustine Kanjia

I had loads of reading to do, piles of written homework, research and mathematics problems to grapple. It was a struggle, but I’d begun by loving school, and I felt the pinch of learning in a corner of my heart. “When you complete your education,” I thought, “you will be respected at home and abroad. In fact, you would get better pay and be on top of things. Why not just pretend as if your grandmother stands by you right now, urging you with a cane to go to school. Think how she wanted you [to become] the most educated at home.”

It seemed sometimes as if I were in a trance. Until I inevitably awoke to reality and realized I had more work to do. I needed to apply more effort. And I needed to not be distracted by what some of our Sierra Leonean friends were thinking and saying about me when they met.

I needed courage, but even Theresa had doubts. I could feel my wife saying, “Now that you are in college with these girls, I know you will fall in love with them.” My main worry was never the girls, but to achieve quickly, stop going to school and get a better job.

People worry about me more than I do for myself.

Augustine’s last chapter: Job offer sends me back to school Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

Retirement looming, QCC’s Carberry reflects on life, legacy and community

On a recent blustery day in her neatly appointed first-floor office in Quinsigamond Community College’s administration building, outgoing President Gail E. Carberry, who plans to retire at the end of the academic year, pointed a visitor’s attention to a knick-knack pair of ruby slippers on the shelf near her desk.

The message was clear, and clearly one Carberry holds close to her heart: “There’s no place like home.”

It has been more than 10 years since she had the urge to return to work in Worcester, where she was born and spent the first four years of her life. The city is also where she found her “soulmate,” having met husband Don Carberry while both were students at Worcester State College.

As she prepares to leave the post she’s held officially since her September 2007 inauguration, Carberry can reflect on an unprecedented period of advancement for the once much-maligned “Quinsig.”

“Ten years on, I had a lot of terrific [students] and I helped some people believe in themselves,” she said.