The African Child Story – the Kono Case
The story is bizarre but nevertheless a reality, a grim one at that. When met with my first bizarre African Child story in my native land of Kono in the Far East of the country; I though it was a joke; but was soon jolted by the reality after my enquiry went further than my eyes can see. The second story is the saddest and most weird I have ever told in all the few years of my practice of journalism in Sierra Leone.
After a long day running after a lead on a story that proved fruitless, I decided to visit a local palm wine bar to gulp a refreshing mugfull of the bubbling juice in a suburb in the city of Koidu. As I sat down after requesting for my cup of palm wine, a strange looking toddler came crawling towards me, it caught my attention for two reasons, first, as the child drew closer to me, I came to find out that his face and general outlook was not that of a toddler and second, my man looked emaciated and abandoned.
I was sick to the stomach, for I had never once seen a suffering soul of such nature. I got up to meet my friend who I later came to know as Maco half way though his trek towards me. I lifted him up and noticed that he was only a creeping child yet;Â he looked at me in the face and cried, wincing in apparent hunger and fatigue from his crawling activities around the compound.
As I walked back to my seat with my newly found friend in my hands, I turned to marvel at the fact that everybody was staring at me, everyone left what they were doing and looked at what they thought to be strange and I enquired why people were looking at us in that manner, an old woman in her late 50s was quick to warn me: be careful what you do with the child, he is a witch he is now 8 years old and has been like this ever since he was born. The churning in my stomach increased as I took the words of the elder woman in, perplexed at not the thought of my newly found friend being a witch, but the fact that someone I considered a toddler is almost 10 years old; I truly did not know what to make of the story but I was not going to abandon him just because he has been branded a witch.
In fact, that made me more interested, made me to make further enquiries. The mother was not around, his father, I soon learnt had fled leaving the mother and two other children to take care of, I enquired to know the two other children, as they emerged I straight away started to diagnose what the problem was for the two of them (both of them his elders) told the same story. I asked the age of the eldest sister, Marrie and was told she was 15, and the other brother 13 years old! I became more interested in the story and was ready to learn about it all. They all seemed to be affect by one disease: poverty and malnourishment.
My 8 year old toddler, Maco as I noticed earlier was very hungry and as my cup of palm wine arrived, he was quick to register his interest; he reached for my cup and gulped hysterically until the cup was more than halved and his stomach rose in shiny radiance as he smiled at me after taking the second gulp, breathing feebly and looking into my eyes.Â
The truth as I came to learn was; the story of the Kanu family is the personification of poverty even in Urban Cities in Africa like Koidu in the East of Sierra Leone. After the abandonment of the mother who herself was now aging, she was left to tend the children by growing local vegetables for which she did not even have the energy; to feed her three children. They slept in a ram-shackled mud one room house with visibly large openings and no beddings; they slept on a piece of tattered mat on the floor.
I learned from Marrie, the elder sister that the family had not eaten since morning and that the mother went with vegetables to market and had not returned since. My heart sunk as I ordered food for the three of them from a local food seller; they ate with such insatiability that I was forced to acknowledge the level of hunger they were on and the truth that what they ate was a delicacy for them. After the long feast, my 8 year old friend came back to me with gratitude and as he sat on my lap, he fell asleep; that was the last time I interrelated with my poor old toddler friend as I was on my way early the next morning to Kailahun, another Eastern District.
He slept almost endlessly, even when I came back in the evening to talk to the mother, he was still sleeping and I did not wake him up for he truly needed the sleep. With the money I left with the mother, she promised getting Maco and his elder brother and sister food that will last them two weeks. Even though hunger and poverty has wrecked untold damages on the lives of my three friends and their mother who looked no better than her children; but the stigma of witchcraft that has been placed on the family has made them outcast; leaving them in a world of their own.
Even as I write this piece and as I lay down on my bed each day after work I think of how my hunger beaten, malnourished and abandoned 8 year old toddler branded as a witch passed his day creeping the mud in the compound where he lives. And I am forced to contemplate on how many of such children might be living in other parts of the country where life looks even grimmer.
I will tell the story of a ten year old pregnant girl I met in Kono selling banana for her own upkeep in my next edition of this piece.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
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