Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Isatu Kallon, February 25, 2019

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:02 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: Okay, this is Nicole Strunk, um, on February 25, 2019.

Segment Synopsis: Kallon briefly explains where she where she was born, and where she was before coming to West Chester University to pursue a degree in social work.

Keywords: Childhood; Citizenship; Delaware County Community College; Delaware County, Pennsylvania; Sierra Leone, West Africa; Social work; West Chester University of Pennsylvania; West Chester, Pennsylvania

Subjects: College students--Social conditions; Delaware County (Pa.); Education; Emigration and immigration.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sierra Leone.; Universities and colleges.; West Chester (Pa.)

00:01:26 - Growing up in Sierra Leone

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Partial Transcript: Can you describe where you grew up?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon talks about the beautiful natural features and fresh food available in her native Sierra Leone. She then gives an overview of her childhood; she lost her father when she was an infant which left her mother to support her and her siblings. Kallon spent most of her childhood being raised by her grandmother so that her mother could travel for work to be able to pay for her children's education.

Keywords: Businesswoman; Childhood; Civil war; Death of a parent; Education; Family; Grandmothers; Grandparents; Rebel War, Sierra Leone; Secondary schools; Sierra Leone, West Africa; Trade; Travel for work; Wars

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Sierra Leone.

GPS: Sierra Leone, West Africa
Map Coordinates: 8.582456, -11.925142
00:03:25 - Kallon's relationship with her grandmother

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Partial Transcript: Could you tell me more about your grandma?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon, named after her grandmother, describes her relationship with her and how it changed as she grew up, especially after moving to the United States.

Keywords: Bonga Fish (Ethmalosa fimbriata); Childhood memories; Cooking; Death of a family member; Family; Family relationships; Family tensions; Folk medicine; Food; Grandchildren; Granddaughters; Grandmothers; Grandparents; Home remedies; Illnesses; Traditional food; Traditional medicine; Traditions

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Sierra Leone.

00:06:00 - Kallon's extended family

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Partial Transcript: What about the other grandkids? Who else is in your family?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon describes her extended family, including her father’s side, which she never learned to know as well as her mother’s side. Her mother's father married three wives and had twenty one children. Kallon speaks to how large her family is and how they all do their best to stay in touch with their "Grandkids of Pa Bari" cousins club; Kallon was instrumental in keeping in touch with her cousins while she still lived in Sierra Leone. She has a close cousin who lives in Boston, and has over 70 cousins overall.

Keywords: Boston (Mass.); Boston, Massachusetts; Cousins; Death of a parent; Extended family; Family; Family events; Family relationships; Family structures; Family tensions; Grandkids of Pa Bari; Large family; Matriarchal family structures; Siblings; Sierra Leone, West Africa; Sisters

Subjects: Childhood; Families.; Sierra Leone.

00:09:14 - Kallon's mother

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me about the work that your mom did?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon describes her mother and some of the jobs that she held back in Sierra Leone. She worked as a traveling businesswoman during the country's civil war and as a certified nursing assistant after moving to Philadelphia in the late 1990s. Kallon is also a caregiver, working full-time at Royer Greaves Home for the Blind while attending school.

Keywords: Businesswoman; Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA); Civil wars; Education; Family structures; Guinea, West Africa; Matriarchal family structures; Mothers; Rebel War, Sierra Leone; Royer Greaves Home for the Blind, Paoli (Pa.); Small business owners; Travel; Visas

Subjects: Childhood; College students--Social conditions; Education; Employment; Families.; Guinea.; Immigrants; Occupations; Philadelphia (Pa.); Sierra Leone.

00:12:59 - Growing up during the civil war in Sierra Leone

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Partial Transcript: So you've mentioned the civil war a couple times.

Segment Synopsis: Kallon gives a brief description of what she remembers from growing up during the civil war in Sierra Leone. She remembers not being able to consistently attend school, hearing people being burned to death in the streets, and living in a constant state of vigilance. She speaks to the trauma and panic that people in the community experienced, including her own mother, who she explained almost left Kallon behind trying to escape one of the rebel groups.

Keywords: Amputations; Childhood; Childhood trauma; Civil wars; Education; Guns; Kamajors militia; Murders; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); Privileges; Rebel War, Sierra Leone; Sierra Leone, West Africa; Street violence; Trauma; War crimes

Subjects: Childhood; Civil war; Education; Families.; Sierra Leone.

00:17:39 - Education during the war / Transition to democracy

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Partial Transcript: And you managed to go to school during that?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon explains the lack of consistent education within Sierra Leone during the time of the war, as well as the transition to democracy in the early 2000s. She talks about the involvement of the United Nations in the transition, following peacekeeping efforts, and the election of the new president Kabbah.

Keywords: Abidjan Peace Accord; Crimes against humanity; Democracy; Democratic; Education; Human rights; Human rights violations; Lomé Peace Agreement; Peace; Peace and Reconciliation Council; President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah; Rape; Sexual assault; Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP); Transition to civilian; Truth and Reconciliation Commission; United Nations; United Nations Mission to Sierra Leone; United Nations Peacekeepers; War crimes

Subjects: Childhood; Civil war; Education; Families.; Politics and government; Sierra Leone.

00:22:20 - Fleeing to Guinea

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Partial Transcript: What was that like for you as a child?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon describes fleeing at less than 10 years old by boat for three days to Guinea from Sierra Leone with her aunt and cousins where they spent a year waiting for the war to end. Her mother and siblings had already arrived in Guinea with help from a cousin who acquired them visas. She talks about how none of her family members on the boat with her were able to swim and feared ending up in the water. Kallon had very little to do in Guinea and did not attend school there.

Keywords: Bo Town, Sierra Leone; Boats; Childhood; Cousins; Drowning; Education; Family; Free education; Freetown, Sierra Leone; French language; Guinea, West Africa; Kenema, Sierra Leone; Liberia, West Africa; Primary schools; Refugees; Swimming; Visas

Subjects: Bo Town (Sierra Leone); Childhood; Civil war; Education; Families.; Freetown (Sierra Leone); Guinea.; Kenema (Sierra Leone); Liberia.; Politics and government; Sierra Leone.

00:28:17 - Typical day in Sierra Leone / Immigrating to the United States

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Partial Transcript: Can you tell me about a typical day in Sierra Leone?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon describes some of the activities that she participated in and a regular routine she held as a child in Sierra Leone during more peaceful times. She remembers running and competing in track events and always going straight home after school to get her homework done. She also mentions enjoying cooking when she was younger. She talks about why she left Sierra Leone and discusses why she has immigrated but her siblings have not yet gotten their papers.

Keywords: Cooking; Education; Homework; Immigration journey; Immigration law; Lifestyle changes; Running; Track and field; Traditional cooking; Visas

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Families.; Recreation; Sierra Leone.

00:31:47 - Coming to the United States for the first time / Differences between Sierra Leone and the United States

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Partial Transcript: So you came by yourself?

Segment Synopsis: Kallon recalls coming to the United States with her mother for the first time and landing in New York City in April, after her first ever airplane flight. She remembers how cold it was and the several aspects of North American culture that she found to be different and sometimes overwhelming to her. She specifically mentions the large highways and the fact that there was always electricity when you needed it. She remembers being confused in Philadelphia because all of the rowhouses looked alike, and she worried she would not remember which house was hers. Her mother taught her how to ride the bus, which was foreign to her. She found her new life boring, with less interaction with her community members. She also missed her siblings and wanted to return to Sierra Leone. After arriving in the United States, she spent months waiting for her paperwork to be approved, meaning that she was not yet able to work or go to school, which Kallon remembers being a very lonely time for her.

Keywords: 69th Street Transportation Center; Airports; American culture; Americanization; Boston (Mass.); Boston, Massachusetts; Buses; Changes in weather; Culture shock; Electricity; Free time; Freetown (Sierra Leone); Freetown, Sierra Leone; Hobbies; Homesick; Immigration law; Immigration papers; Move to the United States; New York City (N.Y.); New York City, New York; North Carolina; Public transportation; Visas; West Philadelphia; Western movies

Subjects: Childhood; Education; Emigration and immigration.; Families.; Immigrants; Philadelphia (Pa.); Recreation; Sierra Leone.