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.