November 19, 2017

The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep

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Courtesy Augustine Kanjia

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

We had become very popular with the brewing and sales of our “omolé,” Sierra Leone’s answer to moonshine. My grandmother had made it her priority so we could build our big, new house and I could attend school.

Augustine Kanjia

It had nine rooms, but we occupied only three so far. It had hardly any concrete; it was made of mud. Rats could easily dig through to make themselves at home, too.

It was past time for the completion of our house, and for me to focus solely on school. The rainy season was fast approaching, and we were very close to finishing. At the same time, it was difficult going to the bush for the omolé during the rains, but Soba Peppah, my grandmother, knew we needed it, so we fought hard. Police interference was overwhelming, but we knew how to avoid it.

Until it came to our doorstep.

The trade became popular. Retailers popped in and out of our unfinished house. But the more who came, the sooner we could finish. My grandmother said she would buy cement to plaster the outside, but that was farfetched. She only did the inside of the rooms that mattered to her. Many people came to rent. She also brought in people who had appalling stories like ours.

One day, one of our customers, who purchased for her own daily consumption, came and bought a lot of omolé and left.

Not long after, it was a surprise when she was seen struggling to cross Kanjia Street to zoom into our house. She barely made it. Upon arrival at our house at 3 Senessie St., she fell and died. She’d vomited blood. Our neighbors shouted aloud, “Omolé don killam,” meaning in English, “She was killed by omolé.”

Augustine’s last chapter:  School and Home Collide  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

My grandmother was afraid, because the police would come to investigate why the woman died in front of our house. I was busy playing soccer that day, but seeing everyone running toward our house, I knew I should be there. It was an unpleasant scene. My uncles had to lift the woman up and my grandmother cleaned the place. And I stood there crying aloud.

The was no ambulance, nor a hospital to take her to. The woman had not been eating, she depended on the omolé for sustenance. She was a drunk. Granny had kept the whole omolé thing away from public eye — our stock would remain hidden — but now there was a crowd and the police would soon arrive.

Everyone in our house was rounded up and taken to the police station. Search and investigation continued while we were away. I was only a boy, I had nothing to do with the case, but I could not leave my grandmother alone in such a predicament. I was ready to go with her anywhere they took her. I was adamant.

My grandmother was the first accused. My uncles followed one after the other. They were detained in smelly cells. My grandmother was kept in the women’s detention apartment. She had a chair to sit on. The men had to either stand and look through the iron bars or go to bed on the bare floor. I would soon become useful, as I was fast and could do a lot in a few seconds.

My grandmother was exhausted and seemed to be losing hope. She loved one song and she would advise me to always sing it when in trouble. She was resilient. “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and grief to bear …”  — she knew the words by heart. We sang it always during our nightly prayer. Sometimes she would cry at prayer. She knew why.

They were asked to get someone to bail them out. I ran home, as my grandmother wanted. Just in time I got one of my cousins, Joseph Nyaka, to post bail, pending investigation. But it was clear that our omolé was to finally stop brewing. It brought us money, but its troubles were abounding.

The case could not go to court, though, because there was no evidence to prove that we were involved.

My schooling was likely getting a setback here again, but my grandmother brewed the omolé secretly and we sold it secretly. We decided to have a kind of a secret selling location. My grandmother was brave.

T-Boy, my cousin, was still with us. He did not love living with us and ran off several times to look for his mother’s family in Yengema.

We had just brewed one of our last batches ofomolé. T-Boy had a secret plan. When we were busy in the kitchen, he was busy taking the big bottles of omolé and passing them through the window. He would put the bottles at the window, cover them with the blinds, go around the house and take them to sell for his own profit.

Luck was not on his side this time.

He was suspected by Grannie, who hid herself when she noticed the movement. T-Boy had only reached in to take the bottle from the window when she seized him by the hand. Someone passed behind the house and apprehended T-Boy. This was a big shame on him, leading to his self-expulsion from the family in Motema. But I missed him a lot.

The case against my grandmother for the death of the drunk woman was incomplete. She was detained for a few hours, and then she came back home. We made jokes about her detention. She did not get angry. In fact, she had added salt and pepper to our laughter — she said she was asked to brew the omolé in the policemen’s office!

She said it was all under control because she told them the woman did not drink the omolé, she only came and dropped dead in front of her house. It was unfortunate that she fell and died, but she could not have survived because of her past behaviors and abuse of alcohol.

We were all happy. Detectives were always sent to watch and see if we were still producing omolé. My grandmother was disappointed, but she had turned her attention to agriculture and the food business. She thought it was certainly a difficult situation if we were to continue. Grannie sold cassava, cassava leaves, potatoes leaves, mangoes and meat she bought in other villages. When she could not go to the markets she would prepare rice and cassava leaves or peanut butter soup. It was beautiful at home, but many challenges abounded.

More recent entries from Augustine:

Our house was near completion, but it was not whole. Some rooms had no doors, but the larger problem was that many people continued to steal things from our house, including food.

We had one of my uncles — not my mother’s brother, but an elder — living with us. He was tall, slim and had a deformity on his left hand. He found it difficult to walk, too. He was quiet and very secretive, but no one would believe he would steal food. But then, people from other villages would be sure to eat well even when there was not enough to go around.

My grandmother had prepared her beans and was marinating meat and cow’s skin — known as kpomo or ponmo — overnight for sale in the morning. She put it right in the center of the living room. We had a common living room. Uncle Kai Sessie — that was his name — walked with a limp and spoke like a big, mature man. He was thin and old.

After he thought everyone had gone to bed, Kai Sessie walked out of his room quietly. My grandmother was awake — and very anxious — and opened our door quietly and watched what was going on. There was no light, but she heard a pot move, the cover hitting hard against it.

He had taken the cow’s skin, thick with meat in it, put it on his left, dead hand and took a few in his right hand. My grandmother pointed her flashlight directly on my uncle.

“Kai, what are you doing?” she asked.

He stood there like a witch without talking. He mumbled a few words that made no sense. He was quite embarrassed. Soba Peppeh took her cow skin and meat from him, and he licked his hands in shame and left for his room. He left the house the next afternoon, headed back to Pakidu and never to return to Motema. I never saw him again. Perhaps he died. I will find out.

Soba Peppeh was disappointed. She concluded that Uncle Kai was the thief. She said her money had also been stolen, and he could have been the culprit.

I felt guilty for the money, in some sense. I used to steal from her savings to buy soccer balls for my many teams. My best friend and uncle, Tamba Gainda, had also tampered with some money in the past.

My job at home changed. I was now busy with our garden and unpacking the cassava bags. Grannie was very pleased with me. No other person did this work, they only watched us. My grandmother was ready to help me achieve. She never forgot that the money she was looking for was mainly for my education.

I got ready with my new shoes, and school uniform. Our class was going to be a challenge. It was a new school that I thought would bring new challenges for the better. My grandmother prayed for a fruitful school year for me. She got everything ready and prayed that I became a teacher.

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

Part 42: One Problem Opens the Door for More Problems

Part 43: More Hopes, Less Success

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