The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Fighting for Fees and Respect

“T.K. does not come to school that often, but he will not fail any semester. He may be busy studying while we are away in school. Imagine his grades in French,” Mohamed Lansana said to Stephen.

Augustine Kanjia

The last semester had been tough. I knew there was going to be an endemic problem in the absence of the “omolé” brewing. The death of a drunkard had brought the halting of my grandmother’s business. The other food trade was only for us to eat.

Only one of my uncles was educated: the eldest, Sahr Tay James, T-Boy’s father. He loved me endlessly. I had a fairly good result for the second semester, even when I was out of school. I applied a simple skill. I would ask some of my classmates, especially Mohamed Lansana or Stephen Kabba, to help me out with the notes they took when I was absent. I did that each day of the week. I copied all the notes and studied them when we gathered to study at our local primary school, R.C. Motema, where we had our games.

But there was a likelihood of me not returning to school for over a year this time.

The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … ‘Omolé’ Creates a Bigger Problem

Our house was incomplete — still — but my thoughts were on school and soccer.

Augustine Kanjia

I was quite a local champion among my peers. I was the only boy to constantly provide a ball for every game we had. Of course, I was stealing — still — from the little money my grandmother and I were saving from the omolé sales. I was popular, but too lazy for many people’s comfort.

My grandmother’s thoughts stayed focused on fulfilling her promise to provide me a good education.

My first cousin Alex, commonly called Tamba or T-Boy, was my admirer, but I never let him know where I got the money to buy soccer balls. I was quite skillful; no one in my house knew. I was also called Tamba Magician (Tamba Ngofo, in Kono). Our house boomed with omolé.

T-Boy had watched the omolé flow in the house. We were constantly selling and brewing. Many came to the house to get their shots. T-Boy had made arrangements to take some bottles out to sell. We were uncertain about his true motives.

One day, he watched everyone keenly, understanding that we were concentrating in the kitchen. He entered the house quickly, picked up a couple of bottles and placed them at the window before passing through the back door. Soba Peppeh, my grandmother, had seen him rush out, and became suspicious. She quickly entered the room and went close to the window.

T-Boy, not watching, quickly put in his hand to take a bottle. Grannie caught him in his first attempt. He shouted when he was caught. He had no excuse and felt very ashamed, which eventually led to his going to live in Yengema, Sierra Leone, for good. But I loved him. I searched for him from school to our house, but to no avail. I had been his mentor.

He took to his heels and walked to Yengema, which is where I trekked to get to school. That walk was not fun, especially when you were hungry.

Augustine’s last chapter: Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

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.