The family across the street is huge, thanks to a virile father with 4 wives. It appears the father has 14 children by the 4 different women but we can’t be sure; the number varies with each inquiry. The wives live in different parts of the Kambia district and the father makes his rounds throughout the week, a few days in each spot. Of the 6-8 children who live in the house, we’ve gathered that four share the same mother and father, while the others either have no blood relation or are half-brothers and sisters. We’ve spent the most time with Alhasane: 17 and Alusine: 19 (the prophet Muhammed’s twins) and Abas: 24. We tried to figure out the connections between the three. Abas slowly drawled, “Waaaeeel…it is difficult for me to testify, but actually I am of no relation to this family…my parents were discouraged (divorced) and they did not want me. I have lived in four different homes before this family took me as their own.”
Last week, the three took us on a walk to a few nearby villages where Abas had spent several years during the war. The shades of green in the jungle became complicated by the charred remnants of mini-vans and trucks chopped in half. “Rebels,” Abas noted, pointing at the line twisted lines of metal. “It was back and forth all the time. When they came to the villages, we went to the bush…when they came to the bush, we went back to Kambia. Actually, they would come to the village for palm oil and food and we would give it to them. Some people refused and were killed.” He kicked orange clumps of dirt, swung his arms, cracked his knuckles. Abas had no official schooling for 5 of the 11 years during the war, other than what his ailing grandmother could teach him in the village. He started laughing and explained, “That is why, Jonah, you are confused when you relate a form (grade level) with an age. It cannot be done.”
The first night the rebels entered Kambia, Abas was awakened by rebels slapping him in the face. He was 14. Because of his muscular build, they started pulling him out of the house, telling him he would make a good soldier. Abas’s mother begged the soldiers not to take him. “I escaped into the bush,” he explained. He returned two days later and was greeted by destroyed buildings, dead bodies, lives eternally on pause.
After an hour or so of walking, we crossed over a small stream and entered the village. We exchanged greetings with Abas’s grandmother and covey of malnourished kids. Abas disappeared and a minute later sauntered around the corner of the house with an armful of coconuts. He quickly went to work chopping and my backpack was soon filled with 5 large coconuts for leisurely walk home.
Later that night I thought about all the people we’d seen that day: a rail-thin blacksmith pounding metal under a blackened hut. Tiny children who rose from the creek bed with heaps of green grass on their heads, giggling ferociously. A pregnant woman with two babies on her back. A young boy sprinting wildly into the jungle.