Liberia’s Two Edge-Sword: The Ebola Virus that Kills the Ebola Patient While Turning Away Other Patients for Fear of the Ebola Virus

Patricia Jabbeh WesleyThe Liberian Government Must Create an Adequate Center to Fight Ebola, Declare a State of Emergency, Adequately Educate the Citizenry and Medical Practitioners on The Deadly Virus, and Stop Medical Care Givers in the Nation’s Hospitals from Turning Away Desperate Patients Inflicted by the Virus or Other Illnesses.

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The Ebola Virus that is overtaking Liberia today is a two edge sword, and until the Liberian President, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf slows down and directs her undivided attention and enough resources to this deadly epidemic, it may overwhelm her and the already desperate and poverty stricken Liberian people. Every Liberian everywhere should pay close attention now, and call on the government to do all it can to stop this epidemic from spreading; every Liberian everywhere should pay close attention now. When Dr. Samuel Brisbane,the Chief Medical Officer of the largest medical hospital in Liberia, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia,  can be killed by Ebola, it says a lot about the country and its leadership. Why is this virus killing so many of the caregivers, very important medical practitioners as well as the ordinary people? When is the government going to designate a special center for the care of our desperate Liberian people who are inflicted by the disease? Why isn’t there a major center yet, a center, controlled by the Liberian Health Ministry where patients suspected of the disease can be taken?

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Small, Unprepared Hospitals Struggle to Handle A National Epidemic: Why? Are Nearly 200 People Dead Not Enough Yet?

images3images2The Ebola Virus, which is now recorded as the worst case ever, and has already killed more than a thousand in the West African region; it began in Guinea in February of this year, and moved on to the capital of Conakry, the capital of Guinea. The virus continued to spread to other countries like Sierra Leone, and by April, it reached Liberia through the Loffa County (northern Liberia) bordering towns with Guinea. The virus would have been contained had the government acted quickly, but soon, the virus reached Monrovia, and has now spread to other counties. But is Monrovia or Liberia, for that matter, the sort of place such a virus can be stopped easily? No. The Ebola virus in a place like Monrovia, a city overwhelmed by most of the nation’s population since the end of the war, is not a place where such a virus can be stopped unless the government with the help of the international community, devotes all its efforts to stopping this deadly disease. It may be too late soon, Liberians.

622x350“In this 2014 photo provided by the Samaritan’s Purse aid organization, Dr. Kent Bentlyly, left, treats an Ebola patient at the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the North Carolina-based aid organization said Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia.” __FOX News

Dr. Kent Bently, a US Fort Worth doctor, working with a humanitarian organization in Liberia is now infected with the virus. Dr. Samuel Brisbane, JFK Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer and numerous other nurses, caregivers, hospital workers, and others who are the first contacts with Ebola patients might have perished.  We do not need more people to die before there is a serious call to action, a serious statement calling on everyone to quit running from patients or hiding patients infected by the disease. There needs to be more to end this epidemic.

THE TWO EDGE SWORD DILEMMA: What is it?

The Liberian population which now mostly live in Monrovia due to the difficult economic problems, the lack of roads to interior counties, the lack of schools, hospitals, supply of goods or even an adequate means of transportation from the interior counties to the capital city are caught in this new web of a strange disease and ignorance of the disease. Where there were already a very limited access to good medicine or medical centers or adequate hygiene due to the lack of running water to most of the city, the populace now has no where to turn for any and all illnesses they’re inflicted with.

When your relative gets ill with malaria or when a woman is about to give birth, when someone has pneumonia or typhoid or any other major or simple illness, they have no place to go. Many have died at the doors of the J.F. K Hospital and other medical centers after being turned away by nurses who believe that every case coming to them is an Ebola case. Even pregnant women have died in labor due to this ignorance. But can we blame the medical practitioners who have been the first victims of the deadly disease? Maybe we can. Maybe we should not only blame their ignorance for turning away desperately ill people, but we should also blame the government for not establishing one major Ebola unit so patients with no symptoms of Ebola can have a place to go with their illnesses. How sad!

A CALL TO ACTION IS NECESSARY:

I believe that all Liberians, whether at home or abroad should work together to assist in ending this deadly epidemic. Whether this action is to help your own family members in Liberia understand the need to be careful, the need to report all suspected cases, the need to treat themselves with malaria medications in order to eliminate all confusion about what it is someone has or whether Liberians at home can petition their legislators to quit campaigning and talking politics to prevail on their government they lead to take drastic action and provide the resources needed to combat the disease, there needs to be some action. This is the time for real and true leadership. A nation’s leaders must first care about their people and put them first before themselves.

Liberians living in Liberia must also help themselves by changing heir usual habits, by promoting good hygiene, by ending promiscuity  or sleeping around with every man or woman they can sleep with, stop raping little girls, stop using your bodies for money since the virus is spread through contact with the body fluid of an infected person. The Ebola virus is contagious when the patient is seriously ill, and that patient of course, dies within a few days of being infected by the disease. Maybe this change of habit, of the change in illicit sex practices will help curtail the disease. The government might build a major center, might provide the resources Liberians need, might help teach through public education, how Liberians can combat the disease, but it will take each and every individual to change their old ways of life, and to be honest and not put others at risk when one has the disease. Liberia, my heart bleeds for you, and I call on the Liberian leadership and President Sirleaf to do all she can to help bring relief to our desperate people. We have already lost too many people in the past two decades.

It is not enough to stop shaking hands, my people. Liberians must understand that Ebola can wipe out the best of its population too fast too soon. It is almost too late!!!!

 

 

 

 

 

The Next Big Thing Jan. 9, 2013

1052I’ve been tagged by the very interesting Hong Kong Born Poet, author of Summer Cicadas and Chinese translator, Jennifer Wong to do an interview for an expanding blog called, “The Next Big Thing.” You can read her interview at Jennifer Wong.

The idea is that I tag other writers to do the same on January 16, 2013. I accepted the invitation because it connects so many of us writers across the continents. For example, Jennifer is in London, some of the other writers she tagged  are in Eastern Europe, I, in America, and on and on, writers are joining in from wherever they live to participate in “The Next Big Thing,”  answering the same questions about their work. Now, the interview:

TNBT:    Where did the idea come from for the book?

FlagPatricia:   The ideas for my books usually come from my life. I write about everything that happens to me, particularly, things that impress themselves on my life. The ideas for my first book mostly came out of my Liberian civil war experience, the trauma of watching my country, destroyed. As a poet, I witnessed something profoundly inhumane about the war that ravaged Liberia for fourteen years, even though I lived through only two of those war years. I wanted to bring to life the stories of my people who suffered in the war and those who did not survive the carnage of such a bloody war. My first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998) was birthed out of those deeply felt feelings. My other books, Becoming Ebony, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003) also came out of the idea of being a survivor, a woman, a mother, and an African, living in America. The other two books, The River is Rising, (Autumn House Press, 2007) and Where the Road Turns (Autumn House, 2010) also came from such ideas of living, being alive, being a mother, and being an African caught in one of the wars of the 21st Century.

113TNBT: What genre does your book fall under?
Patricia: Poetry

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I would very much love to see Woopi Goldberg play my mother in a movie rendition of one of my many poems about my mother’s life and death. Having lost my mother to an early death in 2000, when she was only 63, I have written so many poems celebrating her life and her death. But mostly, I’d like Woopi because she is as funny as my hilariously happy mother was. Another actor I’d like to play a part in any movie on my poetry would be Chuck Norris. But this time, he’d be playing the part of the Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, and he will not rescue anyone. Chuck Norris would be the villain. Another poem I have in my newest book is “The People Walking In Darkness: A Song for Barack Obama.” I would like for the American movie star, Morgan Freeman to play Barack Obama from my poem.

 

TNBT:  What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Patricia: A synopsis would be that “My Poetry that seeks to rearrange the broken places of the world so there is some evenness for everyone’s feet  to walk.”

TNBT: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Patricia: It depends. Most of my books took a few years to begin writing until publishing. The last book took me just less than two years to write, and another year to get published. A book of poems is written differently than prose, however. A book of poetry usually depends on the inspiration and the things happening around me. I can write a poem anywhere. I am working on a memoir now, almost ready, with three drafts done, but it took many years to even begin, to continue, and to get to this point.

TNBT: Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Patricia: Everything and everyone. I am a very keen observer of everything and I am moved both by humor and by pain. So, I could write a poem that is crazily funny because I am a very humorous person, and can find laughter even in the most painful situation. I am often moved by the pain that affects the world. About the who, I’d say I’ve been mostly influenced in my work by my mother, my father and my children. I guess being in a family is significant to my life as a writer.

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TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Patricia:  The fact that I write contemporary African and Diaspora African poetry and that I explore the human experience of the 21st century wars will interest readers. I believe that I have a voice that reaches many where they need to be reached, and that that voice is making a difference in those who follow what it is I’m doing.


Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Patricia: All of my books were published by university or independent presses in the United States; so, hopefully, my next book of poetry, which is nearly done, as well as my memoir will be published by a notable publisher. My memoir, when it is ready, will be published by a publisher.

The Writers I will be tagging include:

Althea Mark, Caribbean American poet, living and writing in Switzerland

Armenian American Poet, Lola Koundakjian (Լօլա Գունտաքճեան)

Liberian Born Writer, Nvasekie Konneh

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How Important is Electing Barack Obama this November? VERY: African & Other Immigrants- There is a Clear Choice Between Obama & Mitt Romney.

There is a Clear Choice: Obama is for you, who are often left out of mainstream America. Remember that.

How  important is electing President Barack Obama to you this November?  If you are an immigrant, particularly, an African Immigrant, you can no longer stay home, be silent, pretend this is not your country or let others vote for ‘their’ President. You need to claim the promised land that you have entered, and make a difference for the world. This election is the most important election, even more so, than the 2008 elections. President Obama and the Democratic Party are facing a great challenge this year because there is a clear choice. Your life will never be the same if Mitt Romney is elected as President of the United States. Get out your tennis shoes, talk to your children, talk to your neighbors, volunteer, and vote, like your life depends on it.

Don’t Let Obama Fight this Battle Alone- Join Before It is Too Late

VOLUNTEERING: Do you have to be a citizen to vote? Yes. You have to be. But, do you have to be a citizen to volunteer, to give your money to help Barack Obama get elected or to campaign with the phone bank or go door to door? NO. All you have to be is a legal resident of the US to volunteer. To vote, you have to be a registered voter, so get on with it, if you have not yet done so. Many other states have ended their voter registration, however.

I am a Volunteer, and each week, I make phone calls, open my home as a phone bank, etc. etc. Yesterday, during our phone call hours at the Obama for President office (The Local Democratic Party Offices), I spoke to an immigrant, an Indian or Pakistani woman, living in one of the most affluent areas of our town. She told me that she had never voted in her life even though she had been in America for decades and is over fifty years old. Why had she never voted? I did not ask her. But she told me that she did not know what to do. She’d just got her voter registration confirmation in the mail, just one day before the PA deadline. Wow, she made it. But she said to me, I do not know what to do when I enter the booth, how to vote. “I am scared.” Wow!

She is an educated immigrant, probably, a doctor, by where she lives in my community. But she has never voted in her life. Is this because, like many of you out there, she didn’t feel that her voice mattered? Well, this is America, the greatest country on earth, if you ask me, where every vote and every voice matters, where the law is on your side. Do not let all the noise about voter IDs and all the intimidation make you afraid to exercise your rights. Go, and get in involved, your life depends on it.

Examine the Candidates Against their Promises Despite the Confusion with Mitt Romney’s recent switch from what he would do with your health insurance, your Medicare, your Medicaid, etc. etc.

I spoke to another woman yesterday, a non-immigrant American. She’d just got a new job after losing her previous one. She lost her health insurance after losing that job. Now, the new job is making her wait three months despite her medical conditions. Times are hard, isn’t so? So, now, she’s waiting for the new job to kick in its insurance so she can see the doctor. But you known what? She told me that she was Undecided.

My question to her was, WHY? Why is a woman who has no health insurance, who is moving to a new one, thanks to God, undecided, and probably, will vote for Romney? I told her that she’s lucky to have a new job and a new health insurance. But you know what, “your new job/insurance under Romney will deny you treatment because it’s been many months since  you’ve been uncovered, and when you begin the new insurance coverage, you will be a case of Pre-existing condition.” Under Obama’s health care policy, she will have her Pre-existing condition covered. Wow! How hard is that to understand?

For us, immigrants, the stake is higher. A new president holds the key not just to your living condition in the US, but also, that of your life as an immigrant, immigration laws and issues, foreign policies toward the rest of the world, your children’s future and stay in this country, your life as a citizen or resident alien, wars or ending wars, and on and on. Stop pretending this is not your country. We all love America, and I know you do, too. God bless America, God bless the world, God bless you.

Writing as A Tool in Healing: Poetryforpeace Celebrates More than 100,000 Hits, Hundreds of Comments & A Loyal Group of International Readers: Here’s to You, My Poetry from Around the Web

AFRICA

                  —Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The calabash
now shattered

her contents
spilled
like palm wine

across the regions
of the world.

                     I began blogging Poetryforpeace in late July of 2007 as an outlet for my overwhelming excitement after visiting Medellin, Colombia, a guest of the International Poetry Festival of Medellin in Colombia, South America, where I was one of 75 international world poets featured in that celebration of poetry. There, in Colombia, I saw a confirmation of my belief in writing as a source of healing all of the traumas we can experience as people. The Colombian people who by that year had seen 40 years of brutal fighting and disintegration of its people were confirming my belief that no matter how bitter the trauma, the pen is more powerful than the bullet and that writing can heal. This is because throughout my life, even as a child, I wrote to get rid of whatever bad feelings I had during those childhood and adolescent years, so now, this was another stage for me in the writing process.

MONROVIA 2008

——— Patiricia Jabbeh Wesley (Copyright: Where the Road Turns, Autumn House Press, 2010)

On the side walk, patches of people
linger late.

In the day, they are like rice grains
along the roadways,

and at night,
they wallpaper lame bodies
in the draft darkness
of the broken city.

Crowds of war returnees,
waiting for nothing,
day after day,

waiting for nothing
after refugee camp,
after their former cities
of refuge

spewed them out like dirt,
after wandering the globe.
After death’s passing,
they have returned

looking like returnees
from the dead.

The city is hot, burning like steel
with hunger.

The air used to belong to us here
one woman said,
there used to be a road
to take us back home.

Today, the road homeward is now lost
The road to Cape Palmas, filled
with dry bones.

But on the street,
a motorcade is coming.
Someone is living.
Someone is living on these bones.

     I was in the middle of the Liberian civil war when I began to use my talent in writing Poetry and prose to search for healing from the traumatic experience of the bloody Liberian civil war I was in. After my husband, children and I survived those first two years and moved to the US, I was so devastated, I needed something more than prayer to help me. I was so emotionally traumatized by the killing of numerous people we had witnessed, the torture my family and I had experienced, the ugliness of war revealed in the starvation many of us war refugees experienced,  the pain from watching children and the elderly die in the war, the bombs and the burning buildings, and all that war can bring upon any people, I could not stop crying. During my first years out of the war, even as a mother of then three little children, a wife and a professional person, I broke down every time anyone wanted me to say something about my experience of the then on-going Liberian civil war.

This was when I returned to writing. I decided in that first year of my arrival in the US, in 1991, to write down my memories of the war, to tell it all, first in a narrative of five hundred pages, writing that entire year. Later on, I found the strength to begin writing poetry again, my favorite genre in the writing process. I wrote endlessly, writing first about the war that had happened to Liberia, to its people, people other than myself. I was too hurt to bring images of the war close to myself in the poetry I wrote in those early years, poetry, that became part of my first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa.   

CITY

                     —–Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

At night, it is like fire
spreading beneath us.
This vast city
aflame, and the plane groaning.

The city is more beautiful
from the sky at night.
At noon, it looks like
a worn-out garage,
a thing in the middle
of swamp country.

All the buildings are worn-out,
rusted to the bone
of steel, twisted
to make way so life
can go on.

Everything is bent and broken
along the hilltops.
I touch air to see if air
is still there.
The touchdown,

and we appear all worn-out,
too, like the city, broken.
All the birds
moved out long ago.
The trees too.
.

      It was then I discovered that the more I wrote down my hurt feelings, my sorrow, and bitterness from the torture I’d experienced, the less I cried, the less angry I was, and the more I could reason and accept my and my country’s situation for what was happening to us. I was becoming healed even though the war still raged. I know that healing for me also involved prayer and spiritual healing, but writing down my feelings meant that I was admitting that indeed, these things had happened to me and to my people, and yes, indeed, it was okay to feel hurt, and yes, I could indeed be healed. 

    Writing poetry set me free from all of the anger from watching the devastation of my beloved Liberia, dulled the pain of losing so many relatives and all I had worked so hard for, including losing my mother and stepmother, and even as more family members and friends were killed in that prolonged war, I would turn to my computer and write, using powerful images as they came to me to express my feelings. I wrote about everything, my anger, my fears, my hope, my prophesies about the end of the war and hopes of a day when we would no longer be at war. 

BLOGGING:

     So, again when I found another means of writing to find healing in blogging, I added this form of creativity to my poetry. Here, today, I celebrate Poetryforpeace, an international blog and its high traffic of my faithful readers and those seeking for something, many stumbling upon this site accidentally. I don’t feel deserving of your words of encouragement or your time taken out for this blog, but I feel a kind of connection to you. I feel like you are part of my life, and you do know where I am and where you are. It is for you that I write. When I write, I often think of people across the world who will read every word, even if those are few, even if those will find my accidentally. You and I are going to change the world.  My hope is that despite my slow posting in the past couple years, you will find something within the past of my blogging to hold on to until I find the time to revisit you with a few new words.

I want the site to bring everything to everyone. Some will find poetry; others will find politics; others have found mundane stories, news, etc. All have been welcome. Here, today I celebrate with a small sample of my poems, all, published poems in my four books of poetry. These were already scattered around the web, but are gathered for your pleasure. Enjoy and let’s live. Life is short and beautiful. Let’s keep our hopes for all the women around the world as we celebrate International Women’s Day and as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Happy Women’s History Month even if you’re a man. Remember, without a woman, there is no man.

BRINGING CLOSURE

          — Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (copyright: The River is Rising Autumn House Press, 2007)

Closure is such a final thing- the needle in the arm,
one last word or no last word at all, a death chamber

where the supposed convict lies waiting so the poison
will descend or ascend to the heart, a final beat,

and then sleep, that eternal thing none of us living
has ever seen. In California, today, a man is being

put to death, but outside, his supporters wait; candles,
flames, anger- the cold chill of death and life,

and a country that waits for all the arguments to die
or live on. The victim’s mother will see closure today,

they say, and move on after the murderer or the supposed
murderer is laid to rest with her son, side by side.

Death is such an ironic thing to know. To know death
is to know rot, hush, the lack of pain. It is 3 am

in Pennsylvania. Time, so deceptive, and arbitrary
and imperfect. Around the world, we all wait, for

the executioner’s poke into vein, blood meeting poison.
We are such civilized people, I’d say, dishing out death

in small poking needles. The newsmen tell us they
cannot find his vein. The awkwardness of asking the one

awaiting death to find his own vein so they can murder
him too- the executioner’s awkward fingers, the knowing

fingers- afraid of both the man and the art of killing the man.
I hate death. I hate the dying, the ugly process of dying,

the ritual of murder. So I too, keep vigil on my carpet.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell my eleven year-old daughter how

we have all murdered another human being. An eye
for an eye, so far away from my bedroom of dim lights,

a comforter or two, the surrounding hills in close view.
There is always a mountain here in Pennsylvania,

always that looming presence of life and death and the
far away feeling of the valley below, of being so far away

from home. There is no closure, I see, after the poison
has reached the heart, and the accused, stretched out, finally.

The victim’s mother begins to weep all over again-
as if this was just the beginning of the dying.

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I NOW WANDER    (Copyright: Becoming Ebony, SIU Press, 2003

                                                    Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

I raised ducks, pigs, dogs, barking watchdogs.
Wild chickens loose, dancing, flapping old wings.

Red and white American roosters, meant to be sheltered
and fed with vitamins until they grow dumb;

in our yard I set them loose among African breeds
that pecked at them until they, too, grew wild and free.

I planted papayas, fat belly papayas, elongated papayas,
tiny papayas, hanging. I planted pineapples, mangoes,

long juicy sugar canes, wild coco-yams. From our bedroom
window I saw plantain and bananas bloom, again and again,

take on flesh and ripeness. And then the war came, and the rebels
slaughtered my pigs, my strong roosters, my hens,

my heavy, squawking ducks. Now I wander among strangers,
looking for new ducks, new hens, new coco-yams, new wars.

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THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY

                                        Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The women in my family were supposed
to be men. Heavy body men, brawny
arms and legs, thick muscular chests and the heart,
smaller than a speck of dirt.

They come ready with muscled arms and legs,
big feet, big hands, big bones,

a temper that’s hot enough to start World War Three.
We pride our scattered strings
of beards under left chins

as if we had anything to do with creating ourselves.
The women outnumber the men
in my father’s family, leaving our fathers roaming

wild nights in search of baby-spitting concubines
to save the family name.
It is an abomination when there are no boy children.

At the birth of each one of us girls, a father sat prostrate
in the earth, in sackcloth and ash, wailing.

It is abomination when there are no men
in the family, when mothers can’t bring forth
boy children in my clan.

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WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN

                Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (1998, Before the Palm Could Blook

When I get to heaven
I’m going to shout hallelujah all over the place.
Dancing the Dorklor, the Wahyee,
the Ballet, the Rock and Roll.
I’ll dance the Brake, the Rap, Hip-Hop.
All the dances only sinners have danced.
I’ll sing Opera, the African way,
dance the Ballet the African way.

When I get to heaven
I’ll pray so loud, shaking hands the White way,
the Black way; greeting with kola nuts
as the Grebos do.
I’ll lie prostrate, to greet
the Yoruba way. Snap fingers to greet
as Liberians do.
There will be no boundaries, law laws, no rules.

When I get to heaven
I’ll sing the blues and dance the Sumu.
I’ll paint my face with white chalk and red rock,
sit with missionaries so all can see
I’ll pound my drums, shaking my Sahsah.
Blowing my trumpet the African way
Dancing to Jesus the African way

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

WHAT DIRGE

                              –Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

So what shall I use to wipe my brow?
To bring back a life
snatched away in its prime?
What shall I say, and what shall I lay hands
so helpless upon to wipe the sorrow
from my brow?

What shall I wear to mourn a life
whose end has dealt us this blow?
Shall I wear black, so when our townswomen,
hearing the drums, come wailing, wailing
they shall see the sorrow
of my heart on my dark lappa?

Shall I tie a string around my forehead?
Shall I lie prostrate on The Mat?
Shall I cry tears for those you’ve left us to feed
when we ourselves cannot feed ourselves
in a land where the hungry, forever hungry,
keep the faith?

What dirge shall I sing?
Shall I recount the battles fought at Nganlun?
Shall I sing of blood shed at the cracking of a gun
when I myself am so afraid of the gun?
What shall I say when the women,
hearing my song, come wailing
and knocking at my door?

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FINDING MY FAMILY

                            Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

“Good friend, please help me.
Did you happen to see
two boys when you lived in Kataka?
One dark, chubby?
The other, light with dark eyes?
Good friend,
did you see them while you lived in Ganta?
One would have been ten
and the other this tall.
My big boy, Nyema, the small one, Doeteh.
Good friend, can you tell me
if they went to Tapeta?
Were they given weapons, did they kill?
Good friend, can you say
if they walked to Bassa?
Did they starve to death?
Good friend, can you say
if there was a mother walking by their side?
Was she healthy? was she treated well?
Oh, good friend, so this is where
they took them out of line?
Good friend, were they hungry
when they met their end?
Oh, good friend, I will follow
to wrap up their bones.
Thank you, good friend.
But how will I know their bones?

 

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POETRY ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES:

MEDELLIN, 2007

               —-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.

Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.

Diaspora “Expatriate???” Liberians Facing Rejection From the Nervous Stay-at-Home Liberians: Can Liberia Really Rebuild Without Us?

The President of Liberia, Her Excellency Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf desires that we should return home and help her rebuild our country, and she makes a lot of efforts to have that happen, but do some of those in our country want us return?Photo on the right above is a 2008 photo taken during the Liberia Diaspora Engagement forum organized by the Executive Mansion, to which I was invited to dialogue with President Sirleaf, in her attempt to end this undeclared war between Diaspora Liberians and the “stay at home.”

Do You Know that We Diaspora Liberians Are Referred to As “Expatriate” or “Imported Liberians?”

They call us “Expatriate” Liberians and sometimes refer to us as “Imported Liberians.” Anyone returning home from the United States, from Europe or from another much better African country to our homeland of the “glorious land of liberty,” known as Liberia, becomes an immediate target of rejection by those I refer to as the “stay at home.” Many of those who call us these names  may actually have the power on their side. The more educated and qualified you are, the worst the discrimination or rejection you face. Sadly, some of those who strongly reject the more educated, more qualified, and well-meaning Liberians returning home are most often not the most qualified. They are so afraid of losing their jobs to those of us visiting for short term, long term stay or returning home permanently, they forget that the country they call home is the same country we too call home. It is about time that the President of Liberia and other government officials begin to address this issue in open forums before this lack of understanding becomes a bigger problem.

Can Liberia Be Rebuilt Without Us?

The question I  ask those who make it difficult for returning Liberians to feel at home is: can Liberia rebuild without some of its most valuable, qualified, dedicated and committed citizens? Can you really rebuild the country without the help of your fellow Liberians who have prepared themselves for leadership and hard work and are willing to turn away from their lives abroad to help in the rebuilding process? Do you believe that the United Nations and all of its short-term, imported labor and foreign None Governmental Organizations who are the true expatriates do the job for us? I don’t think so.

Above: Far left, my sisters and my nieces enjoy time with me at my father’s home. Middle- United Methodist University officials meet with me, all, 2008 as I present my collections of books to their university. Diaspora Liberians often have much to give back to our country, but so often are prevented from doing so by the fearful stay at home who may not really love Liberia.

Nigerian poet, John Pepper Clark Bekederemo’s poem below rings so true for us Liberians today.

The Casualties

———— By John Pepper Clark Bekederemo (Nigeria)

The casualties are not only those who are dead;
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are wounded,
Thought they await burial by installment
The casualties are not only those who have lost
Person or property, hard as it is
To grape for a touch that some
May not know is not there
The casualties are not those led away by night;
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a heaven,
No where as absolute as the grave
The casualties are not those who started
A fire and now cannot put to out. Thousands
Are burning that had no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who escaping
The shattered shell become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls.

The casualties are many, and a good number well
Outside the scene of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-room they haunt abroad,
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drum of human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know

The drum overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others have left,
We fall.
All casualties of war,
Because we cannot hear other speak,
Because eyes have ceased to see the face from the crowd,
Because whether we know or
Do not know the extent of wrong on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay- at- home unsettled
By taxes and rumor, the looter for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The case celebrated for kwashiorkor,
The unforeseen camp-follower of not just our war.

Above is a shot I took of one of the leading opposition political parties, CDC’s standard bearers, Winston Tubman and George Weah, Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates arrival in Liberia on July 15, 2011 on my way to the Roberts International Airport. The CDC candidates running for office are supported by many who think of us in the Diaspora as “Expatriates” or Imported Liberians just as many supporters of the ruling party of the President. Interestingly also, all of the top leadership, including most of the candidates in the upcoming elections are people living in the Diaspora. “George Weah and Winston Tubman have their permanent homes in the US, not in Liberia,” I told a strong supporter of CDC who told me that “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is importing ” ‘expatriate Liberians’ to run the country.

“The Looters for Office and Wares, Fearful Everyday the Owners May Return:”

When one of my most celebrated poets, Nigerian poet, John Pepper Clark Bekederemo says, “We are characters now other than before/ The war began, the stay- at- home unsettled/ By taxes and rumor, the looters for office/ And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return,” he was writing about the Nigerian civil war. He did not know that he would be writing for Liberians as well, decades later, about the Liberian civil war and those who died and those who survived. Isn’t it ironic that all of us are “characters now other than before?” That “the stay-at home,” Liberians, who either returned early after the end of the war, never went anywhere during the war, and perhaps, many of them, actually former fighters or stakeholders in the fighting, now are what Bekederemo refers to as “unsettled by taxes and rumors, the “looters for office/” and “Wares, fearful everyday the owners may return…?” Yes, this great poet, like all good poets was exploring the human issues that we Liberians are today faced with. Our brothers and sisters who remained mostly at home, afraid to see us Diaspora, exiled Liberians come back home to claim what is still ours, our homeland and all our lost lands and lost opportunities.

This below is the Liberia that is at stake. On the right, Dr. Amos Sawyer, my former mentor and professor, former & 1st Interim Gov. President explodes with excitement in receiving me at his office in Monrovia, 2008. That is what is necessary to rebuild Liberia. Those of us returning home short-term or long term must be welcome home, not rejected by selfish Liberians who think they can drive us away from our own homeland.

AAbove is what we refer to as Down Water Side Market Place (Photo taken by Whyne Jabbeh- July, 2008)

Diaspora Liberians or Liberians Who Fled the War Between 1990-2003 Are Not Expatriates or Imported Liberians and Have Every Right to Liberia, So Cut Out the Discrimination and Libeling. It Does Not Work:

The Shock We Diaspora Liberians Experience:

I experienced my first shock of the rejection in 2008 when I returned home after many years to make one of my many contributions to my native land. I was visiting for three weeks on a Penn State University Grant support to research Liberian women’s trauma stories. I was also there to donate up to 200 of my then three books, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa, (New Issues Press, 1998) Becoming Ebony, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003) and The River is Rising, (Autumn House Press, 2007). I donated about 200 books to every college, university, and library, including the American Embassy Library near the US Embassy compound. I also interviewed dozens of women and met with Liberian writers. During that visit, I had planned to do a free poetry reading with the university of Liberia student body and the community, and met first with the Dean of the College or Acting Dean, Mr. Stephen Jugwe of Liberia College. I also met with the President then, my good friend, Dr. Al-Haasan Conteh, who received me very warmly.

Surprise:

I did not go to the university as though I were an outsider, looking to come and change things. If anyone remembers me, I was a professor at the university from 1980-1990, sacrificing much for my country during the 1980s when we worked three months before we received one month pay during the Samuel Doe era. So, I was no stranger to the university. And for someone who gets a very good honorarium for reading at the best universities in the US and in parts of the world, I thought my country could use me. And I still think I’m not wrong about that.

But the planned activities did not work out because the Dean of the college never put together the program as was instructed by the then President, and on the day of the program, only the pressmen from the Information Ministry, the Daily Observer reporter assigned to me and a few of my guests were on sight at the university. There was nobody from the university around to answer questions. The President of the university then was so surprised since he was sure the instructions were clear, and of course, he was around, but the program was never planned. I have a sense of humor, so I laughed because here was I, thinking of giving back to my country in another way for free, and here we were, treated like fools. My brother’s chauffeur who drove us to the event joked about that recently when I met him on my 2011 trip. He is not what you would call educated, but he knew that the university could do better than that cold treatment.

I felt sorry for the university students, for my country, and for the poverty stricken people of Liberia that day. The fear then was that since the University of Liberia was searching for a new President, and since I used to be a professor at the university for ten years leading to the war, and because I was a Ph.D., the kind they were in search of, I was a likely candidate so everyone was afraid of me. Wow!

But I Came Back?

Again, this year, I returned, once more with the support of Penn State University that has seen the need for research and paid my expenses to be in my country and work for short term. Again, the university of Liberia shunned me. My college, the College of Liberal Arts and Humanities or what we called Liberia College decided that if I wanted to contribute to my institution, I needed another round of “run around.” This is a place where I had taught classes as a young woman from 1980-1990, where I was on that last faculty bus that ran between the Fendall Campus and Monrovia, when we were stopped by soldiers in June of 1990 because Charles Taylor’s rebels had already overrun Kakata.

2011:

Nearly two weeks after running up and down to get the Dean of the college and the English Dept. to allow me do a student or faculty workshop in teaching and or writing, the acting chair of the Eng. Dept called me. Mind you, he’d refused to answer many of my calls over the two weeks, but now he was ready and told me in these words, “Since you want to do something with the university, you can come and teach my class how to understand the school ode, and if there’s enough time, Ma, you can also teach them the national anthem.”

Wow!

I told him to please let me call him back. I was too upset to respond to such a request. So shocked, I laughed until I teared. He never called me back however, and when I called the next day and told him that I did not see myself teaching college students how to understand their school ode when I am a poet who has work to do, he was upset. I said that I would tell the President of the University that he told me to teach his students not about my poetry or Liberian poetry in general, but the school ode. The Dean was angry about this, of course, and told the Provost who called to get his side of the story that I had said something terrible to his professor. Are these people joking or are they serious? How could I, who graduated from the University in 1980 even remember the school ode and did I even know this ode while I was a student? And why in the world will I travel to Liberia just to teach a group of educationally starved college students their own school ode?

Liberia Needs Everyone:

I did not give up on my country. There are many institutions of learning in our beloved country and there are many “stay-at-home” Liberians who are making great contributions to our country and they also love Liberia just as many of us Diaspora Liberians do. Those who keep us away, threaten us, reject us and are intimidated by us are not going to win.

I put out the word on the national radio, ELBC and with everyone of the journalists who interviewed me, and before I knew it, many calls came in for me to conduct workshops and to work with our people. I conducted a teacher training workshop at Monrovia College and Industrial Training Institute, met with the Vice President of United Methodist University, gave numerous interviews to speak to the Liberian journalists and the Liberian people about what I think about the issues the country is now wrestling with. I also conducted a Women’s empowerment workshop with 50 traditional Grebo women from across the city and did many other things for my people. Of course, I interviewed dozens of Liberian women, recorded their war stories, etc as I was supposed to do.

We Are Not All Out to Steal Your Jobs:

Diaspora Liberians are not all out to get the jobs from those who hold them. There is no reason for anyone to prevent our country from using all of its human resources to rebuild the nation. We do not have many educated people as with other countries and we lost many of our best in the 14 year war.  Liberia is one of those African countries with one of the lowest literacy rate, and the war drove most of its educated and upper income citizens out of the country. Many of the others who did not leave, died in the war. How can this country not have a place for its returning people?  How can the University become a better university if it does not go out and recruit all of its past professors, alumni, its citizenry abroad and within the country to rebuild its walls and its future? Think what could result from a relationship between the University of Liberia and Penn State if only the university could allow others to come in. Even as I was in Monrovia, there were students from US institutions, including one from Penn State who were in the country for research. Can the nation use such resources to help rebuild?

Meeting the President of UL: There is Hope

Before I left home, I had the privilege of being invited to have lunch with the Provost of the University, my good friend, Dr. Brownell and the President, Dr. Dennis. I told them over lunch about my frustrations with the university. I was glad to be in the good company of two “Expatriate,” “Imported” Liberians like myself, I said. If I had more time left in my schedule, I know these two great academics would have given me an opportunity. The problem is that I could not even see them when I tried to see them since you need to cut through red tape to get to the top officials. I recall bursting into Al-Hassan Conteh’s office in order to see him in 2008, and of course, when he saw me at his door, he jumped from behind his desk to welcome me. What he did not know then was that I had to push past his staff to get into his office.

At lunch, that hot July afternoon, the two top most officials at the university were surprised about the troubles I had experienced and wanted to do something about my frustrations. But I had only two days left to be in the country. A call to the Dean resulted in accusations that I had made remarks about reporting the matter to the President. What was sad about my own frustrations is the fact that I confirmed my own observations from my meeting that all of us at that lunch table, including the President, who is a very hardworking, highly educated veteran Professor, and the provost, Dr. Wede Elliott Brownell, an excited new appointee and I were all the so-called “Expatriates or Imported Liberians” you have been reading about. We, the ones returning to contribute, excited about the need to give back to our country are the “Expatriates.” Those who fear us do not see the true expatriates from around the world and Africa, the UN officials and the private businessmen who are making hefty salaries even while raising the cost of living in a place where folks cannot even feed themselves.  It is us they seek to keep away.

The Issues, the Myths and the Reasons Behind this Rejection:

I read a power point presentation by Dr. C. William Allen, a good friend of mine, Director General of the General Services Agency, Republic of Liberia, in which he indicates that the prolonged civil war caused a brain drain of the most educated, skilled and qualified professionals, thereby creating a problem of inefficiency which needed to be addressed. The paper entitle, “The Role of Liberians and Liberianologists in the Diaspora in Human Capacity Building in the New Liberia,” speaks of the “TOKTEN” or (Transfer of Knowledge through Expatriate Nationals” program as one of the means of solving the nation’s problems of the lack of qualified professionals. Well, such a program would bring in expatriates as well as Liberians in the Diaspora, pay them a reasonable salary with benefits to help rebuild the country. In such a program, Liberians would be encouraged to take short term missions away from their foreign jobs and return home or take their sabbatical leave in order to help boost the new Liberian workforce. Such a proposal, whether originated by Allen or some other group has been effective in the Johnson administration. Liberians from all professions heeded the call to return home at the beginning of the Johnson administration, and returned home. Many are still residing in the country today whereas many have left to return to the western countries where they lived for the 14 years of the war.

The Issues:

The Issues many of the “stay-at-home” raise have to do with the preferential treatment Diaspora Liberians are given when they return home to serve their country. In 2008, during the “Diaspora Engagement Forum” with Her Excellency President Sirleaf, the issues of the overpayment of Diaspora Liberians came up. I recall my own disclaimer when I presented that I was not in Liberia to “steal” people’s jobs. During the question and answer part of the forum, I recall a very top government official, a friend of mine from college days, standing up in anger to tell me that they the stay-at-home do not like us because we get three times more than they are paid to do the same jobs because their degrees are from African countries and ours are from the US. Another woman stood up and was so outraged with anger against those who come from “America to steal our jobs,” I had to leave the stage and go up to her to give her a hug. I could not believe the sort of anger I was seeing.

The Other Side of the Issues:

Are qualified Liberians who have not been abroad being underpaid compared to those from abroad or are those from abroad more qualified? Or, let me put it another way: Is the price of leaving your security in the United States and your children and spouse so high that the government has to pay you a higher salary to draw you back home to your country? Is it not reasonable that after I have worked as a college professor for decades, having established a salary that supports my family here in the US, and with a terminal degree, that the government that needs my services has to pay me a salary that is realistic to my qualifications and sacrifice in order to gain from my expertise? You can answer that for yourself.

There are other arguments, however. A good friend of mine posted something she received from some place that made me laugh. The piece of statement claimed that many of us Liberians abroad have spent years cleaning toilets, changing diapers at nursing homes, and working at gas stations, and upon return, we’re given the best jobs, making 10,000.00, 20,000.00 or more dollars a month. When I saw that, I thought the piece was so untrue, I could not comment on such a mass distributed piece whose author was so unknown, it was hilarious.

There are of course, those who make such money in our country. There are many UN workers, international specialists, and international workers who make up to a quarter million dollars, I’m certain, but I know of no college professor hired to teach in Liberia with the sort of salaries the “stay-at-home” complain about. If this is happening, the people to speak to are the nation’s leaders, not us, Diaspora Liberians. I know that it is not right to pay a PhD. who has been tenured $300.00 a month to teach at the University of Liberia just as it is not right to pay a university professor who has never been abroad $300.00 a month. I’m not saying this is what they make, however.

The myths do not help us correct the problems. If Liberia will rebuild from the bullet shelled streets and become a successful country,  the country needs all of its citizens, friends, expatriates, stay-at home folks, traditional, non-traditional folks and everyone that has a heart for the country. Politicians are not enough to rebuild the country. It takes ordinary people with the love and desire for change to build a nation. Everyone cannot be the President and the President cannot do everything. This silent war being waged must end or we will end up just where we began.

While I was in Liberia, I wrote a poem that sums up my perspective on the issues I have just discussed. Enjoy:

When Monrovia Rises

—-By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The city is not a crippled woman at all. This city
is not a blind man at a potholed roadside, his

cane, longer than his eye, waiting for coins to fall
into his bowl, in a land where all the coins were lost

at war. When Monrovia rises, the city rises with
a bang, and me, throwing off my damp beddings,

I wake up with a soft prayer on my lips. Even God
in the Heavens knows how fragile this place is.

This city is not an egg or it would have long emerged
from its shell, a small fiery woman with the legs

of snakes. All day, boys younger than history can
remember,  shout at one another  on a street corner

near me about a country they have never seen.
Girls wearing old t-shirts, speak a new language,

a corruption by that same old war. You see, they have
never seen better times. Everyone here barricades

themselves behind steel doors, steel bars, and those
who can afford also have walls this high. Here, we’re all

afraid that one of us may light a match and start the fire
again or maybe one among us may break into our home

and slash us all up not for the wealth they seek, but for
the memories some of us still carry under angry eyelids.

Maybe God will come down one day without his boots.
Maybe someone will someday convince us that after

all the city was leveled, we are all the same after all,
same mother, same father, same roots, same country,

all of us, just branches and limps of the same tree.

BUDUBURAM Refugee Camp & My Journey Home to Liberia:The Past Still Holds On to the Present Despite the Untold Stories of Ruin and Hope

Visiting One’s Original Homeland for Research is Not Easy: Part I- Buduburam & Accra, Ghana

MY Journey back home to Liberia began on June 14. I arrived in Accra, Ghana on June 15, 2011, where I revisited the infamous Liberian Buduburam Refugee Camp, now with only an estimated 11,000 refugees still living. Three years ago, I visited the Buduburam camp and interviewed Liberian women. This year, I interviewed women and was fortunate when the UN Manager of Settlement, Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe granted me a lengthy interview on the state of the refugees and the camp. His generous decision to allow me into his office and to be interviewed on his perspectives about working with Liberian and other African refugees and the camp has contributed immensely to my on-going research.

(Left: Liberian refugee lady who has been in exile since 1990, lost to her children until recently. She told me she’s all set to return home, and was negotiating assistance with the UN refugee office.)

LIBERIA stands once more at the crossroads as the Presidential elections campaign begins, and if you’re not paying attention, please begin to. As I write, there are still thousands of Liberian refugees in camps in Ghana, in Nigeria, and in other parts of the world, who still need to return home. But Monrovia has become Liberia, exploding with people who have no reason to live in the overwhelming city.

Buduburam:

Human beings are not animals that are kept in a cage until we can end our wars. This is why keeping people or allowing human beings to remain in a refugee camp for five, ten, twenty years is not good.

Two Women-Two Directions and Decisions: Comfort Roberts (L) undecided about returning to Liberia while Marie Mapu Gpabo ( R) showed me her papers for her return home to Liberia by the end of the month. She is excited to hopefully reunite with her lost children she has not seen for more than 20 years while Comfort, originally from Maryland County, Liberia, a woman who still knows Grebo will remain with grandchild and one daughter, working with the UN office. She introduced me to the Camp Manager and helped me get a an audio/video interview with the manager. These women do not only need their stories heard. They need the UN to change its policy on the kind of assistance refugees are given in the repatriation process and how they are received in Liberian upon arrival.

According to them, the UN gives each family a hundred dollars, no pots or pans, nothing for resettling back home. The United Nations has to do more in order to encourage refugees to return home.  As for Liberians who  have been in Buduburam and other smaller camps in Ghana for many years, the need to return home or be returned home should be the priority of both the United Nations and the Liberian government. These women above have lived at Buduburam for at least fifteen years each. The lady in the blue, Ms. Comfort Roberts, fled to Ghana in the heat of the war when her husband and two daughters were killed. He story is too graphic to tell. Now with one grandchild, she works in the UN office at the camp. She does not know when she will ever return home or if there is something to return home to.

Above are photos of the Buduburam Refugee camp that thousands of Liberian refugees have lived in for up to 15 or more years. Many have died naturally in this camp, had children and grandchildren, yet others have returned home over the past five years. My sister-in-law, Ora Wesley, a lovely and hardworking young woman died here in Buduburam in July of 2008. This time around, I walked around trying to find someone who remembered her, but found none. That is how sad the life of a refugees is. Refugees are people without a home, and often, forgotten as soon as they die.

Over the years, there have been numerous incidents with Liberian refugees in Ghana. Most recently, a few months ago, there was an incident of rioting and a police raid by the Ghanaian government, and it was alleged that several Liberians were killed by the government crackdown. My question on this research mission to refugees I spoke to, both men and women was: Why can’t you just return home to Liberia?    

Liberian Attitude and the Liberian Refugee:

After my five day research trip in Ghana, I boarded the Delta flight to Monrovia, Liberia, on June 19, 2011. The plane had just arrived with hundreds of Africans from the United States. As I made my way to my seat that afternoon, a Liberian man, about my age or older looked at me as I struggled to fit my overnight baggage into the overhead bin. Instead of assisting me as any gentleman would, he wanted to know what I had been doing in Accra, whether I was leaving the refugee camp or whether I had simply stopped over from America for a short visit. I did not answer him until I was seated. Then I told him that I had stopped over to visit Buduburam Camp. He quickly began to laugh at me, looking at me with the kind of cynicism one would to put another down. “So, you living in America and keeping you children in the camp eh?” He asked, laughing. “You people sit in America and keep your children in the camp?” At first, I did not know what he was saying, but when it sank in, I was shocked. I was hurt. Did he think I was the kind of mother who would live in America and keep my children in a refugee camp? Did others do such a thing? And even if I was, why would he speak to me like this? I did not respond to his inquiry. I simply dismissed him because I felt too insulted for words, and if I said something to him on the plane as it lifted off the ground, they would have had to take me off that plane or throw me out the window.( Photos below are of my son and his friends at the party he held at the company house for me in Accra.)

Liberian attitude must change.


What the gentleman on the plane did not know is that I do have a son in Ghana, but my son is living and working as a computer consultant with a reputable company, independent, a young man who fell in love with Africa and moved to Accra on his own. In fact, it was his technical expertise that I depended on during my research trip. Above are photos taken at a welcome party my son, Mlen-Too Wesley II held for me, about forty of his friends in attendance that day. That was one day after he and I visited Buduburam, after we survived having our taxi cab taken off the road by police, taken to the police station in the scorching heat, waiting until the driver was clear. At Buduburam, my son, who was not a refugee,  recorded hours of video taping, took photos and helped me since of course, I am very unfamiliar with Accra.

(L-R- Aggie, Me, and Patricia, my son’s friends, posing with me.)

LIBERIAN ATTITUDE MUST CHANGE:

Liberian attitude to being a refugee, to refugees, to their homeland or returning home, and to what it means to move on after the war must be changed if we as a people will survive. During my one hour plus interviewing Mr. Gavivina Yao Tamakloe, the UN Manager of Buduburam, he said several things which support my belief. He indicated that his experience at the camp has taught him that Liberian women are some of the most hard working, dynamic and self initiative taking people in the world. He said that seven of the organizations on the camp were started and controlled by women. They are the care givers, the supporters of the families and that the men on the camp sit around all day and waste time. This attitude in the men must change. If they are refugees in such a horribly dirty camp, then how bad do they want life to be for them to get up and do something?

Another thing that must change is refugee refusal to return home to their own country even though many of them would be better off if they did. Those who do not want to return home also do not want to assimilate or become part of the Ghanaian society. They want to remain the camps or remain refugee all their lives unless they get a ticket to come to the United States. They know that there is no longer any resettlement of refugees to the western world, so many just want to remain in a camp and let life pass them by. There is nothing better than living in your own country if the alternative is living in the sort of refugee camp that I photographed above. Liberians who returned home have unfortunately settled in Monrovia, overcrowding the city while most of the countryside is empty, but that can change if refugees return to their original homelands where they were before the war.

More Photos of my better experience in Accra: My son’s friends.

The Liberian story of suffering and hardship is unending and must be told. One of the things that struck me about life in Buduburam or in any other refugee camp is that those who arrived in the camp nearly 20 years ago went on to have children who in turn had children. I wondered and was saddened by that. How can a refugee whose country is no longer at war explain passing on to their children the gift of a refugee status? That is what the refugees at Buduburam are doing to their children. They are leaving an inheritance of the status of refugee with their children. Why is this so? Is it because their home country does not have the suitable facilities the Buduburam camp provides?

I have documented Liberian women’s stories, collecting them for an anthology that I hope to publish someday. This quest to tell the Liberian woman’s trauma stories from the war has allowed me to interview dozens of women over five years, in Africa and in the US since 2006. Much of that research was supported by my university, the Pennsylvania State University. This year, the research mission to Africa was supported by two grants: Penn State’s AESADE grant, a collaborative grant that two of my colleagues, Dr. Lee Ann De Reus, Dr. Julia Hudson-Richards and I were awarded. I then applied for supplementary funding to augment the AESADE grant from the Penn State University’s Africana Research Center’s Faculty Grant, and obtained that grant. These two grants made it possible for me to travel to Ghana and to Liberia, where I conducted several workshops, trained teachers, recorded women’s stories and did radio and tv interviews and poetry readings. I am grateful to my university for this great opportunity to follow the stories of Liberian women and to be at Buduburam this year.

As I conclude this blog post, let me say that I know there are some who think I should go into refugee camps with gifts for refugees as my service to my country. But there are many who are already doing that, and our people are still stuck in that ugly camp after twenty years. Free handouts are not the solution to helping people recover. I believe that if someone is inspired by words and encouragement, by teaching and education, they can do everything they want to do for themselves. There was one objective I had besides collecting whatever stories I could get, and that was to inspire at least one woman about her worth. I wanted them to know that they can return home and live a better life. During my visit I did that. I walked them through my belief in them as the masters of their destiny. I was so glad when one of the women insisted on taking me to her shack to show me her papers and promised me she was returning home soon. Another woman told me that when she arrived at the camp, she was a young girl, and now, she’s old and needs to return home.

There was one young girl in her teens who had just returned to the camp from boarding school. I was saddened to see a child who went to boarding school where no one really feels like home and returned to the camp where not even her parents live. She, not photographed, came to me for advice. I told her that if she went to school and continued and obtained a good education, she would someday never live in a camp like this. Our people need the courage to move on, not condemnation. They need to return home, but the United Nations cannot give them $100.00 to return home to a land they may never have known or to a land they’ve lost.

My trip ended and I moved on to Liberia. Within a few days, I’ll be posting the stories of my time in Liberia. Come back and visit.

My Poem, “One Day,” is the American Life in Poetry Selection for the Week: Thanks to US Poet Laureate (2004-2006),Ted Kooser for Selecting Me in A Country of So Many Great Poets

When you come from the small West African country of Liberia, you are not expected to be picked by the US Poet Laureate in his search for what he knows is a great poet to share with his millions of fans and readers. So, you can understand why someone as lowly as I am should be so grateful that US Poet Laureate chose my poem several months ago to be featured today on American Life in Poetry and to be permanently included on the Poetry Foundation website. Thanks, Mr. Kooser for selecting and featuring me this week. It makes my life better to know that there are poets who are so well learned that they understand the simplicity of the language some of us from far away backgrounds speak, and that even our voices must be heard. I am humbled by this kind honor.

If you are wondering where to go to read this poem, here is the link:

http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/current.html

http://www.americanlifeinpoetry.org/columns/COL325.pdf

American Life in Poetry: Column 325

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE, 2004-2006

Many of us have attempted to console friends who have recently been divorced, and though it can be a pretty hard sell, we have assured them that things will indeed be better with the passage of time. Here’s a fine poem of consolation by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, who teaches at Penn State.

One Day

Love Song for the Newly Divorced
One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
And there will be no more need for love
or lovers or fears of losing lovers
and there will be no more burning timbers
with which to light a new fire,
and there will be no more husbands or people
related to husbands, and there will be no more
tears or reason to shed your tears.
You will be as mended as the bridge
the working crew has just reopened.
The thick air will be vanquished with the tide
and the river that was corrupted by lies
will be cleansed and totally free.
And the rooster will call in the setting sun
and the sun will beckon homeward,
hiding behind your one tree that was not felled.

“One Day” was originally published in my fourth book of poems, Where the Road Turns (Autumn House Press: 2010)