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From war-torn Africa to the West Side

The blood diamond war started in 1991 when there was a high demand for newfound diamonds in Sierra Leone, Africa. Foreigners would invade the land of Sierra Leone and force natives to work day and night looking for these valuable gems. The blood diamonds are named so because of the grief they have brought to so many people. As greed and hostility arose, the families of many diminished.

“I remember my grandpa sitting in a tree; I don’t know why, but then he fell off dead!”

This was Francis Baker’s earliest memory of the war. Baker was a young child at the time this was going on, but both he and his twin sister, Mariatu, remember hiding in the bushes from rebels with their parents.

“I remember hearing bombs and gunshots and seeing dust and debris everywhere,” Mariatu said.

Now, both orphans, they still wonder how their parents died.

“My dad got killed by the government because they say he had something to do with the rebels, but they [the government] lie about deaths in the war to get kids adopted into this country, and my mom died of some sort of sickness,” Mariatu said.

Francis has a different take: “I don’t know how my parents died, but they may be still alive.”

Mariatu says that these horrific events conjure up a mixture of emotions,

“When we came here [to America], I had nightmares all the time about it,” she said.

She has many questions about what’s left of her family back home.

“There’s never a time I go without thinking how it would be if my parents were still alive, and if my family were together,” she said. “Just imagine a war that breaks your family apart, moves you to a new country and there’s no contact to your family back home.”

“Life is life, people die, things happen,” Francis said.

The twins came to the United States at around age 6, nearing the end of the blood diamond war in 2003. They were adopted by Patricia and David Baker and now live on the West Side.

Francis said that while they were waiting to be adopted, he and his sister’s life at the Cherith International Orphanage was miserable. He said that if children didn’t understand the school information that was being presented they would be forced to hold heavy rocks while receiving beatings.

Although the events in Sierra Leone were tragic and traumatizing, Francis wants to set assumptions about Africa aside.

“People only talk about the bad things in Africa, but there are good things, like the weather and the land are beautiful,” he said. “I remember more freedom. I don’t really remember being hungry, it was just freedom to have fun. No school! It’s ironic but it seems like there’s more freedom there than the U.S.”

Both Mariatu and Francis are glad to be here.

“I wouldn’t be alive if I stayed. Life is not perfect, there’s probably people going through worse stuff than me. I’m going through life one day at a time and trying to enjoy each day,” said Mariatu.

She says she is grateful to her new parents for adopting her and her brother, and to God that she’s still breathing.

“If I was to stay, I’d probably end up a child soldier, and they don’t live long,” Francis said.

Both now 16 and juniors at Frederick Law Olmsted School, Francis and Mariatu look forward to their future.

“I want to probably major in communications or sports management,” Mariatu said. “I would visit Africa with my brother if he wants to [go].”

Francis wants to go to culinary school and just live a simple life. He says he does not want to go back and visit Africa.

“Some people are lucky like us, but you can make the best out of life if you try to,” said Francis.

Alexis Segarra is a junior at Frederick Law Olmsted School.