Chanda’s Wars: A Book Response by Saniya in grade eight
Imagine, if one day as a young teenage girl, you have to get a part-time teaching job and care for your delicate little brother and sister? Imagine Papa is already dead and Mama has just died after Granny and Grampa have refused to give her their affection, despite the fact that she had AIDS? It sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, unfortunately, this is the struggling life of Chanda Kabelo in Chanda’s Wars by Allan Stratton (HarperCollins, 2008). Not every child is blessed enough to be nurtured and showered with affection. In fact, sometimes children have to overcome the hardships in their lives and also protect those around.
Chanda does exactly this. Despite the fact that she is still a child herself, she forces herself to remain physically and emotionally stable, so she can support herself and her two younger siblings, Iris and Soly, whom she loves from the bottom of her heart. She is their only chance at survival. Lastly, people believe that Chanda’s Mama was cursed, and Chanda has to ignore all of their hatred and disrespect in order to mend family feuds for the sake of her two little darlings.
But first, Chanda triumphs in finding her precious and fragile little cutie pies after the vindictive and cruel General Mandiki warlord steals them. She teams up with Nelson, the man who her Granny wanted her to marry, to follow Mandiki and his rebels, hoping to free her siblings. This trip is exerting, though. She thinks to herself, “I’m glad Nelson knows the way. Following the rebels’ path is getting hard. Since the stretch of rock, the grasses barely come to our knees. Without the thickness and height to weigh them down, they’ve been able to right themselves in the sun… [this place is] full of flies and stink…” (262). Further on in the trip she gets even more stressed and the fear takes a toll on her, “I don’t sleep… I’m not brave. I’m scared to death. Are my babies [even] alive? Last time I saw them, they hated me. Do they still hate me? Do they blame me? Please god, let them forgive me. For shaming them. For being away when they need me most. Let Mama forgive me too. .. Oh, Mama, I want to get them back. But I don’t know if I can. I’m so afraid. I’m so…” (275). Despite all of her anxiety and fear, she continues to persevere on her never- ending path to her most prized possessions- Iris and Soly. Eventually, she and Nelson manage to distract all of the torturous rebels and free the children. They run and they run, not stopping for a minute until they are free and safe (323). Chanda succeeds! She has the two parts that make up her life, Iris and Soly.
Chanda does everything she can in order to care for her siblings. She abandons the English scholarship that she had been working towards, to fulfil a job that she never signed up for. She works as a part-time teacher at a local school in Iris’s grade one class. Despite her minimal income and low standard of living, she likes to protect the children by making them feel no poorer than anyone else. “The flour’s crawling with insects. If Iris finds out, she’ll blab. Then Soly won’t ever eat his porridge again, and Mrs. Tafa will go on and on about how Mama always kept a clean house and what would she be saying if she were alive to see the mess I’ve made of it” (14). And when Iris has nits in her hair and has to get her hair shaved off, Chanda knows how frightened she is and so says, “’Wait. Before you shave my sister’s head, shave mine… [There’s] nothing to it… You’ll see. We’ll be like twins” (329). Chanda does a stellar job of caring for Iris and Soly.
Chanda also provides emotional support by being a comfort to Iris and Soly after they are kidnapped, by a sociopath murderer who forces children to be a part of bloodbaths. Her siblings, at the age of five and six-years-old are physically and emotionally scarred after being held by the inhumane kidnapper Mandiki, and are acting out about it, “Iris covers her ears and wails, and Soly keeps moaning about ‘the night people’…”, and they both play self-harming and vicious games because they feel disgusting, hiding “a mile off at the riverbed, throwing stones at each other. One at a time, in turn, like it was a game” (350, 351).
Chanda protects Iris and Soly from the recurring nightmares that they constantly experience after their horrifying kidnapping. As Former Burundi Commander said, “Sensible commanders always grab whatever weapons are easiest at hand, and no weapon is easier to get or control than children.” The nasty and ruthless murderer, Mandiki does exactly that. He inflicts dread upon his child slave soldiers so that his demands will be fulfilled. “Don’t think you can escape… don’t think you can run home to your mama and papa. You have no home. I am your home. If you ever try to leave my protection, you will be caught. And do you know what will happen then? You’ll be held to the ground and chopped into bits. Your families, too” (197). After considering themselves murderers because they acted as accomplices, against their will, for cruel Mandiki, Iris and Soly explode, but Chanda-who is still a child herself- shields them from the sword of menace, ruthlessness, and abhorrence, with which Mandiki has stabbed them.
It takes a lot of emotional maturity for a teenage girl – growing up without a proper guardian – to understand and accept the fact that her two little precious siblings hate their lives. Chanda fetches them “paper, [coloured] chalk, and pencils” so they can draw their feelings and horrifying flashbacks since they refuse to talk about anything (354). She protects them and scolds them for running away from her. She tries to dig through their mountain of fear and tried to understand what her babies are going through (347-362).
Finally, Chanda sets aside her own feelings about her Mama’s family for the sake of her two younger siblings. “At fifteen, Granny and Grampa engaged [Mama] to… a boy from the neighbouring cattle post; but Mama was scared of him…” so when she met Chanda’s Papa, she ran off with him instead (37). Her relatives were outraged by her disappearance and claimed that “she was cursed for [dishonouring] the ancestors” and blamed her for everything that went wrong (37). When Chanda’s Mama got sick with AIDS and went back to her relatives, they treated her as an outcast and “left her at the abandoned ruin on their cattle post… alone in the bush, thin as a reed, huddled under a stained sheet buzzing with flies” (38). They had hoped Chanda’s Mama would die and take the evil curse along with her (130). Chanda really has to stretch her emotional accordion by putting her siblings first so they can be blessed by her Granny and Grampa, whom she dislikes, before they pass. It takes her a lot of reflection and forgiveness before she realises that she would feel terribly “guilty, knowing [her] pride [had] kept Soly and Iris from getting something special” (62).
Everyone around Chanda is very superstitious. So when she keeps having the same horror full, spine-shivering dream, everyone claims she is in trouble (39). They say, “‘Something’s wrong. You need help… What’s more important, your pride or Soly and Iris? Nightmares have a reason, Chanda” (7, 8). The thought of Soly or Iris being in danger kicks Chanda’s protective streak into gear. For the sake of their well-being, she concludes that she will not let any harm happen to her siblings, so she will forgive her Mama’s family and go to Tiro despite her reservations. She learns to forgive her Mama’s family because she knows that her Mama had loved them. She even develops attachments with some of her relatives there, even her Auntie Lizbet who once said of Chanda, “She’s an ingrate…Selfish as her mama!” (87, 154). But when she sees her making an effort with Iris, she decides that it is only right to forgive and forget. (102, 103). Chanda is a young girl, who maturely decides to fix family feuds for her own sake and for the sake of her two little siblings.
Some children do not have the luxury of love and affection from a parent or guardian. Hence, they have to learn to protect themselves and others for whom they are responsible. This basically sums up the life of Chanda Kabelo in Chanda’s Wars. She provides for her six-year-old sister Iris and five-year-old brother Soly and herself, both emotionally and physically. She protects them all. And through it all, she tries to find family members who can help build a support system to comfort them throughout their series of unfortunate events.