The Bite of the Mango

The Bite of the Mango


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As a child in a small rural village in Sierra Leone, Mariatu Kamara lived peacefully surrounded by family and friends. Rumors of rebel attacks were no more than a distant worry. But when 12-year-old Mariatu set out for a neighboring village, she never arrived. Heavily armed rebel soldiers, many no older than children themselves, attacked and tortured Mariatu. During this brutal act of senseless violence they cut off both her 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 in her bloodied arms reinforced the grim new reality that stood before her. With no parents or living adult to support her and living in a refugee camp, she turned to begging in the streets of Freetown. 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, astonishing resilience and hope.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781554511594
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 09/12/2008
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 12 - 14 Years

About the Author

Mariatu Kamara now lives in Toronto where she attends college. As a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict she tours North America speaking of her experiences. She is also featured in an upcoming documentary about child victims of war.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

My name is Mariatu, and this is my story. It begins the year I was 11, living with my aunt and uncle and cousins in a small village in Sierra Leone.

I'd lived with my father's sister Marie and her husband, Alie, since I was a baby. I called them Ya for mother and Pa for father, as terms of endearment. It was common in my country for children in the rural areas to be raised by people other than their birth parents.

Our village of Magborou was small, like most villages in Sierra Leone, with about 200 people living there. There were eight houses in the village, made out of clay, with wood and tin roofs. Several families lived in each house. The adults slept in the smaller rooms, and we kids usually slept together in the living room, which we called the parlor. Everyone chipped in and helped each other out. The women would all cook together.
The men would fix the roofs of the houses together. And we kids played together.

None of the kids in my village went to school. My family, like everyone else in Magborou, was very poor. "We need you to help us with the chores on the farm," Marie explained. Occasionally children from wealthier families and villages would pass through Magborou on their way to and from school. Some of these children went to boarding schools in Sierra Leone's capital city, Freetown. I felt sad when I saw them. I wished I could see for myself what a big city looked like.

Starting from the time I was about seven, and strong enough to carry plastic jugs of water or straw baskets full of corn on my head, I spent my mornings planting and harvesting food on our farm outside Magborou. No one owned land in the villages; we all shared the farm. Every four years or so we rotated the crops of cassava -- which is like a potato -- peanuts, rice, peppers, and sweet potatoes.

Even though not everybody who lived in Marie and Alie's house was related by blood, we thought of each other as family, calling one another uncle, aunt, and cousin. Mohamed and Ibrahim, two of my cousins, were already living in the village when I arrived as a baby.

Mohamed was about 17 -- I wasn't entirely sure, since people in the village didn't celebrate birthdays or keep track of how old they were. Mohamed was chubby, with a soft face and warm eyes. He was always trying to make people laugh, even at funerals. Everybody would stay home and mourn when someone in the village died, usually for three days. We didn't work during that time. We sat around, and the adults would cry. But Mohamed would walk in and start making light of everyone's tears.

"If the dead hear you making such a scene," he would say, "they'll come marching back here as ghosts and take over your bodies."

People would look shocked, and Mohamed would then speak more gently. "Really," he would say, "the dead died because it was their time. They wouldn't want you spending your remaining days here on earth crying about them."

Mohamed was a good person. When food was scarce, he'd give his portion to me or the other younger kids, saying, "You eat up, because you're little and need to grow."

Ibrahim couldn't have been more different. He was about a year older than Mohamed, tall and thin. Ibrahim was bossy. When we worked at the farm, he was always telling me and the other smaller kids what to do. If we didn't obey him, he'd kick a shovel or pail or just storm off.

Ibrahim had these episodes in which his body would convulse, his eyes would get glossy, and his mouth would froth. Much later, when I moved to North America, I discovered that the disease he had is called epilepsy.

Magborou was a lively place, with goats and chickens running about and underfoot. In the afternoons I played hide-and-seek with my cousins and friends, including another girl named Mariatu. Mariatu and I were close from the moment we met. We thought having the same name was so funny, and we laughed about lots of other things too. The very first year we were old enough to farm, Mariatu and I pleaded with our families to let us plant our crops beside each other, so that we wouldn't be separated. We spent our nights dancing to the sound of drums and to people singing. At least once a week, the entire village met to watch as people put on performances. When it was my turn to participate, I'd play the devil, dressed up in a fancy red and black costume. After I danced for a while, I'd chase people around and try to scare them, just like the devil does.

I didn't see my parents often, but when I was 10 I went to visit them in Yonkro, the village where they lived. One evening after dinner, as we sat out under the open sky, my dad told me about my life before I went to live with his older sister. The stars and the moon were shining. I could hear the crickets rubbing their long legs together in the bushes, and the aroma of our dinner of hot peppers, rice, and chicken lingered in the air.

"The day you were born was a lucky day," my dad said, sucking on a long pipe filled with tobacco. "You were born in a hospital," he continued, which I knew was very unusual in our village. "Your mother smoked cigarettes, lots of cigarettes, and just before you were about to come out, she got cramps and began to bleed. If you hadn't been in the hospital, where the nurses gave you some medicine to fix your eyes, you would have been blind."

I shivered for a moment, thinking of what life would have been like then.

It was rainy and cold on the day I was born, my dad then told me. "That's a lucky sign," he laughed. "It's good to be married or have a baby on a rainy day."

For a living, my dad hunted for bush meat, which he sold at the market in a nearby town alongside the villagers' harvests. It seemed he wasn't a very good hunter, though, because I knew from Marie that he didn't make much money at it. I knew, too, that he was always getting into trouble, going in and out of jail. The jail was a cage with wooden bars, set in the middle of the village so everyone could peer in at the criminal.

In Sierra Leone, girls spend most of their time with women and other girls, not with their fathers, grandfathers, or uncles. It was nice to be talking with my dad in this way, and I listened carefully as he explained how I had come to be living with Marie and Alie.

My dad had married two women, as many men do in Sierra Leone. Sampa was the older wife; Aminatu, my mother, was the younger one. Before I was born, Sampa had given birth to two boys. Both of them died within a year of coming into the world. When Sampa was pregnant a third time, my dad asked Marie if she would take the child. That way, he hoped the child would live. Santigie, my half-brother, was born three years before me.

Soon after Santigie went to live with Marie, my mom became pregnant with my older sister. Sampa didn't like that. She was a jealous woman who wanted all of my father's attention. So when my sister was born, Sampa sweetly asked my dad to bring Santigie back to live with them.

Marie was my dad's favorite sister. At first, he told me, he didn't want to bring Santigie home, because he knew it would upset her. But eventually he did, as Sampa's sweetness turned sour. She fought with my dad until Santigie moved back in with them. Marie was very sad about it.

Wanting to make both Marie and my dad happy, my mom told Marie that she could raise the child she was expecting. "I don't know whether this child will be a boy or a girl," my mother told her. "But I promise that you can keep the child forever and ever and call him or her your own."

I went to live with Marie as soon as I had been weaned from my mother's milk. For some reason that even my dad forgot, Sampa sent Santigie back to Marie when I was about three. My half-brother and I became very close. We slept side by side on straw mats, ate from the same big plate of food, and washed each other's backs in the river. When we were older,



In my culture, every story is told with the purpose of either imparting knowledge, repairing a 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.

The Bite of the Mango is a rare account, written in a chillingly honest voice, of how a 12-year-old girl became a victim of one of the most brutal wars of the 20th century. It is the story of how this girl survived to start life over again, after being robbed not only of her childhood but of her hands. She has had to learn to live without them. What does it feel like to be unable to wipe away your own tears of deep sadness, to stand without hands to push you up? Mariatu tells us about these experiences and many more in her narrative of lost innocence, betrayal, and recovery during an arduous and bloodcurdling time. She describes the humility, culture, and interaction of a closely knit village community in Sierra Leone, and explores how war fueled our country's disintegration into a society filled with suspicion and distrust as neighbor turned against neighbor, child against child, and child against parent.

This powerful and timely story is told in simple language that captures both the innocence of the teller and her desperation to create a deepening awareness about the suffering of children caught up in the madness of war. "It is difficult to start talking about what happened during the war, but once you start, you have to go on," Mariatu told me when we met in April 2007. I believe that she exemplifies this same strategy in every aspect of her life.

The light and joy in Mariatu's face don't show you that she is someone whose heart once said goodbye to everything she knew. Meeting this remarkable young woman changes one's idea of what it means to be a victim of war. The media often focus on the trauma people suffer, forgetting to tell us about their ability to recover and the humanity that remains intact. Mariatu's story gives that necessary human context to what it means to be both a victim and a survivor, to transform your life and continue to live with vigor.

I am deeply thankful that the world will be able to meet Mariatu through this book.

Ishmael Beah
New York, June 2008

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Bite of the Mango 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldnt put this book down and i cried and ccouldnt believe that this actually happens to people i am still in shock, i think this a wake up call telling people how they need to do more than just feel pity for the people of sierra leone....
Tani Schrift More than 1 year ago
it was a really inspirational story. i would recommend it to a mature reader. i defenitely teared up a little... very good
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Bite of the Mango by Susan McClelland retells the true story of Mariatu Kamara. At first, Mariatu began her childhood living a structured life. She worked in the mornings, played in the midday, danced in the night, and planned on one day being wed to her best friend Musa. By the time she was eleven, the Sierra Leone civil war broke out and caused rebel attacks on villages all over the country. Mariatu and her family had to flee to a new village to avoid being violently harassed. Despite their attempt to escape, the rebels invaded the new village and instantly killed people right before Mariatu's eyes. Mariatu's life was spared but she did not leave unscathed, as the rebels cut off her hands. A treatment facility helped heal her exposed flesh on her arms. Once she left the facility, Mariatu's lifestyle drastically changed as she had to learn to function with no hands. Her new life leads her on a path of more pain and confliction but then later to new opportunities that she finds in England and Canada. In England, she learns her first words in English and also the importance of self-dependence. This guided her to new adventures in Canada. Here, she learns fluent English and begins her journey on a life of great success. This book conveys the message that you should never lose faith in yourself. Despite having her hands amputated, Mariatu learned to get by using only her arms and teeth. Also, although she came from a poor country and had to learn a new language, she embraced the opportunity to an education. Mariatu could have easily given up on her hopes of a better life. However, she didn't and is now on her way to a very accomplished career. In The Bite of the Mango, I really enjoyed Mariatu's story and her attitude. She at one point almost gave up on her life. Then, she changed her perspective and ultimately became a better person. I respect her for that. Also, reading this book reminded me about the gift of an education that I sometimes take for granted. I didn't like that some parts in this book were a little bit too descriptive though, such as one specific cultural tradition and the rebel attacks. In my opinion, the book was cut short as I wanted to read more about Mariatu's life in present day. Even if someone isn't into nonfiction, they should still definitely read this book because for one it is not very long, two it is an awesome story about someone overcoming adversity, and third it gives a reminder about how good life is in places such as the United States, and also Canada and England that were mentioned in this book. There are a lot of things we as Americans take for granted that people like Mariatu, who come from third world countries, can only dream about. This book reminded me about how fortunate I am.
jyasinchuk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The unbelievable memoirs of a young girl living in a peaceful rural village until one day a group of young rebels enter killing all the male inhabitants, burning all buildings, and rape many of the young girls. In the ensuing chaos, Kamara has both hands cut off and is left for dead. Miraculously, she escapes and makes it to Freetown begging in the streets and sleeping in refugee camps. Kamara, eventually making it to Canada, enrolls in college and become a spokesperson for an organization assisting children in war zones. A powerful story without the over-dramatizing and sensationalizing that pervades many other 'survival' stories. Truly powerful. Recommended for Grades 9 and up. An appropriate choice for literature circles, too.
ForeWordmag on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Twelve-year-old Mariatu Kamara often prayed for new clothes, for a good harvest, or for a nice man to marry when she got older. Then, one day in 1999, the Sierra Leone native prayed for something quite different: ¿Please let me die quickly. Let it be over quickly. Let my family, if they have been captured by the rebels all die quickly, too. Don¿t let the rebels cut my body piece by piece.¿ Her prayers went unanswered. When members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) attacked their village, she did survive, as did her family, but the rebels chopped off both her hands.It¿s a time and place probably unfamiliar to most readers, not to mention incomprehensible. Before the attack, Mariatu lived simply, spending mornings working in the community garden, afternoons playing hide and seek with cousins. After the attack, she recovered in a hospital in Freetown, the nation¿s capital, but quality of life slipped even further when she discovered that she was pregnant. Mariatu moved to Toronto in 2002, sponsored by a local family. She currently attends college, is a representative for UNICEF, and tours North America in speaking engagements. Mariatu narrates her story by intertwining two time periods: life before the attack and life after. When using words unique to her culture, she always defines what she¿s referencing. For example, she mentions a tamalangba, ¿what we call a whipping stick, made from a long thick weed that grows everywhere.¿This is the story of the results of war as seen through a child¿s eyes, re-told by a young woman who lived through it. Despite the intense subject matter, the book is not overly graphic or gratuitous. It¿s recommended for older teens, but adults won¿t be able to put the book down either. It appears Mariatu took her mother¿s advice: ¿It¿s bad what happened to you. But you must see the positive in everything.¿ by Robin Farrell Edmunds
rapago on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was warned that the beginning of this book may not be suitable for the children who are the targeted audience. While there is brutality of a sort we usually save for films, I think given the right conversations the kids who are supposed to read this book can get through it. Yes, this is a non-fiction account of a child who was brutally assaulted by other children during the civil war in Sierra Leone, a child who was raped by the man who professed an interest in marrying her, and yet it is more a story of a child who went through terrible circumstances and survived them, becoming stronger each and every day.I congratulate Mariatu for having the bravery to tell her story; to not only face her past, but face her future as well.Read it. And then do something about what you have read.
AmandaCharland on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The fact that I read this novel in a day should give you an indication as to my appreciation for it. This book demands that it be consumed in one sitting. It tears you down and you have to keep with it if you want to be built back up. The Bite of the Mango is the story of Mariatu Kamara, who was caught by armed child rebels on her way back home to get some supplies from a small town in Sierra Leone. In gruesome detail, she tells us of her experience of losing her hands--the price she paid to live. Mariatu is an inspiring human being and a very honest narrator. It amazes me still that no matter how many novels I read about civil war in African countries, I am constantly captivated by the beauty and resilience of its residents. Mariatu has an infectious spirit that has allowed her to overcome tremendous odds and hardships. Reading her story is humbling, and I implore you to pick up her book. Read more reviews on my blog:
Vanessa.Kerr on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading JournalBefore you started reading this book/story, what hints did the title give you as to what this book was going to be about ?I thought that this book was going to be about how somebody was going to be hungry or someone would solve world hunger, or something like that but I was very surprised when I noticed that the book had nothing to do with hunger that it was about how things could change in the bite of a mango.What kind of message does the author want the reader to get from his book/story ?I think that the author wants people to know that thing like this really happen in Africa and other places in the world.What do you admire or dislike about this person? Explain your position.I admire that the young girl Mariatu is so strong in this book and she does not give up hope that someone will come and help her and that she will find her family.
Amethyst26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing an uplifting story (considering Mariatu's age), and the tenaciousness that endured throughout for a better life gave the reader a sense of that wonderful human spirit.
stornelli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
: In this autobiography, 12 year old Mariatu endures rape torture, refugee camps, and begging in Freetown before her eventual arrival in Toronto, where she began to put her life back together. A victim of civil war in Sierra Leone in 1990s, Mariatu had her hands chopped off by the rebels, and ran away to a refugee camp. Since 2002, attending high school and university in Toronto and tours North America to tell her story working for the United Nations as a Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.
WarriorLibrary on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Story of a very girl who is attacked by the rebels in Sierra Leone. This story of war is told from the side of an innocent girls whose life is ruined by the fighting.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
jbristow More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book. It is sad to hear what children experienced during this time. I find Ms. Kamara remarkable for her courage. After this book, I read one written by a boy soldier to hear the other side. It is just as sad to read what he experienced. both children just trying to survive in their home land.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An amazing story by an amazing woman. In addition, I learned so much!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its impossible
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this now and it is wonderful but this e version is missing pages and i am very frustrated