April 23, 2017

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 37: Grandmother’s New Business Opens Old Wounds

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Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augustine's grandmother had a heavy influence on his early life.

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

I loved what seemed like fun as a kid, when we hurriedly packed our things to seek refuge in houses that were not much stronger than ours. Our conversation was overtaken by the night’s wind, which made us run. My grandmother was having none of that. “We shall build a new house this year,” she said. “It will be difficult, but we know how we shall go about it. It means all of us will put our heads and hands together to make it work.”

I already knew her plan. It was a secret between her and me.

Bongudae, another name for my grandmother, was now ready to release the secret plan to my uncles. We had waited long and, as usual, she had to sing in prayerful thanksgiving before she would talk. We all joined in chorus, she invited us to stand up as they would do in her Methodist church. In fact, she composed the song in her local language, Mende. It was certainly going to take us some time, and I was in haste to join my friends for a soccer match we had organized for an after-school tournament.

Finally, my grandmother started to tell my uncles about her thoughts.

“We have no house, as you can see. Our house is flying with the coming of rain and wind. [Augustine] is tired with the old house that is waiting to be taken away by wind. I am pleased to inform that we are going to start a new house and everyone will get a room. Therefore, everyone will add their effort to the erection of the new house,” Bongudae said.

One of my lazy uncles asked her, “Where is the money for the house?” She was quick to say that she was going to engage in business, and that the men of the house would be in the forefront.

The secret was, she had planned to brew alcohol by fermenting sugar and yeast for a month. This was a venture that I was certainly not used to. But it was a new way of keeping busy.

She went to buy the first bag of sugar. Who would bring it home was the next question. It was too heavy for me to take, but quite easy for the others, my uncles, though none of them would do it. They all gave excuses. They were busy doing nothing, because they had no job nor did they have any good plans.

No one blamed anyone for not having a job, because even the educated had no job.

Those who went to school were afraid that they would end up having no job. My grandmother then wished for me to become a teacher. But she did not know how teachers suffered then without a good salary. They had respect in society, but not money. My uncles added to our poverty. I went without a lot of things other children would have. School was good for me since it kept me busy with games. And I became a good soccer player to the amazement of many. I had a lot of fans.

I had gathered my friends to go help me bring the sugar from the main street, where it was kept for us. I certainly could not take it alone. I took the old wheelbarrow we used to block our main door in case someone would come into our house at night. We were safe, anyhow, without it or without even locking the door. It was old and broken, as most of our valuables were.

We were more than enough for the bag of sugar. My friends lifted it up, under my command as I looked on, then it was placed in the wheelbarrow. Some gave it hand support and others pushed it hard. We eventually arrived home. My grandmother was happy. Little did she know that this accomplishment was a license for me to go play soccer with my friends for the rest of the evening.

My grandmother asked my uncles to go with her to identify a place in the forest where we could start our brewing process; Sahr and Ngainda denied her yet again. My grandmother’s favorite son, Aiah Bongu, who carried my mother’s middle name, willingly accepted going.

In the evening of the next day, they went without me. I hid myself behind our room’s door. They went asking where I was. I wanted to go do some sports at school, and then went to watch a match.

My uncle was weak and lazy, but he loved women. My cousin, Alex, and I believed it was due to the girls that he was lazy to the bone. He surveyed the place with his mother, who adored him, but he felt the work was too much for him alone. Meanwhile, Ngainda stayed home looking for palm wine.

Uncle Aiah Bongu then suggested to Grannie that he knew a woman, called Yawahday, who was in a similar business. Grannie did not know he was referring to his girlfriend, an older woman that he never told his mother about. But I knew. I was a detective, a young one for that matter. In a lot of cases, I gave the family breaking news, ranging from a new curfew to thefts in the village and many other things. I was very smart and skillful. They ended up calling me Magician (“Ngofoh” in the Kono language). It was one of my nicknames.

Uncle Aiah Bongu was given the chance to get advice from his secret girlfriend. But he and my grandmother had already earmarked the spot for our future place to brew the local alcohol called Omole.

The lady accepted us doing the brewing there. We went there the next day to set our fermentation process in motion. They had split the sugar in portions; mine was not much but it was quite heavy. I cried till I arrived at the spot. “I will never take such a thing anymore,” I said to my grandmother. More work was ahead. We fetched water, mixed the sugar and yeast vigorously, and tied and covered it.

We were leaving it here for a month. It was Grannie’s and my job to go check its situation daily. The little money Grannie had was now for buying sugar. The time was here for the brewing of the alcohol. It was illegal to brew without a license. It was expensive getting it and it entailed a lot of work. My grandmother decided to do it stealthily, by going far away into the bush, brewing it and returning home when everyone was asleep. It took a lot of straining, but we needed a house.

Our first production took the whole day. That was a whole day away from my friends and soccer. I did not like it at all. The heat was too much and I imagined one of the pipes or the drum bursting into flames. I was responsible for the fire, and that was hot. We survived the heat for the first two months until we created our own brewing bush.

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.

I oversaw the money, because I was an honest boy who attended both Catholic and Methodist churches. I kept to it and did not want to deviate. But boys had to be boys, always. There was need for a soccer ball for my class and school team. I became the natural leader of my age mates.

There was an internal competition between my uncles and me for stealing the old woman’s money. I reported them, Aiah and Ngainda specifically, to prevent my grandmother suspecting that I was involved in stealing the alcohol money. I knew how to steal the money without suspicion. I was always afraid of the sin that followed, so I made sure I went for Confession daily. It was hard to say the same sin over and again, but that was what I was doing.

One morning, I stole 20 cents, hoping to buy bread and sardines with my friends. I hid the money outside our window and put a peg on top of it. I left for school very happy but I was late. I entered my class – Grade 5 then — and saluted the teacher, Joseph B. Fullah. I sat in my seat and spoke to my friend, Bobor Conteh, whose dad was the richest man in town at that time. My dad had already died, so others emerged as money men.

It was a bad day.

My friend raised alarm that he had lost his 20 cents. I did not take his money and I had never stolen any money apart from my grandmother’s. I was quickly called outside to testify. I was given 12 lashes on my back to say the truth. I had to confess, even though I did not take it. After the beating, I ran home. Retributive justice, I thought within myself.

I went in the room to see Grannie. I met her searching for the money in tears.

To catch up on one of the Sun’s original serials, follow these links:

Introducing the unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia

Part 1: The Decision That Saved My Life

Part 2: The Struggle for Survival in a Strange Land

Part 3: Good luck, bad luck, who knows?

Part 4: The Smoldering Bitterness of Enemies

Part 5: The Soccer Match That Changed My Life

Part 6: The Secret Visit to Freetown

Part 7: More Attention, More Friends … More Enemies

Part 8: Escape to Freetown

Part 9: More Suffering, More Tears

Part 10: Family Rejection vs. Manhood

Part 11: New Hope, More Troubles, and a Gift

Part 12: Deceived in Hard Times

Part 13: Dangerous Investigative Journalism Begins

Part 14: Family vs. Husband-to-be

Part 15: The Article That Saved My Son’s Life

Part 16: Glen’s Long Road to Health

Part 17: A Wedding Without Parents

Part 18: Another New Beginning

Part 19: Challenging Resettlement Process Begins

Part 20: Suspicion and Senegal Visits

Part 21: The Toughest Interview Brings Success

Part 22: Augustine is Apprehended

Part 23: Joy, Despair and More Threats

Part 24: Surprise News That Set Us Free

Part 25: Final Problem Lands Me in Dakar

Part 26: A Very Long One Week

Part 27: Goodbye, Gambia

Part 28: The Kanjias’ First Snow

Part 29: First Noel in Worcester

Part 30: New Year, Tough Beginning

Part 31: Job Offer Sends Me Back to School

Part 32: To Be a Man is Not Easy

Part 33: When Things Fall Apart

Part 34: Back to How It All Started

Part 35: Family Disintegrates, Pa Dies

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