Meeting the President
This is part I, which is really a pictorial reflection of my trip to Liberia. Some of you have asked for photos of my misdoings out there in my home country, so here are a cross section of photos. During my trip, I was privileged to be in the presence of many important people, and thought of myself as extremely blessed. Many of those I call important are the ordinary Liberian women who gave me the opportunity to tape record their war stories, which of course are beyond human imagination. The cruelty of Liberia’s war that was fought for fourteen years has no comparison, and the stories will break your heart. Those photos are not for this blog. I also met many government officials that were my former students from the University of Liberia, college day friends, etc. I also spent a lot of time with press people, including Mr. Kenneth Best and his staff at the Daily Observer (Liberia’s leading newspaper), giving many interviews, etc. I was privileged to visit with Dr. Amos Sawyer at his office, still the excited and vibrant scholar, my college day mentor and friend. Most of what I am today is because Amos inspired in me the desire to be a college professor and to excel. But my visit would not have been complete had I not had time to see the Liberian President, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. I was privileged to be on a panel with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf just one day before my departure. I got a call two days before, and was asked if I wanted to speak at the Liberian Government Forum on “Engaging Diaspora Liberians in the Reconstruction of Liberia,” and since I had no printer or anything to work with out there, I was given the choice of speaking from my perspective as a poet and researcher out there. To my delight, I was placed next to the President during the panel, and when I said something she liked, she would turn to me and encourage me with a touch or a nod. I felt validated because as a woman, I believe in what women can do and have done over the years in world history. I know that there are problems in her government, but I believe in what she is doing to bring our nation back on track.
Arriving in Liberia, here is my little sister, Margretta Eee-ee Jabbeh meeting me here at Roberts International Airport.
My brother, Norris Tweah poses for a quick shot before letting me into the city.
ARRIVING HOME IN LIBERIA-
I arrived in Liberia on July 14 after a ten day intensive poetry writing teaching experience in Accra, Ghana, where I was a poetry faculty with the Pan African Literary Forum’s Study Abroad program. Ghana was hot, but Liberia was a welcome relief as I braced for what I knew would be a hot and rainy stay. My brother, Norris Tweah, who is a Scott Family Scholar with the Ministry of Information was at the Roberts International Airport with my little sister, Margretta Jabbeh to meet me. We sped to drop off my luggage at Norris’ home, and then we were off to my father’s compound where my siblings and other family awaited my arrival for the Kola Nut greetings at the Jabbeh house. Below is the official Kola Nut greetings, the normal Grebo traditional kola nut ceremony after my long stay in the United States.
HERE IS A BRIEF OUTLINE OF MY VISIT TO LIBERIA:
The Kola Nut Welcome At My Father’s
Monrovia In Photos
Brief Photos of My Book Donation Project
A Moment at the Grebo Church
Brief Photos of the Diaspora Forum With President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Farewell and the Kola Nut Ceremony Send Off
Here is my 83 year-old father, laughing, happy to see me after eight years, and happy to have us gathered as a family after nearly twenty years during which most of the family were dispersed by the fifteen year old civil war. After the kola nut and spiced pepper Grebo greeting, then comes the drinks and speeches. Family members are cut out of this photo.
Here Is Monrovia, a city still on the edge between the meandering Mesurrado River and the Rolling Atlantic Ocean, the rocky hills between Crown Hill and Mamba Point. Up above are the ramnants of the E. J. Roye Building where we used to gather for the National Flag Day Oration when we were in grade school, and on the left above is the Centennial Memorial Pavalion after many years of bombings and shelling of the city. Below on Johnson Street, near the Johnson Street Bridge (not in the photo) where I stood to take the photo is Lbieria recovering. Life goes on in this triving city where the scars of war are not always visible, but the people remain strong as the government seeks to restore life to what it used to be.
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
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.
a place that learned
how to cry out loud even though
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.
My 20 day stay in Monrovia came with the usual July rainfall of heavy raindrops. Sunday, July 19, 2008 was such a rainy day, we had to wait just to get to church, and when we arrived at the church through puddles of flooding, no one was there. More than a thousand people were made homeless when their homes were destroyed by the flooding and the rain.
Dancing in Church at Bethel Temple Church of God in Christ on Sunday, July 27, 2008
Presentation at the University of Liberia- July 23, 2008
Presentation of five books to Cuttington University College at their downtown Monrovia office: From L-R are Dr. Alfred Armah, Visiting Professor and Vice President of Administration, Dr. Charles Mulbah, along with an administrator.
My 20 day visit to Liberia was filled with a pact schedule of rising at dawn for a trip to town to donate copies of my three poetry books to the various colleges and universities, visit with college administrators, press meetings, and research interviews with Liberian women. I conducted dozens of interviews with Liberian women in my on-going research on Liberian women’s trauma stories from the war. I returned home each evening, tired from the heat of the sun, from climbing up long stairways, interviewing, listening to, and weeping with women whose stories were too traumatizing for the ordinary mind. Here above is a photo where I was presenting thirteen books total of my three titles to Dr. Al Hasen Conteh, outgoing President of the University of Liberia. This was the first of many presentation to colleges and libraries. My gratitude goes to the following supporters of my dream to donate my books to Liberia: Autumn House Press, the publisher of “The River is Rising,” my third book in Pittsburgh, PA, and my publisher, Mr. Michael Simms who and his press raised 67 copies of “The River is Rising” and paid the excess charge to transport the books to Liberia; my thanks also goes to Penn State University’s Altoona campus, my employer that provided the monetary support for my trip to Liberia. I also contributed 75 copies of my first two books to make up the contribution from Autumn House Press. Below are a few photos from the project in Liberia.
Presentation of four books to the College of West Africa(CWA, a high school) my alma mata : Here is the Rev. Yatta Young, President of CWA receiving the books for use in the school’s library.
Presentation of books to the United Methodist University in Monrovia. Here Dr. Karblee receives the books while other adminstrators look on.
Posing for a photo after a wonderful meeting with top adminstrators of a university that sprang to life out of my alma mata.
Presentation of books to the Liberian Association of Writers (LAW) Library. LAW President, Mr. Michael Weah receives books for use in the library.
Signing of books to donate to AME Zion University in Monrovia
Presentation of books to A M E Zion University Officials in Monroivia, Liberia
Pictures from the Liberian Government Diaspora Engagement Stakeholders’ Consultative Forum
Friday, August 1, 2008, PA’s Ribhouse, Larkpazee, Sinkor
The President of Liberia, Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was part of the forum
Speaking at the Government forum
Robtel Pailey, Scott Family Fellow and organizer of the forum
Here is Liberia’s President, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sierleaf asking for her copy of “The River is Rising” after I had read the title poem during my presentation. She had already got the previous two books, she said, so I was signing a copy for her.
We pose for a last panelist photo- some members of the panel are left out of this shot. Here are from L-R, Me, President Sirleaf, Saa N Tow, and the Foreign Minister of Liberia, Olubanke King-Akerele in the far right.
Finally, the Kola Nut Farewell at my father’s house below: I depart the next day after this farewell ceremony and blessings. Family gathered at my father’s compound for the blessing.