September 24, 2017

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … My School of Hard Knocks

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Wikimedia Commons / Lindsay Stark

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

Mr. Gabriel Amara, the kind principal I’d met at Christ the King College secondary school in Bo, was now the head of Yengema Secondary School, another of Sierra Leone’s top Catholic schools.

Augustine Kanjia

Though he had encouraged me to end my school-search odyssey by applying to the Yengema school, he decided now that there was no space for me — I was too late. I could have attended Christ the King if my mother and stepfather were still living in Bo, but he had been transferred to the Port Loko police.

I looked around the compound and saw some of the friends I’d played soccer with back at the Motema elementary school. Well, God knew I had tried to find myself a school. I felt this was only the beginning of my manhood. The path would be longer, but it was clear. A letter and my entrance exam results were sent to the principal at Sewafe Secondary School.

I’d already been to Bo, Daru and Segbwema. Sewafe was another diamond-mining town in the Eastern Province. The principal was the Rev. Austin Healy.

When everyone had entered their classrooms, I quickly walked out of the door to zoom home to Motema again. Our new family home was near completion. Our illicit brewing of “Omolé” persisted because the house was very large and still needed more work.

That morning, I left with the intention that I would stay in school all day. I was wrong. I did not have the school uniform, nor did I have the admission. I returned to Motema in tears. A lot worked on my mind. It was all geared toward my return to school. It was hard for me. My grandmother was waiting for good news.

Augustine’s last chapter: Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

My grandmother had gone to fetch wood in the bush for our Omolé work the next morning. I did not know where she was. The bush was large. Two of her sons had gone, too, to start the brewing. I sat on a rocky hill hoping to see my grandmother pass by. I cried in self pity. This was unheard off, I thought, that I should suffer like an orphan. But my grandmother was bent on trying to get me into a good high school to one day become a teacher. Teachers were educated and were the ones our communities depended on, even in politics.

I never saw her. She’d already headed back to Motema. My path home became lonely and far. I decided to sing a song my grandmother loved. “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.” I felt tired and thought there was no hope in sight. My hopes for my education were only in Sewafe.

I arrived home. My grandmother expected me there later in the evening, when I should have returned from my school. My uncles concluded that I went to play soccer rather than trying to go to school, in order to avoid helping with the Omolé.

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

Augustine’s Uncle Tamba

My uncles rarely had encouraging words for me. For them, I should always have been with them, working. My grandmother understood how much I was undergoing for my education. She convinced my younger uncle, Aiah James, to cool down and be patient. It was on his account that Uncle Tamba Gainda would speak, because he was a loving man who wanted to see me succeed. They are both alive still, and I managed to bring them together years later, after the Sierra Leone Civil War, an 11-year conflict that began in 1991.

The savannah grass mattress on which my grandmother and I slept was exhausted; we needed a foam mattress this time. That was not my grandmother’s priority. We just had our nightly prayer and she never tired of telling me a story with a moral to get me to understand life as a man. This time it was a tortoise. The conclusion was, patience in life pays off.

I did not respond to her story. “Tamba!!” she called out. “Tamba!! Why are you quiet? Is anything wrong?”

“My school,” I sobbed. “They asked me to go to another school, it is a Catholic school and the principal is a priest,” I said in a clear voice. “Which school?” she asked. “Which town?” Maybe she knew someone there.

“Sewafe!” I cried out. She jumped in with a smile.

“Your brother is a French teacher there. What a coincidence! We shall go there in the morning. Thank God, we still have your interview fees. … Sahr Henry Kanjia, your brother, lives there. Your Uncle may be going there too,” she said.

I was full of joy. I was on top of the world. I prayed and slept fast for the dawn of a new day.

Sobba Peppeh was desperate to see me through. We left without breakfast, it was only our morning prayer that we did not miss. The road was new and cars had frequent accidents. So, our prayer was mainly for a safe journey — and for my success. We arrived safely in Sewafe after traveling at a breakneck speed. We walked to the school from town. I saw children in blue-and-white shorts. It was very nice looking at them. I imagined myself with them. But the thought of leaving my grandmother started to make me cry as we approached the school.

After talking with the priest/principal, he asked where I would live while attending. My grandmother said I’d be with my brother, Mr. Kanjia, a teacher in the school. Father Healy said my brother had been sick and was taken to Segbwema’s Nixon Memorial Hospital. He recovered, but was now stationed at Bo Teachers College.

I was totally numb, with nothing else to say. We left the place and returned to Motema. Sewafe was near a mountain. The evening scenery was just wonderful. As we left, the shadow of the hills with the evening sun setting behind them made me feel like a man on another planet. It was awesome!

More recent entries from Augustine:

Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

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

We returned home. The others would not even ask what was going on. I felt bad seeing the other children going to school and I, who scored higher than most, was left out. I stayed home for two days thinking hard. I could not attend R.C. Motema anymore, I said. I will be laughed at for repeating. Yengema was far, but I decided to walk to the school there and plead for another admission interview. It was a Catholic school and it was my passion that I would continue with my faith. That was quite important to me.

I spoke with the headmaster in his office. My English was not bad, it was quite strong and I could understand it well. But listening to the British Broadcasting Corporation, I could not understand — the white man then spoke very fast and in their nose. I hardly understood the radio English.

The headmaster, Mr. J.E. Bockarie, was impressed that I could go all by myself to ask him such a favor. It was mostly done by parents. He volunteered to buy my uniform, pay my exam fees and buy my books. I was very happy.

Our class was full. We had two sub-classes, Grade 7B and Grade 7A. The A class was better. We had very tough guys in that class. Some were grownups, like Morrison, Kaitingor, Munda Gormor, Alpha Lansana, Amadu Kabba, and others. I wished I would be able to see these guys again.

Ansumana, Kai Kondeh and a few others were small like me, and we were all the same age. We all pulled together well. The big boys bullied us often. Our parents paid a small amount for our food at school, but I did not have it. Mr. Bockarie paid for that, too. I was on a full scholarship.

I joined the school soccer team and played several matches, successfully defeating our rivals, the UMC school of Yengema. Ansuma came from the national Diamond Mining Company’s reserve area. His family members were rich, or the sons of rich people. He was brought in by a private car. He left me puzzled. He was a humble boy, and he sometimes offered me a ride to my home. It was so kind of him.

Many of the students were commuters. Some kids came from far away with no transportation. I felt sorry for some of them, too. A few of us did not have shoes. My distance was not trivial, walking barefoot to school. But my neighbor’s children hated me having anything good.

Poor Borway, who believed Bethlehem was in heaven, not on earth, had become very active in stealing my sneakers. This was about the time he would also insult my grandmother and tell her how poor she was, like a churchmouse that lives only on the word of God. We had several fights, and I reigned.

I had many disappointments and distractions with school, but things had started going smoothly there. The school was hard. Our class teacher was Theophilus Senessie. He was strict and stern. I came to class each morning in tears. Tears that no one understood.

Theophilus would beat us for any little mistakes. I hated it, but I wanted an education to free my grandmother and build us a bigger and better house. So, I had to endure. A lot happened in this school, it was a true boys school, and we engaged in boys’ games.

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

Part 37: Grandmother’s New Business Opens Old Wounds

Part 38: Illicit April Brewing Rains on My Parade

Part 39: Skipping School and Fooling the Police

Part 40: Poverty Strikes Hard as Mother Returns

Part 41: Major Problems Won’t Dissuade Me

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