by Francis Mandewah
Trade Paperback: 368 pages
ARC: NETGALLEY in exchange for an unbiased review. The author provided a trade paperback copy as well.
Francis Mandewah was born just before rice farming season in 1961 in the small impoverished village of Punduru in Sierra Leone. His early years were spent in a loving environment with his widowed mother and sisters scratching out a life on their subsistence farm. Although English is the official language of Sierra Leone, the residents of Punduru speak the regional language of Mende. The United Methodist Church established a missionary school and church in the community with the mission of converting the children and adults to Christianity as well as providing access to primary school education for the children.
Young Konomueh Mandewah despite the poverty and dire living conditions enjoyed the harmony of life in his small community and was thrilled for the opportunity to attend primary school when he was 8 years-old. The many changes to his life began with his first steps toward formal education; his introduction to English, the assignment of his Christian name…Francis, and perhaps of more lasting import, the development of his relationship with God as his confidant and source of strength.
As a young child, Francis had a reoccurring dream that would prove prescient in his search for purpose and meaning throughout his early years and well into adulthood.
In the dream I have passed a test and my reward is a journey. “Where are you going, my son?” I can hear my mother say. I become nervous about not having an answer for her. I go around the room frantically trying to find someone who will tell me my future. No one answers…the door…opens. I walk…through the door. I … awaken with the urge to know where I am going.
After completing his primary school education, Francis reached a pivotal moment in his life. In order to further his education and life experience, something he desired almost deliriously, he would need to leave the comfort of his known world and go to another town to attend secondary school. And he would need room, board, and the cost of tuition. His loving mother unable to provide the money needed to help Francis reached out to a distant cousin for assistance.
Francis did receive his secondary education but at great cost to him physically, mentally and spiritually. His first encounter with abuse and violence was so well crafted in the memoir that I cringed each time his cousin lifted the electric cord to strike him. And I warn the reader that you will cringe many more times throughout this amazing story as an almost unbelievable number of times Francis lifts himself up from life’s blows buoyed by his unfailing confidence that through prayer, God would provide.
In the midst of the harsh living conditions in his cousin’s home and bowed by abject despair and loneliness, Francis found an answer to his reoccurring dream when a tall blond-haired pilot with helicopter wings proved to be his earthly guardian angel. Tom Johnson, stepping out of his comfortable life, walked up to a young African boy selling oranges in the dusty road and made a life altering decision that would change both of their lives forever. Tom would prove to be the single most influential person in helping Francis achieve his educational dreams and fulfill his long earnest desire to come to the United States.
The journey from Punduru to the United States winds through the deadly Sahara Desert, Algeria, Greece, Italy, England and much more. His vivid descriptions of these stops along his life’s journey will inspire some readers to plan their next vacation trip!
Mandewah exposes his inner soul and at times you feel the raw wounds in his psyche as he encounters discrimination, poverty, threats, cruelty and dire loneliness. Yet there is more to his story besides the unbelievable cruelty in the world; Francis finds that there are more beautiful people of every color and stripe than he could have imagined. The open hearts of these people, in his eyes, were placed in his path by God. Their openness and generosity will leave the reader inspired.
The most endearing moments for me are the honest admissions of human failure that he brings upon himself. He always finds a way through prayer and meditation to grab himself by the boot straps and take that next positive step. And there are so many times that the reader will feel the wonder and amazement through the eyes of this man as he discovers what lies beyond the mud brick home of his childhood.
You will applaud him in the end and you will want to encourage a friend to pick up a copy of the book. As Francis says, it’s about Friendship.