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I Did It to Save My Life

I Did It to Save My Life: Love and Survival in Sierra Leone

Catherine E. Bolten
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    I Did It to Save My Life
    Book Description:

    Utilizing narratives of seven different people-soldier, rebel, student, trader, evangelist, father, and politician-I Did it To Save My Lifeprovides fresh insight into how ordinary Sierra Leoneans survived the war that devastated their country for a decade. Individuals in the town of Makeni narrate survival through the rubric of love, and by telling their stories and bringing memory into the present, create for themselves a powerful basis on which to reaffirm the rightness of their choices and orient themselves to a livable everyday. The book illuminates a social world based on love, a deep, compassionate relationship based on material exchange and nurturing, that transcends romance and binds people together across space and through time. In situating their wartime lives firmly in this social world, they call into question the government's own narrative that Makeni residents openly collaborated with the rebel RUF during its three-year occupation of the town. Residents argue instead that it was the government's disloyalty to its people, rather than rebel invasion and occupation, which destroyed the town and forced uneasy co-existence between civilians and militants.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95353-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. List of Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Timeline of the Key Events of War and Aftermath, 1991–2003
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  7. Note on Sources
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  8. INTRODUCTION: Sierra Leonean Emotions, Sierra Leonean War
    (pp. 1-30)

    N: My mom and I were residing in a village very close to the border with Liberia. And when the rebels crossed into Sierra Leone I was captured. I was captured by the Revolutionary United Front of Sierra Leone, the RUF.

    Cb:How old were you when you were captured?

    N: I was . . . I was . . . I was sixteen years old when I was captured.

    Cb:Did they try to recruit you or did they just take you forcibly?

    N: Um, anyway I was captured. But this ideology they gave me, I actually accepted it...

  9. 1 Understanding Makeni and Nested Loyalties: Marginality and Collaboration in the Northern Capital
    (pp. 31-52)

    My initial trip to Sierra Leone in 2003 was spent largely in Freetown, mulling over research possibilities. I focused on the idea of studying Makeni because it was stigmatized, though it was a regional capital city. From that moment, everyone I met in Freetown, from the U.S. ambassador to university professors, dispensed advice on working in Makeni. The majority warned me to stay away altogether. They related what I would find when I arrived: a dangerous place, full of thieving youth, shameless rebel collaborators, arrogant RUF commanders . . . a backward town, morally corrupt and ideologically marginal, harboring the...

  10. 2 “I Must Be Grateful to Them for Freeing Me”: The Soldier
    (pp. 53-84)

    The intricacies of love and betrayal cannot be better illustrated than through the relationship between government and soldier. More than a mere employment contract, the commitment to soldiering requires the will to sacrifice one’s life in service of the government, with the expectation that the government will in turn provide a lifetime of care. In Sierra Leone, this bond resonates with intimate, interpersonal practices of love. Therefore, betrayals that occur between parties initiate reactions that unfold similarly to the traumatic breakup of a relationship. The experiences of Captain Mohamed Mansaray, who was tried for treason after a skirmish with a...

  11. 3 “They Said Nobody Would Hide from This War”: The Rebel
    (pp. 85-112)

    David was an utterly average RUF ex-combatant. He was not the barefoot, scruffy, illiterate, and angry ragtag who sprang Captain Mansaray from prison. He was not a machete-wielding madman, red eyes bulging in a drug-induced haze, as in cinematic depictions. He was ordinary, with the appearance of an impoverished but poised everyman. He dressed and carried himself with an air of fastidiousness, as though self-possession were his only source of control. David had spent ten years as a rebel, and he narrated a story of trauma, in which RUF life was a constant assault on his desire for stable relationships....

  12. 4 “I Held a Gun but I Did Not Fire It”: The Student
    (pp. 113-145)

    The chapters thus far have highlighted the fact that individuals deploy narratives about their lives in particular ways, fashioning history and their past selves in ways productive in the present and portentous for the future. Mohamed and David framed their stories to highlight both the importance of love to behavior and decision-making, and how they acted conscientiously within this framework. They created new “truths” out of the facts of their survival—facts that were unverifiable—in the process of telling them to me. More than relaying a factual past, such truths were nested within their social world in ways that...

  13. 5 “The Government Brought Death, the Rebels Allowed Us to Live”: The Trader
    (pp. 146-166)

    The mercurial weather of the rainy season has little effect on the bustle in Makeni’s marketplace. In between rain showers, traders throw tarps off their wares and quickly bargain with passersby before the next squall, when goods are covered once again. One day in June 2005, I made my way through the bustle and into the lorry park. This is the center of transport and wholesale marketing in the town. The lorry park is chaotically busy day and night; as the transport center it is also a node of short- and long-distance trade. Taxis arrive from around the country and...

  14. 6 “It Was the Lord Who Wanted Me to Stay”: The Evangelist
    (pp. 167-188)

    Every day on my walk into town, I left the dust, bustle, and danger of the highway and diverted onto a crumbling street that was too potholed for vehicles. I picked my way carefully and took in my damaged surroundings. This road appeared particularly hard hit by the occupation, with many homes mere shells of ruined concrete, tin roofs held up by flimsy wooden poles and laundry strung up between exposed walls to dry in the sun. The sole exception was the house at the end of the road, which was freshly painted a rich green, the yard swept clean....

  15. 7 “They Really Damaged Me”: The Father
    (pp. 189-215)

    Musa is not a tall man, but his bearing is dignified and his smile wide and inviting. He was always initiating conversations in the neighborhood, whether about politics or his older daughter and her progress in kindergarten. He brought her to meet me one day after school. Prim in her ironed uniform, in pigtails, she looked up at me, squinting in the sunlight, offered her hand and shook mine firmly, introducing herself slowly so that I would pronounce her name correctly. “I am Ra-MA-tu,” she squeaked, “It is nice to meet you!” Musa beamed at his little girl, bursting with...

  16. 8 “The RUF Thought I Was on Their Side”: The Politician
    (pp. 216-242)

    Throughout the war in Sierra Leone, love consisted of explicit practices of sacrifice and choice, most often geared towards immediate survival. Very few were in a position to achieve permanence during the war; rebel commanders were among the few in a position to become big, however temporarily. People from David to Adama did the daily work of creating and nurturing small relationships that eased the hardships of war, but these relationships were with other “small” people, who had few resources of their own. Becoming like the cotton tree was a remote dream, unless an individual could tap into outside connections...

  17. EPILOGUE AND CONCLUSIONS: Makeni, May 2010
    (pp. 243-248)

    I arrived back in Makeni seven years after my first visit to the dusty, beleaguered northern capital. The country had undergone a peaceful transfer of executive power in 2007, and the new president, Ernest Koroma, was a Makeni native. Residents were hopeful that his tenure would mean improvement in the town’s infrastructure, even as he promised to apply development money fairly. Some things had changed. Smooth paved roads had replaced the potholed arterial routes through town, and the new commercial buildings flanking them rose smartly from the pockmarked landscape. According to one resident, the SLPP made a last-ditch preelection effort...

  18. Notes
    (pp. 249-256)
  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-262)
  20. Index
    (pp. 263-268)