Warning: This post deals with sexual assault, which may be triggering for some readers.
It was in the early hours of a Wednesday, when Aminata Conteh-Biger was woken by a loud, rumbling boom.
The then-18-year-old looked out the tinted, bullet-proof windows of her father's Freetown home to see people scrambling through the dark streets, away from fire-bombed buildings. Some were screaming, some bloodied. Some were wrestling against flames that wrapped around their bodies.
It was January 6, 1999, and Revolutionary United Front rebels had laid siege to the Sierra Leone capital in a savage nighttime offensive.
After waging eight years of bloody civil war across the country, the fighters sprung up inside the city, attempting to seize it from government troops and the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG.
Though their ultimate target was politicians and government officials, the rebels laid waste to the civilian population along the way; burning homes, cutting off people's hands, shooting and assaulting them with indiscriminate brutality. An estimated 5000 were killed, pushing the war's toll beyond 50,000.
By the time the rebels came across Aminata's four-story, bright-yellow home — the largest in the area — weeks later, there were hundreds of local people hiding there. Her father had welcomed them in, fed them, sheltered them.
That afternoon, as the rebels crowed threats about burning the home to the ground, the occupants emerged together. Aminata clutched her Parkinson's Disease-affected father's hand, trying her best to hide his shaking.
A rebel fighter named Daramy strode toward her and called her over. She knew what was coming. She'd heard the stories of women being taken, or assaulted in front of their loved ones. Fearing for her life, her father's and her siblings', she obeyed.
"I had to let go of my dad's hand, walk towards him, and not look back," Aminata told Mamamia's No Filter podcast. "I did that deliberately, not to see my dad's reaction."