LIANE HANSEN, host:
Our next story goes back almost 10 years and halfway around the world to the West African nation of Sierra Leone. During the civil war there, Americans became aware of the phrase, blood diamonds. For more than a decade, rebels in Sierra Leone kidnapped thousands of children to fight with them and to help them extract diamonds from the earth.
Producer Deborah George was in Sierra Leone in 2001. She met and interviewed a little girl there and has this story.
(Soundbite of bustling streets)
DEBORAH GEORGE: It was the rainy season, and I was on my way east to the diamond fields. The road was lined with burnt-out cars and buses. In some places, there were deep pits filled with muddy water where the rebels had forced people to dig for the diamonds that lay near the surface. Near one village that had been raided by the rebels, I came across a center for children who'd been kidnapped during the war.
(Soundbite of classroom)
Unidentified Child: H.
Unidentified People: H.
Unidentified Child: I.
Unidentified People: I.
Unidentified Child: J.
Unidentified People: J.
Unidentified Child: K.
Unidentified People: K.
Unidentified Child: L.
Unidentified People: L.
GEORGE: These children had either escaped or been released during negotiations that were going on between the government and the rebels. Most of them had missed years of school and even some of the older teenagers were just learning the alphabet.
(Soundbite of classroom)
Unidentified Child: Y.
Unidentified People: Y.
Unidentified Child: Z.
Unidentified People: Z.
GEORGE: The boys had fought as child soldiers. There were girls there, too. I asked if I might speak to some of them, one at a time.
Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
GEORGE: The girls told me they had been kidnapped and forced to work in the diamond mines. They described airplanes landing on the bush, carrying strange white men who brought drugs and weapons to the rebels and left with the diamonds. One of the littlest girls looked like an old woman in an oversized shirt. Her tiny hands twisted the cloth of her faded lapa.
Ms. BAINDU KUMA(ph): My name is Baindu Kuma.
GEORGE: Have you ever spoken into a microphone before?
Unidentified Woman: (Foreign language spoken)
Ms. KUMA: Mm-mm.
Unidentified Woman: No.
GEORGE: I rewound the tape a little and held the headphones to her ears so she could listen. Then I pushed down the record button.
Ms. KUMA: We are starting?
GEORGE: We're starting, yes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
GEORGE: She made me laugh, then she launched into her story.
Ms. KUMA: (Through translator) We went in the area, went to get cassava from the bush.
GEORGE: One day when she was about eight years old, she and some other children had gone to pick cassava leaves. They'd bring them home and pound them with wooden mortars. And their mothers would make a thick stew to eat with rice.
Ms. KUMA: (Foreign language spoken)
GEORGE: Then the rebels attacked.
Ms. KUMA: (Through translator) She was not able to run. She was captured.
GEORGE: The rebels carried her and the other children off to the mines. Baindu said men with assault rifles guarded them while they stood in the pits, sifting the mud for diamonds.
Ms. KUMA: (Through translator) They were using shovels, using shakers, look out for diamond.
GEORGE: One day, Baindu persuaded the rebels to let her walk a little into the bush to relieve herself. When she was just out of sight, she took off. She ran barefoot for miles until she found her way to a road and then found someone to help her get back to her village. While she'd been gone, her parents had been killed in a raid. The little girl was angry about what had happened to her. Now, she said, she had one wish.
Ms. KUMA: (Through Translator) She was always crying for school, to come back to school and have education. She would like to be a teacher. In God's name, she is saying, in God's name.
GEORGE: Can I take your picture?
I took her picture and left. I was standing by the gate to the compound waiting for a ride when it started raining. All of a sudden, the little girl was at my side with a big black umbrella, trying to hoist it over my head. I took it so we were both covered. Then she put her hand in mine and we waited together.
The French use a warlike phrase to describe love at first sight. They call it a coup de foudre, meaning a kind of lightning bolt to the heart. That's what happened to me in those few minutes there in the rain. The little girl's longing seized my heart. She was way too young to have her dreams be over. And out of all the children I'd met, I thought, this one could make up for the lost time. She could have her childhood back. Together, we could defeat war itself.
I got back to the states and sent her picture to a friend, a Sierra Leonean journalist who went and found her. I sent money for her school fees and eventually I found a boarding school that had reopened when the war ended. There were no books, or running water or electricity, but it was safe. Then, finally, after years of red tape, adoption regulations, a child-trafficking investigation, Baindu came to the U.S. on a plane by herself.
Ms. KUMA: Hello, my name is Baindu. I'm in 11th grade.
GEORGE: Baindu and I live outside Washington, D.C. The kid who ran through the bush to escape the rebels is the fastest girl on her soccer team, covering the ground with long easy lopes. She loves hip-hop and hamburgers. She doesn't like to talk about the past.
Ms. KUMA: I will remember. And when I grow up, when I'm old, I'll still remember my stories. I don't forget stuff.
GEORGE: Why don't you like to talk about the past?
Ms. KUMA: Because you see it, and you went through it, but…
GEORGE: You like to look to the future.
Ms. KUMA: Yeah. I just talk about something now. You know, like something that passed when you may just wrap it up and may the Lord be with you. Peace.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: Deborah George is a writer and radio producer who lives in Takoma Park, Maryland. You can see a photo of Deborah and Baindu George on our Web site, npr.org.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: Easter is a time to watch nature come alive. After its winter rest, trees and plants begin to bloom. It's also the time of year when green garlic starts appearing at farmers' markets. Maybe Easter and garlic are meant to go together.
So, as we approach Easter Sunday, we are in search of the perfect Easter garlic recipes and we need your help. If you have a favorite recipe featuring garlic, please share. California garlic farmer Chester Aaron will choose the top three and the recipes will be tested by a panel of chefs and food writers. To find out how to send in your recipes go to our blog, npr.org/soapbox.
(Soundbite of music)
HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.