The few vehicles wobbling along the road lifted the fine red dust which adds its own color to the few mud houses built for the Amputees and war wounded at Grafton.
The air was arid, as if describing the economic and social status of the inhabitants of the camp it had enveloped. Bare chested kids ran up and down the dusty compound in the camp in joyful abandon, devoid of the pain and sorrow that swathed their parents living in the Amputee camp.
The current supply of electricity Freetown is now enjoying has not reached the camp and if they want to enjoy the utility they have to sit in their dark huts and look at the lit up houses few meters away from them.
Men, Women and children with limbs hacked off, are scattered around the camp, each with their own sad story, adjusting into the life they have been plunged into.
Kadiatu Fofanah one of the humble residents living in the camp sits in the sun behind a small tray containing sweets and biscuits, while she continued to adjust her bulk on the chair as if she will never sit comfortably.
Two stumps where legs should have been, shot out from the chair, as she displayed her wares to school children from FAWE which shares boundary with their camp.
Precisely Ten years ago Kadiatu was using both her legs and living a normal life, staying in the heart of the east of the city, which was buzzing with traffic and life.
The sustenance and life of many people were in her hands.
Ten years ago Kadiatu was living at Ross road in Freetown and was a successful Cookery Seller, making over three hundred to five hundred thousand Leones profit a week in her business.
But how did Kadiatu come to live in this miserable and poor conditions far away from the city were she was bustling with life and prosperity.
Awoko sat down with this abject woman to hear her story…
“I was born in a small village called Matongbo in Makeni, and I went to the St Francis Primary school but I stopped my schooling at sixth grade for no reason at all –I was just tired of going to school.
I came to Freetown where I grew up. I married to my husband at the age of 18 years and we had our first son in 1977 and 8 other children followed after. I am 48 years of age now.
My Husband Hassan Koroma was doing fine as a truck driver and I was selling cookery at Ross road Police station since we were living nearby at the time.
Things were relatively good for us. My business was thriving and I was making a lot of money so I could afford to send my children to private schools.
This bliss came to an abrupt end for me and my family when the rebels entered Freetown in January 6 1996.
On that fateful day, we were woken up by gun shots and shouts and screams of ‘den don cam’ (They have come)
We braved it at our house for 6 days until the 12th when the situation worsened and the rebels started burning houses, leaving dead bodies all around, so my husband suggested that we leave the house and find somewhere safer.
We then left our house at Ross road and went to find solace in the mental home at Kissy where other families were hiding. We stayed there until the 18th but the mental home failed to serve as a place of respite because the rebels were going their and threatening us.
My husband again suggested that we should leave that place, but I refused. I told him I was unable to move again but that he should carry the kids along and leave me with my last son who was a suckling 7 months baby.
My husband did just that and I was left behind.
Two days after, on the 20th, hundreds of rebels descended on the mental home and trapped us. They commanded us to make two lines, one for males and the other for us females. We formed the lines.
The rebels then opened fire on the males killing many of them though some were quick to escape and many others were badly wounded.
Most of the women in our line had husbands, brothers and sons in that line and they were looking on when these men were slaughtered.
I looked up to the heavens and thanked God that my husband had gone away earlier.
My thanksgiving was cut short when the rebels announced that they were going to chop off our hands and feet so we will not dance or vote for Pa Kabbah (the President then), – this was when I regretted my decision of not following my husband.
The hand of the first woman in the line was chopped off, it was un-believable, they placed her hand on the base of a mortar and raised a sharp axe, when it landed the hand went off clear from her body, I was now trembling, and gripped with a feeling of fear I had never had in my life before.
The second woman’s hand was chopped off again in the same fashion as the first and they were both on the floor screaming in agony, I could only imagine the pain and anguish these women were going through.
Feeling trapped, I wanted to just die, but how could I leave my family, I also could not face the pain that awaited me from the stroke of the rebel’s axe who seemed to be enjoying his butchery. Run, run, run was the only deafening voice I could hear and that was what I did. I ran with my baby strapped to my back, with morbid fear and the will to live.
However, fortune turned its smiling face from me. I hit my foot on a stone and fell into a small gutter. What will be my fate am I being chased? I could hear the pounding of my heart.
The answer came few minutes later as I lay down in that gutter.
A small rebel boy about the same age with my first son hovered over me, with an evil smirk on his face and an axe in his hand. “U wan run eh, well u nor go run again” (you want to run, well you will never run again) the boy said.
Before I could understand what he was saying he raised the axe and began to hack at my feet one after the other several times, after two strokes I lost count but he hit me until both legs were smashed, bones broken and flesh was what was holding my feet together.
I am sure I fainted because when I woke up again they were all gone and it was getting dark.
I stayed there together with my baby strapped on my back all through the night until the next day.
In the morning some other rebels came and set fire to several houses around the gutter I was in, the heat was so excruciating I wished I was dead.
Fortunately some Sierra Leone Army (SLA) men saw me in the gutter and took me out, but then when they learnt that ECOMOG soldiers were close by, they abandoned me and ran away – but at least I was out of the gutter!
I slept where the SLA soldiers left me, for three whole days without food or water, I wondered what Ibrahim (my baby) was sucking from my breast when I placed into his mouth.
Relief but …
Suddenly I saw my husband from afar, advancing like the messiah, o God how happy I became.
Apparently, the rebels were scared of ECOMOG and had left the area, so my husband and some other residents came back to look for those they had left behind.
The joy of seeing my husband was momentary, we all felt silent and terribly sad when our eyes drifted back to my legs.
They were already rottening, and full of worms. That was when I began to realize that I was in deep trouble.
My husband and the kids then broke down a door and used it as a stretcher to carry me to Ferry Junction where ECOMOG took me in their van and dropped me off at the gates of Connaught Hospital.
Red Cross Doctors took me in, cleaned up the feet and lay me in one of the wards.
Two weeks later, without recieving any proper attention MSF Doctors came examined the feet and pronounced that if they were not amputated I would die.
It was a heavy decision to make, but we had to agree.
The doctors showed me false feet which they say will help me to walk again but I have never used them because the doctors had to cut my legs right up to the edge of my waist and there is no stump to use any false leg.
When I recovered from the anesthetic, I penetrated my eyes to where my feet had been but I could not see them, I refused to believe that I had lost both legs. I wept and wept and nobody could comfort me, many people thought that I will not live but somehow I defied death and here I am.”
Kadiatu said she spent four months in the hospital for the wound to heal up and after that she was taken to the amputee camp where amputees like herself were all trained in different trades.
She said that she learnt how to make soap and do petty trading until some humanitarian Norwegians built a house for them at Grafton where she is now residing.
“My Husband stuck with me, I am happy for that but he is not working now and I could not continue my cookery business because nobody will buy in the camp. We are really poor now and we only live on hand outs and the sweets and biscuits I am selling can barely feed all of my children. Things are really difficult for my family and I.
With tears gathering in the well of her eyes Kadiatu said “Sometimes I cry the whole day and night when I recall the fact that I had been a successful woman who could feed, clothe and shelter my family, who could determine the future of my children but now I could not say what or how my children will turn out to be, thanks to a senseless war. “
We thought that the TRC would help us and government will help us but nothing is happening. We hope that this new government looks into our plight and help us” Kadiatu pleaded. ,Part two to follow