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Antislavery Poetry from San Francisco

Running man image from workshop poster

The Pacific Appeal was the leading African American newspaper on the West Coast during the early 1860s.  A newly-published set of eight antislavery poems from the journal's inaugural 1862 volume captures the sense of expectancy within the African American community for the imminent end of US slavery.  These poems include the work of James Madison Bell, a San Francisco plasterer, brickmason, and poet.  Read more... 
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Sabitha-Jayanthi's Narrative (XHTML)

Sabitha-Jayanthi became a child soldier in Sri Lanka at the age of 13. Her narrative was recorded in 2002 by staff working for the Quaker United Nations Office.

I was born in a village in the North. My father was transferred to another province we settled down in a village there. This area I lived was a beautiful place. When I was small I remember many tourists coming into this seaside resort. There were big hotels. People were prosperous.
We were many in the family. My mother never went for a job; she was a housewife. We had good water facilities, tap as well as a well. We had a large garden with many fruit trees, like lime, orange, mango, pomegranate, coconut, etc. We did not rear chickens. We owned cows, but we give it to other people to rear them. When I was small I used to play a lot with my friends in the neighborhood. My father used to spend time with me. I liked him very much. We had a library in our village — I used to go there and I like reading books… Till I was 13 years old I had a very happy childhood at home with my family.
I left home to join the movement. I like my race, language and my people — so I joined the movement to fight for the freedom of my people. When I was about 12 years old I began to feel for all those people who were displaced and were coming from all over the areas. This and other incidents that people spoke about made me feel sad. Some schools were broken; we had no school and no freedom. I saw some people who were brought to the hospital; they were cut and maimed by the enemy. I knew some children who had lost both their parents and their life became so difficult overnight.
Four days before school closed for vacation, nine of us school children planned to leave together and we did it. Everything around us was breaking; we felt there is nothing for us. This group was strong and helpful. They were trying to do something for the people.
As soon as we joined we were taken by boat and sent away for training. Many of us went and started training. The place we were trained I cannot remember now. Then things were different; many groups at that time were together. I had no connection with the family. They knew I was alive somewhere but they did not know where I was.
I was given a wooden gun, a dummy, as I joined and we cannot lose that, if you lose you are punished. That was like life though it was only a dummy. We were given six months basic training. I cut my hair short. We get up at 4 a.m. Then we follow a timetable. From 5:00 in the morning we have different types of training, at about 8:00 we have breakfast and then again up to 10:00 we have exercises like basic physical training and other special exercises. We get something to drink and go in for further work like climbing jumping or swimming. During the training I run 5000 meters. I was trained in swimming and weight lifting. We had to carry the dead bodies back — so weight lifting helps you with that. How to bury mines, how to make a map of camps and so on. After being in one group for several years, I was sent for direct fighting in the field for several years. When I got the uniform for the first time, I was happy and thrilled to wear a uniform.
One day when we walked near a small town, there was a scrub jungle where we decided to rest. At that time the people were with us and were helpful. Still, somebody had given the tipoff. We were very tired and slept in the jungle. For five hours we rested. It was then that the army surrounded us. They took some of my companions and shot and killed them on the spot. I was taken captive so suddenly, for a moment I was not alert as I was sleeping and we were caught all of a sudden. I did not have the presence of mind to end my life. So I had to go through all the torture that they could ever give a human being. I told them who I was and I stuck to only the truth, why I joined and so on. Throughout their questioning I said the same thing the way I told you.
I was treated very badly. No human should suffer like me. I always told them the same story. I was hung upside down and I was hit. My face was covered with a cellophane bag. My heels were hit and got swollen. My nails I don’t want to tell you, they peeled off. The sole of my foot was hit. I was made to swallow 100 small limes that hurt my tummy and for a long time I suffered of the aftereffects. After I was beaten up brutally I smelt of blood.
The worst that will never ever go off my memory, in a way nothing could be cleared from my memory. The sexual harassment, I was a virgin, I have never had sexual relationship. That day the torturers used soda bottles and pierced me. I fainted. When I regained, I was in a pool of blood. I was treated worse than an animal. In the torture room, I was naked. I was made to bathe naked. Every fellow there was watching me.
I was dumped in a sack, taken as dead. I was left out side to be burned with a tire. For some time I must have been there. It rained and I slowly regained consciousness. The man who came to burn me found I was alive and I was taken out and carried back and then I was given another lease of life. Someone in a higher rank was a bit kind and that was the only one that helped me.
One day a big fat man took me in for interrogation, he locked the door and loosened his trousers and came on me. I screamed loud and other officers banged on the door. He had to stop and I escaped.
Then my family got me out and sent me away. I felt very bad and hurt. After all the suffering I had gone through, I was still not free in this land. That is the fate of not only myself but also everyone here. First of all I have to get out of this place. I am working here and I am paid some money and work keeps me occupied. All treat me like the elder sister. I have to think of helping my mother. I have lived enough for myself — now I want to live for her. I don’t want to get into any more difficulties. I have to improve myself. My problems are there all the while, I have to fight against my feelings that come rushing. I have to take a good decision. I have to do something. My mother now lives in a rented house. So I want to build a house, for that I have to earn a living. After coming here I studied. I can now understand things.
I have bad dreams often as though somebody is torturing me — I shout out. I am scared to be alone with men. Even now I don’t like a man getting close to me or trying to touch me. I will never ever marry a man, they will never ever understand what torture is and how miserable a human being, a girl can be. There is no one who will understand me. I don’t know what my future will be.
 Now at nights I wake up and I do something very strange. I scratch the wall. You must see the wall beside the bed. There is one girl here, she is also up in the night. When she hears, she calls out and asks me what I am up to. I count the holes in the mosquito net. I don’t know why I do this.
I shouldn’t have been caught alive, I should have been alert. I wouldn’t be here. I always feel angry against the military, but I can’t afford to take revenge. I don’t want to. I still feel we should feel free and independent. I can’t run to another country, even if I run away, I have to come back here.
My problem in facing the world is beginning only now. The man I have decided to marry might leave me, I have some doubts — will he accept me the way I am? I cannot trust anybody. I’m confused all the time. When others discuss about the future I run away. I will need help when I leave. Maybe some work with elders or orphans, this will be good for me — as a lonely person, I can be useful to some others.
My mind I feel is frozen. My mind is broken. I’m still scared of my life. I have sinned, my father trusted me and I have sinned against him. He died because of me. All my lost self-esteem cannot be regained.