“When two elephants are fighting, the grass dem’ a-suffer.” ~ A story of hope and transformation


As mentioned in this article, Maynor was tortured and murdered in the Honduras aged 19, trampled by drug wars he had nothing to do with. Jeffery “Black Nature” was also at Maynor’s powa (transference of consciousness) puja at Saraha Center in San Francisco.

At the 20th anniversary of Saraha Center, a few days earlier, Michael Rollins, a dear friend, told me about the band Black Nature of the Sierra Leone’s Refugee Allstars, which was just about to play — Michael had at the last minute invited them. Jeffery “Black Nature”, the lead vocalist and drummer, was the youngest member of the Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars band, which was the subject of a PBS documentary in 2007 .

Extract from movie description: “The plight of the refugee in today’s war-torn world is captured in the African proverb: “When two elephants are fighting, the grass dem’ a-suffer.” So it was in Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002, when the government and various rebel factions carried out a brutal civil war in which the terrorizing of civilians — by killing, mutilation, rape and forced conscription — was common practice on all sides. The war sent hundreds of thousands of ordinary Sierra Leoneans fleeing to refugee camps in the neighboring West African nation of the Republic of Guinea. That’s where the remarkable story told by the new documentary Sierra Leone‘s Refugee All Stars began…

… At 15, Alhadji Jeffery Kamara, called “Black Nature,” is the youngest of the group. Orphaned by the war and tortured by police in Guinea, to which he had fled, Black Nature is perhaps the most traumatized and is considered an adopted son by the others.”

Michael Rollins

Jeffery has now started his own band, with the All Stars’ blessing. He met Michael by chance in the guitar shop where Michael works, and invited him to play bass for him and help him find the other musicians. Before one of their songs, Michael stood up to speak:

“This next song is for Maynor, my brother in law. May we have compassion for those who killed him because it is quite clear that they could not have done such a thing if they were not themselves suffering and confused.”

That, Michael had told me, was the thought keeping him sane during this nightmare. Nature was nodding his head in agreement through Michael’s short speech.

Nature’s story dwarfs most stories. I’ll share some of the main elements as told to me by Michael, hopefully not blowing the plot of the movie that I think could be made about him (and hopefully his new band). :-)

Nature was 11 when the rebels came to his house. His mother had gone missing. He was forced to watch as they set his father alight, telling him that they’d do the same to him if he cried. Then they took him. They taught him how to kill, keeping him and the other child soldiers ramped up on drugs so that life and shooting felt unreal, like a video game. They filled the children’s heads with tales of how evil their parents and neighbors had been, but Nature said he never bought into what they said. Instead, he always tried to escape.

And during some fighting, he did manage to get away. Later one of the older soldiers found him but, in a lucky break, decided not to take him back but instead to flee with him and a couple of other escapees. He helped them make their way toward Guinea, but en route this new father figure was also blown up by a mine in front of Jeffery’s eyes.

The boys managed to get over the border into Guinea but the terror was not over. They were captured by police and, accused of being rebel soldiers, kept in cages not tall enough to stand up in. Nature has a stoop to this day. They’d be taken out and tortured, and periodically made to look at a pit of dead bodies, told that they were headed there themselves.

I’m a little hazy as to how they managed to escape this new nightmare, but at some point it involved Jeffery being plucked up miraculously by someone in a UN convoy truck as it was driving away from some war zone with things being blown up all around them. That is how he ended up in a squalid, dangerous, soulless refugee camp for the remainder of his teenage years, but how he also managed by another lucky break to meet the other members of the Refugees All Stars Band, including a musician whom he had greatly admired as a young boy in pre-war days. The band was eventually invited to travel, and they tour to this day.

At the tea Esmerelda made after the powa, Jeffery spoke softly to Maynor’s family and us, saying that the only thing we have to fear is mental bondage, and people can enslave or destroy our body but no one else can enslave our mind. He seems well on his way to extracting retribution from anger and other delusions.

Michael told me that Jeffery spontaneously gives a helpful hand wherever he goes and to whomever he meets. He also supports and encourages musicians back in Sierra Leone and in his new adopted city of San Francisco in particular. I found him to be gentle, kind, and humble, very easy to be with. At tea, he laughed at how during his time in the Refugee All Stars he had hung out with Angelina Jolie, been on Oprah, and appeared with Leonardo diCapria, only realizing from people’s reactions later how famous these people are.

I have not begun to do justice to his story and I apologize for any mistake in details, but the movie version will set us straight! In any event, what is powerful about meeting Black Nature is witnessing how he has transformed all this to end up the person he is today. By comparison any hardships I might have had in this human life are not even a walk in the park, more like a gentle stroll.

Offering music to the Buddhas

After Michael’s short speech, the band did a song about sending love to Maynor and to everyone in the world.  It was “real” – they were walking the talk – and everyone loved it. They say that their intention is not to make lots of money with their new band but to spread joy and sanity in our troubled world. I see no reason why they won’t reach and move new audiences with their music, because if Jeffery Black Nature and Maynor’s brother in law can forgive and find peace, surely there is hope for all of us?

(Michael told me yesterday that they are now recording a song dedicated to Maynor and the family.)

Please share this article if you like it, and leave your comments in the box below.

Here is a short video. You can look at Black Nature Band Facebook page to find out more.

Comments

  1. Henry Tozer says:

    Wow, this is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing. It certainly puts things into perspective… ‘No one else can enslave our mind’ – what wisdom.

    And, I think we do shy away from suffering – without confidence in a spiritual path, we can become depressed. We don’t like to really get our hands dirty, really feel it, hence the bitesize statistical nature of the news. But I think it’s stories like this that can really inspire us…

    • Yes, you’re right. I’m preparing an article now on whether compassion is a happy or a sad mind. We fear developing it as we think it’ll make us depressed, as you say. But in fact it inspires us, perhaps more than anything else, to make that incredible spiritual journey.

  2. madeline says:

    You know I’ve viewed this post several times, mostly in anticipation of the responses it might garner. When they didn’t come I started thinking about that fact.

    I think the silence is because you’ve told a human story with the human heart at the center. In the New York Times of your earlier post we all read, with a certain amount of distance, the plight of nations like Sierra Leone. Mostly this is done through a cold journalistic lens. Any human interest is woven in simply to give the piece “dimension.” It’s how it’s done. But there is never the presence of a particular human heart dealing with it all. Frankly, the difference is jarring, and mostly because that’s the story nobody selling “news” is brave enough to tell. I think we can rest assured that any foreign correspondent witnessing it experiences it.

    I hope I’m conveying what I intend when I say that in this one story you’ve communicated what is for me the essence of Buddhist practice.

    Thank you for writing it and thank you to Jeffery, who has been cracked wide open by pain most of us are too squeamish to even contemplate.

    • Madeline, thank you. It is so interesting what you say here. I myself was curious about the lack of comments on this story. I have often wondered why more journalists don’t base their articles on the human interest and reaction, there on the ground. Is it because there are too many stories like this due to wars and tragedies around the world, and people couldn’t/wouldn’t handle it? We are not that good at contemplating actual suffering, we might feel more comfortable with the filter of facts and statistics, which is why Buddha has to exhort us in the first noble truth, “You should know suffering”.

      What do the rest of you think?!

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