Bite of the Mango
The astounding story of one girl’s journey from war victim to UNICEF Special Representative.
As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry.
But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her hands.
Stumbling through the countryside, Mariatu miraculously survived. The sweet taste of a mango, her first food after the attack, reaffirmed her desire to live, but the challenge of clutching the fruit in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown.
As told to her by Mariatu, journalist Susan McClelland has written the heartbreaking true story of the brutal attack, its aftermath and Mariatu’s eventual arrival in Toronto where she began to pull together the pieces of her broken life with courage, astonishing resilience and hope.
I heard voices coming from the house beside me. The rebels had blockaded the doors and windows with big wooden planks. Inside, one of the rebels told me, were about 20 people. A single voice stood out, that of my friend Mariatu. She was wailing, calling for help, trapped with the others.
My eyes darted away from the house to a terrifying sight. Two rebels were shoving Ibrahim and Mohamed up the road toward us. They were punching the boys in the back to get them to move faster. When my cousins were directly in front of us, the rebels grabbed them by the neck and pushed them down hard into the dirt. Using their gun barrels, the rebels nudged the boys until they were back to back. Then they tied Mohamed and Ibrahim together. Next, the rebels forced the boys to stare up into the blinding noonday sun.
"Are you the soldiers watching the village?" one rebel yelled at them. "Are you the soldiers? Are you the soldiers?" he shouted over and over again.
Mohamed and Ibrahim shook their heads, but the rebel would not relent. The boys started crying. Ibrahim had wet his pants, and I watched the stain grow. I had to look away when the rebel began waving a knife around their bare backs and scalps. I tried to find somewhere my eyes could rest, but the first place they landed was back on the house.
Three young rebels, no older than me, were walking alongside it, 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.