Muctaru's Blog

I am Muctaru Wurie from Freetown, Sierra Leone. I blog on a variety of subject from my homeland and most of my post feature well researched stories I do.

Posts Tagged ‘Mariatu Kamara The Bite of the Mango

A True Example of Overcoming Despair and Misery

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At the closing stages of the war in Sierra Leone, in as much as many people were still going through the painful aftermath and destruction of the war. There was a general question being asked, what are these amputated kids and adult going to be like and how would they cater for themselves in the future? This and more questions surrounding the fate of amputees in Sierra Leone were being asked more because among the victims of the macabre war they were probably the most devastated. And the immediate aftermath of the war there was hardly a street in Freetown that wasn’t paraded by amputees, children as well as adult who were scrambled on the streets and sometimes going house to house gesticulating their severed arms to whip up sympathy and money or other help from people.
However, after years since the war came to an end, many amputees and war wounded have been integrated back into societies, thanks to the work of Handicap International and many other agencies who worked tirelessly to help them believe once more and offer them prosthetics so that they can cater for themselves.
The bite that kept Mariatu going
One of those amputees is today a clear example of how there can always be hope as long as there is life. Going through the book, The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara you are forced to believe that despite the most miserable of conditions there always can be hope in life. I would like to say it is one of the most passionate of stories I have ever read. Mariatu who was born in a small village of Yonkoro, Northern Sierra Leone, but spent her childhood with an aunt Marie and her family in another village, Magborou never went to school in Sierra Leone. She started school in Canada, North America at the age of 16. And now she is a college student in Toronto, studying to be a counsellor for abused women and children. She was amputated by rebels when she was 12; a very painful story by a girl who endured a lot – but is today a beaconing example of transformation from depression and despondence to hope and delight which she has now discovered and prepared to give to others who need it.
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara showcased how the war in Sierra Leone gravely left a scar that will be around for years to come, whilst thousands were raped and tortured, hundreds others received mutilations that has now come to be the most poignant illustration of the bestial war Sierra Leone witnessed.
Mariatu Kamara at age 12, underwent more hurting than most could undergo for a lifetime. Shortly after being sexually assaulted by a family friend whom she had been pressured into marriage, Mariatu was captured and had both her hands crudely amputated.
Whilst Mariatu’s depressing story was not unique in Sierra Leone’s brutal war, her experience was particularly excruciating as she was made to face various abuses as a little girl coming to terms with the realities of the cruel world she was living.
As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends in a typical Sierra Leonean setting, like many tribes in Sierra Leone her Temne descent has a value for the extended family system which Mariatu simply merged into.
But unfortunately for Mariatu she was growing up in a relatively peaceful and orderly village setting that was not too far away from a ravaging and destructive civil war that inevitably engulfed the whole nation she was living.
Growing up with her cousins whom she viewed as brothers and sisters, little did Mariatu realise that her modest vision of her rustic society would turn so treacherously violent, as young as she was; Mariatu was already being pressured into marriage though she had her own vision of who her husband should eventually be in adult life.
But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a nearby village, she never reached her destination. Profoundly armed rebels, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands.
The horrors and trepidation are clearly present as Mariatu express her fears of the violence unravelling before her face; “Three young rebels, no older than me, were walking alongside it (house), brandishing torches that set the thatched roof on fire. Everyone inside started to scream as the fire became an inferno. A woman with a baby tied on her back managed to punch through the wooden planks blocking one of the windows. The baby had curly black hair and big eyes that were looking all around. One of the young rebels threw down his torch and grabbed the machete slung on his back. In one violent swoop, he chopped off the woman’s head. The baby wailed as the woman’s body fell back into the house on top of him. Her head rolled onto the road toward me.
I started to cry again, and my body convulsed. “Do you want to join them?” the rebel watching over me threatened. Part of me did.”
This fear did not prevent Mariatu seeking survival, stumbling through the forested countryside, Mariatu astonishingly lived to tell the tale after her amputation. The syrupy savour of a mango, her first food after the assault, reaffirmed her craving to survive, but the grim possibility of grasping the fruit in her smashed and bloodied arms reinforced the harsh new certainty that stood before her. Despite her wounds, an unfortunate Mariatu walked out of the bush and sought emergency assistance. With no family or surviving relative to support her in her new refugee camp home, she turned to what was the norm of the day by many war wounded in Sierra Leone – begging in the streets of Freetown.
Whilst on her way to a medical facility in Freetown, she was brought back together with many of her family members, some of whom had also being crudely amputated in the rebel attack. They moved to an amputee camp in the city, where Mariatu who was still a child gave birth to a boy, who died at 10 months from malnutrition.
The account that was told by Mariatu to Canadian journalist Susan McClelland who co-authored the book is an heartbreaking true story of Mariatu’s experience from her memorable childhood days to the vicious attack by rebels, its aftermath and Mariatu’s eventual arrival in Toronto, Canada where she was not able to access education for the first time but vitally began to make a move back into a normal lifestyle with amazing resilience courage, and optimism.
Mariatu Kamara is now UNICEF Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflicts.
Exclusive Interview with Me
On a recent visit to Sierra Leone in which Mariatu visited several of her fellow amputees and the President she talks to me about her experience, book and more.
On her dreams growing up as a child in rural Sierra Leone
My dreams were simple. I was just a village child with few aspirations in life. I desired the normal things such as growing up to be a beautiful woman, get married to a very loving and caring man and having a big beautiful family. In the village what more could I have hoped for?
On the painful process to recall and write Bite of a Mango with Susan McClelland
It was both a painful and healing process. I am glad we chronicled my experiences in that book. There are many other victims out there who did not get the chance to tell their stories and so The Bite of The Mango is for them, too.
Recalling traumatic events
There is an African proverb that goes – the axe may forget but the tree never does. There are things that one just cannot forget. However, it was very tough for me to get everything out. There were times Susan and I had to take a break from the darkness of the story, and focus on happier moments in my life.
The violence and death of her baby
In my despair a sense of hopelessness was a constant factor. Yet through it all I managed to have a more firm grip on hope with the help of various human angels God sent my way in the form of individuals and organizations.
Settling in the western world after an horrendous experience back home
The west provided a way of escape for me and now I call it my second home. I could never ask for a better place and home than Toronto. However a part of me still misses the simplicity of Sierra Leone village life, before the war.
How does it feel like to be back home
It was mixed. I had longed for home but home still brings back bitter memories. I was glad to be able to tell a story that paints the ugly side of war and violence and I hope it touched people with it.
Family and role of UNICEF speaker on children’s issues
I love my family and I am sure they are proud of what I am doing. I am a UNICEF Representative for Children in Armed Conflict. I was 12 when I lost my hands and I know there are a lot more kids who suffered the same. If I can tell the world of their untold stories and get the help they deserve, then my heart would be very glad.
Meeting with President Koroma
I have met with powerful people in my role as a UNICEF special representative for children in armed conflict. My wish is for all the influential people of this world to help rid this world of acts of violence. I was honoured to meet the president of Sierra Leone again, and was able to speak with him about the victims of war.
Impressions about the future prospect of Sierra Leone
I hope those in power will continue on the path of healing for the entire country.
Conditions of war wounded and amputees
I’m very saddened and heartbroken because of the conditions most are still living, something needs to be done to improve their lives.
On Ishmael Beah author of A Long way Gone, Memoirs of a Boy Soldier
I do not want to comment much. I did not fact check his book, nor did the people with whom I worked on my book. I did not know him in Sierra Leone, either. Yes, I am inspired by his courage to tell this story. There are many, many boy soldiers in this world and they are victims too.

Author Mariatu with Sierra Leone President, Ernest Bai Koroma

Author of The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Sierra Leone President, Ernest Bai Koroma

Written by Muctaru Wurie

February 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm