Banana Wata was totally different…one word to describe it…HEAVEN. It had all the ingredients for child’s play: more children than I could count, lots of dirt, bushes, wide open spaces, and porous non existent fences that linked me to “temne compound”.
The cool neighbourhood kids who could be counted in my posse included “yamba bozin” , “mummy for ya namina” “adama lengi lengi lek peppeh bod” “ zainabu” “ol’ men” “mama yo” “malado” “yeanoh kobo foot” and yours truly “Vickie eng mot”
The “eng mot” was a reference to my comparatively large bottom lip (now totally in vogue) then a taunting that could bring me to tears.
I was obsessed with playing and since I didn’t have any chores at home I usually took it upon myself to round the troops. Sometimes I’d be so eager to play that I’d go to my friends’ homes and voluntarily sweep a compound or wash dishes. The quicker my friends’ chores were done the more time we’d have to play
Many times I was turned away from homes
“aunty good afternoon, yeanoh day”
“yes in day wok, wetin apin”
“A cam call am fo go play”
“go wait na os, in go cam way in done”
Sometimes they would come, many times they wouldn’t
I had two best friends from ‘temne compound’: “Mummy fo ya namina” and “ yeanoh kohbo foot”. They were both at least three or four years older than me but in the world of not enough to eat at home and sometimes heavy chores; puberty was delayed and made it possible for us too look the same age….well atleast I thought we did
Actually, I never thought of their age. The only thing that ever bothered me was “oostem u day done so we go go play?”
Back then I didn’t know they were poor, that we were from different social classes. When my friend “Adama lengi lengi lek peppeh bod” died she wasn’t a statistic of infant mortality rather a victim of witchcraft. We knew this because an old lady that died within weeks of her death was said to have “proved” or confessed to being a witch and responsible for Adama’s death. Weeks after her death, the old witch was behind many of my nightmares. When bats came to the plum tree by our bedroom window, neighbours from temne compound would come out past midnight with their pots and pans to sing and curse the bats…everything between “u mami im bombo” to “basta pekin”. Supposedly, the bats were witches in their supernatural state, hence why they only came out at night.
Many nights I slept half in fear of those bats and half infuriated by the noise of the anti bat crusaders preventing me from fully entering into my bat nightmares. The plum trees have since been chopped down.
Today my grandmother had a meeting with the women from the local mosque, being the oldest, she’s head of the women’s group. One of the members of the group is my friend Yeanoh’s mother. I don’t remember her name but when I say “aunty”, luckily it need not be followed by a name.
“ aunty appi nyu iya, na so fo get pikin?”
“Vickie ow di bodi”
“aunty i don tay way ah see u oh”
“na Yeanoh, na im bin wan die na mi an”
When I came to town 6 months ago Yeanoh was pregnant. I went to visit her but she wasn’t home and somewhere between my everyday hustle and shuffle I didn’t go back.
“Oona noh bin ker am go ospitul?”
“Na Marie Stopes, na day-in noh ivin ‘ol di pikin”
“She lost the baby?” (I say in english to delay the familiarity of what I’d just heard)
“Aunty ah go cam na os tiday”
As she walks away I feel like the air is closing in on me. I walk into the house several times but each time I forget what I’m searching for. The thought that Yeanoh Kobo foot carried her baby for nine months and she almost dies giving birth and she never gets to hold her baby breaks my heart. As I process the thoughts and feel guilty and sad for not having known earlier, I remember the statistics of infant mortality and maternal death rate in Sierra Leone; they are the worst in the world. Getting pregnant here is like playing Russian roulette.
Yeanoh and I were inseparable as kids. But 13 years of time and difference, our friendship is frozen in the past. All we know how to do together is play. There is no room for sharing secrets, pains, and frustrations. As much empathy as I could feel for her, I could never understand what’s she’s gone through or what life has been for her over the past couple years, and I’m afraid some of my problems may seem trivial compared to hers.
When I visit her what am I going to say? I’ve developed this nasty habit of using jokes as a protective mechanism for feeling..but I doubt I’ll find the right thing to say to get a smile out of Yeanoh. I am anxious about my impending visit to Yeanoh’s house. On the one hand I feel that its my fault that we are no longer friends, it was I who left so I should’ve reached out to her when I moved back. I am also asking myself, how can I help Yeanoh…Will she even want my help? Would it be insulting to offer her money, even though I know that though money wont change anything, that’ll reduce some of her present worries.….I don’t know what to do, but we’ll see.