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

AFRICA

                  —Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

The calabash
now shattered

her contents
spilled
like palm wine

across the regions
of the world.

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

MONROVIA 2008

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

On the side walk, patches of people
linger late.

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

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

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

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

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

looking like returnees
from the dead.

The city is hot, burning like steel
with hunger.

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

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

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

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

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

CITY

                     —–Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLOGGING:

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

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

BRINGING CLOSURE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________

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

                                                    Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________

THE WOMEN IN MY FAMILY

                                        Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

____________________________________________________________________________________________

WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN

                Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (1998, Before the Palm Could Blook

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

WHAT DIRGE

                              –Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

FINDING MY FAMILY

                            Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

 

____________________________________________________________________________________________

POETRY ABOUT OTHER COUNTRIES:

MEDELLIN, 2007

               —-Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Liberia Be Rebuilt Without Us?

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

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

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

The Casualties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shock We Diaspora Liberians Experience:

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

Surprise:

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

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

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

But I Came Back?

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

2011:

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

Wow!

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

Liberia Needs Everyone:

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

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

We Are Not All Out to Steal Your Jobs:

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

Meeting the President of UL: There is Hope

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

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

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

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

The Issues:

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

The Other Side of the Issues:

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

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

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

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

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

When Monrovia Rises

—-By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buduburam:

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

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

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

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

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

Liberian Attitude and the Liberian Refugee:

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

Liberian attitude must change.


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

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

LIBERIAN ATTITUDE MUST CHANGE:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2001-2010- What A Decade! But Wait, Are We Going to Repeat the Mistakes of the Last Decade?

What is the iphone or the ipod to me if the people that I love cannot find food to eat, clothes to wear, water to drink or when their governments cannot be accountable to them? What is Liberia or Africa if Ivory Coast goes down to another civil war, if another horrific warfare starts up again in the region? What is the Presidency to Gbagbo or to Quattara if the Ivorian people are running all over the bushes, seeking refuge just because these two men cannot put the interest of the citizens above theirs?American Soldier in Iraq (copyright: overgroundonline.com)                 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake (wikipedia)

Haitian Earthquake (copyright: mirror.co.uk)

(New Orleans Disaster image below: whatchusay.com)

With the decade’s numerous civil wars in West Africa alone, the global warfare for and against Terrorism in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Drug wars in the Americas, the decade’s Tsunamis, numerous earthquakes, flooding, heatwaves, all to immeasurable degrees, it is a wonder we have all survived so far. Millions have however, perished in this decade, not only from the wars with their numerous massacres, but also the brain puzzling numbers of deaths in the Tsunamis in Asia, stretching as far as Africa, the Haitian earthquake alone, taking a quarter of a million down and the terrible wars in the Middle East. What has this decade been to us that we would want repeated in the next? Nothing. Yes, we have seen great successes in technological indulgences of the ipod, the i phone, improvement in electronic communication, including the use of cell phones in the remotest villages of the world, including my mother’s home village of Dolokeh that almost no one on earth has ever heard of, but what are these to the few of us who enjoy them when the entire world is in turmoil?

Nothing.


2001-2010 Has Been A Challenging and A Great Decade

In Liberia:  The Liberian Civil War finally ended when Charles Taylor was forced to leave Liberia for Nigeria in 2003. The Interim Transitional government under the leadership of the Chairman of the Council State, Gyude Bryant took over with the departure of Taylor in 2003. In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first female President of Liberia and the only female President of an African country, thus ending fourteen years of warfare in Liberia.                  (Sept. 11 photo: copyright: scrapetv.com)

(copyright: ewshopper.sulekha.com)

Bones of Liberians dug up from mass graves in 2009 (above)

Night in Sine

by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Woman, place your soothing hands upon my brow,
Your hands softer than fur.
Above us balance the palm trees, barely rustling
In the night breeze. Not even a lullaby.
Let the rhythmic silence cradle us.
Listen to its song. Hear the beat of our dark blood,
Hear the deep pulse of Africa in the mist of lost villages.

Now sets the weary moon upon its slack seabed
Now the bursts of laughter quiet down, and even the storyteller
Nods his head like a child on his mother’s back
The dancers’ feet grow heavy, and heavy, too,
Come the alternating voices of singers.

Now the stars appear and the Night dreams
Leaning on that hill of clouds, dressed in its long, milky pagne.
The roofs of the huts shine tenderly. What are they saying
So secretly to the stars? Inside, the fire dies out
In the closeness of sour and sweet smells.

Woman, light the clear-oil lamp. Let the Ancestors
Speak around us as parents do when the children are in bed.
Let us listen to the voices of the Elissa Elders. Exiled like us
They did not want to die, or lose the flow of their semen in the sands.
Let me hear, a gleam of friendly souls visits the smoke-filled hut,
My head upon your breast as warm as tasty dang streaming from the fire,
Let me breathe the odor of our Dead, let me gather
And speak with their living voices, let me learn to live
Before plunging deeper than the diver
Into the great depths of sleep.

Translated by Melvin Dixon (Poetry Foundation website)

Léopold Sédar Senghor, “Night in Sine” from The Collected Poems, translated by Melvin Dixon. Copyright © 1998 by The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia on behalf of the University of Virginia Press. Reprinted by permission of The University of Virginia Press.Source: The Collected Poems (The University of Virginia Press, 1998)______________________________________________________________________________

(Sierra Leoneian Civilians caught in the crossfire in the civil war of the 1990s below)

The decade saw the end to many wars in West Africa, the gathering of forgotten bones and stories, the beginning of the rebuilding process and the beginning of new wars with the environment. As the new decade begins, let us not forget the people and the sort of heartless cruelty that plunged us into the most brutal of modern day warfare.

Some the historical events around the world include the election of Africa’s first female President of any country, Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the election of the first African American (black) President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama, the end of many wars around the world, the coming together of many nations to solve global problems, the closing years of the Iraq war, with the US and its Allies pulling out its troops, the invention of all kinds of technology, making it easier for us to communicate with relatives around the world, the use of blogs and armature photo journalism, thereby capturing stories that otherwise would have been lost and many many more great things. This has been a decade of great things and terrible things. If this decade did not prove to us that human beings can do anything they set their minds on, whether to killor to save, to destroy or to build to gain or to lose, no other decade will. The goodness of our world in this decade seems to equal our cruelty.

As I conclude this blog post, I am cautious of a new, brewing warfare in West Africa: The Ivorian unrest that is fast growing into a new regional problem. We again have on our hands, the Ivorian question. If Africa is shaped like a question mark, this is another time when that question again loams over us. Should the world intervene or should the world not intervene? Should one man step down or should the other disappear?

(Image copyright:   interalex1.blogspot.com

allvoices.com

In October, the Ivorian people went to the pulls to elect a new president, and after all of the counting and recounting, the incumbent President, Laurent Gbagbo did not win the election. His opponent Alassane Quattara was declared the winner.

Please recall with me that President Gbagbo became President in 2000, and has therefore been the leader of the country for more than ten years. His opponent, Alassane Ouattara, who comes from the North of the country has been declared the President against Mr. Gbagbo’s will. But the difference between the two men is not just in their ethnicity, but also in the support each has received. Gbagbo may be supported by his government which he has led for more than ten years, but Quattara is being supported by the powerful international body, including the US, France, the United Nations, the regional economic community, his neighbors, who will be immediately impacted by any uprising developing from this refusal to step down.

The question therefore  is whether Gbagbo, who has already been in power long enough will begin to think of his poeple who are already bleeding and fleeing the country as refugees. Or will he be like one of his predecessors, a man he had despised when he was a younger man, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of the Ivory Coast who ruled the nation from 1960-1993, when his death proved he could no longer remain in power as President of that country?

Does Gbagbo care about his country or not?


(copyright: heraldsun.com.au)

(copyright:westafricannewsinternational.com)

Speaking to a couple of friends from Liberia, I was stunned to discover that even they who are Liberians do not recall how our country went down for fourteen years just because some stupid political leaders refused to listen to reason. If a Liberian can support the Gabgbo’s refusal to step down, then no wonder Africa is in trouble.

Gbagbo, who has been in leadership longer than most democratic leaders around the world does not see that it is noble to step down and to allow peace to prevail. If he cannot listen to the UN and to his neighbors and to the ECOWAS nations, who will he listen to? As this new decade takes root, it is our duty as survivors of the various stupid wars around the globe to stand up against the kind of violence that characterized the last decade. We should not allow crazy people to destroy our world. After all, it is our world. I call on the UN and the ECOWAS community, the US and France to prevail upon Russia to join in and drive away Gbagbo before he destroys our people. His army may be strong, but with negotiations and diplomacy, he will listen.

Ivory Coast is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, a place that was a sanctuary to millions of refugees from Liberia and other African countries as wars ravaged our homelands in the 1990s and 2000s. My siblings took refuge in the Ivory Coast, and many of us used the country to escape or just fly out of when it was impossible to fly out of Liberia. The Ivorian people are very similar to us in culture, and in fact, I hear that Gbagbo is an Ivorian Grebo man. Well, if he is, I’m calling on him to end this crazy deal and step down. If he is a Grebo Ivorian, someone thrown into that part of the country by Colonizers, and therefore a relation of many of the Grebos in Liberia, it is only honorable that he steps down. This is not about tribalism, therefore, he should step down and allow President Quattara to lead the Ivory Coast into a brighter future.

The country is bigger than one man’s ambition, bigger than any one of us. Enough blood has been shed. Let us not make the same errors that turned our people into international refugees. The world cannot always come to our rescue just because we refuse to listen to reason.

One of the forefathers of Africa, himself a long ruling President was a poet whose vision for freedom of the black race and for Africa, influenced his poetics or whose poetry influenced his leadership. Here, below was Leopold Sedar Senghor of Senegal in another poem.

In Memoriam

by Léopold Sédar Senghor

Today is Sunday.
I fear the crowd of my fellows with such faces of stone.
From my glass tower filled with headaches and impatient Ancestors,
I contemplate the roofs and hilltops in the mist.
In the stillness—somber, naked chimneys.
Below them my dead are asleep and my dreams turn to ashes.
All my dreams, blood running freely down the streets
And mixing with blood from the butcher shops.
From this observatory like the outskirts of town
I contemplate my dreams lost along the streets,
Crouched at the foot of the hills like the guides of my race
On the rivers of the Gambia and the Saloum
And now on the Seine at the foot of these hills.
Let me remember my dead!
Yesterday was All Saints’ Day, the solemn anniversary of the Sun,
And I had no dead to honor in any cemetery.
O Forefathers! You who have always refused to die,
Who knew how to resist Death from the Sine to the Seine,
And now in the fragile veins of my indomitable blood,
Guard my dreams as you did your thin-legged migrant sons!
O Ancestors! Defend the roofs of Paris in this dominical fog,
The roofs that protect my dead.
Let me leave this tower so dangerously secure
And descend to the streets, joining my brothers
Who have blue eyes and hard hands.

Translated by Melvin Dixon

Léopold Sédar Senghor, “In Memoriam” from The Collected Poems, translated by Melvin Dixon. Copyright © 1998 by The Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia on behalf of the University of Virginia Press. Reprinted by permission of The University of Virginia Press.Source: The Collected Poems (The University of Virginia Press, 1998) (This post from Poetry Foundation)

I wish my wonderful readers, friends and supporters, and even my critics a wonderful New Year filled with all sorts of blessings, a wonderful decade of peace and unity, a peaceful spirit to discern the evils of the world from the good.I also challenge you to stand up against any need for warfare.

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001)

Dear President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: Please Do Not Grant Former Warlords, War “Vigilantes,” War Criminals and Former Killers Any State Funerals

DSCN0982

The death news of and the request for a State Funeral for former Military leader, Charles Julu, militant of the Samuel Doe era and the leader of many military raids in which tens of thousands of Liberians were killed and massacred and our nation destroyed, should spark new controversies about warlords, war criminals and former killers. Liberians and peace loving people around the world should be outraged.

Sirleaf-Charles-JuluPresident Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a photo, shaking hands in 2008 with Julu

I was reading an article in a Liberian newspaper in which citizens of Grand Gedeh are calling on the Liberian leader, Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to grant the former military leader/warlord, General Charles Julu a State Funeral. I do not have anything against the good people of Grand Gedeh or the family who earnestly believe in the good deeds of Charles Julu. They want the best for their son, one that carried out their war with expert precision, but as a peace loving Liberian, I am disturbed when Liberians cannot understand that those who have in the past massacred our people should never be rewarded whether in death or in life. Were I from Grand Gedeh County, of course, I would not want to lead this mission of calling on our nation to grant Mr. Julu the highest honor of our nation by giving him a State Funeral.

The legacy of the Liberian warThe price we paid in the Liberian civil war (fellowsblog.kiva.org/…/)

After all, all of us who lived in Liberia in the William R. Tolbert era, the Samuel Doe administration, and finally, during the bloody Liberian civil war know how much of the war was attributed to Mr. Julu and his inhuman militant spirit and to his militants. We know that many of us trembled when his name was mentioned because his name meant massacre and mass destruction.

Yes, he was serving “his country” in a way that he thought “best,” fighting to help his ethnic people win the war that destroyed hundreds of thousands of our people and our nation. We know that he personally massacred people, and there’s no history that can erase that blood, whether he is dead or not. He is the equivalence of Charles Taylor or Samuel Doe or any other warlord of the times. Yes, he was doing what they wanted, but in the business of executing this duty, he became known as one of the horrible criminals of those terrible civil wars that spanned fourteen years. Like any good person with a forgiving heart, I am sad that he died too, like many of those he killed. That no matter what we do, we all die and go to that same unknown. I am saddened that he could have done better for his nation, and I wish he’d lived differently. Maybe, he too, was a victim of the Samuel Doe craz, but hey, he did not bring peace to our land, and was not even a Liberian Statesman.

What is important and what I am glad about is that his death should not only throw light on his death; it must stir up other questions of war criminals who are still enjoying honor and respect from our nation simply because they have power. President Sirleaf will be judged by how she takes seriously all of the recommendations of the Truth Commission, which includes allowing those who destroyed out nation to face the consequences of their action. President Sirleaf, do not forget that the very people who are pleading with you today will be the ones to criticize you tomorrow about the very requests they are making. Do not heed them. Ironically, the very Liberians who believe in the TRC report that you should not run for a second term are the same ones who want to honor those who actually carried arms and orchestrated many massacres and killings throughout that bloody war. What in the name of God is going on here?

I am shocked and continue to be disturbed by those who want us to bury the past without allowing justice, without allowing those who caused the wanton destruction of the lives of so many to pay for their crimes. How can we build a nation over the bones and blood of so many innocent victims without giving them their proper respect and expect to still have a peaceful future? How can we continue to honor those who have not been cleared by this unbelievable Human Rights abuses and expect to build a peace-loving nation? When will we learn that tribalism and false honor does not bring fruitful rewards?

I lived in Monrovia most of the first two years of the civil war that began in 1989, and I was in Congo Town when the terror of the first months of the destruction of Monrovia took place in 1990. I watched as Liberian/Krahn military men roamed Monrovia, including my neighborhood of Congo Town, killing my neighbors and indiscriminately setting up barriers. And don’t get me wrong, I am not even from Nimba, and I saw what went on.

I saw them kill innocent Liberians who were fleeing the desperate city of Monrovia in the Exodus from Monrovia between June and August. I too, over and over, nearly was executed by these crazy men and women. I visited and prayed with the citizens of Nimba who took refuge in the St. Peter’s Lutheran and in the Methodist Church, brought contributions to them, provided my pigs to the Catholic Relief priests to feed the refugees, and shockingly, I wept when it was alleged that Charles Julu and his militants had led the the mostly Krahn army of Samuel Doe to massacre hundreds of those very people in the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on July 29, 1990.

I saw the burning flames of Monrovia, and was in Congo Town when that massacre took place. I listened to the radio that July morning as the massacre was attributed to the vigilance of Charles Julu. All historical records show that he led the massacre, and today, he is dead.  So what shall we do- honor him now?

There should never be a State Funeral for him not because we do not acknowledge his “greatness”as a warrior, but because we do not think it is fair to honor people who kill innocent people anywhere on our globe.

Any Liberian with a conscience, whether that person is from the family of the late military leader or not should understand this common law of nature. I will not be surprised when others start calling for Liberia to provide lawyers for Charles Taylor’s trial for Human Rights abuses. I will not be surprised when Liberians begin to march in the streets in protest against Charles Taylor’s trial, and I will not be surprised when Liberians call on our government years from now to pay for a State Funeral for Charles Taylor, Prince Johnson and all the others who are war criminals and are today, enjoying the fruit of their killings.

The world should pay attention to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Liberia (TRC) because if we continue to ignore the facts that war criminals should be brought to some kind of justice, we are only postponing our problems. The laws of nature are clear and simple, and the laws of God are also clear and simple: one cannot be expected to kill masses of people and expect to be treated with well wishes throughout their life. One day, that person should be held accountable to the world for such atrocities.

I am certain that there are countless people who will go on the limb again and say, “leave this alone.” Liberians have always been cowards, not standing up for truth, and maybe this is why we never saw the most bloody war in West Africa coming for us. When will we stop believing that someone else will solve our problems? When will we stop being tribalistic, and fight more for justice and peace than for tribal affiliation?

I am from the Kwa family group that the Krahn people are also part of, so I am in a way more connected to the Krahn people than others who come from another family of ethnicity. I understand the warring nature of my people, but I know lies from truth, injustice from justice, and I know that today it is Charles Julu that people want to give a State Burial. Tomorrow, another tribal group or family group will call on the government to honor another warlord, another killer and destroyer of our nation, and then those who are calling on the government today to bury their son will be screaming against that call.

Let justice be done to all men and women. Do not honor anyone who died with the blood of our sons and daughters and with the blood of Liberian on their hands. We do not see the Rwandans or the Jews granting State Funerals to their former warlords and killers. Everyone who lived  in Liberia during the war or who can read any news from Liberia about the war knows that we cannot continue to pretend that what happened did not happen, and we cannot continue to be tribalistic and expect Liberia to change. Please, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the world is watching you. Do not grant anyone whose name was so feared a State Funeral. This is against Human Rights. This is not good for the future of our nation. This is not good for the world. Let’s wash the blood of our people from our nation by practicing true justice. With Love to all peace loving Liberians, I say, do not let the world continue to laugh at us.

The River Is Rising

————————Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

a song for Liberian women

The river is rising, and this is not a flood.
After years of drought, the ground, hardened

and caked in blood, in dry places, here we are, today.

River banks are swelling with the incoming tide,
coming in from the Atlantic just beyond the ridge

of rolling hills and rocks in Monrovia.

Finally, here we stand at the banks!
Finally, here we are, see how swiftly

the tide rushes in to fill the land with salt.

Fish and crabs and the huge clams and shrimps-
all the river’s creatures are coming in with the tide.

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Do not let your eye wander away from this scene.
Yes, all the bones below the Mesurado or the St. Paul

or Sinoe or the Loffa River will be brought up
to land so all the overwhelming questions
can once more overwhelm us.

But they are bringing in our lost sister
on a high stool, and there she stands, waving at those

who in refusing to die, simply refused to die.

This is not a song just for Ellen. This is a song for Mapue
and Tenneh and all the Ellens there are.

This is a song for Kema and Musu and Massa.

This is for Nyeneplue and Nyenoweh, for Kou and Glayee
and Korto, for the once solitary woman of war.

This is a song so Wani will also dance.

This is a song for that small girl child who came out
just this morning. They are still seeking a name

to call her- a river name, a name from the water
and from the fire too. That solitary mother in flight

will no longer birth her child by the roadside
where shells were her baby’s first bed.

Let the womb quiver!
Let church bells jingle!
Let hundreds of drums pound, Klan-klan-teh!
Let men bring out old trumpets
so the wind will take flight!

Let that small pepper bird on the tree branch cry
and sing no more the solitary song.

Let the Mesurado behind my home or what was my home
or still is or maybe, maybe, who cares?

The river is rising, but this is not a flood.

Let no man stand between us
and the river again!

(Title poem of The River is Rising by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, Autumn House Press, Pittsburgh, 2007)

For more Information, visit the following links on the Liberian war and warlords:

http://www.prlog.org/10297805-massacre-of-600-liberian-men-women-and-children-19-years-ago-remembered-at-grace-lutheran-church.html

http://allafrica.com/stories/200807160771.html

http://www.analystliberia.com/charles_julu_killer_or_vicyim_sept26_07.html

This is what the leading newspaper in Liberia, Tthe Liberian Observer had to say about the dead General:

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.voanews.com/english/images/AP-Liberian-boy-Truth-and-Reconciliation-Commission-for-Liberia-30may07.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.voanews.com/english/Africa/2009-07-15-voa2.cfm&usg=__-KPriKQvJTP_Km1uG3IAElVX8_8=&h=210&w=210&sz=42&hl=en&start=20&um=1&tbnid=Lb9S7UHYjYeyDM:&tbnh=106&tbnw=106&prev=/images%3Fq%3DThe%2BLiberian%2BTruth%2Band%2BReconciliation%2BCommission%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN%26um%3D1

Charles Julu Is Dead

Updated: September 28, 2009 – 7:13pm
News Section:

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The late Gen. Charles Julu
By:

Observer Staff

MONROVIA — A retired Liberian army general, widely known both as “the Rock” and “The Devil,” is dead.

Charles Julu died over the weekend in Monrovia after a brief illness, family sources said.

Prior to his death, the general’s admirers called him “the Rock” for his courage and bravery to remain firm in the face of uncertainty, while others viewed him as the “Devil” for his alleged ruthlessness.

Julu first came to public limelight in 1973 when Liberia’s 19th President, Rev. Dr. William Richard Tolbert Jr., accused him and others of plotting at the time to overthrow his government.

On account of those claims by President Tolbert, who was also a Baptist Minister and Preacher, Julu was disrobed as a military man.

It remains unclear whether he was ever prosecuted by Tolbert, who was later killed in a bloody coup on April, 12, 1980. The murder took place at the Executive Mansion on Capitol Hill, Monrovia, and Tolbert’s True Whig Party (TWP), which formed a one-party oligarchy, was dethroned by 17 non-commissioned officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL). Master Sergeant Samuel Kanyon Doe, a kinsman of Julu’s, became the new Head of State.

Doe became leader of the new military junta, the People’s Redemption Council (PRC), after the bloody coup, during which 13 former officials of Tolbert’s regime were placed on electrical poles and shot dead by the junta. Julu was appointed by Doe as Commander of the Plant Protection Department of the Liberian-American Swedish Mining Company (LAMCO) in Nimba County, Northern Liberia.

In that part of the country, the name Charles Julu became a household word as his controversial methods of operation continued in 1983 during the villainous Nimba Raid, which he led.

It was widely reported that followers of Quiwonkpah, a Gio, attacked the home of Julu in Nimba County. At that time, the finger of one of Julu’s children was reportedly cut off by the attackers as Julu was fleeing his residence.

But, in retaliation, Julu, an ethnic Krahn, is said to have gone on the rampage, rounding up and subsequently killing many persons, especially those he suspected of being involved in the attack on his residence and of being loyal to Quiwonkpah.

Indeed, Charles Julu was feared and controversial.

In an article published by Runningafrica.com entitled “Profiling A General Accused of Second Coup Attempt,” Thomas Kai Toteh, a leading author, writes:

“Though ex-Army General Charles Julu is innocent until found guilty according to the due process of law clause of the Liberian Constitution, many Liberians at home and abroad see him like an old thief who becomes the first suspect or even found guilty before he faces the law….

“Charles Julu was appointed chief of security for LAMCO in Nimba County by the late Samuel Doe. Charles Julu first came in the spotlight as a ruthless individual when he intimidated players of first division soccer teams who went to play LAMCO Enforcers, a team he served as a chief patron. On numerous occasions, he allegedly flogged some players of LAMCO Enforcers accused of being responsible for lost matches…

“During the 1985 aborted invasion, spearheaded by late Thomas G. Quiwonkpa, Charles Julu became a household name throughout Liberia when he allegedly dumped [an] unspecified number of Nimbaian children into wells in a vicious retaliation, eye witnesses said, against Nimba County, where Quiwonkpa hailed from.

“His reputation and that of [the] late Samuel Doe were marred by what was later dubbed the “Nimba Raid.” Consequently, the late Samuel Doe, in order to save face, transferred the ex-general at the Executive Mansion as a commander for the Executive Mansion Guard.

“Julu survived the [1990] rebel incursion after he fled to a neighboring country, where he resided until 1994. He mysteriously appeared in Monrovia during a power sharing government headed by Prof. David Kpormakpor. Charles Julu mobilized a handful of AFL remnants that happened to be members of his Krahn tribe.

“Despite the presence of West African Peace Monitoring Group in Monrovia and at the Executive Mansion, providing security for the transitional government, Charles Julu stole the show in the morning hours when he forced his way on the fourth floor at the Executive Mansion in an attempt to seize power.

“When news of Charles Julu’s presence at the Executive Mansion as a coup maker broke out in Liberia, especially in Monrovia, dark cloud[s] formed. Speculations fill the air and suspicious eyebrows were raised at ECOMOG….

“But ECOMOG gave him an ultimatum to step down or be forcibly brought down (dead or alive). The ex-general still insisted that he wanted to play his tape, even though some of his men had fled.

“Late in the evening, ECOMOG-trained Black Berets, along with ECOMOG Executive Mansion Guards moved on him while ECOMOG Delta Company launched artillery around the Mansion to scare him away. People ran helter-skelter around Monrovia.

“Charles Julu fled the Executive Mansion at around 6:00 p.m. and sought [refuge] near the Barclay Training Center, a military barracks near the Executive Mansion. Security was put on the alert for his capture and arrest.

“Charles Julu was on foot heading toward the Mamba Point area near United States Embassy when a group of National Security agents arrested him and turned him over to ECOMOG.

“He was locked up at the Post Stockade at the Barclay Training Center. No charges were brought against him as the Constitution of Liberia was unofficially suspended due to the civil conflict.

“Charles Julu became a free man by force on April 6, 1996 when fighting broke out amongst four of the warring factions in Liberia. [The] National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) of Charles Taylor and United Liberation Movement of Ahlaji Kromah (ULIMO-K) moved to arrest the late Roosevelt Johnson of ULIMO-J backed by Liberia’s Peace Council (LPC) of George Boley at the Barclay Training Center (BTC).

“It was not confirmed whether Charles Julu took part in the fight, but unreliable sources said he gave orders to defunct Liberian Peace Council (LPC) and ULIMO-J militias to defend the barracks, his only rescue at the time, with their blood…”

Julu was also Commander of the Executive Mansion Guard Battalion in 1984. He remained in that position until 1985 when Gen. Thomas G. Quiwonkpah launched his abortive November 15, 1985 invasion in which Quiwonkpah was killed by loyalists of Head of State Doe.

Julu was also accused of involvement in other acts of atrocity in the Liberian civil war; but a few months ago, he appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where he outlined his experiences and/or role in the country’s armed conflict.

In his public testimony before the Commission, the retired general categorically refuted claims of his involvement in mass killings.

He was accused of burying hundreds of children from Nimba County in a mass grave, a claim he also denied. At one point, he pointed fingers at Prince Y. Johnson, now Nimba County Senator, of being behind such lies.

Julu again came to public attention during the invasion of Charles Taylor’s then armed rebel group, the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) military onslaught against the government of Samuel Doe, when he (Julu) commanded government troops into several battles in Nimba, Grand Gedeh, Grand Bassa and Bong Counties.

It was during the 1990 war in Nimba that Julu was accused of bundling scores of children into a truck from Nimba, killing them and burying them in a mass grave.

Under the command of a valiant Nigerian Army General, Adetunji Olurin, ECOMOG, the West Africa Peace Monitoring Group, then stationed in Liberia, opened fired on the Mansion and Julu and his loyalists, who took over the Mansion under the umbrella of New Horizon for New Direction, were all booted out of the Mansion.

Giving his testimony before the TRC a few months ago, Julu said he came to Monrovia on September 14, 1994; and the next day he moved into the Mansion which he captured with ease.

Before the TRC, Julu defended his takeover of the Executive Mansion. He said the move was intended to prevent then NPFL leader Charles Taylor from taking over the government by force of arms.

Julu, who was also former Chief of Staff of the AFL, further told the Commission that his action was aimed at filling a vacuum which, he said, was created as a result of the expiration of the tenure of then transitional government.

Early in the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf administration, Julu was again charged with an attempted coup plot, but was acquitted due to ‘lack of evidence.’

The people of Grand Gedeh are said to be mourning his loss.

0Copyright Liberian Observer – All Rights Reserved. This article cannot be re-published without the expressed, written consent of the Liberian Observer. Please contact us for more information or to request publishing permission.

Truth & Reconciliation Commission Recommends Prosecution of Warlords, Blocking President and Other Officials from Holding Public Office- and There’s the Charles Taylor Question….

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  • ” War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. “—– George Orwell

When the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) concluded its hearings and recommended prosecution of Charles Taylor and other warlords, barring the Liberian President and thirty current officials and others from running for public office in the future, many Liberians had mixed reactions. The unfortunate reaction of the William V. S. Tubman era, where traditional leaders and other politically charged people came out and pledged their loyalty to the President and officials, began in Monrovia with tribal leaders pledging their support for the Liberian President and her administration.

DorisDoris Parker, a friend of mine and Founder and Director of the Liberian Women’s Initiative taking the oath before the TRC in Saint Paul, MN, June 2008

TRC_Heargings2_013_4_2Here I am, testifying before the TRC also in MN, June 2008. I broke down several times during my testimony and during the testimony of others. There is no explanation on earth for the kind of cruelty Liberians suffered at the hand of Warlords and their armies.

Now that the TRC has completed its job, there were threats against members of the commission for doing a very difficult job. This is even while Charles Taylor, the originator of the fourteen year blood bath is on trial in the Hague for war crimes against Sierra Leoneans. If Liberians do not have the gust to allow the perpetrators of horrific crimes against our people to be punished, how will they have the strength to move on? How can we guarantee that another Liberian terrorist will not come into our country with guns and crazy warriors tomorrow to begin another insane blood bath?

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?

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Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia Testifying before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of  Liberia on Feb. 12, 2009 (Above)

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Photos: Charles G. Taylor, warlord for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in the Liberian Civil War (1989-2003)

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Current Liberian Senator, Former warlord, Prince Y Johnson, warlord for the Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (INPFL

Alhaji G. V. Kromah, former leader of ULIMO-K

Former Warlord of ULIMO-K, Alhaji G. V. Kromah

Sekou Damate Konneh of LURD

Former Warlord, Sekou Damate Konneh of LURD

Boley

The Warlord of the defunct LPC (Liberia Peace Concil) George Boley

Liberians: A People of Many Contradictions

Liberians have always been a people of many contradictions. We want peace, but do not work towards it. We want freedom, but cannot stand up for it. We want our leaders to be transparent and responsible, but we quickly heap praises upon them just to get small crumbs from them. We do not want corruption, but we support corruption and corrupt leaders. We do not want war anymore in our country, but when we are told to weigh in on how horribly the warlords have treated Liberians, we cannot accept the truth. How do we resolve our contradictions?

Is it because those that destroyed the country still control the country? Or what is it? Why did the Truth Commission work through all of the horrific stories, the tears, the recalling of horrific crimes against humanity if all we wanted was to come together and dance and drink to celebrate a false reconciliation? The truth however remains: there is no reconciliation with the covering up of the truth, the covering up of hurts without any accountability.

121523721_0961071fc0 Image by ? Patrick Robert/Sygma/CORBIS

This is Charles Taylor, drunk with power after he and his unruly rebels had run over much of Liberia andcaptured the Omega Tower in Paynesville, near Monrovia in July of 1990.

Public_Hearings_Opening_Ceremonies_004_5_2The Truth Commission & Reconciliation Hearings in MN.

The TRC has made its recommendation; therefore, something must happen.

Most recently, on the July 14, 2009, I was contacted by Jamaican Radio, 93 fm, for a discussion of the ongoing Charles Taylor trial  in the Hague. During my discussion via telephone on Jamaican radio, what I was most concerned about was not that Charles Taylor was sitting in court and denying all of the charges against him; I was particularly worried that Liberians did not care enough that Charles Taylor’s war in Liberia deserve even more attention because of the gravity of his offenses in Liberia.  I was afraid that if Sierra Leone does not put Charles Taylor away for good, he will return to Liberia and cause more blood shed.

But most importantly, I was afraid that Liberians were sleeping through this all important trial of one of the world’s most serious criminals. There is the Charles Taylor question that every Liberian who preaches reconciliation must answer. What should Liberia do about Charles Taylor if the recommendations of the TRC are not followed? What should we do about the other warlords who are of course, in leadership today in Liberia?

This is what I had hoped by this time. I had hoped that the President of Liberia would have come forward with a statement, and not just a statement, but also, a call for unity and a commitment to stand by the Commission’s recommendations.If there were no intention of following through, why did they allow all of us to go through the hell of recalling our suffering in that war?

I expected something to happen, so I waited for something to happen before completing my blog posting. Instead, there all these people coming out of the Tubman-thinking era that believe that any group of indigenous leaders can line up and pledge their support to erase more than a century of injustices against humanity. That just because they declare their support for the President, then all will be well.

But I have bad news for them; this is not the 1950s or 1960s. The crimes against humanity in Liberia must be brought up to the forefront and discussed everywhere, debated, and those who must be prosecuted, must be prosecuted, those who earned money from such terror, must turn over to Liberia the money stolen over the years, and those who cannot occupy public offices again, must find other means of living. A country that is run by warlords will always go to war again no matter how many of us dance in the streets to declare our support for them. Too many Liberians have died; too many languish abroad; too many languish still in refugee camps; too much is at stake for us to return to the age-old Tubman day of “So say one, so say all.”

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Finding My Family

———-By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley

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


Liberia’s President, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf: This Child Will Be Great

photo-for-possible-web

The President of Liberia, Africa’s first female Head of State, Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has just authored her memoir, and is in the United States to promote the book. I did not get the chance to watch her live on PBS or on John Stewart’s “Daily Show,” but I tuned to my laptop and watched her brief appearance this evening. I was very charmed by her spirit, her ability to be the light-hearty Liberian woman that she is. I am sure her appearance brought smiles to many Liberians when she pulled out the country gown, and declared him “Chief” in the Liberian fashion. I wanted her to robe him the way they actually do, put that gown over his head and the hat on his head to shut him up. She was charming, and even I, who am often afriad of heaping praises on any leader, was so proud of Ma Ellen’s ability to laugh despite all that she has to handle back home.


From Publishers Weekly Says This About Ellen’s Book—

“Forbes lists Sirleaf, the 23rd president of Liberia and the first elected female president on the African continent, among the 100 Most Powerful Women in 2008. In and out of government, in and out of exile, but consistent in her commitment to Liberia, Sirleaf in her memoir reveals herself to be among the most resilient, determined and courageous as well. She writes with modesty in a calm and measured tone. While her account includes a happy childhood and an unhappy marriage, the book is politically, not personally, focused as she (and Liberia) go through the disastrous presidencies of Samuel Doe and Charles Taylor. Sirleaf’s training as an economist and her employment (e.g., in banking, as minister of finance in Liberia, and in U.N. development programs) informs the perspective from which she views internal Liberian history (e.g., the tensions between the settler class and the indigenous people) and Liberia’s international relations. Although her focus is thoroughly on Liberia, the content is more widely instructive, particularly her account of the role of the Economic Community of West African States. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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I have just ordered two copies of the book for myself and a friend in Europe, and should find time to read it as soon as I get my copy in my hands. President Sirleaf’s title, “This Child Will Be Great” should create curiosity just as much as her entire life story. No matter the critics on all sides, Ellen has achieved so much, and her book deserves a closer look.

Below are two photo clips from my time on the Diaspora Panel with President Sirleaf in Monrovia last summer. One is our time listening to one of the speakers on the panel and the other, where Ellen is waiting for me to sign a copy of “The River is Rising” for her.

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Ellen and Me here as I sign my book, “The River is Rising” for her.


This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President is finally out, and whether you love Ellen Johnson Sirleaf or not, whether you are her critic or not, there is one thing you cannot dispute: this woman is one of the most formidable women in world history.

I first came in close contact with Ellen when I was a student at the University of Liberia. She was a guest speaker of one of the University’s National Forums. At the time, she was Minister of Finance. I was a student activist and a student leader at the time, probably a junior student then. I recall that night that I was one of the students who asked her a question about her leadership in the William R. Tolbert government and the issues that plagued our nation at the time. I know that that night was a difficult night for her because our country was at the brink of the troubled times we now live in, and there was much unrest. But even in that day, Ellen was a strong woman in her own rights among the men who drove our country into bloody warfare by their refusal to listen to change.

When she became President of Liberia, I was not particularly emotional about a woman president as many others were. What was intriguing to me however, was the fact that for the first time, a nation that had been ruled by corrupt men was now in the hands of one of our kind, a woman. It made me proud to be a Liberian woman. Liberia that has always been some sort of stepchild of no one, was again leading by electing the first woman president in Africa. But this title in itself is supposed to be both a challenge and a burden for Ellen. As a woman leader, she cannot be a man, and cannot practice what men have practiced. She has a very thin rope to walk, and she must walk it standing up. So, one must have both criticism and admiration for the complexity both for her situation and for the woman that she is. This is where I stand.

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–Ellen proudly steps at the UN

There are the critics, Liberians, who would want to dismiss her and her book as Liberians are noted for. They have their reasons. But let us not forget that this is a woman whose story continues to put Liberia in the spotlight when for more than a decade we have only been thought of as murderers, war lovers, and blood thirsty fighting people. I am proud to know that Liberians, including their leader are writing their own stories for the world to read. We may not like their stories or the way they tell their stories. We may not even think their stories are true to our understanding of the matters discussed. But we must respect the fact that it is their stories, and it is how they see their stories.

I have often been baffled by my Liberian sisters and brothers who claim to be descendants of free slaves from the American South. I sometimes feel like laughing at the stupidity of this claim since even the slaves who never left the US would loath being referred to as having their original roots in a place that kidnapped them from their original homelands and enslaved them for centuries. But in my disapproval of this claim, I must respect the fact that people have a right to be called whatever they want to be called. I am proud to be an indigenous Liberian, however, a Grebo woman born of Grebo parents, coming from both the ocean and the forest land of Liberia, and having no roots in slavery or its descendants. I am aware that that makes me “a country woman” in the eyes of those who hate to be called indigenous. Let others be proud of where they want to belong. This is said to assert the fact that Ellen’s story may have things we all disagree with, but it is Ellen’s story, and therefore another story of Liberia, our beloved country.

Exactly a year ago, my poetry readings took me to Johnson C. Smith University, a small liberal arts college in Charlotte, North Carolina. During my two day residency as guest of the Johnson C. Smith Lyceum Series’ World of Words Poetry Festival on campus, I met a professor who is originally from Ghana. During our conversation, I was careful to note his remark about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as “a woman among the men.”

He spoke of her in that sort of reflective mode, as if he were seeing something beyond humanness when he said, “We men used to think this sort of leadership was only meant for us. But look at her between the men.” I understood all of this, but I pitied Africa that held back its women far longer than most other continents, not sending women to school and relegating them to the kitchens and bearing children. For a woman to reach this far, it took all the life it could, and for Ellen, it took a life time. Let her have her glory. Go out and buy that book, and read it because it deserves to be read.

Finally, my memory of meeting Ellen in Monrovia, sitting at the head of the table with her makes me laugh. I came into the hall a few minutes before she arrived with her Presidential security guides and cameras. I had wanted to see her during my trip, but she was out of the country most of the two weeks I was in Monrovia. So, I was more than glad when I received a call from the Executive Mansion inviting me to sit on the panel with her. When I took my seat a few minutes before she came in, I was told that they’d decided that I would sit next to the President. So, I quickly edged my chair closer to her seat, which was still empty.

As soon as I’d done that, the Security guide who was standing behind our seats, tapped me on the shoulder, “Dr. Wesley, please, you cannot draw your chair this close to the President’s. There must be room between her and everyone else,” he said. I laughed, and he helped me return my seat to where it originally was. Then the President marched in as we all stood. What amused me however was that as soon as she got to her seat, she drew it closer to mine, and tapped me on the shoulder the way a woman taps another woman on the shoulder, not as a man would or as a President would. During the entire program, she’d turn to me and smile or nod or touch my hand or say something just like a woman does to a friend. Then my turn came for me to speak. I went up, read my poem and did my talk. When I got to my seat, she leaned over to shake my hand and tap me on the shoulder again. The most charming of the day came when soon after the program, she stood and turned to me and said, while trying to get my third book, from which I’d just read the title poem, “The River is Rising” out of my hand,  “How come I don’t have that other book?” She asked, smiling.

“Wait a minute, Madame President, I will give you a copy,” I said, to which she responded,

“I have the other books you gave me, but this one,”

“Let me sign it for you,” I said, and she stood there with me on the photo above as I signed my third book for her.

A woman is a woman, I have always thought. There were times when only a few people could write and publish their books. Today, a Liberian President in all of her struggles and challenges is proving that our world is much smaller than we think it is, and that despite the size of our country, we can be bigger than others imagine. Whether or not we like her, it is true when Ellen says, “This Child Will Be Great,” because she is indeed someone great and wonderful.