The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep

We had become very popular with the brewing and sales of our “omolé,” Sierra Leone’s answer to moonshine. My grandmother had made it her priority so we could build our big, new house and I could attend school.

Augustine Kanjia

It had nine rooms, but we occupied only three so far. It had hardly any concrete; it was made of mud. Rats could easily dig through to make themselves at home, too.

It was past time for the completion of our house, and for me to focus solely on school. The rainy season was fast approaching, and we were very close to finishing. At the same time, it was difficult going to the bush for the omolé during the rains, but Soba Peppah, my grandmother, knew we needed it, so we fought hard. Police interference was overwhelming, but we knew how to avoid it.

Until it came to our doorstep.

The trade became popular. Retailers popped in and out of our unfinished house. But the more who came, the sooner we could finish. My grandmother said she would buy cement to plaster the outside, but that was farfetched. She only did the inside of the rooms that mattered to her. Many people came to rent. She also brought in people who had appalling stories like ours.

One day, one of our customers, who purchased for her own daily consumption, came and bought a lot of omolé and left.

Not long after, it was a surprise when she was seen struggling to cross Kanjia Street to zoom into our house. She barely made it. Upon arrival at our house at 3 Senessie St., she fell and died. She’d vomited blood. Our neighbors shouted aloud, “Omolé don killam,” meaning in English, “She was killed by omolé.”

Augustine’s last chapter:  School and Home Collide  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Lessons Abound as School and Home Collide

Going early in the morning to school was a challenge. Yengema was far for me. Going on foot was a heavy load to carry.

Augustine Kanjia

Many boys in the school lived in Yengema. Others came from the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) site in the neighboring town of Simbakoro. The NDMC was responsible for digging diamonds lawfully in Sierra Leone. Others would illicitly mine the diamond and would become rich if they were lucky — or be caught breaking the law.

I was getting thinner every day. I was also very resilient. Back with my grandmother and uncles in Motema, our only source of income was the illicitly brewed local moonshine, “omole,” which was a hot commodity, sought either by those who drank it or the police who thought it was a drug and should not be consumed.

Grannie struggled to continue brewing the hard liquor. We brewed it deep in the bush where no police ventured. We were careful to return to town at odd times, especially when everyone was in bed. That was a perfect time. Sometimes we didn’t even start until the evening so that we could leave the bush quite late, reaching town like thieves in the night. It was good exercise and was helping our house renovations come closer to completion.

I sometimes dodged school in the name of the omole work. I often stayed out all night, left to watch the omole in the bush while my uncles dropped containers of it back at home. I was brave. I knew the area and there was nothing I feared even in the dark. I did not think of dead people, even though my grandmother had told me horrible stories of dead people. I had also heard her stories of brave warriors who freed their people. I was trying to free my people too.

Augustine’s last chapter: My School of Hard Knocks  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … My School of Hard Knocks

Mr. Gabriel Amara, the kind principal I’d met at Christ the King College secondary school in Bo, was now the head of Yengema Secondary School, another of Sierra Leone’s top Catholic schools.

Augustine Kanjia

Though he had encouraged me to end my school-search odyssey by applying to the Yengema school, he decided now that there was no space for me — I was too late. I could have attended Christ the King if my mother and stepfather were still living in Bo, but he had been transferred to the Port Loko police.

I looked around the compound and saw some of the friends I’d played soccer with back at the Motema elementary school. Well, God knew I had tried to find myself a school. I felt this was only the beginning of my manhood. The path would be longer, but it was clear. A letter and my entrance exam results were sent to the principal at Sewafe Secondary School.

I’d already been to Bo, Daru and Segbwema. Sewafe was another diamond-mining town in the Eastern Province. The principal was the Rev. Austin Healy.

When everyone had entered their classrooms, I quickly walked out of the door to zoom home to Motema again. Our new family home was near completion. Our illicit brewing of “Omolé” persisted because the house was very large and still needed more work.

That morning, I left with the intention that I would stay in school all day. I was wrong. I did not have the school uniform, nor did I have the admission. I returned to Motema in tears. A lot worked on my mind. It was all geared toward my return to school. It was hard for me. My grandmother was waiting for good news.

Augustine’s last chapter: Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?

All my classmates in Motema, and even in Daru, had secured placement for their next school year, but I remained locked in battle with what was next on my agenda at home.

Augustine Kanjia

My brother’s friends were all astonished at my excellent school exam results, but none of them could help me gain acceptance to a good school. Maybe they could help me get to Bo, where the school officials from Segbwema suggested I should go for high school because my mom and step-dad lived there.

I did all my brother Duran’s domestic work for him. He was not married, and lived alone before convincing my grandmother I should move to Daru and attend the nearby secondary school. He was always ready to flog me for simple mistakes. I was only 12, but he expected me to behave like a mature man.

I decided to walk to freedom one day, just five days after my interview at the Wesley Secondary School. I went to the military barracks junction looking for any military personnel going to Freetown — Bo, in the center of the country, was on the way. A truck was going by at11 a.m.

My brother had gone to work at the barracks by 8 a.m. and he’d asked me to bring his lunch by noon. I had spoken with Mr. Lahai, his bingo comrade. He gave me the hint about the 11 a.m. truck. I took Duran’s food to him and I sat a little. He blasted me for bringing his food early. He asked me to go back home and wash his uniforms. “Yes, sir!” I said, and ran out quickly.

I pretended I was heading home. He looked toward the back of his office to watch me go by. My direction quickly changed, and soon I was in the military truck ready to set off. It was 11. We left and I looked back at the barracks and River Moa. I said I will never return there. But was it true?

Augustine’s last chapter: Beyond My Limit  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Beyond My Limit

I had only one pair of short pants, with two visible holes in the back.

Augustine Kanjia

They were overused, but I needed to dress up that morning. It was a Monday. My brother would not help me buy secondhand clothes, he rather gave me his big, old long-sleeved shirt — too big for a small boy like me. I was 12 years old then.

I tried to not worry about these superficial problems, because my grandmother had told me to be patient. “Your day will come,” Sobba Peppeh would tell me. She would give me examples of those who have succeeded and how they fared when small. Jesus was her biggest example for me to copy.

My brother did not bother worrying about my success; for him it was mine alone. He never asked about the marks I had scored in the test that had brought me here in the first place.

Augustine’s last chapter: A Good Result Leaves Me in Tears  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale

Augustine Kanjia’s incredible journey continues … A Good Result That Left Me in Tears

Our test results were around the corner. Life was still difficult at home.

It felt like there was no way out.

Augustine Kanjia

My grandmother still did not have a regular job, but she continued selling her food stuff. Many had called her by her nickname, “Soba Peppeh,” meaning the real pepper in the Creole parlance of Sierra Leone.

My garden work with Soba Peppeh had increased as her sales at the market doubled. I would cook for the house when the market occupied her. Mondays were very busy days for me. Fridays were for the market, too. My grandmother prepared more food and brought raw cassava, potatoes and their leaves. Boiled cassava and beans were on the side for sale.

Of course, we did not relent on the “Omolé” trade. Its money was coming in fast.

Soba Peppeh was versatile.

We did all these things, but always had time for prayer. I rejoiced when it was Sunday. Her church, the UMC church, depended on me for its bell. I would ring it before leaving for my own Roman Catholic church at my primary school, R.C. Motema. There was enough prayer for me in my grandmother’s church to help me pass my exam — but not to pay my upcoming high school fees.

Augustine’s last chapter: Another Lesson in Perseverance  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale

Worcester World Cup is where city’s melting pot truly bubbles over

The Worcester World Cup, now approaching its 12th iteration, has evolved from a novel idea into a force to be reckoned with.

Organized by Cultural Exchange Through Soccer, a neighborhood-based soccer program at Elm Park Community School, Worcester World Cup was established in 2006 to bring youth together and to promote good health and understanding in the community.

For Worcester, a hub for immigrants and refugees from all over the world, this volunteer-driven initiative has become a vital component in the city’s ongoing development and its efforts to break down walls between the myriad cultures it has welcomed over the years.

“The Worcester World Cup, as the name suggests, was created specially to bring people together. We wanted everyone to come together,” said Adam Maarij, a volunteer and 2017 graduate of South High Community School.

Augustine Kanjia’s incredible journey continues … Exam Day Distress Becomes Lesson in Perseverance

Our production of the illicit home-brewed liquor “Omolé” did not take a backseat to my education anymore.

Augustine Kanjia

My grandmother had depended on Duran Kanjia, my military half-brother who came to help fill out my entrance form to high school. He also said he would help pay for the necessary exam, but he stopped responding to our letters to him. I was left to wonder about the change I could make in my life after I would have passed.

Sobba Peppeh (my grandmother’s nickname) had prayed for me at night and gave me the blessing we thought I needed to pass. She had even tried to convince me that blessed water (“from Bethlehem”) would help me be as smart as Suma Musa, the girl who had always topped our class from Grade 1 to 7. I would eventually find out it was only well water, from outside our new house, that was not quite finished, but doing fine. It was big and nice by our town’s standard.

I was anxious that night to get to sleep and dream of passing my exam with flying colors. But it was not possible. I only became more anxious. As we finished our nightly prayer, my grandmother wanted me to eat nothing to avoid having to go to the toilet during the exam. She thought perhaps they would not allow me to leave the class.

Our exam center was far; we walked for over an hour to get there. It was a big school called U.M.C. [United Methodist Church] Secondary School, Yengema. The buildings were big. For some of us, it was our first time entering the campus. I was timid and stayed close to some friends. Our teacher, Mr. P. S. Bobor, encouraged us to avoid panic. But I was visibly panicked. I feared the unknown.

Augustine’s last chapter: More Hopes, Less Success  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale

Augustine Kanjia’s incredible journey continues … Part 43: More Hopes, Less Success

I had prayed for my grandmother to start preparing to pay my school fees in time, but she was also compounded with several problems. Besides having to foot all the bills, she’d recently had a death in the family.

Augustine Kanjia

My brother’s choice of high school for me was a setback.

Duran Kanjia was one of the many children Pa Kanjia had from his many wives. He was the third child of the family and I was the last, having been born a few months after our father suddenly died in 1963. Duran was in the military since I was a little child. He had earned no promotions, and I was now in the seventh grade. He was simple and did not care.

He had just returned from Daru, Sierra Leone, where he was stationed. He was clearly a strategist but lacked follow-through. I loved him in his uniform and his love for his people. But I think our father’s death may have deterred him from continuing his education.

Duran was home with us on vacation. He did not care whether he had money. He put off everything to the future. “When I return to Daru I will send some money for that purpose or this purpose,” he would say to requests for help. Even when I was needy, especially for my school, Duran did not give a cent.

My grandmother at first was happy that he had come to our home in Motema, and so she called on him to help. He postponed the talks for two weeks — which was the deadline for paying the full amount of school and exam fees my grandmother had been trying scrape together.

Augustine’s last chapter: One Problem Opens the Door for More Problems  Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

Augustine Kanjia’s incredible journey continues … Part 42: One Problem Opens the Door … For More Problems

Our parents were supposed to choose a high school for us.

With my father dead and mother remarried in another village, I had my grandmother, who was uneducated and didn’t know much about school. She depended on me for most information.

I had started writing letters for her since the fifth grade. She respected what I wrote and got responses from what we sent. She had a special way of dictating her letters. She would call me into her room and explain everything to me in our local language, Kono. She would not allow me to take notes.

I managed to memorize all she would say — my first letter was understood and there was a positive response. I feared my English may not have been anything to write home about, but my spelling was great.

She was boastful about me in the market or in cars on her way to see her family for food. Grade 7 brought out the good, bad and ugly in me.

We were given the documents needed to be filled out for our choices of high schools all over the country. The forms were distributed to everyone in the class, except for me. My exam and school fees were yet to be paid.

My grandmother was away, but she was still grappling with how we would pay my school and exams fees, and keep me in school. We were given a month to pay all that we owed. Life was critical at this point.

Augustine’s last chapter: Major Problems Won’t Dissuade Me  Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale