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Man experiences freedom after torturous times in Mauritania

December 27, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - In a western African jail cell barely 3 feet by 6 feet, Samba Guisse ate his daily meal - one-half cup of rice and salt.

On weekends, he got nothing at all, he said.

Separated from his children and exiled from home, Guisse said he survived torture to bring freedom to his country. Flipping through the pages of an address book filled with the names of comrades, Guisse showed no signs of surrender.

"This is Africa, is no good. No water good, no school, no hospital," said Guisse, sweeping his hand across a photograph of children while talking at his home in Hagerstown. "Children, no school."

The Hagerstown Refugee Resettlement office brought five western Africans - Guisse, who is from Mauritania, his wife and his wife's three children - to Hagerstown. In all, the office has resettled 217 refugees.

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Sitting on the floor of the sparse Hagerstown apartment the refugee office provided, Guisse, 48, spoke to The Herald-Mail with the help of Jeanne Jacobs, a native of France who moved to the U.S. after World War II.

"My countries have problem - discrimination and segregation," said Guisse, who came to the U.S. in August.

Still uncertain with English, Guisse was animated as he talked in French, one of six languages he speaks.

Jacobs said blacks were treated as slaves in Mauritania, where a white Moorish minority holds power. According to the Central Intelligence Agency fact book, Mauritania was a territory of France until 1960. It has experienced ethnic tensions and slavery still exists in parts of the country, according to the factbook.

To achieve freedoms for blacks, Guisse said, he joined the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania. In the aftermath of an aborted coup in 1987, three leaders were shot and killed, and others went to prison, Guisse told Jacobs.

Asked if he knew the men well, Guisse responded, "Trs bien" - very well.

Two years later, Guisse said, Mauritanian whites took blacks' property after the country expelled some of the blacks. Soldiers sent women one way and men elsewhere. They raped the girls, Guisse said.

Guisse first went to Senegal, where refugees found work in the fields, stores and other people's homes. For six years, the government helped refugees, but eventually, Mauritania's neighbors, Senegal and Mali, began to treat the refugees with the racism they had fled, Guisse said.

When Guisse and a friend warned some refugees not to return to Mauritania, they were thrown in prison. Guisse was in Mali at the time.

"Every morning and every evening, you could hear people screaming. They were being tortured," Guisse said through Jacobs.

Guisse said his shoulder still bothers him, and he has scars on his hands and feet from being tied and hung from the ceiling.

From their countries in exile, members of the African Liberation Forces of Mauritania appealed to the international community, including the United States, about Guisse's case, and he was let go, Jacobs said.

Guisse's children still live in Mauritania and Senegal - he said he worries they will be harmed because of his political views - and his wife's children's father lives in France, Guisse said. With no papers, Guisse said, he does not think the children's father ever will be able to see his children here. With no freedom in Mauritania, Guisse said, he will never go back.

"Now that he is here, he has found his freedom that he lost ... years ago, and he works, and he feels like a man again, and he wants to share that freedom with his children again ... He believes in America, people don't judge him as a black man, but as a person," Jacobs said.

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