Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Bite of the mango- Mariatu Kamara, A Review

This past weekend was a quiet one for me.

I had a lot to think about and organise, exams to prepare for, and a book, highly recommended and owned by my friend Kirigo Ng'arua. Bite of the Mango.

Bite of the mango is a true story about an 11 year old girl called Mariatu Kamara from Sierra Leone, who grew up in a normal village of about 200 people. Her story is paints a picture of life before the rebels struck and after. From the eyes of a child.

Mariatu writes the book in simple child-like English and in her own voice. I sort of felt that she was right there narrating it to me. She grew up with her Aunt and Uncle because of her mother's drunken habits. She lived a happy simple life, typical of most African village life, where all the older people were respected as parents, and all the younger ones lived like siblings. They cooked, ate and slept as if they were one family.

The girls got married when they were very young, about 13 years old, and many of them, despite having gone through initiation (FGM) did not understand the meaning of the word marriage, apart from that you got a husband, cooked and cleaned for him.

Mariatu got raped at 11 years, by a neighbour, just before the rebels struck and even then, she did not understand what rape was. She knew a bad thing had happened to her. But she did not understand, for instance why the doctors told her she was pregnant. She was too young to understand the intricacies of sexual relations and how that results into a girl being with child.

I cried many times as she exposed her life and innocence during the war, and how her dreams, several times, would have saved her and her family if only they listened to her.

The morning the rebels struck, she lost her arms, after two young boys told her they must cut her off her hands so she would never vote, and so that she can show the president, even though she had no idea who a president was.

When she got the baby and was living in a displaced peoples camp, she was interviewed on by foreign journalists and caught the attention of good Samaritans in England and Canada. She eventually left the country and settled in Canada with a family that took her in. Prosthetic hands were fitted for her.

Her story made me angry, at Africa, at African leaders, at Africans.

Mariatu's story is similar to millions who have been through civil war, a sad tale of Africa's innocent children going through what they know nothing about.

My problem, however, was how the 'good samaritan' aspect of the story was written. As it is in most of Africa, the west and beyond have always been made to be the saviors of poor, malnourished African children.

Dont get me wrong, It's great news that Mariatu finally lived in Canada, a country where things worked and poverty wasn't a daily life experience. She had food on her table, went to school, and prosthetic hands, which she probably would never have found in her country, Sierra Leone.

But such are the stories that will forever etch Africa's position as a dark continent. Where we ran to the West for answers that we must find ourselves. In so doing, we continue to elevate their status, and lower Africa's status even deeper.

I believe that a poor man and a rich man can never sit on the same table. If as a continent we intend have to receive any respect from a regular Canadian citizen on the streets of Toronto,who saw and heard Mariatu's story we must learn to create a new story.

We must not lie, but we should begin to write stories about our happy times and successful issues. The stories of the West and the East include many tragedies such as the world war's, the holocaust, but more succesful stories are the stronger perception of these countries.

Many Africans have been lucky to have a great education, with great jobs and an enjoyable, wealthy life. Several African countries have great stories about young people who fell in love in a coffee farm, and went ahead to buy it and eventually became billionaires. There are stories about simple African life where we dance by the bonfire's laugh and sing during celebrations.... where are those stories?

Where are our story tellers?


  1. i truly feel her but i feel your point more.why should we tell our sad stories rather than the sweet ones?the time when we will eventually learn to portray ourselves in a positive light,it will be our first step to exposing our values and progress

  2. I often wonder why as African's we can never be true 'saviors' of our own. I do know that Kenya is home to the largest Somali and many other refugees from across East Africa, but that story is hardly a personalized story. I'd like to hear stories of mothers that took in little refugee or other helpless children and made them their own.I know they are there, no one talks about them though...

  3. Terry, we all wish for a prosperous Africa where tales of success and humanity can resonate but have we ever given ourselves the stories in the first place. What are the odds that five out of ten stories will be good tales, how many leaders can we name with pride in Kenya, in government, i don't know, in the private sector,not more than the number of fingers on one hand. Chinua Achebe said, you fool me once,shame on you, you fool me twice shame on me. why have we allowed ourselves to be easily manipulated. Terry, i well get you but remember all stories about Africa bad or good have us as the sources,lets not hate the messenger, lets just stop giving them fodder to feed.