Inside the _____ Washington, D.C.

Inside the Struggles of Balla Kamara


This is one of a series of stories we are sharing to show what's inside CubeSmart. You not only get a peek inside our customer's storage unit, but also a peek inside what is important to them. Thank you to Balla Kamara, customer of our CubeSmart store in Washington, D.C.,  for sharing his story with us.

Balla Kamara arrived in the United States in 2003 as a war refugee, one of about a million people uprooted by the 10-year civil war in Sierra Leone.

He was one of 13 family members — three brothers, four sisters and nephews and nieces — to leave that country for Silver Springs, Maryland, at the invitation of his sister who was already a U.S. resident.

Balla, who is now 26, was about 12 years old at the time they took flight. He said he remembers waiting at the airport for departure for six hours. He struggled to get accustomed to the food here.

"I didn't like the pizza or the chicken when I first came here," he said.

Balla said an aunt and an uncle were killed by rebels.

"They were really nice to me," he said of the couple. "They were living in the villages when the rebels attacked."

Balla said he has not completely healed from the trauma he faced in his youth.

"Growing up I kept thinking about it," he said. "I had the flashbacks. I get paranoid about what happened. I was shocked."

Balla finds work through a temporary agency, most recently landing a job setting up for conferences at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

He couldn't afford his apartment so Balla ended up in a shelter for a while before staying at various friends' houses. "Sometimes I camp out," he said.

At the time he shared his story with us during a visit to our store at 645 Taylor St. NE in Washington, D.C., Balla was preparing to move into a government-assistance apartment the following week.

Balla's passion is bicycles. He enjoys repairing them. He keeps an electric bike, a beach cruiser, a road bike and a mountain bike — along with clothes — at our store.

"I like working on bikes," he said. "Not cars. Too much oil."

When he was working, Balla would send money back to relatives in Sierra Leone. His mother died of natural causes there. His father lived in the U.S. for a while but returned to the African nation. Much of his family in the U.S. now live in Laurel, Maryland.

"I keep thinking it's my responsibility," he said of his family's suffering in Sierra Leone. "I just tell myself now I got to do the right thing."

About the author

Adam Bowles

Adam Bowles is the owner of Not With Ink, a digital media company in Jewett City, Conn. He spent 15 years as a reporter and editor for The Bulletin in Norwich, Conn., and has freelanced for such publications as The New York Times. His latest project is called The World in One Square Mile, a series of on-the-spot interviews for short profiles that demonstrate the need to take interest in others, listen to their stories and discover what unites us all. He and his wife, Luisa, have two daughters.

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