As we awaited the arrival of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf at the Liberian government Diaspora Engagement Forum on the reconstruction of Liberia, my brother, Wyne Jabbeh who was my cameraman took this photo below. Even though I never saw the crowd captured below, this huge group of children from the neighborhood, assembled for the President. They had come out of their lowly homes to adore their leader, Ms. Sirleaf. Here they are, hoping that she will give back what the war took away or what 150 years of failed LIberian leadership did not give their fathers until the war. But will they ever see a day of the reconstruction we had gathered to talk about?
There are great things happening in Liberia, but hey, there are sad things, problems beyond any imagination, but there is cause to hope, and during my stay, I kept pinching myself to remember to hope.
What has the war brought us? What has the long list of leaders during and after Charles Taylor brought Liberia? What has Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government brought us? What has the long list of leaders, moved around and replaced these last three years brought the poor Liberian people? What is there for the children who roam the streets each day with no schools, no medical care, no future, no homes, no hope of the future?
I went to visit my Auntie Mildred, my father’s sister, Tugbade, who has always been poor, struggling woman because when she was young, girl education was not important. So my father was given an education while my Aunties were married off early. She is one of those whose status remained the same with the war. While my husband and I were visiting her in the swamp area of Shanty town Clara Town where she has always lived, my always happy Auntie said what I never thought she knew. She said to me, “Marie, my daughter, here I am, your Auntie who is the poorest among the Jabbeh family on earth.” In her home, partially in the midst of the everlasting flooding of Clara Town, a bunch of half naked children came from the corner of her large home, and wanted me to take their photos. I knew that I would be haunted by these images, images of the new after war Liberia, of crowds of children whose eyes haunt you long after you’ve met them. The new reality of the Liberia not seen from the high SUVs of the UN workers. The Liberia that may not wait for the future, the one my heart refuses to forget as much as I try to forget hem. Here are these children.
Meet the other Liberia we do not see any more:
The Ghanain author and novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah’s novel, The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born is a brutal novel filled with anger about the political corruption, not just of his homeland, but about Africa as a whole. It is one of those novels filled with the poetic, metaphoric images and symbols of garbage, decay, slime, an angry novel about the disillusionment of the African with his own African leadership after colonialism. As I walked the streets of Monrovia and watched the helplessness of our people, the extremity of the new poverty, the after war poeverty in which even the once rich are so poor, they cannot feed their children, I could not help but feel like I was living in the novel that this great African writer wrote. You will cry from just watching the helplessness in the eyes of our people, watching the speeding UN vechicles with the rich UN workers, the newly rich Liberians, very few, but here they are, driving up and down admist the sad reality of millions who now have nothing. I am still recovering from this reality. But is this only the war’s doing? Should I be talking about this?
Who would I be not to notice this sort of contradiction? Of course, it is difficult to rebuild a country after war. Of course, many of the Liberian people out there who cannot feed themselves could help themselves by getting back into the countryside and doing something for themselves. Of course, Liberian women and men could get some discipline and stop running around having unwanted babies, settle down to some family life. Of course, we need to stop complaining and do something about our people at home.
This is Waterside Market place, always the crazy, crowded busy place it has always been. Now, it is worse than before.
But I still wondered about the need to rebuild schools as a priority. I was speaking to a UN worker from the Demoncratic Republic of Congo, a worker who told me that he had been in LIberia for about two years working in the only 200 bed pediatric hospital in the entire country. He was more disillusioned than myself. He was saddened that he had lived in a country with so much and yet so little, where the overwhelming problems of the country could not be tackled by what he had seen, and was fearful of the lack of direction. I felt a bit sad that he was saying this when as far as I could see, it was the non-governmental groups, the UN workers, and foreign nationals that are enjoying our country in the midst of the poverty that so disgusted him. How could he dare talk about my country like that when it was they who had increased the price of hotels, of food, of gasoline, of everything with their foreign money, big salaries, and nice living?
Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am right. This piece of posting is just one of the dozens of posts I hope to write before I finally rid myself of the anger and the hurt from seeing what has happened to Liberia. I believe that the problem is not just the war. The extreme poverty, the lack of good medical facilities, the lack of any schools, the hopelessness among young people, the death, death, death of young men and women, the high arm robbery, and all of the filth that so reminds me of the famous African novelist from Ghana’s portrayal of corruption is due also to the leadership, the lack of vision among many of the countries officials, the fear of those of us in the Diaspora, those who may take away their jobs is what’s slowing the progress, if there were to be any.
I am saddened and angry, but I am not disillusioned. Maybe because I still believe that something good will happen for Liberia. There has been too much blood shed, too much of everything is at stake. There must be some mercy from God from this country that lost its way and is still trying to find itself. There will come a day when the beautiful ones will be born.
Here in this photo, are students being taught simple skills in sewing and cooking. My sister-in-law, Annie Wesley Sie, a home economist is a teacher here. I was at the school to find women for my research interviews, but I had barely been introduced when the principal of the school requested I do a quick session of motivational speech to encourage the girls. Many young women with no hope of the future have resulted to having babies, chasing stupid men, and just wasting their lives. These girls have decided to get some kind of training. Maybe they will become something tomorrow. Maybe they will.