For 12-year-old Mariatu Kamara, death would have been a welcome release when she was captured by rebel soldiers during Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war. But, as she recounts here, her machete-wielding tormentors had an even crueller fate in store for her…
I knelt down in front of my captors, lowered my head, and waited. ‘OK, little one,’ said the older rebel. ‘Get lost. We don’t want you after all.’ I wasn’t sure I had heard the words correctly, so I remained still.
‘You can go,’ the man repeated, waving his hand this time. ‘Go, go, go!’
I stood up slowly and turned towards the football pitch. ‘Wait!’ he hollered. I stood motionless as a couple of boys grabbed guns from their backs and pointed them at me. I waited for the older rebel’s order to shoot. Instead, he walked in front of me.
‘You must choose a punishment before you leave,’ he said. ‘Like what?’ I mumbled. Tears I could no longer hold back streamed down my face.
‘Which hand do you want to lose first?’ he asked.
The knot in my throat gave way to a scream. ‘No,’ I yelled. I started running, but it was no use. The older rebel caught me, his big arm wrapping around my belly. He dragged me back to the boy rebels and threw me to the ground. Three boys hauled me up by the arms. I was kicking now, screaming, and trying to hit. Gunfire filled the night. ‘Allah, please let one of the bullets stray and hit me in the heart so I may die,’ I prayed.
‘Please, please, please don’t do this to me,’ I begged one of the boys. ‘I am the same age as you. Maybe we can be friends.’
‘We’re not friends,’ the boy scowled, pulling out his machete.
‘If you are going to chop off my hands, please just kill me,’ I begged them.
‘We’re not going to kill you,’ one boy said. ‘We want you to go to the president and show him what we did to you. You won’t be able to vote for him now. Ask the president to give you new hands.’
I didn’t feel any pain. But my legs gave way. I sank to the ground as the boy wiped the blood off the machete and walked away. As my eyelids closed, I saw the rebel boys giving each other high fives. I could hear them laughing. As my mind went dark, I remember asking myself: ‘What is a president?’
When I regained consciousness, I felt a surging pain in my stomach. My injured arms instinctively cradled my abdomen. I rolled around in the earth, on to my knees, and staggered to my feet. Still holding my abdomen, I started to put one foot in front of the other. I wanted to get away, away from here, away from this village.
A sharp, darting pain ran up and down my arms. I was sicker than I’d ever been in my life, but I managed to stumble my way to another village for help, and was eventually taken by truck to the capital city, Freetown, where my wounds were treated in hospital. But as I lay recovering, there was another shock.
‘You’re pregnant.’ I didn’t understand what the female doctor in the white coat was saying. ‘You are going to have a baby. Do you understand?’
‘But there must be a mistake,’ I said. ‘Only women have babies, not girls.’
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