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November 29, 2002

War refugee reunited with Lake Stevens son after 22 years

From: Seattle Post Intelligencer, WA - 29 Nov 2002


LAKE STEVENS -- Security guards eyed Gabriel Love with suspicion as he ran down a corridor at Sea-Tac Airport.

"Patience, patience, patience," his wife, Rochelle Love, urged in sign language to her deaf husband after she caught up with him.

It was 8:55 p.m. Wednesday. His mother's flight had landed, but he couldn't find her.

While other families and friends patiently awaited their airborne travelers, Love had a reason to be impatient. He had not seen his mother in 22 years.

His mother, Rosemarie Love, had been living as a civil war refugee in Guinea. She moved there from Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, which sits along the Atlantic Ocean in West Africa.

In Freetown, rebels tortured civilians. They cut the arms off some and burned others to death.

Rebels shot and killed Gabriel Love's brother-in-law.

Rebels burned down the home where Rosemarie Love lived with her second son, his wife and their small children. The youngest was a month old when the war began in 1991.

"It broke out mysteriously one Sunday morning," Rosemarie Love said, her face stern and her hands clinched into tight fists.

"We were getting dressed to go to Mass when the groups came," said Rosemarie Love, now 64. "We couldn't go anywhere, and it was terrible because you had to hide all the time."

Revolutionary United Front Rebels initiated the waragainst the ruling elite and then-President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah.

"Everyone was suffering, but in their own way," she said.

For her family, it was the combined fear of being killed or dying of hunger.

Sometimes water came out of the tap. Sometimes it didn't.

They would race to the grocery store before dawn to grab what they could afford: a tiny bit of rice; some fish, if it was available; a little cup of cooking oil; and gari, a type of root.

Then they raced back home to cook it before the rebels could find them.

During the rest of the day, they would sit and wait.

"What I really feared were the gunshots and the bombs overhead," said Rosemarie Love. "I still feel afraid when someone bumps a table or knocks, but I'm getting over it."

When her house was burned down, she and her family went to their church for help.

All the while, she taught the children and made sure they had Bible study in the home.

Rosemarie Love left Freeport in 1999, before the civil war ended in January 2002.

"It was only God who saved my life -- it was a miracle," she said.

That's because rebels were abducting civilians in the city. They were raping young women and little girls. They even recruited children to take part in their war games.

But the miracle reached not only Rosemarie Love. It also touched her son, his wife and their four children, too. They all found refuge in Guinea.

Gabriel Love wanted them to live with him in Lake Stevens, where a better life awaited them.

"They have too much suffering over there and no medical care," 43-year-old Gabriel Love signed as his wife interpreted. His father, sister and brother died in Africa because of illnesses.

But after asking for financial support from his church, family, friends and Kamiak High School in Mukilteo, where he teaches, Love could afford only one plane ticket, for his mother.

Rosemarie Love got her immigrant visa two weeks ago. Her plane ticket arrived last week.

"It was very hard to get her here because we had to show all of these different documents, but everything was burned in the fire," said her son.

Gabriel Love, who had been sending money to support his family, gave them enough to rent a three-bedroom flat in Guinea so they wouldn't have to stay in refugee camps.

So, when Gabriel Love finally saw his mother walking toward him at the airport, he lifted his arms up and outright. As she stepped closer toward him, he pulled her deep into his chest and held her there.

Then, his hands smoothed an imaginary beard as he mouthed, "She is very old."

After all, he hadn't seen her in 22 years.

Rosemarie Love had never met her son's four children or her new extended family -- Rochelle Love's parents, siblings and her nieces and nephews.

Not until yesterday during their Thanksgiving gathering.

Yesterday, the adults gathered around the dining room table as the children sat in the kitchen.

They all shared the mashed potatoes and gravy, dinner rolls, green salad, olives and pickles, yams and turkey. They all had red cups, with their names written on them in black marker, full of warm cider.

Though Rosemarie Love already complains about the cold whether here, she doesn't mind, because she has so many thanks to give.

"I have nothing to fear," she said.

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