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.

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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.

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin Celebrated 20 Years of Bringing Poetry to the People: A Cultural Revolution of Healing Decades of Pain from the Colombian War, July 8-17, 2010, and I Was There!

The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is always so amazing, neither rain, thunder or the blazing sun can drive away the thousands of lovers of poetry who pour in during the opening and closing ceremonies in any given year. The first sign of rain, and the thousands in the audience quickly begin to put on plastic coats, pull out umbrellas, sitting on the hard wet stairs of the Theatre Carlos Vieco to hear the World Poets read in their various languages one after the other, from 4 pm up until 10:30. Translators and poets, reading side by side while the audience cheers, screams, enjoying the power of poetry. For twenty years, poets have come and gone, children have been born, and have grown up under the warmth of this powerful tool of healing, and some of those young people are today volunteering with a literary revolution that gave birth to them.

This is inarguably, the largest, the most fascinating, most revolutionary, and most people-centered poetry festival in the world. The International Poetry Festival of Medellin was founded in Medellín in 1991 by two young, idealistic and practical Colombian poets, Fernando Rendón, who was also editor of the Colombian magazine of PIW,  and Gabriel Jaime Franco. Of course, they were assisted by a great group of poetry enthusiasts who banded together to establish what is now a cultural revolution, impacting the entire world over twenty years. Today, one of those hardworking poetry lovers is Gloria Chvatal, whose dedication to organizing and helping to run the festival is simply inspirational.

FOUNDERS: Fernando Rendón (R) and Gabriel Jaime Franco

Gloria Chvatal, a strong arm of the festival, Fernando, and Gabriel against the backdrop of one of the festival audiences.

With the powerful vision to reach their people through poetry, they launched a poetry festival that draws audiences from across the Americas, their neighbors  and from other regions of the world. They have featured close to 1000 poets from around the world, bringing in African, European, Asian, South, North, and Central American poets and poets from every region of the world. This year, I was invited for the second time, including my first invitation in 2007, to be a featured poet among one of the largest if not the largest group of world poets in the twenty years, nearly 100 of us, in a celebration worthy of itself. Again, as with my first visit to Colombia, the International Poetry Festival of Medellin remains the most powerful experience of any poetry festival in the world. Stay tune as I bring you various features, photos, video clips, etc.I in this blog posting. It is long overdue, but you will forgive me if you realize I had to get a new book out and begin readings to promote the book.

Medellin, 2007:

A Poem for Fernando’s Colombia (copyright “Where the Road Turns, 2010) By 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.

Here, I am, reading with African poets in the beautiful Jardín Botánico. Theatre al aire libre on July 10: l-r: Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Niyi Osundare (Nigeria), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) and Amin Haddad (Egypt), reading.

I was honored to read with, meet with, eat with, and be in the company of some of the finest poets in the world. Our poets came from every area of the globe, different languages and cultures, different world issues in their works, different looks, dress and cultural patterns, but we were all one in the use of poetry as a medium of expression of the sensibility of our unique people, and therefore, of the world.

Here, a group of us poets on our way to sight-seeing in Medellin, Colombia, were chased by newspaper crews who made us stand in the middle of a busy city street to take this shot, featured in the paper the next day. (L_R)Poets sJean Jacques Sewanou Dabla of Togo, Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia, Lola Koundakjian of Armenia, Veronica Zondek of Chilli, Althea Romeo-Mark, representing Antigua and me, representing Liberia. Middle photo- Me and Althea Romeo-Mark, Me and Koumanthio Diallo of Guinea, West Africa, standing with an Afro-Colombian brother after our last Africa Reading.

Poets, Gemino H. Abad (Phillipines) and Imtiaz Dharker of India looking on.

I have been privileged as a poet to be in the company of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, renowned authors, even Nobel Prize winning authors and to be influenced by their unique ways of viewing the world. But the experience at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin 2007 and 2010 alone has been a life-changing experience for me. Let me discuss in brief the kinds of impact such a great festival has on the invited poet, the Colombian people and others from parts of the Americas who descend upon the city, and finally, upon the country, friends, associates of those who return home with this huge vision in their life experience.

A Life- Changing Experience:

The city of Medellin, Colombia, is a city on a hill, skyscrapers of the wealthy alongside the dwellings of millions of the poor. As in any other country, the poor find a means of survival. It is in the center of this city that has survived forty years of civil war that poets from around the world must all merge with their many voices of hope with the voices of hope from Colombia and nations around the region. The most exciting is not in the structure of this beautiful city and country; the most exciting for me is in the people of Colombia. They are a warm and beautiful people, vibrant in every way, their warm hugs and kisses will melt  your heart. But what will cause you to jump from surprise is their love of poetry. Upon arriving at the airport, you will hardly clear out of customs before noticing the crowd of volunteers, festival organizers and friends out at the Medellin Airport to meet you.

The hugs and kisses will be a regular part of your nearly two weeks of living in Medellin, basking in the beauty of poetry and culture. And then, another big surprise is the crowd at the opening and closing ceremonies. The number has been estimated at between seven to ten thousand out in the open arena, cheering, listening, shouting, enjoying the experience of one poetic voice after the other. If you are a first time festival visitor, your jaw drops, you wonder if it is real, whether you are now a rock star, and whether these great people have all lost their heads. But trust, me, it is real. They love poetry and they will change your world after this. This was when I realized that my coming to Colombia was meant to change me, not me, them.

Yira, my Spanish reader assigned to me at the 20th festival (l) Yira & me, Me, Norwegian poet, Erling and the Colombian team.

Images of the festival. Me at the Afro-Colombian center in Medellin, where I was the only presenter, Me after the reading with  and my girls after our reading out of town in Municipio del Carmen de Viboral. Casa de la Culturaon next to a quick photo from the car driving from Bogota Airport to the city of Villavicencio.

The Most Important Impact of Such a Festival:

The crowds of thousands who are dedicated to listening to poetry, reading poets from around the world, sitting in rain or shine, bringing their babies, toddlers, old people for two decades now tells you something about this country, about the visionaries of the festival, about how poetry, reading of poetry, and writing can be a powerful tool of healing. If anyone tells you that you can have such a literary revolution where people are dedicated to using words as a tool in healing produces small results, that individual is a fool. When you begin to mingle with the people, whether they are poor or rich, you will know the impact of the festival on the country, on ending violence. Remember, in case you forgot, Colombia has been in a civil war with drug lords and armed movements for more than forty years now. So, how is it possible to have such a peaceful festival when the country is supposedly at war? Well, my visit in 2007 and the 2010 visit indicated to me that yes, there has been a great change.

A group of young people who had come for our last African poets reading on July 16, stayed on after everyone had left, lining up to greet us. They were a force to see.


One of the most powerful evidence of how the festival is positively affecting the Colombian people in a powerful way is through the photos. I know of no other place in the world where thousands of people will sit to hear poetry read in various languages with translators reading in the pouring rain, people pulling plastic coverings over their heads, and just intent on listening, where mothers will bring their children, including infants with gifts to authors they’d never met, as if these authors are Priests needing to bless the children, they come by the scores to teach their little ones how important it is to learn, to be intellectual instead of being a rebel fighter. This to me is one of the most wonderful gifts any people can give to their nation. But we all know how much it must cost for organizers to raise the money to feed 100 poets, excluding staff, student volunteers, to give them all stipends, to give them lodging in individual rooms in a beautiful hotel, to tend to them when they are ill during the 12 day for most and more days for others, to help provide transportation from across the world for many, and to pay for the use of numerous venues, to fly dozens of poets across the country or drive them hours away. It is a powerful machine that must be recognized. We are most blessed to have lived this experience; hopefully, some of us will be inspired to emulate this great example.

Poets Saturate the City & Country With Poetry: A Dynamic Organization by the Festival Organizers:

Many of us poets had several readings throughout the 11 day festival. The poets included the following number:We were eleven poets from Africa: Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Arif Khudairi (Egypt), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Mohammed Bennis (Morocco), Luis Carlos Patraquim (Mozambique), Koumanthio Zeinabou Diallo (Guinea), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia),Jean Jacques Sewanou Dabla (Togo), Amin Haddad (Egypt) and Chirstopher Okemwa (Kenya). Some of us poets came from the Diaspora of Europe and America while others came from the continent of Africa.

After the African poets reading the 16th of July, the elderly gentleman was so excited, he came up to be photographed with us.

The audience waiting before the African reading. Above: After the reading photos

Among the 100 invited poets, less than hundred in attendance, there were beside us 11 Africans, 58 poets from the Americas, 10 from Asia, and 18 from Europe. Some of the poets I connected to include all on the African team (speaking French, English and Arabic), Althea Romeo-Mark, my American Lit. professor of long ago, Sir Howard Fergus of Monsserrat, Obediah Michael Smith of Barbados, Grace Nichols and her husband, John Agard both of Guyana, Renato Sandoval of Peru, Bob Holman of the US, Gemino H. Abad and his spouse (guest), of Philippines, Hala Mohammad of Siria, Lola Koundakjian, U Sam Oeur of Cambodia, Uwe Kolbe, excluding our very fascinating volunteer translators, interpreters. Special among the entire crew was my dear reader, the young and beautiful Yira Plaza Obyrne. Yira went with me everywhere to read the Spanish translation of my poetry whenever I appeared, and where there was no interpreter to translate my short speeches before the reading, Yira would step in. The only trip she did not accompany me on was the one to the far away city of Villavicencio.


Hala of Syria, making an early departure and that goodbye photo as the poets hurry through breakfast for another busy day


I had about ten readings throughout Medellin, reading in various venues with a team of four assigned different authors each time. I also had one solo presentation at the Afro-Colombian Center of Arts. My two out of town readings included a reading far into the Andes Mountains. This was one of the most fascinating of my participation. The Nowegian Poet, Erling Kittelsen and I were sent out to read in a far city of Villaviciencio on July 12, returning on July 13. I also had another reading out of town, with Armenian poet, Lola Koundakjian, just about an hour away to the town famous for its ceramic art, china ware. The town, Municipio del Carmen de Viboral.

Here are some connections in photos made during various readings:

In Municipio del Carmen, a five or six year old girl clung to me after the reading, telling me how much she liked my poetry and how she wanted to me to take her with me.


Connections to Children When Parents Bring Them:

Book signing after the African Poets reading in the Botanical garden that morning. Whenever there was a reading, the audience was so inspired and excited, they in turn inspired and excited us poets. Many in the audience came from various parts of South America. Besides these readings, I did a number of print, TV and newspaper magazine interviews.

Reading In Villaviciencio , Colombia:

When I arrived in Medellin on July 7, 2010, I saw that I would have to be driven to Medellin Airport for a one hour flight to Bogota, the capital city, and then driven to Villaviciencio for two hours. So on the morning of July 12, the Norwegian poet and I were taken to Medellin Airport to be flown to the high mountain city of Bogota. The driver, one of my favorite and the son of one of the founders of the Festival made the journey to the airport. To my surprise, the driver stopped by a mountain side eating/stop place and treated all of us to a beautiful lunch. We then took photos in the kitchen of the stop station.

The Driver The sign says 50, but hey.

The City of Villavicencio, according to Wikipedia, lies “in a rural zone of tropical climate… on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos. The city is east of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are a series of endless mountains that allows you to drive on clouds as if you were on a plane. I was so mesmerized, I took numerous photos as clouds swirled around the windshield of the car.

Despite its closeness to the vast Savannas that lie between the Andes range and the Amazon, you cannot drive from Bogota to Villavicencio without meandering through high mountains, long winding tunnels or feeling the pressure of the height of the region. According to the records, Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world, boasting more than 9000 feet above sea level. Right off the plane from Medellin, the cold chill hits you along with the pressure of the height. My allergies kicked in right away and I was quick to grab hold of my jacket. My Norwegian poetry colleague, Erling was a gentleman who quickly took my laptop from me as we made our way to the outside for the ride to Villavicencio. Our reading that night was at 7 pm, therefore, we became a bit nervous at being picked up fairly late.We arrived more than two hours later to an auditorium filled with more than 300 people, eager to hear these two foreign poets from different ends of the earth. Our Colombian colleagues and poet partners, interpreters, translators, including the Director of of Cultural Affairs were again as Colombians are, very warm, excited, loving, happy and welcoming. We were exhausted, but we went through quick orientations with our partners, which poems to read, gestures, what to expect, rehearsing quickly, hugs, embraces, laughter, and we hit the stage. Below are the photos of that evening, one of my last three reading evens of the festival.

Erling reading while I try to stretch my back on stage at our reading soon after arriving in this far away town.



Here in this photo are Erling of Norway, me, my reader, a Colombian young woman, a Colombian poet, Erling’s reader and the government official, Cultural Affairs Director, who hosted our visit and the Festival in his city. What a privilege it was for us to meet these warm people. Before the program began, the Colombian poet read a poem dedicated to me, presented flowers to me, a surprise, and everyone was happy.

Reading that evening in Villavicencio, Colombia

A Cross section of the hall that night.

The After Reading Photos: Folks are often excited after reading, and in this city, the norm was no different.

Kids who come to the reading ask the toughest questions. They know so much about poetry, about suffering, about war, and want to know how someone like me can end up not only in the US, but in a huge poetry festival. How did I begin writing, whether I like their country, and how I feel about returning to another festival. Often, they are accompanied by parents, also wanting answers. The most fascinating when the questions are posed is the warmth, the appreciation, and the open affection of the Colombian people, grateful to the visiting poet. There’s so much to learn from the Colombian people, from the International Poetry Festival, from their survival stories.

Afro-Colombian party.

Kenyan poet and a friend posing and photo from my hotel room porch with my visiting bird friend.

The visiting bird at the Gran Hotel visiting the visiting poets.

Bringing a Great Festival to Closure:

The last couple days of our stay in Colombia, many of us needed to go shopping, but the rain, the busy reading schedules, the lack of individual private translators, and of course interview schedules for some of us kept us from doing so. And yet, we found the time to slip out, some of us in small groups, visiting small vending places nearby the Gran Hotel where we were lodged. Althea, Grace Nichols, and others with me, joined the others, shopping for souvenir for our families and friends. We met the warmth of more Colombians in the market places, receiving small gifts and being recognized by the many who had followed us around the city. I took off on my own in between the beautiful hand-made jewelry counters, and came upon one Colombian vendor unlike everyone else I had met. He wanted to sell a necklace to me for 80,000 Pesos, but the necklace was worth 12.000 pesos, and I knew that. I could not speak Spanish, so I gave him a sheet of paper to write down the price. He did, and I asked him again to do so, and he repeated the price. I looked at him and smiled. “You are a big crook,” I said, but he did not understand me. I left him as he stared after me and went to the next vendor to purchase the same necklace at less than 12,000 pesos. In every beautiful country, you will see someone who is ugly, I laughed as I made my way bravely through the busy traffic back to the hotel where a journalist working for a French news agency was waiting to interview me.

July 17 marked the end of the festival; therefore, our hotel was ready for the last party with our own private dance group to shake up the place. Many of us watched for a few minutes and went to our rooms to pack. We would depart early for the airport, groups of us, coming from various regions of our one world, carrying in our hearts the one spirit of poetry, telling our sad and happy stories in stanzas and metaphors, the power of language that can heal and destroy, depending on how you want to use language. But here  in this mountain country, these wonderful people have discovered that words can be more powerful as a tool in forging peace. They have found the treasure of life, and have passed on this wonderful gift to their children over two decades, have brought the world to their doors, won hearts, and have sent us all out to let the world know that we have seen here is bigger and more wonderful than the negative propaganda that we’ve been told. As for me, I will never be the same again after meeting Colombia, after meeting the world at the festival, after sharing my own stories of pain and suffering with the Colombian people, after learning that love is not about what we have, but rather, about what we can give.

And so, the great festival ended on this note even as we poets sat around to watch the professional dancers do their thing.

(All photos are the exclusive right of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, and must not be used for any commercial purposes)

Links to Articles Around the Festival:

http://www.univision.com/contentroot/wirefeeds/noticias/8256821.shtml

http://www.festivaldepoesiademedellin.org/pub.php/en/Festival/XX_Festival/Prensa/index.htm




All My Travels: The Life of a Poet Isn’t as Bad as They Said It Would Be. Even Without the Money, Trust Me, You Still Have a Life, So, Com’on, Be a Poet if You’re Cut Out to Be

Every now and then, one of my teenagers jokingly says, “Mom, get a life!”

And I often say, “I’ve got a life, child, and I’ve got a good life that I’m grateful to have.”

One of my highlights prior to the OSU visit was my reading for the Fall for the Book Festival Reading in Sept. 2009: Here we go above and immediately below. Maybe I don’t have a life, but at least I have wonderful friends who love poetry.

It’s interesting when art and poetry merge: The woman in the painting is like a new competition in the world of poetry reading. I love this photo of her taking over the mic from me even though she’s only in the picture.

Associate Vice President and my good friend, Robert Killoren of Ohio State University, who was one of my hosts on February 25, 2010, photo taken after my talk on: “Travel Research and Writing: A Big World in the Small Storie We Tell”


A Chinese lady in the audience at the talk. She was one of the sweetest people I met on my visit.

Assistant to the Associate Vice President, Theresa, who worked so hard with the VP to bring me to OSU.

My African sister and a professor at OSU, originally from Sierra Leone, Miriam Conteh-Morgan, who was gracious to sit through the talk after she’d listened to my radio interview on NPR.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow U? I still want to be a poet when I grow up.

When I was a kid in Monrovia, Liberia, my father’s company of men and women would take a break from their beer, food and laughter to talk to us children. In the living room, near Capital Bye Pass or Warwien, where we lived, my father would call me out to greet his company of Grebo people, mostly middle class, affluent, Grebo people who had settled in Monrovia in the late 1940s and early 1950s. They were now doing great in the Monrovia of the 1970s.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” A tipsy man or woman would ask me in the middle of the Saturday laughter, the bright Liberian, sun piercing through everything. “What do you want to be, baby girl? They say you ae clever, ” one of them would say, staring at me.
“I want to be a writer, a poet or something,” I’d say, often trembling, scared to death of my stepmother who didn’t like me very much.”
“A writer? A writer?” Someone in the group, sitting on my father’s plush sofa would rebuke.
“What kind of clever girl want-to grow up and be a writer?” They would roar with laughter.
“You should be a doctor or something, a doctor, I mean,” one of the men would add, and there was more laughing. All of this was said in impeccable Grebo, with all of the nuances and sighs a Grebo person is capable of. There of course were proverbs to spice up their disapproval. A woman these days had to learn something, they all agreed, not be some writer.
“She wants to be a writer,” my father would come to my rescue, “and that’s okay. I only want her to be educated, very, very educated so no man takes advantage of her,” he would finish.
“Girl, you need to grow up and be a doctor or some kind of big politician,” most of the company agreed, and I’d walk away to my room or to the kitchen or to the front porch, away from the suffocation of their adult world.

Emmanuel Wettee and the young Ms. Nagana after the symposium, snapped in this photo with me. It was a pleasure to have a few Africans at the OSU symposium talk.


I wondered all through my childhood and adolescence what was wrong with becoming a writer. Why did people think a poet or a writer wasn’t important just because doctors make money and poets didn’t?
“Or maybe you can become a teacher so you don’t have to starve while you write,” another of the visitors would follow me with one last comment even as I fled their company. I didn’t have much to say  since an African child was not supposed to express strong opinions in such a situation.

Daughter of Dr. Nanaga, young med. student at Ohio who took time out to attend my symposium talk, Emmanuel Wettee, one of the leaders of Liberians in the Diaspora at the symposium at OSU.

Dr. Ado Dan-Isa of Beyaro University in Nigeria, now a Research Scholar at OSU


So, I ended up being the writer who could have become a medical doctor, making money somewhere to feed me and all my relatives from my home town. If you know Liberians, then you know that they do not care about writers or poets or any such crazy folks like me. For most Liberians, you have to be a government cabinet minister or an important official if you want people to listen to you. But that’s one of our many problems as a people. Any nation that refuses to understand the importance of art in the life of its people is simply moving toward self-destruction.

Below is a link to one of my interviews at OSU. This link is to the one on NPR with Ann Fisher. Here is a photo in the studio, and then the one hour interview. Ann was one of my highest points, an exciting and vibrant interviewer who comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan. What a nice surprise to know that only in the studio.

http://www.spokenword.org/program/978685

The life of a poet or writer isn’t as bad as it was made out to be, I now know.

When I look at my life, the wonderful people I meet as I travel for poetry readings and talks from campus to campus, the wonderful students and lovers of poetry that enrich my life, I say, I’d never give up this for anything else. Where would a poet be without poetry? Where would the world be without poetry, you may ask.

A cross section of the audience at the poetry reading during my Ohio State Visit: It was an added treat when fellow poet and former grad student from IUP, James Barker came to the OSU reading with his students.

This academic year alone, I have been to several places, reading and signing books alongside my life as a teacher. My world is larger because of the many friends of my writing whose lives have enriched mine, and yet, I can still feed myself, which is a surprise. Often, I get bored reading my own poetry from place to place, bored that after I have written something, I have to go out and read it. But when I see the excitement of those who know how to appreciate art for its sake, I am encouraged. They bring a lot to the life that we lead.

Reading poetry at OSU

What do I tell my writing students? What do I tell fellow writers who enjoy this writing life, and often, this traveling life? Well, if this is your calling, don’t fight it. Use it to enrich some life, to bless the world, to be a consolation, to ask the questions no one wants to ask, to tell other people’s stories through your own eyes, to be there, simply, an ordinary writer whose gifts have nothing to do with intelligence or power.

And yet there were many other readings prior to this. Here are some of the past readings in brief. Sometime last year, there were readings for the Fall for the Book Festival as seen in these other photos, and of course, accidentally, with me wearing the same outfit. Being a writer does not often mean one will know which fashion to wear at an occasion, but here we go.

Signing books at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art Reading in Sept. 2009


My poet friend whom I admire a lot, Gabeba Baderoon and me after the Smithsonian reading in Washington DC

Liberian writer, Elma Shaw who attended my reading at the Smithsonian and took this photo.

My life as a writer is a small gift that comes from God, the power that only the divine can give. Why did anyone think that something was wrong with being a writer?

Another reading at Clarion University in PA. Daughter of immigrant Liberians, now a senior student on the left and her friend pose for a photo after my reading in Sept. 2010

See how short I am posing beside this Math professor at Clarion. He is originally from the Sudan.

I grew up to discover early on in my life that there were others out there who love poetry and writing, those who value writers. There were my professors, and of course, my father who taught me over and over that I had something to give to the world. There were publisher, mentors, other writers, struggling like me both in Liberia and in the US, who made the writing life worthwhile. I discovered that publihsers who edit the junk I write, magazine publishers who discovered me for themselves were far more valuable than we make them out to be. Without them, where would we be? Speaking for myself, where would I be if no one had said to me, “This is not good; this is good or this is trash.”

My hosts, Poet and Professor at Clairon, Phil Terman, who is a good friend of mine and Roger, both who worked diligently to get me to their campus. Where would the world be without poets who love poetry?

Poets are because many others out there are: Here’s to you. “Where the Road Turns” forthcoming.

Not too long ago, the publisher of my third book of poems, Michael Simms sent me one of the best e-mails I’d ever got, asking if I wanted him to look at my new manuscript of poems, and if I were interested in him publishing it. I quickly placed it in the mail, and now, we have a book forthcoming, and I say “we,” since I never consider myself to be the only author of any of my books.

For who will ever believe that those classmates, friends, fellow poets, publishers, professors, and mentors who have shaped us are not also co- authors of any one book that comes out anywhere in the world? A book is like a child; it takes a village to raise it, so of course, I don’t believe that just because I grew up thinking I would be a writer means I am a writer on my own island.  In fact, I’m still trying to be a writer, if you ask me.

I didn’t know that despite the lack of money from the writing life of a poet, despite the lack of huge grants as other writers are lucky to get, that I would indeed love my life as it is. My life has been scarred by tears, but poetry has been a source of strength simply because it is beautiful and those who appreciate what I do are even more beautiful. I once told my medical doctor neighbors that I am the only doctor on our street whose patients are a bunch of lines and mataphors arranged on a page, penniless patients of words and yet, it is these same words that may heal what a doctor cannot heal.

LUCILLE CLIFTON: (June 27, 1936- Feb. 13, 2010) A great American poet- May her soul rest in peace.

Lucille Clifton departed this life as we know it on Feb. 13, 2010, having lived the full life of a poet.

I studied her poetry during my final doctoral project towards my oral defense when I chose to study her connection to African poetry under the topic: “The Influence of The African Oral Tradition on Black American Poetry: A Connection Between Lucille Clifton’s Poetry and its African forebears, using Okot p’Betik’s “Song of Lawino” as a Source of Reference.” Now I treasure AWP 2009 where I last saw her.

Finally, let me conclude this blog post with a tribute to Lucille Clifton, a great poet, a mentor, a woman whose poetry life helped to show me that poetry is worth everything, that writing is a calling, and that no matter what, a poet is a poet for life. Goodbye, Lucille. We will all miss seeing you at AWP this year, but your spirit will linger here with us. We are, because you were and still are.

The Mississippi River Empties Into the Gulf

By Lucille Clifton

and the gulf enters the sea and so forth,
none of them emptying anything,
all of them carrying yesterday
forever on their white tipped backs,
all of them dragging forward tomorrow.
it is the great circulation
of the earth’s body, like the blood
of the gods, this river in which the past
is always flowing. every water
is the same water coming round.
everyday someone is standing on the edge
of this river, staring into time,
whispering mistakenly:
only here. only now.

sorrow song
by Lucille Clifton

for the eyes of the children,
the last to melt,
the last to vaporize,
for the lingering
eyes of the children, staring,
the eyes of the children of
buchenwald,
of viet nam and johannesburg,
for the eyes of the children
of nagasaki,
for the eyes of the children
of middle passage,
for cherokee eyes, ethiopian eyes,
russian eyes, american eyes,
for all that remains of the children,
their eyes,
staring at us,   amazed to see
the extraordinary evil in
ordinary men.

[if mama / could see]

by Lucille Clifton

if mama
could see
she would see
lucy sprawling
limbs of lucy
decorating the
backs of chairs
lucy hair
holding the mirrors up
that reflect odd
aspects of lucy.

if mama
could hear
she would hear
lucysong rolled in the
corners like lint
exotic webs of lucysighs
long lucy spiders explaining
to obscure gods.

if mama
could talk
she would talk
good girl
good girl
good girl
clean up your room.

Happy New Year’s Wishes to My Readers, Friends, and Supporters: May 2010 Bring You Lots of Prosperity and Happiness


The Blessing

____By: Patricia Jabbeh Wesley


Let your days ahead be sprinkled with laughter
and with laughter, peace.
May all you touch spring forth with freshness.
Find time to giggle and dance and jump,
and watch the setting of the sun.
When you wake up, wonder out loud
about the sun’s rays, about the darkening
of the morning, about the fog over the hills,
about your babies down the hall,
about the neighbor and her dog. Wonder
at the stars; wonder and wonder why
you are so blessed and why is it you are
among those of the earth who have
more than their allotted air for breathing.
Wonder why the cat meows and why
the dog wags its tail.
Wonder and wonder why dew falls
at night and about the squirrel’s fleeting stare.
Make laughter come alive in your home.
And when you touch someone, let that touch
be real, and I mean, real, my friend.
Walk gently on soft ground, and when
you walk on a bare rock, step hard, this
life is precious. May your year follow only
through a clear path, and please, when you walk,
let it be with God, my love, let it be with God.

— Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Copyright: from new manuscript of poetry)

New Year’s Day is celebrated all around the world with grandeur, pomp and pride. No matter where you are, New Year’s Day is recognized as a significant bridge between the old present and the future, between the past and the future, between the new and old generation. Today, 2010 is no different. This however, is the end of a decade, a major bridge into a new era. In Liberia, New Year’s Day is celebrated by huge cooking and neighborly well wishing, visitation of relatives and open doors for children to roam in their dressy outfits just as much as they did at Christmas. In fact, when I was a child, our parents bought us two holiday outfits, one for Christmas and one for New Year’s Day. Today, however, many of us now live abroad, in the US, in Europe and around the world where our children can be assured of lots of eating and watching of football at home after watching the ball drop at Times Square or for some, after partying all night.

But why is the New Year significant to us Africans? In many African traditions, the New Year is a time when there is much hope and expectation that the old year’s troubles will be past and the new year will bring better times, goodness and happiness, prosperity and greatness. In many traditions, our people sacrifice animals in order to assure a good future. Here, today, many of us who are immigrants pause for a better year, for prosperity just as much as our forefathers.
Last night, I called home at about 8:30 Eastern time here, 1 am, in Liberia, and wished my father a Happy New Year. He, at 83, was already in the new decade, already in the New Year, and I, living across the ocean was still in 2009.

This is the serious question however: what do you expect of this New Year? What was the last year like for you? Many will say that the last year was a difficult year for them. For many, there was the loss of good jobs, of relatives losing their jobs, and yet despite all, many of us for the first time saw the Presidency of the first black president in the United States. So, maybe, it was a mixed year for you. For some, their heartache was not just professional, but emotional, social, marital, etc. Whatever the year was for you, you are at this new beginning, hoping for a better year. I wish you the best. I wish you will receive all that is good and wonderful, that your home will be healed, and that you will draw closer to God. I am grateful for the thousands of hits this blog has got since its founding a less than three years ago. I am grateful for the hundreds of comments from my readers, and wish that we together can one day bring peace to refugees, immigrants, and all of the downtrodden of our world. May the sun go before you and the moon be upon your path in 2010.

WORLD REFUGEE DAY- JUNE 20, 2009: How Many Refugees Does the World Still Need? You Tell Me…

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Here comes another World Refugee Day to be celebrated or commemorated around the world, most particularly, in the West, where there are less refugees than in the so-called third world and developing countries. With more violence springing up and more people pumping up dictators and war lovers, the question is: “how many refugees does the world need?”

The UNHCR or the United Nations Refugee Agency claims that this day, June 20, 2009 is set aside each year to commemorate the heroic endurance of refugees who have been victimized by violence around the world. UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, Angelina Jolie appeared alongside UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres “to call on the world to recognize millions of victims of conflict around the world not as a burden but as a potential gift.” This is a good thing.

As a former refugee myself, I appreciate this kind of effort by Angelina Jolie. I only wish there were many more rich, caring celebrities, world renowned people, Presidents of powerful countries, dictators or former dictators out there who care like Angelina. Despite her many efforts, her passion, she alone cannot accomplish what each of us working together can do to end world violence that causes refugee crisis. We cannot cry about the plight of the Iranian people without connecting what that new violence will do to create more refugees.

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This shot was taken during my 2008 visit to the Liberian Buduburam Refugee camp that was home to more than 45,000 Liberians for nearly 20 years.


We cannot love the war in the Middle East without understanding how any war there will cause more commemoration of refugee days. There is a correlation between dictatorship, poor governments, big powers not doing anything to curtail injustice around the world and refugee crisis. When I fled the war in Liberia nearly twenty years ago, I was not declared a refugee nor were any Liberians. But by the time we’d fled in 1991, there were, according to news reports, 250,000 Liberians dead from the bloody civil war and wanton destruction. Ten years later and fifteen years later, the UN has not raised the figure of dead. Today, there are tens of thousands of Liberians still in refugee camps at the end of a fourteen year civil war. Are we celebrating those too? Are we celebrating their courage, their endurance, and if we are, why can’t we pressure the UN to give to Liberians who want to go home the minimum resettlement they need to return? Why give them a hundred dollars to return to devastation, thereby keeping them in refugee camps for another decade. Why?

refugee-spie-1

March 23, 2009 by abluteau:There are millions of refugees around the world. Some of them are in camps, like these children in Chad, but many are not. Often, families get separated as they flee violence or natural disaster

A video of America’s Angelina Jolie, whom we all adore, including myself on her one woman efforts is being watched, but who’s really listening?


There are 45 million official UN confirmed refugees in our world today, not counting the millions of displaced, dislocated, unregistered, real people, mostly women and children who have had to abandon everything to flee death in their homelands. We need to not commemorate this sort of pain; instead, we need to STOP this sort of pain, stop it, stop dictators from being created, stop them from staying in power, stop pumping them up until it is too late, stop rebels from attacking innocent women and children, stop big and powerful countries from profiting on the blood of innocent people, stop Africa from being destroyed, stop the violence currently in Iran, in Iraq, in North Korea, everywhere. We need to stop talking and celebrating what we think we have done. We need to stop sleeping unless we can stop the carnage that is destroying our world. There is no need for us to have a “World Refugee Day” year after year. There should be no refugee if we can remember the horrible violence that is destroying our world.

CHAD REFUGEESblogs.mirror.co.uk/developing-world-stories/c.

This World Refugee Day like in previous years, everyone will congratulate one another again on the achievements the world has made, and the UN, of course, will give reports about their needs and the plight of refugees. The UN will also separate the goats from the sheep, the “refugees” from the “not so refugees,” and will reduce the number just so we don’t look bad, so we don’t appear to be so evil as to sit while other human beings in Dafur and other parts of the world die.

Pakistani-refugees  More than 45m Refugees in the World!

These pictured above are not called “Refugees,” but displaced, get it?

According to National Geographic, in 2003, there were 35 million refugees in the world, most of them women and children. These often talented, very educated, innocent people around our globe were forced to flee their homes, towns, cities, villages simply because some politicians around the globe in connection with the powers that be caused them to be caught up in wars and other violence. Today, according to the United Nations Agency, UNHCR, there are 45 million refugees around the world. But let’s just imagine that this is the figure that fits the United Nation’s description of the word, “REFUGEES.” Remember, the word refugee or the status of a refugee depends on the United Nations willingness to declare a nation’s real people, “Refugee.” The UN does not play around with this word. They can decide that two hundred thousand people who fled Liberia into neighboring countries when the Liberian civil war first erupted “were not refugees” because the UN did not yet see them as refugees, but “DISPLACED PERSONS,” get it?

WITH THIS CALENDAR ON THE UNHCR SITE, YOU SHOULD LOOK FORWARD TO MORE REFUGEES

Select another year-range:
Weekday     Date     Year     Name    Holiday type    Where it is observed
Wed    Jun 20    2001    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Thu    Jun 20    2002    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Fri    Jun 20    2003    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Sun    Jun 20    2004    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Mon    Jun 20    2005    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Tue    Jun 20    2006    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Wed    Jun 20    2007    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Fri    Jun 20    2008    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Sat    Jun 20    2009    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Sun    Jun 20    2010    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Mon    Jun 20    2011    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Wed    Jun 20    2012    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Thu    Jun 20    2013    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Fri    Jun 20    2014    World Refugee Day    United Nation day
Sat    Jun 20    2015    World Refugee Day    United Nation day

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These are refugees I met in the Buduburam camp outside of Accra, Ghana. Many still need to return home.

How many countries will fall into refugee crisis before the world pays attention to real people’s needs instead of to politically charged stories? How many millions around the world will die in refugee camps around the globe before we make refugee issues a priority like we make the needs of richer countries?
Today, the UNHCR’s number of refugee stands at 45 million, but the real number will never be known. You must remember with me and account for the millions who are displaced across the borders of their countries, displaced for years in other countries, people who have no country anymore, who cannot return home even if they wanted to. And as you remember, realize also that there are dictators, warlords, like Liberia’s Charles Taylor who are making fun of peace and justice by evading the truth of their war crimes. We need to set aside time to bring them to justice. Remember that there are millions in the Dafur region, in Chad, in Iran, in Iraq, and all over the world who continue to suffer as a result of violence.

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As we slow down our pace in the free world and reflect on refugees around the world, I am reminded of one refugee who waited nearly fifteen years to return home, and on the brink of her return, died.

My young sister-in-law, Ora Sansan Wesley Dixon, who was a vibrant, industrious young woman died just two weeks after she and I stood together in Buduburam, talking about the need to return home to Liberia. Sansan, as we affectionately called her was a hardworker who despite years of the war, having lost her mother and many family, made a small life for herself in the infamous Buduburam camp in Ghana.

Photos For Mom 260

The things that refugees acquired over nearly two decades can fit in a small space of a truck if they survive or acquire anything at all.

Photos For Mom 255 My late sister-in-law, Oral Wesley Dixon in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Accra, Ghana. May her soul rest in peace as we commemorate World Refugee Day.

The lack of medical facilities caused her to suddenly become ill, and died of conditions not quite explained just a couple weeks after the photos below. As you may observe in the photos, I am standing before the truck that was supposed to take the few possessions of dozens of refugees back to Liberia in the UNHCR’s attempt to repatriate Liberians. Liberian women had gone on strike early that year, but never got what they needed to survive their return to the devastated Liberia.

Many had decided it was no use staying in a country where they were not wanted, and were leaving. On the trucks were old beds, chairs, pots and the few belongings refugees could for over a decade. Sansan had also paid for her own few possessions to be placed on the truck. There was no money to take them, so family members had pitched in to fly her back home in August after her things were sent to Liberia. Family had made room for her. She was among the lucky who still had family that cared about her or that had survived fourteen years of warfare.

She offered me food that afternoon, my aid, Enock, refusing to eat from someone who had so little, he said. But Ora insisted to no avail. Enock, a Ghanaian was so saddened, tears welled his eyes to see the sort of condition refugees lived in. There was one small stool, the entire little shack, empty of all of Sansan’s possessions. She was her happy jubilant self, but deep down, she was hurting and she told me so very easily. She’d lost everyone, including her mother whom we wept for as I tried to stay focused on the purpose of my visit to the camp: to be a consolation to her and to her friends. The life of a refugee is more uncertain than anything any of us knows. I knew that for months as I fled in the bushes in Liberia. But when that war fled from in 1990 was supposed to be over, and after all these years, people have to pay for their own repatriation, then why are we celebrating their strength? I am not saying that the UN is doing nothing; I am saying that the UN and the world can do more.

Photos For Mom 254 Ora Sansan Wesley Dixon who died July 2008, nearly a year ago at Buduburam Refugee Camp near Accra, Ghana. May Her Soul Rest in Peace and the Almighty Shine His Eternal light upon her.


For me, Ora Wesley Dixon represents the face of the refugee crisis. In her last days in the Buduburam Refugee camp in Ghana, she had learned to survive, to make a life, got married, found a job helping other Liberians, putting herself through school as a preparation to return home. But her life was cut short by lack of medical care. She may not seem like the poster child of war refugees in tents in the dessert, but she’d already been there after more than ten years of refugee life. She had seen it, but she never lived to return home. She had packed, but never returned.

Today, according to Liberian journalist, Ekena Wesley, there are about 10,000 Liberian refugees still in Ghana alone, with others scattered around the world.

As I conclude this post, I know that there is much more that the world can do to end world violence and bring peace to most of the world’s refugees. There must be more than one Angelina Jolie in the world. All of us in our own small ways can bring the refugee crisis to the world’s attention. There are many more refugees whose plight is much worse than the Liberian, the Sierra Leonean, the Chadian or even the Middle Eastern Crisis. There are worse wars that have lasted decades, like the Colombian war that is more than forty years old. We need to cry out until there are no more refugees or displaced people around the world. We can do it if we are united. Thank you.

United States TSA Denies Delta Airlines Direct Flight to Monroiva, Liberia: This is a Blessing In Disguise

Photo for possible web

The United States Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has denied Delta Airlines direct flight to Monrovia, Liberia and to Nairobi, Kenya. In a June 3 statement,  the TSA said, “due to noted security vulnerabilities in and around Nairobi, and the failure to meet international security standards and appropriate recommended practices established by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) at the Roberts International Airport in Monrovia, TSA is currently denying air service by Delta to Nairobi and Monrovia until security standards are met or security threat assessments change.”

The decision to deny Delta permission to fly directly to Nairobi may or may not have a strong basis, but my blog discussion will focus only on the TSA decision against Monrovia, Liberia. This is because of my experience as a Liberian immigrant and my experiences with travel to Liberia.

Delta

Liberians are shocked, and of course, it is obvious that many Liberians would be disappointed in this decision. Liberian nationals and immigrants living in the US as well as other international travelers desperate to fly directly and cheaper to Monrovia would love to get a relief from the desperation they face when they have to book a ticket to Monrovia. There is a high demand for flights to Monrovia, and with each demand comes higher ticket prices. Try booking a ticket to Monrovia, and it is like striking a steel wall with another piece of steel. From my experience, you sit at the computer for weeks, trying to find a suitable airline to a country you so love. So, anyone can understand how desperate Liberians and international travelers to Monrovia can be and how desperately we need relief.

DSCN0299

–My beautiful baby sister, Margretta Yeeyee Jabbeh Meeting me at the Roberts International Airport near Monrovia

Besides these travelers, it is inarguably true that Liberian officials and the President of Liberia would love to have such a reputable airline as Delta introduce direct flights to Monrovia. This would give the impression that things in Liberia are improving and that the country is ready to move toward a great future. Maybe this is one more need for window-dressing. Maybe this is a real desire on their part. Whatever their motive might be, one cannot argue that the move to deny Delta this opportunity is a blessing in disguise and is good for the country and for travelers right now. It is also a good thing for Delta. But you do not have to agree with me. Just keep reading on.

DSCN0347

——Parts of Monrovia- Photo by Wyne Jabbeh

The TSA here in the US may have its faults, and their faults are numerous. In fact, I have regularly been targeted at airports each time I fly, and everything I carry on me is examined with double eyes for whatever reason or the other. My suitcases are always among the “random” checked baggage, something that is surprising. It does not matter where I travel to, throughout the US, to China, to South America or within Africa, they usually stamp the “SSSS” on to my ticket. Often, they examine me as though I were a specimen, and all my private documents are poked at, including my medications. I often have to be at the airport at least two hours before since I expect to be the victim of unnecessary inspection. But I don’t despair, and since I love the job they do to keep us safe most of the time, I really don’t mind. I also love the special attention they give me, and simply smile my way through. After all, I have nothing to hide. But you know, I’d prefer they found the right person to search instead of me, who is such a peace loving woman.
But I believe in the TSA and what they do to make us safe in the air and on the ground. I believe in the TSA’s need to monitor which countries, cities, regions of the world American planes can fly to, and if Monrovia is found unsafe or the airport is found unready, can anyone argue against that?

Try checking with international travelers, Liberian immigrants returning home or even Liberians traveling back and forth wherever they want, and find out what they know about the Roberts International Airport. Then find out from travelers of Delta Airlines between any country where they fly directly from the US to Africa, and discover for yourself their opinions about the sorts of planes Delta flies to Africa, the process of booking and checking in passengers, and the sub-standards for Africa compared to the high standards they have for European or American cities.

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—Beautiful West Africa- 2008

But before we discuss Delta, let’s first get down to the issue of the Roberts International Airport. Do not despair, it is not all bad. The folks at the airport, receiving and sending you off do not mean any harm. They are simply doing what they used to do before the war. Corruption and bribing still abounds. Someone has to do something about the craziness at the airport, and I hope the Delta denial causes the government to probe into this and put an end to the corruption and the craziness with checking in and departing the country at that airport.

DSCN0327

—The burnt down E. J. Roye Building and the Centennial Pavilion in the background

The Roberts International Airport needs attention if it is to compete for international airlines, and that improvement begins not only with the rebuilding of infrastructure in order to accommodate the after-September 11 standards, but also with airport personnel attending to travelers at the airport. During my 2008 visit home, I was shocked to note that airport workers were engaged in all sorts of tricks in order to obtain bribe from me. They ceased my passport upon entry, claiming that a passport that I was approved to travel with from the US was outdated. I informed them that I was entering the country and that I would buy a new passport. I also told them that my passport was valid since it had just been renewed by the Liberian Consul General in the US, but they just pushed me around, yelling, and treating me like a criminal until I demanded to see their manager. When the manager, a woman took one look at me, she ordered them to release my passport to me immediately so I would get out of the airport. I was spared the opportunity of giving them a bribe this time.

Upon departure, again, my passport was ceased. I had bought me a new passport, but was told by check-in agents that I needed to use my old passport that had been stamped throughout my trip in order to validate myself on my way out. This was in keeping with international standards and laws,  the first person who checked me in told me. I was traveling with Kenya Airlines to connect in Accra, Ghana to Delta. After I had been checked in, I proceeded to immigration, where my passport was again ceased, and I was lectured by some agent, and again tricked that I needed to pay a fine for coming into the country with an old/valid passport. I was delayed, and of course, there were others being delayed by this same craziness. Around me in the small room, were crowds of travelers who were confused about what was going on, people passing through, and I wondered.

This craziness must end if Monrovia is to compete for and with international airlines. The denial of Delta to begin direct flights to Monrovia this month is a something that should make the Liberian fficials stop and do something drastic to regulate the airport workers and bring sanity to traveling to Monrovia.

Finally, Delta Airlines is a point I will conclude on. Delta is not ready to go to Liberia, I’d say. First of all, Delta needs to improve its standards for this very important transatlantic trip. Delta is not ready for Liberia. Why am I saying such a horrible thing, oh God?

I used to be the greatest Delta fan. I flew Delta at least a dozen times a year until last July, 2008, when I flew with Delta to Accra, Ghana. I have never ever flown Delta since then, and my mileage points are still waiting to be claimed. I had the experience of my life that made me cry, kept me stranded another day in Accra, cost me unnecessary hardship, and made me so desperate for cash, my son had to wire money to me in Ghana.

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—Monrovia, 2008- Meeting with Cuttington University Officials

On my flight to Accra for a two week poetry teaching experience, I traveled alone on July 4th instead of with the group of Pan African Literary Forum (PALF) Creative Writing team. The first awkward thing I noticed at the airport in New York was that the Delta flight was so overbooked. We had to fight for a place on the plane since way too many passengers had been booked. Of course, others were left behind in New York. On the plane, I noticed how substandard the plane was with only one working restroom for the back cabin. This plane carried about three hundred passengers. But that was the better side of my journey.

On my return trip to the US via the Kotoko International Airport in Accra once more, I arrived at 7 a.m. on August 4th for a 10:30 flight. That should have been enough time, you’d say. After all, I had confirmed my trip, and had obtained my confirmation via internet in Accra the day before. When I arrived at the airport, there was a pandemonium. Delta had overbooked once more, but here, the game was different. The airline attendants did not care whether a passenger was confirmed or not. They had preselected who would and who would not travel through another corrupt selection. So, those of us arriving at 7 am were told that we were too late. We were given the run around to check this and check that until 8 am. Then they shut the gate for checking in. Others who had better connections got our places on the plane, and we were left stranded. After all the shouting and confusion, I was told to go and rebook for travel the next day.

After the initial shock wore off, and I was left in the crowd of confused travelers, I tried to pose my arguments to the agents. I was ill, and had already been in Accra two days on my connection, and my medications were out. I took my case as far as to the Manager, went to several offices, requesting that my original seat be given me since the plane still had yet to arrive. I met with a team of managers, broke down and wept, called Delta USA, but all my pleas were to no avail.

I then took up the matter for Delta to give me accommodation since I arrived at the airport at 7 am for a 10:30 flight, but they refused to check me in. The airline agents had in their corrupt deal claimed that I arrived at 8 am. What if I had arrived at 8 am? Wouldn’t two and a half hours have been sufficient for someone who had booked and was confirmed?

So, what did they do to accommodate me? Nothing. By noon, I dragged my luggage back to town, returned to my hotel and pleaded with hotel clerks to recheck me in. I paid for another day and waited for the next Delta flight to come in. The day of my travel, I was at the airport at 4 am for a 10:30 flight. I was shocked to note that in order to give seats to the wrong passengers, Delta agents in Ghana told their friends to arrive that early. So, I went through check-in, and was upgraded without any cost to me. The agents thought that this would calm my frustrations. If they could do that, why couldn’t they do what was right in the first place?

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So, here was I in First Class with others like me who had been left behind the day before. Everything should have been great- right? No.

The agents on the plane knew better than to be fooled by non-first class passengers being given a one time opportunity in first class. The plane was already delayed by five hours so the agents were probably tired and angry. They were so rude to us, refusing to give us the same treatment real first class passengers were given. But that was not bad enough until we arrived in New York six hours delayed for no weather or apparent reasons.

We had missed all of our connecting flights, naturally, arriving close to midnight instead of at 5 pm. After customs, we were told to find our way to some

Ramada Hotel, and if we could speed up there fast enough, we would find rooms. If we delayed, we would be out of luck again. With so many passengers from our flight and other delayed Delta flights, it was another rush. Handicapped passengers could not make it fast enough, of course. I was one of the few lucky ones to get one of the last rooms. That night, there were dozens of African and other international travelers with small children who were stranded in the hotel lobby. Some of them were with children, with their Delta vouchers in their hands. But they had no food or rooms to sleep in.

Yes, we need a great airliner to travel to Monrovia, but Monrovia and the airline must be ready to do the job according to international standards. The TSA is a great security monitor, and it is making the best decision for all of us. If the quality of services I have described is what Monrovia is to expect, then this is a good time for both Delta and Liberian officials to reassess their mission and purpose. What do we want in an agreement between Delta and Monrovia? Do we want to travel safely or do we simply want to travel?