Lungi, the airport town of Sierra Leone, was cool; staying on to recuperate was the best thing to do at that stage. I prayed and hoped for the better.
I had already made friends around town, and my brother’s wife was great. She had a lot of joy to share. Betty, an adopted child herself, was a good source of encouragement, but poverty was her name.
I had no food to contribute, but Betty did not mind. My brother sent money to support the house when he received his salary. Peter, who was also known as PA, was such a kind man.
I lived away from my brothers for a long time. They expected me to do well and have more money than them, but here I was sitting again with them and leaning on them for food. It was great that I had to bring money for my operations. My old friends helped.
Each day had its own story. And my stories were full of challenges, but the new story this afternoon was scary, full of hope and full of anxiety.
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A longtime girlfriend had called me. My brother had given her my number during my uncle’s funeral in Gbaama, Sierra Leone. She called me without any waste of time.
“Hello!” she said.
“Hi,” I responded in a soft voice. We shared some old jokes. Then she said, “Oh, T.K. I have a gift for you.”
“What gift?” I asked.
“Yes, a nice gift. Do you know who is speaking?”
“Yes, I do, it is Anthonette from Gbaama,” I said.
I was needy. I had to remain quiet, and I was quite confused. I lived in need of money and food. If anyone talked about a gift, I would become confused as to whether it was money or food for me. I asked her what the gift was.
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.
“Well, age has nothing to do with sending my gift by DHL,” I said.
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.”
Freetown is not far from Lungi. You can see the area from one side of the sea. It was the tributary that separated the towns of Freetown and Lungi. Tarrin was on Lungi’s side and Dock Yard on Freetown’s side.
When it came time to pick up my present I did not know what to expect. I asked my brother to come with me. He was delighted to go.
My brother paid for the ferry tickets. It was a very slow ferry, overloaded with vehicles, commodities and people coming from overseas and locally going to do business in Freetown. There was potential for panic on such a ferry. There were only a handful of life jackets. The starting of the ferry took some time before it finally moved like a massive train coming from afar. The wind blew hard and the atmosphere changed. People became worried.
I went to the top of the ferry, where they had entertainment. There was a porch area, and one needed to pay before gaining access there. My brother knew it quite well, so he did not follow me. I pushed the door and it opened. The security guard came out and looked at me and asked what my mission was. “Sir,” I said, “I’m a journalist but had this operation. The people are too many in the two other stairs and I am just discharged from my foot’s injury. I wanted to see if I could just sit in the corner on the floor here.”
He allowed me to enter. By this time the ferry was right in the middle of the journey, and the water was deep. At a point, everyone kept quiet and the ferry struggled with its overloaded self.
We approached the shore of Freetown when everyone started talking loudly. The rush was too much, children, the elderly, strangers, traders, military men and women were all struggling to get outside quickly.
At last I walked out slowly after everyone else had left. Like a ghost, I appeared at the door and my brother was looking for me. I was not asked for my ticket, which I kept to use again.
My brother was patient — for a time. I saw him chewing some peanuts, and he was quick to tell me he was tired of waiting. “I’m sorry, man!” I said. We moved with the rest of the crowd, like a river carrying debris during a storm. We were not far from the so-called gift.
I felt tired. I was walking slowly and my knee started swelling up. I started chatting with my brother. I told him a story about a teacher — since he was a teacher it would help him stimulate his brain to search for a better job than teaching.
“There was a rich man who felt very sorry for the teachers of Sierra Leone, who were paid after every three months. The rich man decided to have a competition with his baboon, which had no emotion when people joked with it.
“The rich man decided to make a competition for teachers. It was on the radio and [in] newspapers. The man said teachers should come and make his baboon laugh. The stage was set for that and the stadium was jam-packed. The weak teacher was passing by, very tired. He was called to enter the stadium to be a part of it. His shoe was flat and torn on both sides. When he …”
“Augustine,” my brother interrupted. “Let us go and forget about stories and go away for your gift.” I could not complete my good story. He urged me to move on.
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.)
She stayed with me for some time, and she had to return to her mom in Bo town, the capital of the Bo district in southeast Sierra Leone and kind of second capital of Sierra Leone.
My heart was not sweet. I tried very hard to overcome the problem of money. I contacted my friends to help me since I anticipated her return. People could not understand what was going on with me. I was sick at heart knowing that my daughter was about to return to Bo. I sat down and cried alone. It was tough for me.
But as God will have it, my friend, Miriam Mason, sent me my airport tax. It was good for my daughter because I bought some clothes and paid my daughter’s way. I was in the hospital for checkup when she left.
I was left alone thinking of how and where I would get a ticket to return to Gambia.
My little Mary had left earlier on and now her big sister had left. My wife and I were not married [Editor’s note: It was culturally accepted in the community to claim a wife and refer to her as such, assuming an impending marriage]. We lived together to understand each other then get married. She was such a nice woman. I left some money with her for my ticket in case I was stranded. She had used all the money to buy food and refused to call me.
I managed to get to her and she sent me some money. I was in haste to see my friend Mary, who had endured with me, but she had to go to school so she left.
Lungi town was friendly, but they too were very poor. People ate a meal a day, which was hard. My brother’s wife, Betty, fought tooth and nail to feed me. She did her best. She had a lot of bananas behind her house. I loved eating them and would have them in place of a meal when we did not have it. I felt sorry for them because bananas were too meager for them to constitute a full meal.
It was the hardest time, but it was time to fight hard to go after my foot was healed. That still posed a threat, though. I had taken the medication and kept it at home because I was tired of going up and down to the hospital to get it.
My hope for returning to Gambia was dashed because I had only half a ticket. I stayed on, in pain, with a nurse inviting me to her house for treatment.
Little did I know the nurse had other plans for me.