This book has been written by a Sierra Leone lady Mariatu Kamara. She is a survivor of the gruelling civil war(1991 – 2002) that ravaged this West African country. One of the forces in this civil war was the Liberian Charles Taylor, who was later sentenced in The Hague (The Netherlands) to 50 years in prison.
Mariatu tells about her childhood in the small village Magborou, her parents, her relatives, her extended polygamous family. When she has reached the age of 11 many people in the village move to another village Manarma, due to the advance of rebel forces. One day Mariatu and others are sent to her former village to pick up food that has been left behind. They discover that the village has been raided and the rebels are still present. Mariatu is captured and both her hands are chopped of by the young, very young rebels. She manages to escape and a long journey follows (on this journey she is offered a mango by a stranger), in the end she reaches the capital city Freetown and a hospital (with the help of ECOMOG), with the help of many people on the road. In hospital she discovers that she is pregnant.
In Freetown she meets with relatives, she lives in a refugee camp, she begs to get some extras. News comes that organizations will offer adoption programs for children, so they will get the opportunity to go to safe countries. In the camp Mariatu joins a theatre group that shows plays about their live in the camp, about illnesses. Foreign journalist have contact with her. This draws attention to her.
In the end she gets the opportunity to go to Canada to stay with a Canadian family. Strangely enough she stays only a very, very short while with this family and moves to a Sierra Leonan family, where she stays. The reason for moving from one family to another stays unclear to me.
It is a shocking story. The violence of the rebelgroups, the poverty, the life of begging in the streets of Freetown (what is misnomen!). But also her first visit (2008) to Sierra Leone (on behalf of UNICEF) is a shocking experience. She is used to a different lifestyle, she has a meeting with the president, she meets her grandmother who has survived all the ordeals. She meets other people whom she had known before, some are still begging in the streets of Freetown. The group of UNICEF stays in in a hotel in style (affluent style). She meets her cousin Mo, with whom she begged in the streets of Freetown, he still begs. For him life has not changed at all. He tells Mariatu to go back to Canada and not to look back. This what Mariatu does not want to do. She wants to look forward and back. She wants to live with the past and the present and the future, without sadness.
But the end made me sad. The life of Mariatu has changed, for the better. But what about all the others that were left behind? What about the NGO’s and their efforts? What has changed in Freetown, where Mo is still begging?
Mariatu Kamara / Susan McClelland – The bite of the mango – 2008