The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … Fighting for Fees and Respect

“T.K. does not come to school that often, but he will not fail any semester. He may be busy studying while we are away in school. Imagine his grades in French,” Mohamed Lansana said to Stephen.

Augustine Kanjia

The last semester had been tough. I knew there was going to be an endemic problem in the absence of the “omolé” brewing. The death of a drunkard had brought the halting of my grandmother’s business. The other food trade was only for us to eat.

Only one of my uncles was educated: the eldest, Sahr Tay James, T-Boy’s father. He loved me endlessly. I had a fairly good result for the second semester, even when I was out of school. I applied a simple skill. I would ask some of my classmates, especially Mohamed Lansana or Stephen Kabba, to help me out with the notes they took when I was absent. I did that each day of the week. I copied all the notes and studied them when we gathered to study at our local primary school, R.C. Motema, where we had our games.

But there was a likelihood of me not returning to school for over a year this time.

A Mother’s Journey: Don’t starve the artists

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

Please stop asking the creative community to work for free.

If creative work adds value to your product, gives you more exposure to your brand, and generates an impact on your bottom line, then stop asking the creatives to submit work in exchange for “exposure.”

Don’t ask photographers to volunteer for your many events at no charge, don’t ask writers – an obvious sore spot for me – to submit several “specs” of work to prove themselves before hiring them, and don’t ask designers and marketers to create your brand, or promote your brand, for free as you sit back and reap the benefits.

The whole “We’d like to give you exposure in exchange for your work” bit is overrated, misguided and usually, false. Work is work. And no work should be done for free.

The incredible story of Augustine Kanjia continues … ‘Omolé’ Creates a Bigger Problem

Our house was incomplete — still — but my thoughts were on school and soccer.

Augustine Kanjia

I was quite a local champion among my peers. I was the only boy to constantly provide a ball for every game we had. Of course, I was stealing — still — from the little money my grandmother and I were saving from the omolé sales. I was popular, but too lazy for many people’s comfort.

My grandmother’s thoughts stayed focused on fulfilling her promise to provide me a good education.

My first cousin Alex, commonly called Tamba or T-Boy, was my admirer, but I never let him know where I got the money to buy soccer balls. I was quite skillful; no one in my house knew. I was also called Tamba Magician (Tamba Ngofo, in Kono). Our house boomed with omolé.

T-Boy had watched the omolé flow in the house. We were constantly selling and brewing. Many came to the house to get their shots. T-Boy had made arrangements to take some bottles out to sell. We were uncertain about his true motives.

One day, he watched everyone keenly, understanding that we were concentrating in the kitchen. He entered the house quickly, picked up a couple of bottles and placed them at the window before passing through the back door. Soba Peppeh, my grandmother, had seen him rush out, and became suspicious. She quickly entered the room and went close to the window.

T-Boy, not watching, quickly put in his hand to take a bottle. Grannie caught him in his first attempt. He shouted when he was caught. He had no excuse and felt very ashamed, which eventually led to his going to live in Yengema, Sierra Leone, for good. But I loved him. I searched for him from school to our house, but to no avail. I had been his mentor.

He took to his heels and walked to Yengema, which is where I trekked to get to school. That walk was not fun, especially when you were hungry.

Augustine’s last chapter: Tragedy Falls on Our Doorstep  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

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

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.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Lessons Abound as School and Home Collide

Going early in the morning to school was a challenge. Yengema was far for me. Going on foot was a heavy load to carry.

Augustine Kanjia

Many boys in the school lived in Yengema. Others came from the National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC) site in the neighboring town of Simbakoro. The NDMC was responsible for digging diamonds lawfully in Sierra Leone. Others would illicitly mine the diamond and would become rich if they were lucky — or be caught breaking the law.

I was getting thinner every day. I was also very resilient. Back with my grandmother and uncles in Motema, our only source of income was the illicitly brewed local moonshine, “omole,” which was a hot commodity, sought either by those who drank it or the police who thought it was a drug and should not be consumed.

Grannie struggled to continue brewing the hard liquor. We brewed it deep in the bush where no police ventured. We were careful to return to town at odd times, especially when everyone was in bed. That was a perfect time. Sometimes we didn’t even start until the evening so that we could leave the bush quite late, reaching town like thieves in the night. It was good exercise and was helping our house renovations come closer to completion.

I sometimes dodged school in the name of the omole work. I often stayed out all night, left to watch the omole in the bush while my uncles dropped containers of it back at home. I was brave. I knew the area and there was nothing I feared even in the dark. I did not think of dead people, even though my grandmother had told me horrible stories of dead people. I had also heard her stories of brave warriors who freed their people. I was trying to free my people too.

Augustine’s last chapter: My School of Hard Knocks  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

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

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.

A Mother’s Journey: The gentrification exasperation

Editor’s note: Since September 2015, Worcester Sun has chronicled the trials and triumphs of Sun contributor Giselle Rivera-Flores as she explores ways to help her daughter and other Worcester families find affordable educational support and assistance. We used to describe her as an aspiring business owner; now, she’s an inspiring one. During her journey to establish and grow her nonprofit tutoring collaborative she has, you could say, stepped beyond the walls of her dream.

Giselle Rivera-Flores

It seems obvious to me that when a city clusters industry-specific small businesses into an area of close proximity, the community experiences growth at a faster rate. It is the underlying strategy for increasing productivity, innovation and success.

Small businesses benefit from their neighbors in a relationship that promotes the exchange and sharing of marketing, skilled workforce and technologies. As cities grow, there should be an integrated strategy for the development of small businesses and not just an emphasis on larger developments, brands and infrastructure buildout.

In December 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a report, “Smart Growth and Economic Success: Benefits for Real Estate Developers, Investors, Businesses, and Local Governments,” outlining the importance of smart growth development. The concept integrates “compact and walkable” with providing “a diverse range of choices in land uses, building types, transportation, homes, workplace locations and stores.”

The report states that “by locating businesses closer together, compact development can create a density of employment that increases economic productivity and attracts additional investment.” And of course, it makes logical sense to do so.

When I drive through high-density small-business areas, like those in Main South, I do not see the implementation of logical strategies such as that of compact development from city investment, but instead, I see it through the relationships among the existing businesses.

Read Giselle’s previous chapter, The gauntlet of transitions, or scroll down to explore more of her story.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Will My School Dreams Become a Nightmare?

All my classmates in Motema, and even in Daru, had secured placement for their next school year, but I remained locked in battle with what was next on my agenda at home.

Augustine Kanjia

My brother’s friends were all astonished at my excellent school exam results, but none of them could help me gain acceptance to a good school. Maybe they could help me get to Bo, where the school officials from Segbwema suggested I should go for high school because my mom and step-dad lived there.

I did all my brother Duran’s domestic work for him. He was not married, and lived alone before convincing my grandmother I should move to Daru and attend the nearby secondary school. He was always ready to flog me for simple mistakes. I was only 12, but he expected me to behave like a mature man.

I decided to walk to freedom one day, just five days after my interview at the Wesley Secondary School. I went to the military barracks junction looking for any military personnel going to Freetown — Bo, in the center of the country, was on the way. A truck was going by at11 a.m.

My brother had gone to work at the barracks by 8 a.m. and he’d asked me to bring his lunch by noon. I had spoken with Mr. Lahai, his bingo comrade. He gave me the hint about the 11 a.m. truck. I took Duran’s food to him and I sat a little. He blasted me for bringing his food early. He asked me to go back home and wash his uniforms. “Yes, sir!” I said, and ran out quickly.

I pretended I was heading home. He looked toward the back of his office to watch me go by. My direction quickly changed, and soon I was in the military truck ready to set off. It was 11. We left and I looked back at the barracks and River Moa. I said I will never return there. But was it true?

Augustine’s last chapter: Beyond My Limit  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale.

The incredible journey of Augustine Kanjia continues … Beyond My Limit

I had only one pair of short pants, with two visible holes in the back.

Augustine Kanjia

They were overused, but I needed to dress up that morning. It was a Monday. My brother would not help me buy secondhand clothes, he rather gave me his big, old long-sleeved shirt — too big for a small boy like me. I was 12 years old then.

I tried to not worry about these superficial problems, because my grandmother had told me to be patient. “Your day will come,” Sobba Peppeh would tell me. She would give me examples of those who have succeeded and how they fared when small. Jesus was her biggest example for me to copy.

My brother did not bother worrying about my success; for him it was mine alone. He never asked about the marks I had scored in the test that had brought me here in the first place.

Augustine’s last chapter: A Good Result Leaves Me in Tears  Or scroll down to catch up on earlier posts in the remarkable tale

Augustine Kanjia’s incredible journey continues … A Good Result That Left Me in Tears

Our test results were around the corner. Life was still difficult at home.

It felt like there was no way out.

Augustine Kanjia

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