Finally back home with his mum Yaba.
“I didn’t know where they had taken Kwesi or how terrible life was for him. He could have died! I’m so happy that he’s home again now and going to school.”
Kwesi 10, often has to dive down deep in the water to disentangle nets that get caught on branches. It’s dangerous work, because it’s easy to get tangled up in the net. And it’s impossible to see anything down there.
The slave owner has bought lots of children to work for him. Their work begins around eleven o’clock at night. They cast the nets until six in the morning, when they gather in the nets again. Then the fish have to be gutted, and that takes until the afternoon. There are not many hours left for Kwesi to sleep.
The slave owner gets angry with the children for the slightest little mistake. He often uses the heavy paddle to beat them.
Trees save Kwesi
One day when Kwesi is out with the slave owner’s sons, one of them squats over the rail and does what he has to do. Then he orders Kwesi to dive in right there. Kwesi refuses. So he pushes Kwesi in.
“We’ll say that you ran away and that we couldn’t find you,” they say, disappearing with the boat.
Kwesi is alone in the water, in the middle of the huge lake, several miles from land. There are large dead forests under the surface, and here and there bare treetops reach up out of the water. Kwesi swims to the closest tree. He can hang on a branch and rest until he has the strength to carry on. Then he aims for the next one and swims on.
By swimming from tree to tree and resting in between, Kwesi finally manages to reach an island, where he collapses on the hot sand. Later the community chief finds him, and takes him in a boat to the slave owner’s house.
Kwesi set free
One day, a motorboat draws up beside Kwesi’s canoe. A woman and a man start to talk to him. They say that their names are Linda and Steven. They ask lots of questions. His name, where he comes from, his mother’s name, and the name of the slave owner he works for. Kwesi doesn’t understand what they want, but he answers all the questions.
Linda and Steven come from James’s organisation, Challenging Heights, and have rescued children from here before.
They tell Kwesi that he is free. That he can go with them to a safe home where he will be taken care of and won’t have to be a slave any more. Kwesi doesn’t know what to believe. He’s uncertain. But then Steven mentions the name of a teacher that Kwesi really liked at school, before he became a slave. Then Kwesi realises that they must have met his mother, and he decides to go with them.
Linda and Steven have collected more children, and there is a bus waiting. The safe home is high up on a hill with a view out over villages and jungle, and there are lots of other children there. They are playing football and volleyball. Kwesi loves playing football.
They are given food several times a day. Like all the other children, Kwesi is too thin and needs to put on weight. He can start back at school and catch up on the things he’s missed. And he feels safe. Now Kwesi can begin to play and laugh again.
Kwesi stays at the safe house for almost a year, until he is healthy and strong and his self-esteem is restored. He has lots of scars on his body and a large bump on his lip from when the slave owner split it with the paddle. But now he’s back home with his mother, and in Primary 6 at an ordinary school. His favourite subject is maths and he wants to be a bank manager.
Text: Eva-Pia Worland
Photo: Bo Öhlén