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!
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.