Augustine Kanjia

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 41: Major Problems Won’t Dissuade Me

The whistle blew. Komba Bottom ran toward the ball. I knew where it was going. I stood there, and the ball came with a vehement speed. I stretched my arms and punched the ball with my two hands. My right hand then broke.

Augustine Kanjia

The house issue had just started settling down. We were getting ready to live in our new home even though it was incomplete.

My grandmother wanted us to be there, but I was not happy because the house had a lot of work yet to finish and the family’s “omole,” or moonshine, production had ceased due to the police getting wise. We were trapped and handicapped. It was not a pleasant situation for the family.

My uncles, though, were anxious to return, especially Aiah James so he could have a room to bring his girls. He was well supported by his mom, “Sobba Peppeh” — my grandmother — because he was the youngest of her four children.

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I remember when my uncle had come from Pakidu, their home village. He was big and looked older than he was. He was not fit for an elementary school. I was in Grade 1 when he arrived. He had no skill in anything and was unwilling to learn. He was sent to a school in another town called Yengema. He was the biggest at the United Methodist Church School. But people understood his situation.

My grandmother took much interest in my education, but she did not trust, at first, that I’d been assigned to the right class. The trend in the school in those days was for children to go through three levels — the A, B, C — of the first grade to enable younger children to mature before they reached Grade 2.

I was quite young, younger than many if not all. I was only tall. The method of placing students could not always be done by age because some of the children had no birth certificate. My grandmother had kept mine in our iron suitcase, old fashion. Acceptance in those days was based on two factors: birth certificate, and by putting your hand over your head to try to touch your ear. If you could, then you qualified to attend school. I was a tall boy. My hands overlapped my ear, so I qualified to be part of the school.

I was active and useful, but I still had to go through the A, B, C of the first class. I succeeded and made a mark in my first grade. I loved the singing, the drawing, and the spellings we did. The school was interesting. The early grades had been exciting, but I started realizing that there was a long way to go.

Augustine’s last chapter: Poverty Strikes Hard as Mother Returns  Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 40: Poverty and Punishment Strike Hard as Mother Returns

My short pants had been torn into pieces. My friends, Sahr Allieu and Emmanuel Gbandeh, could only bow their heads in shame. When Dominic put me down I was forced to run away and go tell my grandmother.

Augustine Kanjia

My school was demanding. We paid for every little thing — and not always with money — even though the Sierra Leonean government had declared primary education free for all.

Parents — or in my case, grandparent — were all forced to pay 30 cents per semester, and then some. The other charges would be for books that were never there, or for the food that was supposed to be free from the U.S. government. It was difficult for me to eat at the school due to the lack of money.

There were loads of competitions in my class. We had spelling, math, civics, current affairs and general knowledge pop quizzes. The teacher, Mr. A.B.S. Bangura, was a tough guy and would know everything happening in the class.

He called me aside one day and asked who pays my school fees. I unfortunately told him, “God pays.” He said I was being sarcastic. I did not mean so, but he was adamant and I had to succumb. He was furious and decided to give me a good beating. I was certainly afraid because my grandmother did not want anyone to beat me, not even my teachers, though it was accepted that children could be beat at school.

Mr. Bangura took me out in front of the class to teach me manners, as he said. I was mounted on somebody’s back and given a good beating, a beating I have always remembered.

Augustine’s last chapter: Skipping School and Fooling the Police  Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale

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