The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 26: A Very Long One Week

Our journey from Senegal back to Gambia was superb after succeeding in the orientation. We were on top of the world, but we dared not say a word about our upcoming change of address.

We were all aware of the fluid and tender situation we were in. My wife, Theresa, called it “time bomb.” She asked me to be more careful — the devil was at work. Our prayer times increased. We prayed the Rosary every night, instead of on Fridays as we used to do, on top of our other prayers. The one week until we’d be leaving the shores of The Gambia once and for all seemed everlasting.

Augustine poses with Theresa, as their secret departure nears, wearing T-shirts at once honoring their former newspaper boss and defying their president (whose photo lurks in the background).

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augustine poses with Theresa, as their secret departure nears, wearing T-shirts at once honoring their former newspaper boss and defying their president (whose photo lurks in the background).

Some days it was hard to sleep. We had already told the resettlement team that we knew nobody in America, so we were in God’s hands to place us somewhere. In fact, my oldest daughter Alice and her three-year-old son had left before us, in August. Her mouth could not relax; she may have told her friends about our plans had she stayed, but these challenges were part of the game.

I was hunted by the secret service, though they had no reason to apprehend me. I was gentle and focused. One week.


Augustine’s last chapter: Final Problem Lands Me in Dakar Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale


Augustine Kanjia

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 25: Final Problem Lands Me in Dakar

People were waiting to hear from me as they wondered about our frequent travels. Our crossing through the airport was swift, but there was a checkpoint ahead. The drivers would stop and passengers crossing the border would pass close by the police. I was noticeable! My name had been mentioned in recent court cases in the news, particularly as a witness for the Inspector General of Police (IGP) in The Gambia.

The worrying was enough to make my wife, Theresa, shake. But we were only waiting two more weeks for the final touch in our resettlement quest.

The IGP was apprehended for stories I notified the police about before publishing, especially his involvement with armed robberies and drug issues.

One more trip across the border ...

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

One more trip across the border …

It was a surprise to know that the IGP was part of these horrible activities that were perpetrated on the masses over several years. He was, it turns out, one of the most notorious criminals whose story I dug up. He was called Ensa Badjie, commonly called “Jesus,” because Ensa in their language, they say, means “Jesus.” I thought he was a very reliable man with the name Jesus. He was not reluctant at all to send his men with me — the crooked ones — to show me where the crimes I’d been writing about [such as the taxi scam from a few chapters back] were happening — the crimes, it just so happened, he was orchestrating.


Augustine’s last chapter: Surprise News That Set Us Free Or scroll down to catch up from earlier in the remarkable tale


The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 24: Surprise News That Set Us Free

We received yet another call to report for results of all our troubling interviews by the UNHCR (the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). It was the most troubling appointment above all in our quest for resettlement. Many teeth will grind in disappointment and discouragement.

There were about 20 families, more than 30 people. I had a case to be a witness to in court. Did this bother me? Not at all! My thoughts were all on my results to be released to me and the date I’d be given for our orientation.

How should we leave this time? How would people think about us? Would they conclude their stories about our frequent visits to Dakar? Well, a trick came to my mind before we would set off.

Mary, Glen and Theresa finally meet up with Augustine in Dakar.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Mary, Glen and Theresa finally meet up with Augustine in Dakar.

Tell your boss at work that your son fainted overnight, I thought, and that there was an urgent need to go see his doctor in Dakar, so urgent you could not go by road.

Slok Air International, a Nigerian businessman-owned airline that was closed for a time due to corruption and mismanagement, was contacted by my boss, the managing editor of The Point newspaper. The Point had an agreement with Slok Air: They gave us their adverts, and they ferried Point workers and their families, wife and husband and one child, for free. I was called by a Slok manager, with the help of my wife’s Catholic friend, Aunty Bridget, who had shown compassion and pointed to this opportunity, which expedited our securing the ticket and leaving in the afternoon with our sick son.

Glen had, in fact, fainted earlier on in the past week. He had malaria, and was given chloroquine [a common treatment for malaria], which his heart would not accept. He then collapsed and was rushed to the hospital. He was treated and advised never to receive chloroquine for malaria.

All my colleagues at The Point knew my son had a problem that needed fixing. Many important details of our issues remained a complete family secret. Nobody said a word to anyone to avoid contradicting themselves and bringing our resettlement to a halt.


Read Augustine’s last installment, Joy, Despair and More Threats, or scroll down to start from earlier in his incredible journey


The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 21: The Toughest Interview Brings Success

There was confusion surrounding my family’s eligibility for resettlement from other refugees, who became jealous for no reason. It was time to prove it.

My eldest daughter Alice, who I’d first met when she was 16, got pregnant when going to school. Her mom was apparently tired of her stubbornness and could not keep her in Sierra Leone anymore. I felt lucky to see and meet this girl. She was difficult but part of our family.  Her arrival prompted more questions, but God was behind us.

Alice

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Alice

Fatou Barry, the refugee protection officer, called me for questioning. My answers were salient and convincing. The end product was superb, but The Gambia remained dangerous for me.

There was an urgent call for my family to return to Dakar by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. We always enjoyed the trips, so we looked forward to going. And returning. We did not know why there was so much urgency added to our going to Dakar. I lied at my workplace, telling my editor how my son, Glen, had collapsed overnight and that had left us not sleeping but staying the whole night in hospital; we were referred to Dakar so we were leaving.

My boss, Pap Saine, was quite gullible for a journalist, easily manipulated. He asked us to leave in time before it was late! We left with the collection of our travel documents from Gambia Immigration. My going through immigration was somewhat more controversial than one may think. I was always given a hard time. I was there and I went to see Sergeant Ceesay, who was the focus person for refugees. He had already known me so I thought it was going to be easy.

He checked his file and said he did not find my name for traveling.


Read Augustine’s latest installment, Suspicion and Senegal Visits, or scroll down to follow his incredible journey from the start.


The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 20: Suspicion and Senegal Visits

UNHCR, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, was aware of my situation and the health struggles my son was undergoing. But I did not want the police or secret police to know about our resettlement process.

Hatred toward Sierra Leoneans in The Gambia was part of the problem in going for interviews for resettlement. Fatou Barry, the UNHCR protection officer assigned to my case, was clever enough to have transferred our case to Dakar since we were going to Senegal’s capital, anyway, for Glen’s checkup. She made it possible for us to have our interviews there. The interviews were many and long.

Barry had secured our first interview date. We kept it secret. I called my family to attention to warn them strictly that whatever we were going through should be a family secret. Sometimes when my wife is over-happy she says stuff. I told them of examples of how some people could not go and were even killed because of the complications involved in resettlement. It was then sealed between us: Our only reason for going to Dakar was Glen’s checkup.

Augustine and his family have some travelling -- and secret-keeping -- to do, as their future in Worcester gets closer.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augustine and his family have some travelling — and secret-keeping — to do, as their future in Worcester gets closer.

Barry had also arranged with Gambian Immigration to allow us a United Nations family laissez-passer [Editor’s note: like a temporary passport for humanitarian reasons] as refugees to go to Senegal for Glen’s checkup. It would last for only one trip, so we were supposed to be visiting them each time we wanted to travel. The immigration office knew my son had a very bad heart condition. They sympathized with me too. That was our exit point, Glen’s heart.

Our first trip was glorious!


Read Augustine’s latest installment, Challenging Resettlement Process Begins, or scroll down to follow his incredible journey from the start.


Augustine Kanjia

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 19: Challenging Resettlement Process Begins

It was only after several tries for a resettlement interview that I was finally in line for one. And fortunate at that.

The war was almost over and there was no mass resettlement as there used to be. In fact, it was coming to an end for all Sierra Leonean refugees living in The Gambia. We wept as our hopes were nearly dashed. The challenges were too many, which made many refugees give up. People resorted to any means. Some Nigerians acquired Sierra Leonean passports to see them out of Africa. It was concerning, so I decided to dig into the story, which I’d first thought would call the authorities to action. But who cared? It fell on deaf ears because some authorities gained a lot from it.

Back to reporting, Augustine must work to keep himself out of danger.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Back to reporting, Augustine must also work to keep himself on the path to resettlement.

The confusion in The Gambia among refugees was overwhelming. Some felt left behind. Many had loved ones already resettled to the United States. Refugees were asked to live in the camp in Basse town [Basse Santa Su] if they wanted resettlement. Many stayed there in the hardest of life. The sun was excruciating, and the poverty level appalling and difficult for those who lived on handouts, handouts that were offered in town and reduced to scraps before refugees would get a share. I could not stay in this camp.

Many thought of returning home, but there was no money for their return and they had nowhere to return to, especially those whose houses were destroyed. The Gambia became unbearable and life was never as it used to be. I knelt and prayed for the will of God to be done in my life and for my family.