Our test results were around the corner. Life was still difficult at home.
It felt like there was no way out.
My grandmother still did not have a regular job, but she continued selling her food stuff. Many had called her by her nickname, “Soba Peppeh,” meaning the real pepper in the Creole parlance of Sierra Leone.
My garden work with Soba Peppeh had increased as her sales at the market doubled. I would cook for the house when the market occupied her. Mondays were very busy days for me. Fridays were for the market, too. My grandmother prepared more food and brought raw cassava, potatoes and their leaves. Boiled cassava and beans were on the side for sale.
Of course, we did not relent on the “Omolé” trade. Its money was coming in fast.
Soba Peppeh was versatile.
We did all these things, but always had time for prayer. I rejoiced when it was Sunday. Her church, the UMC church, depended on me for its bell. I would ring it before leaving for my own Roman Catholic church at my primary school, R.C. Motema. There was enough prayer for me in my grandmother’s church to help me pass my exam — but not to pay my upcoming high school fees.
Augustine’s last chapter: Another Lesson in Perseverance Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale
A lot of things happened in a short time in my life. We had prepared for our Confirmation. We were 12 young lads. The exam was tough by church standards.
We memorized a lot of prayers and laws of the church. Those things immersed us in faith. I believed in God even more. Bishop Joseph Ganda was the bishop of the Diocese of Kenema, my diocese. It was certainly thriving, with lots of Irish priests. They were helpful with prayer and education, but they practiced the vow of poverty and hardly had any money to give.
The date for our Confirmation was at hand. We all had white shirts and pants with either white shoes or sneakers. I was left with sneakers. This was the hardest thing. Well, I said to myself alone, “This is God’s business, God knows I don’t have a shoe for the occasion.” Bishop Ganda came for the Confirmation test at our parish, Christ the King Parish, Yengema.
It was Friday morning and we had to walk a long distance to Yengema. It would take more than an hour. It was always tiring. I thought those bad boys were going to see me again to target me as they did during our entrance exam at the UMC school. We all arrived early for our Confirmation test with the bishop, who never joked about faith. We all sat in the church in the front pew.
We all went for Confession; I was so afraid of the bishop that I could not confess to him all I did at home and on the street. I was fond of stealing sugar cane at night. That was my hobby with my best friend, Gabriel Allieu.
The exam was at hand, everyone turned mute, unable to utter a word beforehand. The bishop called us one by one. When my turn came, I was given several questions and asked to tell a short Bible story that I could remember. I loved telling stories. I easily passed my exam. I qualified to be confirmed, thus becoming a soldier of Christ.
I did not remember to bring my baptismal certificate. I checked, but could not find it. I told the bishop that I left it home. He called me closer to him, and asked me gently about it. Then he gave me a slap.
I fell down and got up, and he shouted at me to rush home and bring it back. I think he was afraid he had given me a big man’s slap instead of a child’s slap. I ran back to Motema, my hometown. I kept running on my bare feet. I lost a toenail on a stone before reaching my grandmother in the market, calling on customers to buy her peppers.
She would say, “Soba Peppeh! Soba Peppeh! Soba Peppeh dae! Una cam buy, ei sweet en wam.” (Meaning, “Here is a proper pepper! Here is proper pepper, please come and buy, it is sweet.”) She was shocked at seeing me. I told her, and we rushed home to find my card in her suitcase, where she kept our Omolé money. I was not trusted to go there alone. I was sweating profusely. She gave me five cents to pay my way back to church, with no money for lunch.
I barely made it in time. I was the last whose card was signed by the bishop.
I still remember Joseph Mattia, Emmanuel T. Mattia and Esther Kpata among our group. We posed for a photograph that was hung in our head teacher’s office for the first time. I wonder if it was spared by the war. I had no shoes on, and I stood in front because I was small.
Families had big parties at home, but I went to the garden to water our crops. My grandmother came and said to me, “Tamba Daniel [the name I was known by then] be patient. Remember a patient dog eats the fattest bone. Your day will come soon.”
My heart was focused on another result: my high school entrance exam.
Rumors had it that Suma Musa, then the most brilliant girl in school, had failed. We thought we had no hope. I could not bear to wait, I had to ask around. My result came and I scored a very high mark. It was enough to earn me a scholarship, but none was offered.
Our head teacher had just returned from an overseas trip. I met up with him at the main junction as he alighted from a taxi. I rushed and put his suitcase on my head. We marched together for a long time to the school compound. He asked me all questions about the exams and results. I told him step by step, speaking in English. We never walked with our teachers or to even talked to them eye to eye. We bowed down as a sign of respect. I couldn’t stop myself this time.
The teachers had to punish me for telling the headmaster what I should have kept secret. I was given 24 lashes with a stick. While in pain, my result was released. It cured me, but I was still in tears as I heard teachers talk about my good result but lack of money to even go for the intake interview. The days went by fast and I still had no money for the interview or otherwise.
Omolé, our illicitly distilled liquor, was helpful. My grandmother was ready to sell another batch, which would likely raise enough to pay my interview fees. It was about eight days to the interview, and I had only 3 Leones. That was money then. A couple days later, my grandmother had the money. It was my transport fare that was left to raise at this stage.
I had no clue as to where to get the fare to reach my brother, who had chosen a school away from my grandmother but close to him. He was Duran Kanjia, commonly called Lamina, and according to sources, he was not our dad’s favorite. He was only stubborn.
There were two days left before I had to leave Motema for my interview. The fare was 12 Leones. I sold for my grandmother at the market to raise the money.
She was quite clever in her business. She knew where they sold food stuff cheap. It was far in the bush, but she would pay her way to reach there and get loads of vegetables, then we would prepare and resell them and make a profit without the people crying about a price hike. In fact, it was my grandmother who was the price setter. Everyone followed her prices.
More recent entries from Augustine:
- More Hopes, Less Success
- One Problem Opens the Door for More Problems
- Major Problems Won’t Dissuade Me
- Poverty Strikes Hard as Mother Returns
- Skipping School and Fooling the Police
We eventually got the money for my fare to leave the next day. I had no spare money to buy food to eat on the way, and it was bumpy with heavy potholes that would shake the strongest military man to his bones.
I boarded another vehicle in Segbwema. That was the town where I was going to live to attend school. It looked bushy, old and unprogressive. It was dusty with a bit of tarmac at the popular Nixon Memorial Hospital, named after America’s President Nixon. That was the best hospital in the eastern province so far. All primitive illnesses were brought there — sickness that had not been written about in books. I hated the town at first sight.
The car was ready to go to Daru, to where my brother lived. The grass was green, the road was not too long, but it was rough. One could see the military vehicles by the roadside due to breakdowns. It was difficult for civilians. We sailed through and at last we were in front of the barracks at the entrance. It appeared strange, with a very rough river on the side. I thought perhaps he lived in the barracks or maybe he was at work.
I decided to go to the town and search for him.
In fact Kanjia, as he was also known, had stayed too long in that town. Someone at the bus park said they knew him and where he lived. The man directed me to his building and I walked gently to his apartment. He heard me ask for him in Mende, a local dialect that our father spoke. I saw my brother and rushed to him to hug him in joy.
It was sad. He looked at me with disdain and scorn. He knew he was going to have an additional responsibility. He was unmarried by then and would often reminisce of the women he nearly married. He had a long story to tell, and one could sense that his anger emanated from such feelings most of the time. He then spoke to me in a very low tone. I became quiet knowing what I was coming to face. I tried to change my perception to remain positive.
We slept on the same bed without a word to each other. In the morning, my punishment started. I had only four days until my interview. I was praying for it to come fast. He was very displeased with my dress and lack of clothes. He complained over and over, but bought nothing to save me.
I told him about the interview. He acted shocked, like he never knew we’d chosen a school close to him. In fact, he was the one who wrote the school’s name when my grandmother asked him for help. There was no remedy but to beg him on my knees to see me through. He was a completely changed man at this point.
The next day was the interview. How did I make it this far without his help? The rest was tears.
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