Halftime has become the hardest part of Kargbo’s soccer games this season. The break is designed as a time to rest and reflect on the game, and that is exactly the problem for Mount Vernon’s senior captain; he is playing the game, in large part, to forget about his past.
“Being next to a soccer field makes me feel much better and happy, and then I avoid all my pain and sorrows,” Kargbo said.
When the perpetual motion stops, the 19-year-old striker often ruminates about the civil war in his native Sierra Leone that fractured his family. He thinks about his father, who died in 2008. But the heaviest weight on his mind also is the most recent life-altering event: the death of his mother in February.
Sometimes, those flashes will all lead to a single question for Kargbo: “Where am I going?”
The struggle is in the internal wiring of Kargbo, but one thing he does not do is solicit pity. That is not how his mother, Meferah Kamara, raised him.
“He’s still shocked,” said Kadiatu Jalloh, Kargbo’s 20-year-old cousin who grew up with him across Africa and now lives in Fredericksburg. “The only time he lets it out is when he goes to [soccer]. That’s how he lets his feelings out. . . he never misses a practice, never misses a game.”
A life uprooted
The civil strife between Sierra Leone’s democratic socialist government and the Revolution United Front was already three years old by the time Kargbo was born in the country in 1994, and the 11-year conflict that killed tens of thousands of people set the tone for Kargbo’s upbringing. His home was burned down. His cousin was shot in the ribs. As a 5-year-old, he saw dead bodies in the streets of Freetown.
“It just seemed like my whole childhood burned down right before my eyes,” Kargbo said. Throughout his youth, he would wake up in the middle of the night screaming from nightmares.
“In my time, it was okay,” said 42-year-old Ahmad Sasso, a Sierra Leone native who left the country prior to the civil war starting in 1991 and now coaches youth soccer in the Washington area. “Simond’s time. . . the rebels would cut hands off the kids, kill and kill, rape the women. . . it was really bad.”
Eventually, Kargbo was forced to leave the country with his mother and other family members, and their refugee journey led them to Senegal, Ivory Coast and Guinea before they arrived in Northern Virginia in 2003. Along the way, soccer was the one constant in Kargbo’s life.The game broke down borders in Senegal, when Kargbo was struggling to learn French at school, and it helped him acclimate to American culture.
When Kargbo’s father, Sori, died in Sierra Leone in 2008, his mother became his pillar. She always stretched Kargbo out at home after games and practices. She taught him how to cook African dishes, so he could take care of himself when she had to work late hours.