You Are Now In America…Live Here, you say, but Then There is the Liberian Immigration Question

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I Now Wander

Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Taken from Becoming Ebony, SIU Press, 2003)


I raised ducks, pigs, dogs, barking watchdogs.
Wild chickens loose, dancing, flapping old wings.

Red and white American roosters, meant to be sheltered
and fed with vitamins until they grow dumb;

in our yard I set them loose among African breeds
that pecked at them until they, too, grew wild and free.

I planted papayas, fat belly papayas, elongated papayas,
tiny papayas, hanging. I planted pineapples, mangoes,

long juicy sugar canes, wild coco-yams. From our bedroom
window I saw plantain and bananas bloom, again and again,

take on flesh and ripeness. And then the war came, and the rebels
slaughtered my pigs, my strong roosters, my hens,

my heavy, squawking ducks. Now I wander among strangers,
looking for new ducks, new hens, new coco-yams, new wars.

— 2002 Copyright © Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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Monrovia, Liberia, where some of us came from was damaged, and for some, there is nothing to return to, and even if they ever return, life has changed. So, for many Liberians, the United States, France, Guinea, West Africa, Ghana, or some other far off place in the world is now home. And yet, last week, dozens of Liberians were deported from the United States because of crimes they committed and have served time for. They were returned to a place they left behind, where bullets and bombing remained their freshest memory of home, and had to give up the land of promise they had been given briefly when they needed a place of refuge. Did these forget to live in America, and so they were sent back to Liberia where they may never ever be restored enough to contribute in a way they should?

That brings me to the question, not of the deportation story of immigrants from Liberia or from other parts, but of the Liberian TPS question, the never-ending question of reclaiming your life that was destroyed, living again in the land that was given you as a refugee from the burning towns, cities and villages of Liberia, getting over your old self in order to embrace your new homeland, whether temporarily or not, being here with us in America, living within the laws of the nation that has given you refuge, bringing up your children to obey the laws and to enjoy the privileges of this great nation, getting your immigration up one level from that Temporary Protected Status (TPS) mode into the mode where you are a permanent resident or a citizen, if you choose. Can you do that for yourself?

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Robertsport, Grand Bassa County, Liberia, where others came from. Many Liberians came from such a place, but today they continue to be scattered abroad, far away from what they knew as home. The beautiful coastal country of Liberia with all of its long white sandy beach line and huge tropical forest land, its lovely mountains and very happy people was stolen from many of you almost two decades ago. In fact, many Liberians in the villages far from the seat of government did not even know the issues that caused the war when the horrific wars snatched them from their lifestyles.

Many of these people are mere survivors, only survivors, many still languishing in refugee camps in Ghana and other parts of the world. Many have been in the limbo for eighteen years, not having any place they can call home. But tens of thousands of Liberians are among the fortunate ones like myself who now live here in the US. We so miss home, miss our families or we may complain of racism and discrimination that is characteristic of living as a black person in the United States, but we can never deny that many of us are far more fortunate than other Liberians who never got the chance of leaving the war torn country . Many other hundreds of thousands never survived to be here with us, and there were those of our families and friends and relatives who were forced to live in refugee camps in Ghana and other African countries. So if we are fortunate because despite all the disadvantages of being immigrants with our lovely, but often misunderstood accents and with racism, we still have many opportunities not possible in other parts of the world, why are not taking advantage of these opportunities?

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For many, the war symbolizes the broken bridge into the future just like the Old Waterside Bridge in Monrovia that finally collapsed after many years of war and lack of care. For many in the Diaspora and in refugee camps, the bridge to both the future and the past has been completely destroyed.

Thousands of Liberians were mindful that the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) awarded us refugees and war victims by the United States in 1990 would not last forever. Many therefore went ahead and changed that status by applying for more permanent residency visas or becoming citizens. Many saw that the war had destroyed everything they knew, including their whole families and towns and did not see why they could wait to return to Liberia. And yet, tens of thousands, between 4,000 to 10,000 Liberians did not change their TPS status; instead, they renewed TPS year to year until now. Many of those who did not renew will be deported to Liberia if the United States House of Representative does not follow its Senate counterpart bill and pass the extension of TPS for Liberians. But as we all know, Liberia that is just beginning to rebuild after the fourteen year war is not prepared to take in such a number of returnees if these Liberians are returned.

In 2006, I visited Minneapolis, Minnesota where the largest population of Liberians in the US lives. According to statistics, there are about 25,000 Liberians living in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Also, Staten Island is home to another heavy population of Liberians, mostly former refugees who were settled there in the 1990s to 2000s during the Liberian civil war. During my research trip to record the stories of Liberian women survivors of the war, I was amazed at the diverse community of Liberians living in the two American cities: New York and Minneapolis area.

There were the highly educated Liberians who could afford to pick up the pieces after war had taken everything from them. They moved on both emotionally and financially despite the sad memories of loss. There were the not so educated, still making an effort to prepare themselves for living in the US, many who have not made their statuses permanent. Then there were the uneducated in the Western sense, the traditional older generation who were taken both from Liberia’s cities and villages, many who had lost everything and had nothing to return to. All of these groups came from every Liberian ethnic group, and represented all ages of people. Many of these did not know the American system of immigration, and did not know that they would lose their status if the TPS is completely terminated some day. Many could not afford to change their status either, having lost everything and still trying to make a new life in a world alien to them. Many cannot speak nor understand much of any English, and many of these were being held down by their grandchildren who had lost their parents to the war. Many of these elderly people who now live in small apartments in high rise lower income housing units in America’s big cities will be deported if nothing is done about Liberia’s problem. What can we do to prevent the deportation of such a huge number of Liberians to Liberia?

Even as we wrestle with such a question, I wonder how we can help prepare our people to change their status if TPS is granted again for another year?

While I was in Minneapolis last year, I was the featured speaker at a forum for Liberians in the area, a program hosted the the Liberian Women’s Initiative (LiWIM). During that forum, several Liberians in the audience were concerned about their status and again were worried that TPS would end in September, 2006, and they would probably be deported. We again discussed the various options to prevent the deportation of Liberians, and again, there was a rally call to extend TPS to Liberians for another year. TPS was extended then, but now, again, that chance has run out as always. And we are again where we’ve been every year for the past sixteen or more years.

What can Liberians do to prevent the involuntary return of Liberians to Liberia? One of the things I have done in my small world is to help educate everyone I know about the ways to go about regularizing their status as they now live here in the US. Everyone must be everyone’s keeper as we used to do in our home country. Tell your family members that the $260.00 (two hundred and sixty dollars) it takes to pay for the entire process of the permanent residency visa or the green card is far less expensive than the worry of not knowing what will happen to you when TPS expires. And as we all know, no one can become a US citizen unless they have been a permanent resident here in the US for at least five years.

I am not advocating for huge groups of Liberians to become US citizens. I am not a US citizen myself, and just recently, I renewed my own permanent residency status that would have expired after ten years of having that status. I want to be a Liberian still, want to be identified as one, and have no current plans of changing that status. But I am legal, and I am living here and trying all I can to live in this great country and enjoy all of the resources for which I pay taxes. This is what we need to do, whether we are educated or not educated. This is the law of the country that felt sorry for us when we needed help, and allowed us to remain here for this length of time. This is not to undercut all of the arguments of what the US should have and should not have done when the war ravaged our beautiful homeland. But this is to give credit where credit is due. Liberians need to pay attention to the immigration debates on all sides, check their statuses and follow the law and change the temporary status while there is still time.

What can others who are not Liberians or who do not have the problem with TPS do to help?

Join in the fight to save our people from being deported. There are many organizations, including the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights that are helping to inform Liberians and assist in bringing both the debate and the matter to the forefront. The Union of Liberians in the US, led by President Wettee is also working hard at assisting our people. Write your State Senator and Representative and find out how they can assist with preventing the deportation of these people whose lives were destroyed by the horrific war in Liberia. Visit this site: http://www.energyofanation.org/Learn_About_Temporary_Protected_Status.html

Do all you can to save Liberians and Liberia. Most Liberians who face deportation when TPS expires in October 2007 have suffered all kinds of human rights abuses, have had whole families killed, have had everything they possessed destroyed, and have suffered more than a decade of trauma due to all of this loss. Many have resettled here and are bringing up American born children, have contributed to the development of this country, pay their taxes, and are America’s strong voice because of the love they have received from tens of thousands of Americans and from America, and cannot lose this new world they have adopted. They do not deserve to be deported.

I will close with a poem written by a Liberian friend and fellow writer who is emerging out of her own memory of watching from the distance as her country was destroyed. She is Miss Ophelia S. Lewis, author of two books of poetry.

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From left to right:Me and Ophelia at the home of my childhood girlfriend, Marietta Freeman Johnson in Atlanta, GA

I am Thinking of Liberia

By Ophelia S. Lewis

As the day chase away the night

And as the night chase away the day

Homesickness has made a nest in my heart

And sits there like a bird

I am thinking of Liberia

 

Liberia is painted in my heart

Her red earth

Her green jungle

Her silver drops of tropical rainfall

Her red hibiscus dotted on green bushes

 

In the silence of her countryside

I hear the cries of her Pepper Birds

I yearn to touch the chill in her air

So pleasantly refreshing after the heavy rain

 

I hear the whispers of her night

That rides along her Atlantic winds

I hope it finds its way into my mind

I am thinking of Liberia

 

Her little boy

Running and rolling an old rimless tire

Her little girl

Plaiting the hair of a corncob and

Pretending that it is her baby

 

Her woman’s gracious walk

In her colorful lappa

That trails royally behind her

Her man, draped with a special robe

That only he may wear

 

Her mother, whose infant

Sleeps cozily against her back

Her father, standing waist-deep

Among straw-yellow rice in its ripeness

 

I crave the warmth of her sun

To beat against my shoulders

While I walk down the winding road

Through richly cultivated sugarcane farm

 

My memory is kind to me

Although it is only a taste of a lesser satisfaction

As the day chase away the night

And the night chase away the day

Liberia is painted in my heart

I am thinking of Liberia

 

 

©2004 –Ophelia S. Lewis
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The New Fashion and the Art of Reclaiming the Waistline: Hello, is anybody listening?

 

 

 

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I’ve waited for the past five, six, seven, eight years or so for this new fashion to go away, to just disappear, to fall off the globe so we who have lost our waistlines can go on happily with our merry lives. But it seems I have another year or another two more to go before someone thinks of another way of robing us women. Go into any department store now as the summer clothes are lined up on Clearance racks for some unsuspecting shopper to pick up, and you will find tons of little tiny-wennie blouses that are meant only for Barbie to wear. But if this is not too hard a nut to swallow, check out the styles- little tiny blouses with noodle straps and breast-fitting upper sections, with flair skirt-like bottoms that are supposed to hang down easily, that is, if you are thin and narrow and straight like a pin. If I am fool enough to purchase one of them, I will be just another woman walking around looking like she’s ready to have a baby.

Have you looked at the woman down the street, wearing her beautiful noodle strap blouse with its ready-made breast support already sown into it?

Have you been there when at the end of the year school closing, all the girls on honor roll are called up on stage one by one, and they walk up, looking as if they’re all expecting babies? Even the little girls who are a bit heavy set look like women who are far advanced with child.

What is this world coming to when we are all expected to wear clothing either too tight for the different involuntary curving of our aging bodies or too flair-skirty for us? But if that is not sufficient to bring us down to the level of the sixties, to bring us all down looking like expectant mothers, there is another fashion to go with the maternity looking tops: the tiny straight dresses with their sleeveless arms, the ones my mother wore when I was a little girl, and she thought she could still wear dresses. So how am I to jump into one of these after I’ve gone ahead and given this world four babies who are now becoming men and women? How am I, a professional woman who is working hard at trying to keep my tummy from bulging out, supposed to slip into one of those dresses or blouses without strapping up myself and my tummy to death?

I know some of you may disagree with me, and I welcome your objections. Maybe I am one of the boring non-fashionable freaks you’ve heard of, but don’t you think I have a point here?

I was at the mall two days ago doing the usual “mother-getting-her-kid-ready-for-college” kind of shopping. I had gone in there to shop for my seventeen year old son, Gee, who hates malls and shopping places, and will rather die than go shopping. Unless you threaten his life, he will not follow you to the mall, not particularly, a his mother, to the mall. So, to make matters easy on myself, I took his money and went shopping for comforters, oversized twin bed sheets, towels, and all the stuff a teenage son will forgive his mother purchasing on his behalf with his money. But like the real American shopperholic that I am becoming, I found the time to slip into the women’s area of the store. Mind you, the women’s section is downstairs in our mall here in Altoona, PA is downstairs, and the beddings are all upstairs in this big department store.

Here I was, trying to shop for myself as well, and an elderly woman next to me begins to complain about how ugly and disgusting today’s fashion is. I stopped to hear her talking to her daughter who seemed to be close to my age. “This fashion makes all of us look pregnant,” the elderly woman frowned.

“Disgusting,” her daughter laughed, and I smiled in their direction.

At that moment, I began to think, yes, these blouses and dresses are disgusting. Why did the fashion designers do such a thing to us women? What did we do to offend them?

Last week, I was out again shopping, this time, with my thirteen year old daughter, Ade. Ade, who is becoming a teenager like all the other teenagers in America had planned her shopping experience so well it involved a real community of shoppers. She and her girlfriends from school had decided they needed to all have a say in what sort of clothes they all will wear this year at school. So, two of her girlfriends wanted to know if it was okay for them to stop by the mall to help Ade out with her shopping.

I thought that would make an interesting experience for me to watch them help select Ade’s clothes, and then I would have the final say on what got bought and what got left at the store. I have learned that you don’t stop a thirteen year old girl from meeting with her best friends at the mall to help her out of her misery of shopping, especially, if you are going to be standing right there with them. But it was my money they were going to be planning for. So, to make them feel like they really had some power there, I said, “Great,” and so we all met at the mall.

Instead of only two other girls, there were three and another parent who also had a kick out of the girls walking around the store, trying to make a difference in one another’s lives.

All of these twelve and thirteen year olds were very slander, tall, and well proportioned little girls who would fit easily into the fashion I have been describing. So they shouldn’t have had any problems with the fashion- right?

Wrong.

One of the girl assistants decided she wanted to try on a blouse, one of the blouses that makes your tummy bulge out as if you’re going to have a baby soon. But this pretty little girl, already over five foot tall should have looked like a queen in the thing if the new fashion was really meant to make us look really “cool,” but hey, the girls were all screaming right after my daughter’s friend tried on the thing.

The sweet little thirteen year old that was slander and beautiful, even better looking than Barbie looks on a good day. But she and her friends could not stand the look of the thing on her. “I can’t believe this,” she screamed, brushing the thing away from her. It made her look like there was more than her little beautiful frame under the blouse, and she did not like what she saw.

So how am I to like such a blouse on me when a sweet, little thirteen year old can’t? Hello, is anyone listening to us women?

Look at the women in Hollywood as they walk up and down the red carpet, posing for us to stare at our TV screens for them. Is anyone watching them? Do they look really great in those maternity dresses? If the fashion were meant for them, why aren’t they looking so great in them? Or maybe I’m wrong here, please correct me.

But someone needs to stop this madness, and give us back our clothes, give us back our chests, our sleeves, and our waistlines. I mean, I lost mine after my fourth baby turned five and I went over the hill like I was supposed to, don’t look at me. Something suddenly happened to my waistline, and who cares, I have a life, and that is all that matters. But if you think that I am going to slip into one of those maternity blouses or dresses to help my invisible waistline, you’re joking.

I am waiting until this fashion goes away, until this madness goes away and someone begins to make clothing meant for us women. I have no plans to wear a blouse with some kind of elastic band under my chest. Someone invented bras to do that part, so why create blouses to look like they can hold up a woman’s chest? And all that noodle strap fashion that everyone is wearing- you will never see me walking down the road with any of that. Sometimes I wonder if anyone is listening to us women any more.

(All material on this site is copyright material, and cannot be reproduced without written permission or compensation: copyright: Patricia Jabbeh Wesley)

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Meeting other poets from across the world was very fascinating

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Chirag Bangdel is both a poet and an artist from Nepal. Feel free to enjoy the connection between visual art and poetry from the paintings and poetry. Chirag was one of the handful of poets who spoke English fluently, therefore, I often found myself in a group with him and the other English speaking poets in the festival restaurant, in the lobby, etc. There were often several poets chattering in various langaguages, and soon, everyone found someone who could understand them without a translator. My African girlfriends spoke French all the time, but would slow down so I could hear them or would try to translate for me. So we could hang out together even though they spoke French and I spoke English.

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by Chirag Bangdel


Darkness
that unifies all.
Darkness
cold but just.
No shapes,
sizes
or colors.
An equal black.

Vain beauty
you are but for the light !

 

 

 

Born in 1971, Chirag Bangdel is a writer, painter and a poet. He is the author of “But to Dream” (published 1997) and “After Midnight” (published 2000). Chirag has contributed for a wide variety of magazines, papers and journals. He loves writing humor, healthy sarcasm and critical essays.

 

chirag2.jpgChirag is from Nepal. On July 16, at 6:30 p.m., I had the experience of reading with Chirag at the Club Comfenalco Guayabal, Auditorio. Calle in Medellin, during the Festival. There were the usual crowd even though this was at a more affluent, suburban location. Also reading with us that evening were Nicolás Suescún of Colombia and Víctor Rodríguez Núñez of Cuba. Victor was another wonderful poet whom I got to read with and talk to during the week. After the reading that evening, we were treated to Colombian delicacies and drinks purchased by an important personality in the Medellin community. He was very excited about the reading that evening, but unfortunately, all of his excitement had to be translated by someone else, losing the excitement in the process. We were fortunate to see the difference between how the gentleman expressed himself even as he spoke Spanish as he sat there between us poets and the translators’ interpretation. Without our translators, of course, we were completely lost.

The paintings above are two of Chirag’s handiwork he sent me via the internet from Nepal, with him standing in in front of the artwork. Chirag brought along some of his paintings, and so and a few of the other poets had the pleasure of buying a work of art from Nepal. I bought one of Chirag’s art pieces at a very discounted rate (thanks to Chirag). I now have my own Nepali artwork to hang up in my living room.

The Festival allowed us to meet poets from all over the globe and to see the power of the written word and how it has impacted people around the world even as they’ve survived the many experiences within their part of the world. I had never met anyone from Nepal before meeting Chirag. Soon after we all got back to our respective countries, Chirag wrote from Nepal to tell me that the poetry Festival was so wonderful, he wants to return to Colombia, and of course, he will be welcome, I’m sure, when he returns someday. In the meantime, he is stationed in Nepal where he teaches at a school owned and run by his mother and his family. He also runs a radio program out in Napal. He spoke so much about his wonderful mother throughout the Festival, I felt like I had already met her.

More of Chirag’s art work:

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Here we are on another day, relaxing after poetry reading.

Me and Colombian poet, Nicolás Suescún and his beautiful wife right after the July 21 reading at Casa Museo Fernando González. That evening, I had the honor of reading with all Latin American poets, Norberto Salinas of Costa Rica, Francisco de Asís Fernández of Nicaragua, another poet from Mexico, and of course, Nicolás Suescún of Colombia. Before and after the reading, we were served drinks and goodies and had a chance to interact with the crowd before the reading and after the usual autographing session, which was in itself another ceremony. On many nights after readings, we would autograph books, pieces of papers, or just anything people could find until our fingers hurt or at least until I was hurting. But it was wonderful to be a part of this experience.

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After the reading- more photos

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Koumealo (Togo), Fatou (Mali) Amed (Egypt) and Patricia (Liberia) , our panel at the closing ceremony. In the background are Fernando Redon (Festival Director and Founder), Chirag, and dozens of other poets and guests.

During the closing program on Sunday, July 22, people sat, stood, clapped, screamed, and listened for hours as one poet after the other read until the poetry reading drew out the rain and the lightning, the thunder and the umbrellas, plastic coats, pieces of boxes to cover the thousands who sat and sat and sat. Many were drenched wet, but continued to listen, some drawing closer under the eaves of the roof where we sat too, despite the thundering and the lightning. The photo above is evidence of the drenched wet hair of some of those who stood under the rain, still listening as the program that had begun at about 4:30 pm wound down past 10 pm that night.

The power of the written word is able to console, to heal, the bring strength to a weary people, and to bring about laughter even as it draws out the skies to wash down those who will not flee for shelter.

Let me conclude on a poem and another photo:

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Fatoumata of Mali, Papa Suso of Gambia, and Koumealo of Togo pose for a shot soon after the closing on July 22.

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This is a poetry reading, not a football match, you’re seeing right!

La tormenta (The Storm) —Spanish Version

By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

 

 

Me encorvé,

agachándome.

Di un paso al costado.

Gateé

como un cangrejo.

Caracoleando

me introduje

en una concha.

Me oculté, una sanguijuela

debajo de una hoja verde.

Dejé de hablar

dejé de respirar

dejé de reír.

Esperé

Que pasara la tormenta.

 

 

The Storm

 

I bent down,

stooping.

Stepped aside.

Crawled

like a crab.

Snailed

into a shell.

I hid, a leech

under a green leaf.

I quit talking

quit breathing

quit laughing.

I waited

for the storm to pass.

—END–


From Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, (New Issues Press Poetry and Prose,

2003)

This artwork of Chirag’s is similar to his artwork I bought at the festival:

 

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War Never Negotiates Peace or Human Rights… It Destroys it!!!

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TO EVERY WAR, THERE ARE NO WINNERS

Today I am sitting in my home here in Pennsylvania where the whether is most often tolerable. Suddenly, I feel like playing around the web, browsing for photos of Liberia. It is not unusual to feel homesick and begin to search for photos of what used to be, only to discover that those images are no more. The photos from Liberia are very painful, sad, a reminder that war is horrible, that what happened to us is happening to others right now somewhere in the world in Dafur, Sudan, in other parts of Africa, in Colombia, in Iraq, in Afghanistan , in Palestine, and all over the world where wars are raging continuously. And we go on with our little lives as if all is well, as if some women, children, old people, the ill and the elderly are not falling from bullet wounds, being massacred in whole families. Look here, I am not trying to make my readers feel guilty about the world’s problems, you hear me. I am not trying to be some dark angel out here, trying to dig up the world’s pain to pass around on slates of metal for everyone to have a bite of. No. I am here saying that we are all sitting here complaining about how hot the sun is or how bad the food we have to eat at our little restaurants is when the rest of human kind is suffering out there in our little wars.

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Now look at these shells. I recall walking on shells like these on ELWA Road in Monrovia when my family and I were fleeing the fighting soon after the horrific massacre of more than 700 Liberians by Samuel Doe’s soldiers in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on July 29, 1990. This was also a few days after Samuel Doe’s troops retaliated against Charles Taylor’s infamous Independence Day speech of July 26, 1990 by shelling ELWA Missionary compound on July 27, 1990. That shelling took place while twenty-five thousand refugees were taking shelter at the Mission that week. As we fled Congo Town on August 1, 1990, my family and thousands of other refugees, we came to discover that bullet and rocket shells, along with the decomposing bodies of fellow Liberians had taken over the streets that week.

Why am I bringing up all this, you’d ask? Why am I trying to get you or the world to remember these horrific things?

During one of my quests to dig up the Liberian civil war, I was on a research trip designed by myself to have Liberian women retell their stories for me on camera. That was a very difficult mission, of course. Many wanted to forget they had lost their whole families; many wanted to have nothing to do with me. Why bring it up now? Some asked.

I am not bringing up anything. I am trying to remind Liberians and the world that warlords and war criminals who engage in destroying nations around the world should not go unpunished simply because we believe it could have been us. Common, we need to help out the Sierra Leoneans who had the gust to stand up to a powerful warlord and ask him to pay for his cruelty to humanity. We cannot sit by and let Charles Taylor and all those who destroyed our past and our families and our children and have caused Liberia to continue to be a place of death to go on into newer governments and live on happily ever after.

Liberians like to forget, like to shove everything under the rug or underground, to pretend that everything is now okay, now that we have a sitting President and some of us are now in government, all is well. No, that’s not true. All’s not well yet. We need to talk about it, bring it up so that we can begin to heal, we need to know who can be brought to justice and who can be forgiven.

We sit here in the Diaspora, many of us, scattered around the globe, longing some day to really really go back home, after all has been damaged, we sit here and we sit as we’ve done forever, on the sideline as Sierra Leoneans bring our Liberain made warlord, Charles Taylor to trial. And I am told that there are Liberians in Liberia who still support Charles Taylor. We sit on the sideline as always, waiting for someone else to pick up our pieces, for someone else to clean up our mess. We do not like to rock the boat. We sit by and we say, “they got him-oh!” But we do nothing. We want to continue to live on others doing it for us, so we do not say anything.

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Look at this child killer/soldier. Before Liberia, was there anything like this in the world? After the war, many of these children are now men and women. Many are dying out. Every day the phone rings that a small cousin you left at home fifteen, sixteen, eighteen years ago was now in his thirties, but died suddenly from lack. There is lack of everything- lack of education, lack of jobs, lack of civil behavior, lack of health care, lack, caused by Taylor and all his warring friends and enemies.

Why am I bringing this up, my people, why, you’d like to ask if you are Liberian. “Oh, you girl, stop talking like that!” My cousin Ruth often says. We want to forget, but forgetting is wrong. We need to forgive, not forget. We must first learn to know who and why, we must know, and in knowing, learn to talk about it, so we can find healing. But those who need to pay with their money and with going to prison forever, should go to prison.

Charles Taylor has money that he gained from killing our families, our relatives, destroying our people, and we must make the Liberian government cease everything he owns, everything his wives own, everything his co-supporters own. This wealth belongs to our country. If Liberia can ask others to give us money, our President must make Charles Taylor give back what he has taken from our beloved Liberia.

“Oh, you girl, don’t do this-oh,” some of you will say. My auntie in Liberia would say, “Kpeh!” with her lips crushed in that Grebo fashion to indicate to me with her finger, “You’re getting to be too much, my daughter, stop it-oh.”

But I am not getting to be too much. Let us make an effort so no one will do what was done to our nation again. Just recently, we heard that some former Liberian officials familiar to all of us were attempting to overthrow the President of Liberia. If this is true, then it is indeed sad to hear.

Let me conclude with something beautiful for you: Every time I recall my participation in the 17 International Poetry Festival of Medellin, I am mesmerized with peace. The people of Colombia have fought a civil war that has become even more complicated after forty years of fighting. As I walked the streets of the city of Medellin, I was constantly reminded of the hundreds of thousands who had died in that country even as the city I was walking in went on. During the poetry readings, it was not unusual for someone to begin to weep quietly with hope that one day their war would end and their country would be united again as one country.

I connected to those beautiful hardworking people. I saw how fellow poets had not sat by the sideline, but by their pens, had made a difference in these good people. How is it a country can be at war for forty years, can have continuous killing of innocent people, and the people still have hope?

We can identify with war because we saw the anger and the evil and the capability of war- destruction. But now that the war is over, even we can make sure we are not foolishly counted among those who are believed to be supporters of those who killed hundreds of thousands of our people. When people say that Taylor has strong support in Liberia, we should all be very angry. No one, whether Taylor or another Liberian, who destroyed our country should find support in Liberia or among Liberians- no one, I say, no one!!!!!

Posted in Peace & Human Rights. Comments Off on War Never Negotiates Peace or Human Rights… It Destroys it!!!

Happy Birthday to My Brother, Norris Lester Tweah and Me

Our Birthday…But.. Congratulations to Mama:

 

How many times does one woman have babies on the same day? My mother, Mary Dahtedor Hne of Dolokeh, Maryland County, a tall, stout woman who became tanned over her sixty-three years as a mother of four children, a woman who struggled her entire life to put food on the table for her children, who nearly survived the fourteen year Liberian civil war, but died at the turn of the century, in 2000, just three years before the elimination of Charles Taylor’s terrible warfare, that woman, my mother, Mama, continues to live on in her children.

I cannot think of my birthday without thinking of Mama, the woman who gave birth to me in her teens, who dropped out of school instead of aborting me, and went on to have one more last child after the three of us siblings, Oretha Jama Pannoh, Samuel Doe Tweah, and me, the eldest. On my birthday in 1973, I looked on the road sitting on my father’s porch in Monrovia, expecting my mother to come to visit me as she usually did on my birthday. But Mama was at Maternity Center Medical hospital bringing Norris to life. I was upset, thinking that Mama had forgotten my birthday. What I did not know then as a teenager was that she was due to give birth to her last child.

So now, I have a birthmate, Norris, my youngest who lived with me as a child, ran away when I whipped him for being foolish, again lived with me as a teenager in the war, and again in Kalamazoo, MI as an adult when my husband and I brought him over to the US. Well, today, Mama, that strong, struggling woman is now dead and gone, and Norris has returned home to serve as a Scott Family Liberia Fellow at the Ministry of Information in Monrovia, Liberia.

Today, Norris called me from the Ministry of Information, singing “Happy Birthday to you,” as we often do, and of course, I repeated the song to him. Soon after, his minutes were done, and I had to hang up.

I am spending my birthday in Virginia, the hot, humid Virginia, moving up to 110 degrees, unlike the mild Pennsylvania. I am here with my family, away from everything alive and familiar. Birthdays are interesting. They remind us that we are indeed getting younger, wiser, sweeter, and ready for whatever life brings. I do not see myself as getting old or my husband as getting older. I see my children, however, getting old and wise, but still needing my help.

This morning, my thirteen year old daughter promised to fix me French toast and scrambled eggs. She ate the scrambled eggs before I got to my French toast. My seventeen year old son, Gee wanted to know during the morning traditional “Happy Birthday” family gathering, with Mlen-Too the MC, what he could do to celebrate my birthday. I asked Gee to do a portrait in pencil of me. Gee is a great artist, so I know he can draw me within an hour if he makes up his mind. MT, who is on his way to study in Ghana for a semester, is now twenty-one. He was still packing by 5 am at home in PA, and off, he was to depart in my absence. A mother is a mother still.. so says Samuel Taylor Coleridge, so I was worried. My eldest, Besie-Nyesuah is away in Wisconsin. She decided to get it over with as soon as possible, so she called me at 12:11 a.m, on the dot, and wished me “Happy Birthday, Mom,” and told me how dearly she loves me, and of course, I agreed. I was awakened by this call, you know, so I asked her, “why so soon?” She agreed it was too soon, but of course, in case I forgot, this was my birthday, August 7, and she wanted to be the first to wish me happy birthday.

Of all the well-wishers, my brother Samuel Butchu Doe Tweah’s call came in before 9 am, on his way to work, he remembered his sister. Samuel lives in Virginia. But there are my other siblings, my father’s children, the ones I grew up with, Patrice, our eldest brother, Korseh, Kwadi, Juway, Whyne, Chee, Mergetta, and the rest of them (don’t ask me), whom I love a lot. They often call, all the time. My brother Korseh will send me a text message, I’m sure, but my cell phone has been reprogrammed to not take text. I’m trying to stay alive longer, avoiding those heavy charges from text messages, I heard will be good for my health as I get younger.

KORSEH- who usually sends me text messages just called this minute as I am writing the blog. He wants to wish me happy birthday too, and that he misses me and loves me. He is the one next to me on my father’s side.

Birthdays are a great way of checking where we are, where we’re going, who’s in our life, why, and so forth. For me, my birthday can be a grim reminder of how long I have been away from Liberia, from home, from my many family, my siblings who have all become men and women in my absence, from my cousins and my nieces and nephews who have become men and women behind my back, from the landscape that fed me when I was a girl, from the Atlantic Ocean, from the Grebo people and their traditions, away from those long Grebo rituals, burial ceremonies, from my home village, remote and aged, from the old people with their tales of conquers, from life as it used to be.

But most of all, my birthday tells me that I am alive, happy, a living, breathing human being who still has a lot to do in this world, that I have time yet to make a difference, to help change the world, to help spread the news that wars are wrong and that peace is better. This is August 7, 2007, and I and my brother, Norris and all those who share this birthday with us have a reason to laugh because we are still alive!

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Norris Lester Tweah, my brother

Norris Tweah is a proud Liberian, who studied at the University of Liberia from 1995 until 1999. Norris has research interests in development-related areas as diverse as post-conflict accountability and reproductive health. He received the Howard Wolpe African Field Research Award and the Zoa D. Shilling Award (twice) from Western Michigan University’s political science department. In 2006 he returned to Liberia and worked briefly for the Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL). Currently, he is a member of the board of directors of Able and Willing, an international education foundation that builds schools in Congo- Kinshasa, and is chairing the organization’s exploratory initiative for a micro-finance project to benefit poor urban women in Monrovia. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and a Master of Development Administration from Western Michigan University.

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Philip Terman’s “Rabbis of the Air” from Autumn House Press is out

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Meditation on the Sabbath

By Philip Terman

 

I walk out beyond the dead

into an open field, the crescent

 

of the moon a thin outline

around its dark obscurity,

 

the silence summoning: Life is long.

Or did it whisper:

 

Life is longing, the final syllable

inaudible in the wind?

 

Whatever our sorrow—

a voice dispersed into the distance,

 

an image receding from its reflection—

it will accompany us forever.

 

Sometimes a grief is so large

we are unable to scale it

 

and we lose ourselves in our distractions—

leaves revolving in the restless air,

 

birds flocking towards their bodies’ demands,

the way we are commanded on this day to rest,

 

contemplate the silence, read the fiery books—

not even are we allowed to turn a light on,

 

nothing but the mystery and its ministers,

the settling garments of shadows,

 

the countless words the poets speak

as if the text were their lives

 

and time a river without banks.

And the names that surface

 

are flecks of light familiar with flesh—

who we were, who we become.

 

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Philip Terman’s books include The House of Sages, Book of the Unbroken Days and Rabbis of the Air. His poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including The Georgia Review, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, Tikkun, and Blood to Remember: American Poets Respond to the Holocaust. He is the recipient of the Sow’s Ear Chapbook Award, The Kenneth Patchen Prize, and the Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award for Poems on the Jewish Experience. He teaches creative writing and literature at Clarion University and co-directs the Chautauqua Writers’ Festival at the Chautauqua Institute. With his wife Christine and their daughters Mimi and Bella, he resides in a red-brick schoolhouse outside of Grove City, Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

 

Posted in My Poetry Friends. Comments Off on Philip Terman’s “Rabbis of the Air” from Autumn House Press is out

Reading at the International Poetry Festival on July 15, 2007

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The first “small” group reading in front of the public museum

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Monrovia, Revisited

by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

This is the city that killed my mother;
its crooked legs bent
from standing too long,
waiting so angry people can kill
themselves too.

No grass along street corners—
so many potholes from years of war.
Immigrants from all
over the globe used to come here
on tender feet,

in search of themselves.
Abandoned city—
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
nobody heard.

This is the city where I first learned
how to lose myself.
Windy city, blue ocean city.
They say a city on the hill
cannot be hid.

The city of salty winds, salty tears,
where stubborn people still hold
us hostage after Charles Taylor.
You should come here if you want
to know how sacred
pain can be

 

Monrovia revisitada (Monrovia Revisited)

`Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Esta es la ciudad que mató a mi madre;
sus largas piernas torcidas
de estar tanto tiempo de pie,
esperando que las personas furiosas
puedan también matarse a sí mismas.
Ya no hay hierba en las esquinas de las calles––
y tantos baches luego de muchos años de guerra.
Los inmigrantes de todo el mundo
solían venir aquí
sobre sus tiernos pies,
buscándose a sí mismos.
Ciudad abandonada––
un sitio que aprendió
a gritar su llanto a pesar de que
nadie lo escuchó.
Ésta es la ciudad donde por primera vez aprendí
cómo perderme a mí misma.
Ciudad ventosa, ciudad azul océano.
Dicen que una ciudad sobre una colina
no puede ser ocultada.
La ciudad de vientos salados, lágrimas saladas,
donde personas tercas todavía nos mantienen
como rehenes luego de que lo hiciera Charles Taylor.
Si quieres saber
cuán sagrado puede ser el dolor
deberías venir aquí.
–FIN–
Posted in About Poetry Festival, Poetry. Comments Off on Reading at the International Poetry Festival on July 15, 2007

Poems By My Friends Around the World

Beyond The Chaos (English)

By Kouméalo Anaté

I am
Wound gap-toothed burning
Fragments of life made into man
I am
Fragility pain and vacuity
Greedy, dried up like men
I am
Shout silence abyss
Silence of the sealed tomb
Sealed on the rape of my stolen life
On the wordless stench
On the secret of my honourable hangmen
On the hypocrisy the lie the violence
The shame the scandal the horror the nameless
I am chaos from behind my armour
Boiling roaring groaning silence
I am
And so I should be and still remain wordless for survival
And have all stay quiet for sake of life
Burning Rupture Rape Pain Stench
Fill out the emptiness with rubbish
With splinter from the whole world
With the splashes
Make anew with each stone from my jail
A musical polyphony from another world
From another time from another life
I am the misunderstanding
Mystery of a unique being
I am the genesis
I am the wonder
I am
And still alive

______________________________________________________________________________________

 

Au-delà du chaos (French)

By Kouméalo Anaté


Je suis
Blessure béance brûlure
Brisure de vie faite homme
Je suis
Fragilité douleur et vide
Avidité sécheresse de l’homme
Je suis
Cri silence abîme
Silence de tombe scellée
Sur le viol de ma vie volée
Sur la puanteur indicible
Du secret de mes bourreaux honorables
Sur l’hypocrisie le mensonge la violence
La honte le scandale l’horreur l’innommable
Je suis chaos derrière ma carapace
Bouillonnement rugissement gémissement silence
Je suis
Alors je veux être et taire pour survivre
Et faire taire pour vivre
Brûlure brisure viol douleur puanteur
Combler le vide avec toutes les immondices
Tous les éclats du monde avec toutes
Les éclaboussures
Recomposer avec chaque pierre de mon cachot
Une polyphonie musicale d’un autre monde
D’un autre temps d’une autre vie
Je suis l’incompréhension
Mystère d’un être unique
Je suis la germination
Je suis le miracle
Je suis ….
Et je vis
Posted in Uncategorized. Comments Off on Poems By My Friends Around the World

Friends Around the World

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Kouméalo Anaté (Togo) reading at the 17 International Poetry Festival of Medellin as Papa Suso, Fatoumata and I look on. Koumealo and I would like you to send me translations to the last two poems that are in French. Thanks

 

Seul…

By Kouméalo Anaté

Je plonge au fond de ce monde inconnu
Un abîme vide
Gouffre sans fond d’un grand tombeau avide
Rempli de vertige
Je dégringole vers l’infini grand
D’un monde méconnu
Sans soleil sans lune sans boussole
Rien de rassurant
Rien pour s’accrocher
Rien de déjà vu
Je m’aventure à la recherche
D’un moi étranger
D’un moi incompris
Bien jeune dans un corps bien torturé
Par un monde trop vieux et avili
Par trop de principes égoïstes
Par des hommes qui ne retrouvent plus
Leur ombre déchue.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Assassins

By Kouméalo Anaté

Des lames de mots
Des mots de pierre
Des balles de mots
Tranchent dans la chair
Des sentiments nus le sang
Coule à flot
Aujourd’hui
Demain
Hier
Pour toujours ?
La porte ouverte ne se ferme plus
Les mots deviennent monstres insatiables
Ils labourent frénétiquement la chair
Saignement incontrôlable
Aujourd’hui
Demain
Hier
Pour toujours ?
Graine de mots assassins pousse
S’enracine avec férocité telle une gangrène
Et prend en otage la vie
Aujourd’hui
Demain
Hier
Pour toujours ?
Non !
Jusqu’à la nouvelle lune
De pluie et de souffle de mots
Libérant le baume de mots
Balayant les balles de mots
Pour féconder la cicatrice
D’une source d’espérance
Aujourd’hui
Demain
Et pour toujours.
______________________________________________________________________________________

Dérobade

By Kouméalo Anaté

Longtemps j’ai vécu comme moine
Dans une prison imposée
Par ceux d’amour croyaient bien faire
Humble et docile
Convaincue d’un devoir céleste
Pendant ce temps ma vie étranglée
Parenthèse fermée entre murs blancs/
Noirs
Cherche aveuglement son souffle
Et dans un cri silencieux mon cœur
Révolté mendie le droit de vivre
Le droit de pleurer
Le droit de jouer
Le droit de mourir
De crier d’amour
De s’émerveiller
De désobéir
Longtemps j’ai oublié de vivre
Posted in My Poetry Friends. Comments Off on Friends Around the World

What is Peace?

What is Peace?

 

This is a universal question that came to me once more today. What is peace? What is freedom? Who is free and who is not free? Is the convicted prisoner any less free than any of us walking around? Are city dwellers more free, more at peace than people living in the country? Or are those in the country more free and more at peace? How does the idea of God or the power of God affect my peace, your peace, the feeling of peacefulness in your town, city, and how does your religion or faith affect your current state of peacefulness and freedom.

One of those days when I was in Colombia, I asked one of our escorts/translators/interpreters whether I could do something that day, can’t recall exactly. He looked at me and said, “this is a free country, you can, (Pa-trli-cia) in that Spanish sort of way, and I thought, I have heard this before- “This is a free country.” I laughed and said, “that’s what you say in America, not in Colombia; when was this also a free country?” And we all laughed at that.

“This is a free country,” we often tell ourselves. For many of my friends, America is the only free country in the world. So in Colombia I turned to my Colombian escort, and I said, “there’s no free country in the world, none,” and those around laughed once more.

What is freedom? What is peace?

This question often can be answered in a philosophical, poetic, romantic, religious way, depending on who is responding. The question came to me once more when I began to reflect on the bridge collapse in Minneapolis. How is it that we who depend so much on the power of bridges to hold us up when we drive on them or walk on them have been told now that those very bridges may no longer hold up our cars when we drive on them? How can we know peace when such a reality becomes a question to ponder when in the past, we did not need to think of such a question?

Often, many people don’t see the connection between spirituality and poetry, between a poet’s mind and the world of a poet’s words, between the power of the invisible and the person of a poem. Often, I find solace in that reality that behind all of the jargon of poetry and the power of the metaphor is a sweet calm that indeed, there is a God, and that God is real and is powerful and alive.

Whenever I forget, I only have to recall my own past to be reminded over and over that there is a God, and that if there is any sense of peace, it is the reality of that all stabilizing God. Sometimes, that reminder comes with simply stepping out on my deck in Duncansville, Pennsylvania, where my home sits on a steep cliff. From the deck, I see the clumps of small mountains rising one after the other, the Haze in the distance against the sky or at the twilight and the awesome landscape. I know certainly that none of this amazing beauty is accidental, and I know that the sense of peace that calms my very busy life is in no way accidental.

What is peace? What is freedom?

None of these two words is accidental. Freedom and peace are not in a sense of country.