Bite of the Mango, Hosted by the LWV and CGCC

 "Bite of The Mango" - Mariatu Kamara

Hosted by the Political Science Department at CGCC and
the League of Women Voters - SE Valley

Tuesday, September 22nd
7:00 pm to 8:30 pm - Presentation and Book Signing
Chandler / Gilbert Community College
2626 E. Pecos Road,  Performing Arts Center
Chandler, AZ 85225
Parking Lot #4 is the closest to the Performing Arts Center

This event is free and open to the public.  If you would like to have reserved seating, please accept this free invitation.  Even if you do not RSVP, please come to the presentation on September 22nd.

The Bite of the Mango (Annick Press, 2008, ISBN: 9781554511594), written by journalist Susan McClelland as told to her by Mariatu Kamara, tells the story of how a 12- year-old girl living in a small village in civil war torn country of Sierra Leone, in West Africa, went from chasing her cousins in innocent play to surviving a rebel attack in which both her hands were cut off by rebels whose vilent trademark was to hack the off the hands or feet of their victims. From that very desperate situation, Mariatu managed to find help, reconnect with family and friends, and eventually work her way to Canada, where she currently attends college. She is a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and speaks publicly about her experiences.

Susan, tell us about the title of the book, and its significance to the story and Mariatu.

After Mariatu’s hands were cut off, she stumbled through the bush for 12-15 hours. She came across a man, another victim of the violence. Once he realized she had no hands, he held up a mango for her to take a bite. Mariatu refuses it, feeling that she had the strength to survive on her own. It was an important turning point for her.
Mariatu , it was 1999 when you became a victim of rebel attacks. Not only were you forced to see those you loved tortured and killed, both of your hands were amputated. How did you keep the drive to survive? Was revenge ever part of your motivation?
No, revenge was never in my mind. That motive doesn’t fit for me. My heart told me that I had a future, that there was more for me ahead. I just knew that it was important for me to keep going and not let this interfere with my future.
Shortly after you arrived as a refugee in Freetown, you found out you were pregnant—not from a rebel, but after being raped by a family friend prior to the attacks. But some members of the press reported that you were raped by rebels. How did you feel about being misrepresented this way?
Mariatu: I was upset to find this out. Even though the rebels did terrible things to me, it did not make it right to have these lies told. I did what I could to make it right. When I got to the camp, I didn’t speak English and everything I said went through an interpreter. And I think that is how that happened. Susan has it right in the book.
Susan: It is easy to see how Mariatu’s story may have been misinterpreted, particularly because of the language barrier. War correspondents, for the most part, have fast deadlines and often do not have time to do any research. As primarily a magazine journalist, I have time on my side which I spend with my sources and doing a great deal of fact checking. Mariatu has been extremely truthful with me, and her memory is very good, but I still spent a great deal of time in Sierra Leone talking with the people that are part of Mariatu’s story to be sure I captured it as authentically as possible.
A United Nations-backed war crimes court has been set up to try those, from both sides, who bear the greatest responsibility for the murders, torture, and disfigurement of many innocent people. Mariatu, what kind of punishment do you think these war criminals should be subject to?
The leaders, the ones that made the boys become soldiers, maybe they could get the death penalty. The others, maybe pay fines or be in prison. But it really doesn’t change anything. One death will not bring back all the people that were killed or hurt. One of the leaders, Foday Sankoh, is already dead. I don’t know if punishment will help the people in Sierra Leone. 
Mariatu , dreams are a very important element in the story. Do the people of Sierra Leone attach a lot of significance to dreams? And what are you dreaming about now?
Yes, dreams are a big part of our culture in Sierra Leone. My grandmother taught me that dreams are important to pay attention to, which I still do. I recently had a dream that I reunited the theater troupe we had in the refugee camp in Aberdeen. Twenty members are now in North America. Before I was with them, I was isolated and just wanted to be left alone. But once I started performing, I felt like I had a way to heal. It gave us a voice and a way to work toward forgiveness. I have now started a drive to have a reunion and ten day retreat in 2009 .
The way that you capture Mariatu’s voice as she grows from an awkward wounded twelve year old into a teenager and young adult makes the book very accessible to teens, even though their own circumstances are likely very different. What was your process for that?
Susan: Simply, I felt like I was her. After talking to Mariatu and thinking about our conversations, I would sit and write the story and put myself in her shoes. It was really about her whole community. I was able to connect very deeply with all of Mariatu’s sources. Mariatu opened herself up to me, and I did the same with her. When it came to writing, I just got myself out of the way of the story that was already there.
Mariatu: I am so thankful to Susan. She told my story in my voice with my feelings. She didn’t add anything, and she didn’t take anything away.

You recently founded the Mariatu Foundation , hoping to open up shelters and homes which offer healing programs and assistance in the resettlement and reintegration of abused women and children in Sierra Leone. Mariatu, how is that progressing?

I will be going back to Sierra Leone in May 2009, and am anxious to start planning. First we have to find land, and once that is done, we can look at the next step. There is so much to do there. 
Susan Elizabeth McClelland writes predominantly on women's and children's issues, and is the recipient of the 2005 Amnesty International Media Award. Susan is co-producing a documentary film, The Children Time Forgot , with filmmaker Sorious Samura on the current plight of Sierra Leone's war wounded. Visit her website at . The Bite of the Mango is her first book.
To enquire about having Mariatu Kamara speak at your school or library, please call Annick Press at 416-221-4802, ext. 17 or e-mail .
Dodie Ownes -- School Library Journal, 12/17/2008

Name Sales End Price
League of Women Voters - SE Valley Ended Free

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