Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pa Conteh

Pa Conteh with some of his children

Pa Conteh lived with his wife, Mamie, and their children across the road from us on the edge of Kenema. Always friendly, he made a farm near Vaama (Nongowa) to provide rice for his family. He was a good man, who loved his family and was a true gentle man. I remember many times sitting with him as I walked by his house. He was always interested in learning about what life was like in America. Sometime about mid way through our first year while brushing his farm to ready it for planting - I believe he was near the edge of a swamp - he was tragically bitten on the wrist by a Green Mamba - one of the most dangerously poisonous snakes in the area. I was told that from the swamp he ran to Vaama perhaps a distance of less than a mile where he rapidly passed out and died. Word came back to our neighborhood by that afternoon and needless to say everyone was saddened by his death. For his family this was devastating. For the rest of us it was very sad. The poisonous snakes of Sierra Leone - although not commonly seen - were deadly if they bit you. And the Mamba was perhaps the most efficient of all. They were long (sometimes reaching 9 ft), iridescent green in color, but when they bit someone the person usually did not survive. In Pa Conteh's case, he was brushing the swamp with his machete, a snake was in the brush where he was cutting, and it was said that it struck him without him realizing it at first. However when he became aware of what had happened, he panicked, ran to Vaama, and since their was no antivenom it was said he sought someone in the village to help him. By then the venom had already started to effect him - and he died before the local man could help him. Many times such episodes were blamed on someone else who was out to get that person - and there was no difference here. It was said that someone had placed a curse on him. I felt terribly for his wife, Mamie, who was a strong personality and had borne him many children. Mamie was young, a hard worker, and had children to help her. However this loss was hard on her. This was just another example of how hard life could be in up-country Sierra Leone. Modern medicine was limited in those days - the local government hospital was hard pressed as there was little money and limited government support. The local medicine was said to be helpful but I never had the need to try any. There were a few UK -trained doctors in the area but their use was very limited by the local population.

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