Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Where are you now, Pa Sam?

Pa Sam at his farmhouse near Vaama Nongowa  c. 1969
photo © by Chad Finer
In the village of Vaama, a village about 4 to 6 miles from Kenema, Pa Sam and his wife Massa lived. He was friends and perhaps family of the Garloughs, a family that befriended us when we moved to Kenema in August 1968. Although a very generous man, he was more businesslike then friendly. It was at sometime in my first year in Kenema that our paths crossed. Massa made regular visits to Kenema to visit the Garloughs and to shop in Kenema. I best remember her for her wonderful smile and friendliness. Although she only spoke Mende (I was quite limited in my Mende conversation), we could communicate to some degree. I remember also that during Bondo activity she would play the segburre, a woman's instrument used to accompany song. Pa Sam, on the other hand, rarely came through town and was more likely to be out there in Vaama working on his farm. Diminutive, wiry, yet strong, he could work all day in the hot  sun and never seem to tire. His hands were weathered from all the farm labor. With cutlass in hand he would brush his farm in preparation for the planting of upland rice. On the hills by Vaama he would plant acres of rice, see to it that birds were driven from eating the ripening rice kernels, and when harvest time arrived, he and Massa would pick the rice, bag it, store some for their own use, and give the rest away to family and needy friends. There was a time when I went to help him as he prepared his farm for planting. I remember it because, unlike Pa Sam who had hands of leather, my hands were far from used to brushing with a cutlass. It was in the village of Tokpombu that I had commissioned a local blacksmith to make me two cutlasses. He crafted them out of car springs and made the handle out of car tires. My brushing skills were minimal, yet on that day Pa Sam and I worked side by side getting the land ready. However, I was to last a short time. My hand blistered terribly and though Pa Sam admirably labored the entire day, I had to give up as my hand became painful and useless. Much to his credit, he ignored my plight as I apologized for not being able to keep on. By mid-day I headed home to nurse my wounds. A lesson learned. 
I have my doubts that the village of Vaama, a tiny settlement of maybe ten houses, survived the war. And what of Pa Sam and his wife Massa?  Such noble folks, I wonder where they are now and whether they are alive. 

Massa plays the segburreh - taken on Dama Road in Kenema c. 1969 Massa was married to Pa Sam -
taken across the road from our house  -  photo © by Chad Finer

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