"In my culture, every story is told with the purpose of either imparting knowledge, repairing broken bond, or transforming the listener and the teller. Mariatu's story embodies all of these elements. I have been waiting for such a story, one that reminds us all of the strength and resilience of the human spirit."- From the Introduction by Ishmael Beah, child solider author of A Long Way Gone.
From 1991-2002, during the devastating and brutal civil war in Sierra Leone, armed rebels with the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) destroyed farms and villages, and an estimated 20,000 civilians had arms, legs, hands, lips and ears amputated with machetes and axes. These attacks were often perpetrated by child soldiers, themselves recruited to the RUF through violet and coercive means.
As a child in a small village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived a traditional rural life surrounded by family and friends. Though rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry, life in the village was fraught with other issues. In 1999, at the age of 12, Mariatu was raped by a local villager who her family was pressuring her to marry. She didn't realise until much later that she had fallen pregnant as a result of that assault.
Shortly after, as the threats of rebel attacks on the village worsened, Mariatu was sent off alone with a few other children to a neighbouring village to fetch supplies. She never arrived. Captured by heavily armed RUF soldiers, many of whom were no more than children themselves, Mariatu was forced to watch as innocent villagers were tortured and murdered. The rebels' signature was mutilation, and while they allowed Mariatu to escape with her life, they child soldiers cut off both her hands "Go see the president and show him what we did to you", they told her. "Tell him to give you new 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 to her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality before her. Pregnant, and living in a refugee camp for amputees, with no living parents or other adults to support her, Mariatu gave birth to a son who died of malnutrition at only 10 months. Still a child herself at 13 years, Mariatu was wracked with guilt, convinced she'd killed her son but not loving him enough.
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, hope and astonishing resilience. Once in Canada, Mariatu was able to attend school for the first time in her life, and has been named a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
Mariatu's astounding account memoir brings a new female perspective among recent accounts of children caught in the middle of the brutal civil war which ranged in that country from 1991-2002, and Bite of the Mango was called 'the most outstanding book of the fair' at the Bologna Book Fair 2008.
Endorsed by Ishmael Beach, the children solider author of the bestselling A Long Way Gone, this is a truly important book for out times. Mariatu Kamara was born and raised in the west African nation of Sierra Leone. Her harrowing experiences as a child victim of war and its aftermath are the subject of her memoir, Bite of the Mango, written with Susan McClelland.
Today Mariatu, is a college student in Toronto, where she has begun a program to become a counselor/advocate for assaulted women and children. She was named a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, which involves speaking to groups publicly for the nonprofit group, Free the Children. Mariatu is determined to raise awareness of the impact of war on children, and runs her own foundation to raise money for a home, and eventually many homes for abused women and children in Sierra Leone. For further information about this foundation see: http://mariatufoundation.com
Susan McClelland is an internationally recognized freelance magazine journalist based in Toronot. Her work has appeared in Maclean's where she was a former staff writer, Readers Digest, More, Chatalaine, Canadian Living, The Walrus, Today's Parent and The Globe and Mail. She has won and been nominated for numerous investigative-reporting and feature-writing awards, including National Magazine and Canadian Association of Journalist awards. Susan writes predominately on women's and children's issues.
In 2008 she became a rare two-time winner of the Amnesty International Canada Media Awards, winning the local alterative print category for her article 'Cuts Both Ways', which explores female circumcision in Sierra Leone. Her full biography and some of her articles can be viewed at www.susanmcclelland.com
Bite of the Mango
Allen and Unwin
Author: Susan McClelland and Mariatu Kama