He takes me back there. He takes me back to those moments in his personal experience of the war that are his and his only. They are the scars that mark his body and heart, they are the nightmares that the non-survivor cannot imagine. His suffering. The story that he will forever carry upon his back. And perhaps because it´s his and his only that parts of this story are not to be shared. Yet he also takes me back to a collective trauma, a bloody tragedy inescapable for all. A trauma that tortured even those living thousands of miles away in Europe or the United States. It is the collective story. A story of the war that is told through war fables that are repeated from one person to another until their very telling weave them into history. And it is through this collective story that life goes on in Salone.

The sun is setting over Man of War Bay, casting soft shadows on the unfinished cement wall. A pair of dolphins play in the water below us, and canoes returning from fishing paddle ashore. Calypso is heard from the Bintumani Hotel, and the squatters that live on the other side of the wall sift through the garbage.

¨...maybe if some of the things that they did or that happened, if they were put back into reality people would not believe. They would think it was a movie But it did, it did happen. Imagine two men slitting open a pregnant woman, taking out the the child... ¨

I finish his sentence, "... to determine whether its a boy a or a girl?"

I shiver. He chuckles uncomfortably. As the international community turned its back, the realization came that war would reach Freetown. He watched his family´s home burn to the ground, and was nearly killed by the children that did it. Ecomog peace keepers beat him senseless, in their frenzy of revenge and brutality. He developed a system to count the murders as they happened. One shot heard, there could be survivors. Two quick shots, guaranteed one dead. He witnessed the flood of refugees wash west in their futile escape of the rebel advance. The streets of his childhood became a maze of death and survival, depending on the look or the emotion life came and went. Suspicion became the guideline, and fear became the city´s staple food. He grew accostomed to the gun shots and screams, even sleeping at night. But diarhea was a constant.

¨At times when I think back and look at what each and everyone did... I mean the fighting forces. The rebels, the Kamjors, the SLA and Ecomog, and I ask myself who was the most dangerous. Because even those that came to protect us, they were dangerous.¨

All were addicted to the killing.

¨And in a way I pity them, it was not by their own making. They didn´t want to, but they had to. Because imagine if you were captured. Your parents have been killed, they have you with them. Ok they want to recruit you. If you don´t cooperate they kill you. If you don´t participate they starve you to death. So in order to survive you do what you have to...¨

There´s a child soldier and he is leading an old man by a leash tied to one ankle. The man has to continue moving on his two hands and remaining leg otherwise he´ll be shot. Eventually the boy runs into another group of rebels. And one of them turns to the boy ¨Now why you torture this old man like that. Kill him.¨ And the old man responds ¨Driver, Driver. Carry me! I never asked this man to beg for me.¨

The rebels enter a mosque. And the squad leader askes the people huddling together in fear, ¨I ask you who among you is a true believer in God.¨ Silence. And then from the back of the crowd a small boy shouts, ¨There, he´s the imam.¨ To which the Imam angrily replies ¨Shut your mouth, I beg, you bastard child.¨ And the crowd bursts out in laughter. The rebels included. All their lives are spared.

He challenges me to imagine the most unimaginable horror of war: that it is a human creation, and thereby one of the few things that defines our existence.

They ask if there´s war where I come from.
The sun has set on Man of War Bay. And the red light on my recorder is turned off.