May 7, 2017

The unbelievably true story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Part 38: Illicit April Brewing Rains on My Parade

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Wikimedia Commons / Lindsay Stark

Augustine had yet another long and winding path in front of him.

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

Grannie had increased the number of drums we filled per month. It was becoming a job for my uncles, because the long trips into the bush were required weekly.

I was now in the fifth grade; it was then I started reading and writing a fair amount of English. My grandmother was proud of me. I loved being with her, but not in the bush for distilling the alcohol. The bush was not safe, I thought. I would sometimes voice my opinion, but I was called a coward and lazy boy.

We stayed in the bush sometimes whole days without food to eat. They were big, my uncles, but I knew they suffered the hunger more than I did. I received insults and slaps for minor offenses that could not be termed offensive. For example, I stood on a rock eating beans my grandmother had prepared for me earlier on at home. But there was no spoon or fork. I was compelled to ask my grandmother in a loud voice from the rock, “Grannie, do you have a fork?” My uncle responded that I was rude to ask his mom with such a vulgar word. He called me down and cut a nice piece of stick and beat me well on my buttocks. My grandmother had just gone to fetch firewood. I knew he was hungry.

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.

She was quite contented with a son like me. She told everyone how nice and reasonable I was. Many other children were more demanding about their new shoes and uniforms. I summoned up more courage when she told me I would be a very good husband in the future, and that her prayer was for me to become a teacher.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

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

Teachers were the least paid then, but she was fascinated by the fact that they were leading the world, in a sense, by educating the presidents and doctors. She thought it was the biggest thing.

Our schools were engaged in competitions on many fronts. Our Independence Day was one of them. The others were sports, including soccer, and athletics. I was good at soccer, but not running. I was quite thin and light, with endurance but no speed.

Our Independence Day was on the horizon, but I had no white sneakers.

It would be April 27, the day the British handed over the country to Sierra Leoneans in 1961. All schools would go out to march in parades. Sometimes the president would come to address the gatherings. It seemed for a moment as if we were not suffering poverty. Every child dressed his best, with Dunlop sneakers. Parents stood outside to watch their children go in two straight lines to the rhythm of the school band.

I did not have the uniform or the shoes to wear, and the day was fast approaching. There was no spare money to use for my shoes. I knew I would miss out on that years’ parade. We had practiced songs taught to us by our stammering teacher, whom we called King Kama. This was his nickname; I still don’t know his first name.

Meanwhile, my grandmother was trying hard to get me something to wear, so perhaps I could attend the parade. She was busy with the brewing of the Omole, too. We could not forget. We were getting some financial gain, but she would not allow me or my uncles to take the money. It was difficult for anyone to steal from the family pot by this time.

It was Independence Day, and it was a day to brew.

We had about three drums. It would take quite some time to brew it all. We left home at 5:30 a.m. to get to the bush. I was very sleepy and hungry. I had not eaten enough bread or fruits the previous day. I was anxious, but I loved my grandmother and she had brought me this far. She fought for me each day. She was trying to build the house for my sake. She said she would rather not die because she would leave me a legacy to continue from. The house was my house.

We had nearly arrived about 7:30 a.m. Morning dew remained on the grass and bushes. I was cold, wet and tired. One of my uncles taunted me as I fell in the grass on the side of the road. I began to yell out loud in tears as I shivered vigorously. But it was a made-up show. I tried hard to vomit. I put my fingers in my throat and threw up some horrible morning stuff. And I held my right toe as if I’d been bit. I was too clever for them.

One of them put me on his back and walked with me gently to the brewing site. It was fun for me. But was it going to be fun to tell them I’d been fooling them? My uncles would be ready to beat the devil out of me for that. I had to pretend being sick for the rest of the day.

My grandmother was a native healer; she would cure people from many ailments. She got me some concoctions to address my “snake bite.” Many insults were directed against me when I only pretended to drink the medication. I trashed it well when they paid no attention. I then asked Grannie for more of the concoction because the one I was drinking was working well.

I drank water, but I started sweating profusely due to an empty stomach. My friend and best uncle, Tamba Ngainda, who had carried me on his head to our first farm, was present. He took me up and thanked God that the snake could not get me. I went down and started limping. I joined them again and we continued our brewing.

We returned home late in the evening and we had completed brewing the three drums. Many people saw us; Grannie was becoming popular. I was in tears for not being able to take part in the Independence Day march. They had given everyone who marched a souvenir. It was either an independence cup, plate or a tray.

My friends were generous enough to show me all that went on. I told them that we had a show in another village for students.

We had our soccer matches on Sunday, all the children would assemble to compete against each team. It was always a very difficult and challenging match. There was a sports lover who organized these games. Here is where I would clash with my uncles, for disobedience.

I would be asked to go to the garden to water our cassava or potatoes and bring wood to cook in the evening. Our games were always in the evenings on Sundays. The momentum builds in as soon as schools resume. The elders were interested, and my team was a force to be reckoned with. My uncles were busy trying to take the money they could get from their mother, who was very watchful.

Everyone in our house depended on my grandmother, who was commonly called Soba Peppeh, meaning hot pepper. I know she got her name from selling plants like peppers, cassava and beans. She had known how to cook beans and cassava with cow skin in red palm oil. She was a very good cook. She was a superior in her ventures. She had begged the head teacher then, Mr. Kabba, to allow her to sell in the school to make ends meet.

Poverty was visible in me. I could not eat the school meals because I had not paid my fees. They knew me well for being notorious in not paying my fees. One would see how my grandmother struggled to keep us happy. She was a vibrant trader. She would shout while selling, “Soba Peppeh,” to attract more customers. Many suggested it was because my grandmother did not want anyone to beat me or fight with me that she came to school every day selling her crops.

One boy would say we were as poor as a church mouse, eating only the Bible. My grandmother was bent on raising enough money for our house.

The Omole was finished for now, but we were to repeat the same action again. My grandmother started the house in 1971. The building started in earnest. I was shocked when my grandmother brought home bags of zinc, beds and nails. Soon she started making a plan for the house. We knew we were getting closer to owning a family house. But the work was far from over.

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

Part 36: Signs of My Struggle Begin

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