Looking Back on The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings in Saint Paul, MN- What A Solemn and Sad Experience It Was- War Is Horrible-Oh, My People!

WAR IS A TERRIBLE THING TO KNOW- WAR IS THE CRUELEST OF ALL HUMAN WICKEDNESS

Members of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Liberia:

THEY HAVE A SACRED CHARGE, A SACRED BURDEN, AND A SACRED RESPONSIBILITY TO CARRY OUR STORIES TO WHERE THEY NEED TO BE SO THAT JUSTICE IS RESTORED TO LIBERIANS AND LIBERIA.

I was among a few Liberian immigrants living in the Diaspora who were invited to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Hearings in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I was extended the invitation by The Advocates for Human Rights based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. At first, I did not feel like flying all the way from Pennsylvania to Saint Paul to tell the story of what I saw in that bloody Liberian civil war. I did not want to relive my story, to speak to the tortures my family and I experienced, to talk about the many near death experiences we underwent as a group or the personal tortures I experienced. I felt that my story had already been told by others or by myself, in my own writing and speeches, but something made me to take the ticket offered me by the Advocates, to fly out there and be with fellow Liberians who had their stories to tell. After all, I had a connection to this state and to those who had extended the invitation to me. Two years ago, I spent a week in Minneapolis also taking statements for my own research on Liberian women’s trauma stories, and I am on my way to Africa to collect more statements. So, I needed to go. I then packed up my bags, being an avid traveler, I boarded a plane in Pittsburgh, and flew to the Twin City.

The hearings began on the 10th of June, a day after the opening ceremony. I was too busy to be there the whole time, so I made plans on arriving two days later.

I arrived on the 12th, the hot midwestern sun glaring in my eyes as my escort picked me up from the airport. She was a young Russian immigrant who had volunteered like dozens of others in the area to help facilitate this beautiful and sad gathering of these Liberians who had been driven from their own homelands by their own brothers and sisters.

I was to live with Aviva, the President of the Advocates for Human Rights Board of Directors. She was an angel to live with, a grandmother and mother of four. But the matter at hand was going to be a tough one for all of us, I quickly realized.

By 4 pm, I was sitting in the huge auditorium at Hamline University where eight commissioners from my country sat as if in a court room, listening to one story after the other. They had been appointed to hear the sad and horrific stories of the bloody years of our nation, and anyone could see that the stories had taken something out of them.

There they sat, in a long row, listening to ugly stories of massacres, of rapes, of babies being smashed against the walls, of pregnant women who were split open to speed them to their deaths, of starvation of both the once rich and the poor, listening to both the perpetrators of the human rights abuses as well as to the victims, some of us still weeping after all these years. It was not long when I too, began to weep in the audience. The stories were too overwhelming, too fresh even after these many years, too familiar, too hard to racall, and too far away from the places where these horrific things had happened to us.

This was indeed, historical. We were here. But many more Liberians should have been here to hear their own stories, to support those whose stories were too heavy to carry alone. The auditorium was filled, especially, in the noon hours, but there were still seats available. We needed to fill the room, but we did not. The Truth Commission of Liberia was here in the US to hear the stories of human rights abuses and torture for the first time. The Advocates for Human Rights in Minnesota had done us a great favor of giving those of us so far way from home a voice just as others in Liberia who had their chance of telling.

Where was the world when these things were happening to us? Where was the world when we were being tortured? Where were the cameras, the sympathizers, the world? These are questions that kept coming back to me as I sat and listened. Fortunately, the hidden stories were coming out for the first time today, I thought.

But the stories continued. The commissioners were all Liberians, familiar, eight of them, their Liberian accent coming alive with questions. They probed and probed both the victims and the perpetrators. They sympathized with everyone. After all, even the perpetrators had their own sad stories. i was there when the former Advisor to Liberia’s President, Samuel Doe, Mr. Bai Gbala testified. I was angry when he did because he was jesting and teasing, mocking us for all we had suffered, and distorted all of the historical events we had lived. He had not changed even after all the years and the blood shed. He was not sorry at all that so many of our people had died, and when the commissioners questioned him, he was not remorseful. I was left with the feelings that this would not be a serious occasion, but then, the questions got harder. I was especially proud of Councilor Pearle Brown-Bull who drilled the questions in for Mr. Gbala. He was the advisor during the years that President Samuel Doe massacred so many Liberians, but Mr. Gbala claimed that he did not see any of the killings and that he does not remember Mr. Doe doing any evil during his years advising the President.

The room was often tense. People were either too sad or two angry as the testimonies came and the statement givers departed for more horrific telling to continue. The commissioners took their turns every now and then, leaving the room for a quick break. They seemed to be so sad up there, sometimes, almost weepy. I pitied all of them. How could any group of people just sit there and listen to all of these mind troubling stories? How had they survived traveling through all of our counties, listening to such horrifying details of massacres, of the burial of people alive, of the dumping of whole truck loads of people into rivers, the burning down of whole towns? How had all of this happened without the world stopping this in what we call a civilized world? How had the world sat by and allowed our people to die so violently?

As I sat there the next day, listening to more stories, gathering my own strength for the moment when I too, would be on the stand to tell my story, I remembered how as refugees during the war, we had asked the same questions we are still asking today. How had this happened to us?

That day of my sharing my own story was one of the most solemn of all the days, someone told me. There were way too many heavy stories to tell that day. Marie V, a lady I had interviewed two years earlier took the stand before me. She testified and then another lady who had seen so many tortured to their deaths, seen a major massacre in Harbel, took the stand before I took the stand. But when Marie was speaking, I broke down and left the hall. I had interviewed Marie and knew her story very well. She had been raped, tied up to die, tortured in so many ways, and yet she was strong, as two years earlier, strong and brave, her voice sharp and clear, and her tears controlled. It was the audience that wept. But when she was done, then the tears came down.

Another time that I left the room was the morning of the 13th. A young Muslim man whose family was killed by rebels, Ali Sylla, took the stand. At first, I told myself that I would not leave the room, that i would not weep this time. And then he said something about losing his siblings during the rebel take over, soon after his father and two brothers had been executed. “When I came back, my siblings were not there,” he said, and even he was weeping just saying that. I could not help myself then. I broke down, and left the room.

In the afternoon, soon after the break, I came on. I followed the young woman who had such a brave story, such a brave story. She must have been so young when she experienced the brutality she was now recounting. I came on, knowing that i would not tell my whole story. I felt that my story could not be told on that stage, could not be spilled out yet. I felt that I would summarize my own sad story, would talk about how the torture of women affected me in the refugee camps, how the use of children as soldiers affected me, and how I lost some of my family. I gave two stories that continue to haunt me, the story of my brother’s execution and another story. I broke down a few times as I told my story. I could not tell all. I was not such a brave person. One is taken back into the war just by reliving the story, and yet, one gains a sense of control and power just to recall the names of the horrible murderers who killed our people.

WAR IS A TERRIBLE THING TO LIVE WITH EVEN AFTER IT HAS ENDED- WAR IS A TERRIBLE REALITY TO FORGET!

Counselors and lawyers were on hand to assist anyone who needed them. The Advocates for Human Rights had set up everything to perfection, with security for everyone, privacy for those who needed to testify in seclusion, courtroom recorders on hand, typing away for hours, camera men and women zooming in, and the stories heartbreaking. Each day, I would drive home with Aviva with a deep cry buried inside of me. I came away from each meeting as though I had been to a Grebo Mat or a Grebo burial ritual. One was in the sad zone just sitting through one recounting of the experience. Had I not experienced the war for myself, I may have used some of the Psychiatrists on call. But I laughed with tears in my eyes as the social worker tried to tell me how much help she could give me if I needed help.

I had carried the stories inside of me for nearly twenty years. Yes, I had cried over the years, and I promised her that I would cry again over and over. But I know that telling the stories gives life to those who died senselessly. When one of the women concluded her session by asking the commissioners to explain to her “if your son has a car and gives it to a driver to operate, and that driver crashes the car and people die as a result, do you think that it is right to kill the owner of the car just because it is his car,” I knew that she had done what the perpetrators of our war said would never happen for such a woman. She had lost her only son to execution by Charles Taylor’s rebels simply because his car had been crashed by a driver. Taylor’s rebels decided they would kill the owner of the car who was not even present when the accident occurred. His mother who did not speak any English, speaking in her native language interpreted by another man, looked squarely at the commissioners and asked more than once, “Would you order the killing of such a young man just because he owned the car that crashed?”

This was certainly one of the most enriching, most solemn, most worthy, and most necessary experiences of my life. I felt validated just as many of my friends. My friend, Doris Parker and I had time to weep together and console each other. You can know someone for years, and never cry with them because you are all too hard to just sit and weep over the killing of your families or over the torture of your families. But when Doris told her sibling’s story, one could not help but feel the pain.

All of the commissioners, including John Stewart, who went to college with me, are some of the bravest in our world today. I admire them, and applaud them. My favorite among them is Pearle Brown-Bull, a strong and outspoken woman, who is not afraid to ask the tough questions. All of the commissioners are wonderful, but each brings something special to the table. Some are lawyers, others like Massa Washington, are journalists. Each of them has a unique way of drawing answers from the person on the stand.

After I had testified and was in the waiting room, one of the cameramen came to me and said that he had observed every one of the proceedings from the first day, and that during my time on stage was the only time he saw Councilor Brown-Bull connect in a warm way to anyone. He thought that i was lucky to find her bonding with me. He was there when the Commissioner gave me a note with her contact information, and was of course warm towards me and my tears, something this journalist noticed. Councilor Brown-Bull of course is the kind of strong woman that I admire, and so it was only my honor that she too admired me in my tearful moment.

All of the testimonies were webstreamed and should be available via internet very soon if not already.

The hearings in Minnesota will go down into history as one of the best experiences any group of immigrants can recall. I wish all of you had been there when the stories were told.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commision (TRC) of Liberia is Here in the US—Finally, Liberians In The Diaspora Get to Tell Their Own Stories of Massacres, Rape, Torture and All Sorts of Human Rights Abuses From the Liberian Civil War- Thanks to God The Truth Will Come Out Even As We Try to Move On

The Liberian Flag

For the first time, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (TRC) is visiting the US to take statements from Liberians in the Diaspora: come to Saint Paul, Minnesota to hear stories from the Liberian Civil War, including stories about Massacres, Rape, Torture, and all sorts of Human Rights abuses against citizens during the 14 year civil war. Hosted by Advocates For Human Rights, Statement taking runs from June 10-14, 2008, with Liberians and Liberian leadership in the Diaspora traveling to the Twin Cities to hear and give their own testimonies

There are many points of views about Liberians reliving the traumatic experiences of that bloody civil war, about recalling the extreme violence we were subjected to, recalling rapes and murders, executions that we saw, about recalling watching whole families slashed up, about the babies that were smashed against the walls, hundreds dumped in rivers, about bringing back to life the massacres of hundreds in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, massacres in Firestone, whole truck loads of innocent civilians that were dumped in rivers or buried alive, bombs being used to raid neighborhoods, killing innocent civilians, recalling how many fathers or mothers were forced to select members of their own families to be executed before them. Some people believe that if we forget about these things and pretend we have forgiven, then the pain will go away, then the anger will also go away, then we can move on and rebuild our country and just “let bygones be bygones.”

But that is not true at all. Many of us have been in exile for nearly twenty years, and yet we remember. We cannot forget that we saw these sorts of human rights abuses, no, we cannot forget. Many of us who still speak of this carnage against our people have long forgiven the perpetrators, but we do not want to forget that our people died and that they were killed for no reason, and we do not want to forget that because we remember how they were killed, hundreds of thousands of innocent babies, old people, women and men were killed, maybe, maybe we will remember never to ever let this happen again.

What sort of civilized world allows the violence that happened in Liberia to happen to a people on our globe? What kind of world will want to “let bygones be bygones” when innocent babies were smashed against walls, were dumped after the killing of their mothers, what sort of people would like to forget that they saw these things happen, will not want to record these things so that generations of other Liberians coming to live on our soil will never fight such an ugly war again? Let us never forget even as we forgive.

I support the Advocates for Human Rights’ hosting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in the US to listen to fellow Liberians tell their stories. I know that I have benefited from telling my own story about all the torture I went through and all the torture of other Liberians that I witnessed. I have learned to stop crying, to laugh again, to move on, to raise my children simply because many people helped me articulate my story by encouraging me to tell it, to write it, to speak about it. I would not be who I am today if I had not been given the opportunity to tell my story. And many good scholars, fellow poets, Church leaders, colleagues across America have listened to my story, have wept with me, and have given me a chance to move on only after I had told my story.


Telling your story empowers you in a way unimaginable. Imagine you, who used to be the lonely, destitute refugee somewhere in a bleak camp or displaced center, the one who was told that you wouldn’t live to tell your story, that you would die, and now you are still alive after all these years. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you can leave a mark somewhere by telling the world that this evil happened to you, that all the life you knew was taken from you, but after all of that, you went on to live again, to laugh again, to learn how to cry in small bits over the years, and to dry those tears, imagine the power of being alive. Now go on, tell your story. Don’t let those who took your life from you tell you not to tell your story. It only frees your heart, empties it of the pain even if that emptying is in little bits, go on, let someone know that you still hurt even though you laugh sometime. Life is too short to be buried alive.

Let Liberians go to Minnesota and tell their stories, listen to the stories of the country they call home, and if they have to cry, let them cry.

Maybe the former child soldiers who were also victims will also hear and learn like all of us, never ever to let war happen again. Yes, Charles Taylor is being tried today, but what will happen if we allow our stories to go unheard?

Tell your story and get it off your chest. Tell it to someone even if you cannot tell it to the Truth Commission. We do not know whether anyone will take any responsibility for the sort of evil that we saw in Liberia, but we know that we can move on when the pain is lifted off our chests.

Links:

http://www.mnadvocates.org/First_Ever_Truth_and_Reconciliation_Commission_Public_Hearings_in_U_S_Held_in_St_Paul.html

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2008/06/06/liberia/

BARACK OBAMA WINS THE DEMONCRACTIC PARTY NOMINATION- WHAT A DAY TO BE ALIVE & IN AMERICA- EVERY NOW AND THEN, GOD BRINGS A HERO!!!



America the Beautiful

Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward
MIDI sequencing provided by Melody Lane

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!

O beautiful for pilgrims feet,
Whose stem impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till paths be wrought through
wilds of thought
By pilgrim foot and knee!

O beautiful for glory-tale
Of liberating strife
When once and twice,
for man’s avail
Men lavished precious life!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till selfish gain no longer stain
The banner of the free!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
Till nobler men keep once again
Thy whiter jubilee!

<BGSOUND LOOP=”-1″ SRC=”/midi/america.mid”>


The Negro Speaks of Rivers
By Langston Hughes

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

Sympathy

I know what the caged bird feels.
Ah me, when the sun is bright on the upland slopes,
when the wind blows soft through the springing grass
and the river floats like a sheet of glass,
when the first bird sings and the first bud ops,
and the faint perfume from its chalice steals.
I know what the caged bird feels.

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
till its blood is red on the cruel bars,
for he must fly back to his perch and cling
when he fain would be on the bow aswing.
And the blood still throbs in the old, old scars
and they pulse again with a keener sting.
I know why he beats his wing.

I know why the caged bird sings.
Ah, me, when its wings are bruised and its bosom sore.
It beats its bars and would be free.
It’s not a carol of joy or glee,
but a prayer that it sends from its heart’s deep core,
a plea that upward to heaven it flings.
I know why the caged bird sings.

Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

(Black American poet)

Langston Hughes – The Negro Speaks Of Rivers
I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
Posted in All About Liberia & the Diaspora, Announcements & Upcoming Events, Immigrant, Peace & Human Rights. Comments Off on BARACK OBAMA WINS THE DEMONCRACTIC PARTY NOMINATION- WHAT A DAY TO BE ALIVE & IN AMERICA- EVERY NOW AND THEN, GOD BRINGS A HERO!!!