The Liberian Government Must Create an Adequate Center to Fight Ebola, Declare a State of Emergency, Adequately Educate the Citizenry and Medical Practitioners on The Deadly Virus, and Stop Medical Care Givers in the Nation’s Hospitals from Turning Away Desperate Patients Inflicted by the Virus or Other Illnesses.
The Ebola Virus that is overtaking Liberia today is a two edge sword, and until the Liberian President, Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf slows down and directs her undivided attention and enough resources to this deadly epidemic, it may overwhelm her and the already desperate and poverty stricken Liberian people. Every Liberian everywhere should pay close attention now, and call on the government to do all it can to stop this epidemic from spreading; every Liberian everywhere should pay close attention now. When Dr. Samuel Brisbane,the Chief Medical Officer of the largest medical hospital in Liberia, the John F. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Monrovia, can be killed by Ebola, it says a lot about the country and its leadership. Why is this virus killing so many of the caregivers, very important medical practitioners as well as the ordinary people? When is the government going to designate a special center for the care of our desperate Liberian people who are inflicted by the disease? Why isn’t there a major center yet, a center, controlled by the Liberian Health Ministry where patients suspected of the disease can be taken?
Small, Unprepared Hospitals Struggle to Handle A National Epidemic: Why? Are Nearly 200 People Dead Not Enough Yet?
The Ebola Virus, which is now recorded as the worst case ever, and has already killed more than a thousand in the West African region; it began in Guinea in February of this year, and moved on to the capital of Conakry, the capital of Guinea. The virus continued to spread to other countries like Sierra Leone, and by April, it reached Liberia through the Loffa County (northern Liberia) bordering towns with Guinea. The virus would have been contained had the government acted quickly, but soon, the virus reached Monrovia, and has now spread to other counties. But is Monrovia or Liberia, for that matter, the sort of place such a virus can be stopped easily? No. The Ebola virus in a place like Monrovia, a city overwhelmed by most of the nation’s population since the end of the war, is not a place where such a virus can be stopped unless the government with the help of the international community, devotes all its efforts to stopping this deadly disease. It may be too late soon, Liberians.
“In this 2014 photo provided by the Samaritan’s Purse aid organization, Dr. Kent Bentlyly, left, treats an Ebola patient at the Samaritan’s Purse Ebola Case Management Center in Monrovia, Liberia. On Saturday, July 26, 2014, the North Carolina-based aid organization said Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated at a hospital in Monrovia.” __FOX News
Dr. Kent Bently, a US Fort Worth doctor, working with a humanitarian organization in Liberia is now infected with the virus. Dr. Samuel Brisbane, JFK Memorial’s Chief Medical Officer and numerous other nurses, caregivers, hospital workers, and others who are the first contacts with Ebola patients might have perished. We do not need more people to die before there is a serious call to action, a serious statement calling on everyone to quit running from patients or hiding patients infected by the disease. There needs to be more to end this epidemic.
THE TWO EDGE SWORD DILEMMA: What is it?
The Liberian population which now mostly live in Monrovia due to the difficult economic problems, the lack of roads to interior counties, the lack of schools, hospitals, supply of goods or even an adequate means of transportation from the interior counties to the capital city are caught in this new web of a strange disease and ignorance of the disease. Where there were already a very limited access to good medicine or medical centers or adequate hygiene due to the lack of running water to most of the city, the populace now has no where to turn for any and all illnesses they’re inflicted with.
When your relative gets ill with malaria or when a woman is about to give birth, when someone has pneumonia or typhoid or any other major or simple illness, they have no place to go. Many have died at the doors of the J.F. K Hospital and other medical centers after being turned away by nurses who believe that every case coming to them is an Ebola case. Even pregnant women have died in labor due to this ignorance. But can we blame the medical practitioners who have been the first victims of the deadly disease? Maybe we can. Maybe we should not only blame their ignorance for turning away desperately ill people, but we should also blame the government for not establishing one major Ebola unit so patients with no symptoms of Ebola can have a place to go with their illnesses. How sad!
A CALL TO ACTION IS NECESSARY:
I believe that all Liberians, whether at home or abroad should work together to assist in ending this deadly epidemic. Whether this action is to help your own family members in Liberia understand the need to be careful, the need to report all suspected cases, the need to treat themselves with malaria medications in order to eliminate all confusion about what it is someone has or whether Liberians at home can petition their legislators to quit campaigning and talking politics to prevail on their government they lead to take drastic action and provide the resources needed to combat the disease, there needs to be some action. This is the time for real and true leadership. A nation’s leaders must first care about their people and put them first before themselves.
Liberians living in Liberia must also help themselves by changing heir usual habits, by promoting good hygiene, by ending promiscuity or sleeping around with every man or woman they can sleep with, stop raping little girls, stop using your bodies for money since the virus is spread through contact with the body fluid of an infected person. The Ebola virus is contagious when the patient is seriously ill, and that patient of course, dies within a few days of being infected by the disease. Maybe this change of habit, of the change in illicit sex practices will help curtail the disease. The government might build a major center, might provide the resources Liberians need, might help teach through public education, how Liberians can combat the disease, but it will take each and every individual to change their old ways of life, and to be honest and not put others at risk when one has the disease. Liberia, my heart bleeds for you, and I call on the Liberian leadership and President Sirleaf to do all she can to help bring relief to our desperate people. We have already lost too many people in the past two decades.
It is not enough to stop shaking hands, my people. Liberians must understand that Ebola can wipe out the best of its population too fast too soon. It is almost too late!!!!
I’ve been tagged by the very interesting Hong Kong Born Poet, author of Summer Cicadas and Chinese translator, Jennifer Wong to do an interview for an expanding blog called, “The Next Big Thing.” You can read her interview at Jennifer Wong.
The idea is that I tag other writers to do the same on January 16, 2013. I accepted the invitation because it connects so many of us writers across the continents. For example, Jennifer is in London, some of the other writers she tagged are in Eastern Europe, I, in America, and on and on, writers are joining in from wherever they live to participate in “The Next Big Thing,” answering the same questions about their work. Now, the interview:
TNBT: Where did the idea come from for the book?
Patricia: The ideas for my books usually come from my life. I write about everything that happens to me, particularly, things that impress themselves on my life. The ideas for my first book mostly came out of my Liberian civil war experience, the trauma of watching my country, destroyed. As a poet, I witnessed something profoundly inhumane about the war that ravaged Liberia for fourteen years, even though I lived through only two of those war years. I wanted to bring to life the stories of my people who suffered in the war and those who did not survive the carnage of such a bloody war. My first book, Before the Palm Could Bloom: Poems of Africa (New Issues Press, 1998) was birthed out of those deeply felt feelings. My other books, Becoming Ebony, (Southern Illinois University Press, 2003) also came out of the idea of being a survivor, a woman, a mother, and an African, living in America. The other two books, The River is Rising, (Autumn House Press, 2007) and Where the Road Turns (Autumn House, 2010) also came from such ideas of living, being alive, being a mother, and being an African caught in one of the wars of the 21st Century.
TNBT: What genre does your book fall under? Patricia: Poetry
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I would very much love to see Woopi Goldberg play my mother in a movie rendition of one of my many poems about my mother’s life and death. Having lost my mother to an early death in 2000, when she was only 63, I have written so many poems celebrating her life and her death. But mostly, I’d like Woopi because she is as funny as my hilariously happy mother was. Another actor I’d like to play a part in any movie on my poetry would be Chuck Norris. But this time, he’d be playing the part of the Liberian warlord, Charles Taylor, and he will not rescue anyone. Chuck Norris would be the villain. Another poem I have in my newest book is “The People Walking In Darkness: A Song for Barack Obama.” I would like for the American movie star, Morgan Freeman to play Barack Obama from my poem.
TNBT: What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
Patricia: A synopsis would be that “My Poetry that seeks to rearrange the broken places of the world so there is some evenness for everyone’s feet to walk.”
TNBT: How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
Patricia: It depends. Most of my books took a few years to begin writing until publishing. The last book took me just less than two years to write, and another year to get published. A book of poems is written differently than prose, however. A book of poetry usually depends on the inspiration and the things happening around me. I can write a poem anywhere. I am working on a memoir now, almost ready, with three drafts done, but it took many years to even begin, to continue, and to get to this point.
TNBT: Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Patricia: Everything and everyone. I am a very keen observer of everything and I am moved both by humor and by pain. So, I could write a poem that is crazily funny because I am a very humorous person, and can find laughter even in the most painful situation. I am often moved by the pain that affects the world. About the who, I’d say I’ve been mostly influenced in my work by my mother, my father and my children. I guess being in a family is significant to my life as a writer.
TNBT: What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Patricia: The fact that I write contemporary African and Diaspora African poetry and that I explore the human experience of the 21st century wars will interest readers. I believe that I have a voice that reaches many where they need to be reached, and that that voice is making a difference in those who follow what it is I’m doing.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Patricia: All of my books were published by university or independent presses in the United States; so, hopefully, my next book of poetry, which is nearly done, as well as my memoir will be published by a notable publisher. My memoir, when it is ready, will be published by a publisher.
The Writers I will be tagging include:
Althea Mark, Caribbean American poet, living and writing in Switzerland
Armenian American Poet, Lola Koundakjian (Լօլա Գունտաքճեան)
There is a Clear Choice: Obama is for you, who are often left out of mainstream America. Remember that.
How important is electing President Barack Obama to you this November? If you are an immigrant, particularly, an African Immigrant, you can no longer stay home, be silent, pretend this is not your country or let others vote for ‘their’ President. You need to claim the promised land that you have entered, and make a difference for the world. This election is the most important election, even more so, than the 2008 elections. President Obama and the Democratic Party are facing a great challenge this year because there is a clear choice. Your life will never be the same if Mitt Romney is elected as President of the United States. Get out your tennis shoes, talk to your children, talk to your neighbors, volunteer, and vote, like your life depends on it.
Don’t Let Obama Fight this Battle Alone- Join Before It is Too Late
VOLUNTEERING: Do you have to be a citizen to vote? Yes. You have to be. But, do you have to be a citizen to volunteer, to give your money to help Barack Obama get elected or to campaign with the phone bank or go door to door? NO. All you have to be is a legal resident of the US to volunteer. To vote, you have to be a registered voter, so get on with it, if you have not yet done so. Many other states have ended their voter registration, however.
I am a Volunteer, and each week, I make phone calls, open my home as a phone bank, etc. etc. Yesterday, during our phone call hours at the Obama for President office (The Local Democratic Party Offices), I spoke to an immigrant, an Indian or Pakistani woman, living in one of the most affluent areas of our town. She told me that she had never voted in her life even though she had been in America for decades and is over fifty years old. Why had she never voted? I did not ask her. But she told me that she did not know what to do. She’d just got her voter registration confirmation in the mail, just one day before the PA deadline. Wow, she made it. But she said to me, I do not know what to do when I enter the booth, how to vote. “I am scared.” Wow!
She is an educated immigrant, probably, a doctor, by where she lives in my community. But she has never voted in her life. Is this because, like many of you out there, she didn’t feel that her voice mattered? Well, this is America, the greatest country on earth, if you ask me, where every vote and every voice matters, where the law is on your side. Do not let all the noise about voter IDs and all the intimidation make you afraid to exercise your rights. Go, and get in involved, your life depends on it.
Examine the Candidates Against their Promises Despite the Confusion with Mitt Romney’s recent switch from what he would do with your health insurance, your Medicare, your Medicaid, etc. etc.
I spoke to another woman yesterday, a non-immigrant American. She’d just got a new job after losing her previous one. She lost her health insurance after losing that job. Now, the new job is making her wait three months despite her medical conditions. Times are hard, isn’t so? So, now, she’s waiting for the new job to kick in its insurance so she can see the doctor. But you known what? She told me that she was Undecided.
My question to her was, WHY? Why is a woman who has no health insurance, who is moving to a new one, thanks to God, undecided, and probably, will vote for Romney? I told her that she’s lucky to have a new job and a new health insurance. But you know what, “your new job/insurance under Romney will deny you treatment because it’s been many months since you’ve been uncovered, and when you begin the new insurance coverage, you will be a case of Pre-existing condition.” Under Obama’s health care policy, she will have her Pre-existing condition covered. Wow! How hard is that to understand?
For us, immigrants, the stake is higher. A new president holds the key not just to your living condition in the US, but also, that of your life as an immigrant, immigration laws and issues, foreign policies toward the rest of the world, your children’s future and stay in this country, your life as a citizen or resident alien, wars or ending wars, and on and on. Stop pretending this is not your country. We all love America, and I know you do, too. God bless America, God bless the world, God bless you.
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
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?
“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?
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.
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.
———— 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,
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.
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.
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.”
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 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.
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.
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.
When you come from the small West African country of Liberia, you are not expected to be picked by the US Poet Laureate in his search for what he knows is a great poet to share with his millions of fans and readers. So, you can understand why someone as lowly as I am should be so grateful that US Poet Laureate chose my poem several months ago to be featured today on American Life in Poetry and to be permanently included on the Poetry Foundation website. Thanks, Mr. Kooser for selecting and featuring me this week. It makes my life better to know that there are poets who are so well learned that they understand the simplicity of the language some of us from far away backgrounds speak, and that even our voices must be heard. I am humbled by this kind honor.
If you are wondering where to go to read this poem, here is the link:
Many of us have attempted to console friends who have recently been divorced, and though it can be a pretty hard sell, we have assured them that things will indeed be better with the passage of time. Here’s a fine poem of consolation by Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, who teaches at Penn State.
Love Song for the Newly Divorced
One day, you will awake from your covering
and that heart of yours will be totally mended,
and there will be no more burning within.
The owl, calling in the setting of the sun
and the deer path, all erased.
And there will be no more need for love
or lovers or fears of losing lovers
and there will be no more burning timbers
with which to light a new fire,
and there will be no more husbands or people
related to husbands, and there will be no more
tears or reason to shed your tears.
You will be as mended as the bridge
the working crew has just reopened.
The thick air will be vanquished with the tide
and the river that was corrupted by lies
will be cleansed and totally free.
And the rooster will call in the setting sun
and the sun will beckon homeward,
hiding behind your one tree that was not felled.
“One Day” was originally published in my fourth book of poems, Where the Road Turns (Autumn House Press: 2010)
My Late Mother Here Below: Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams who died in 2000.
I celebrate each mother’s day by remembering my own mother, Hne Dahtedor Mary Williams, who was a wonderful mother to me. May her soul and the souls of all our gone mothers rest in the peace of God. I have a short blog post this time, a few poems and just a word to encourage those of us, for that includes me, who have chosen to be mothers to know that the labor from dawn to dust is not in vain. It is difficult to be a mother living in the Diaspora, raising children away from family and friends, from the grandparents, some of who have passed on, away from aunts and uncles, from extended family members. Many of us have raised children who will be strangers to their own family, but we do not give up. Life is w
hat we make it. Love you all.
if there are any heavens my mother will
——–By e e cummings
if there are any heavens my mother will(all by herself)have
one. It will not be a pansy heaven nor
a fragile heaven of lilies-of-the-valley but
it will be a heaven of blackred roses
my father will be(deep like a rose
tall like a rose)
standing near my
(swaying over her
with eyes which are really petals and see
nothing with the face of a poet really which
is a flower and not a face with
This is my beloved my
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?
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)
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)
(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
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?
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.
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,
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.
The International Poetry Festival of Medellin is always so amazing, neither rain, thunder or the blazing sun can drive away the thousands of lovers of poetry who pour in during the opening and closing ceremonies in any given year. The first sign of rain, and the thousands in the audience quickly begin to put on plastic coats, pull out umbrellas, sitting on the hard wet stairs of the Theatre Carlos Vieco to hear the World Poets read in their various languages one after the other, from 4 pm up until 10:30. Translators and poets, reading side by side while the audience cheers, screams, enjoying the power of poetry. For twenty years, poets have come and gone, children have been born, and have grown up under the warmth of this powerful tool of healing, and some of those young people are today volunteering with a literary revolution that gave birth to them.
This is inarguably, the largest, the most fascinating, most revolutionary, and most people-centered poetry festival in the world. The International Poetry Festival of Medellin was founded in Medellín in 1991 by two young, idealistic and practical Colombian poets, Fernando Rendón, who was also editor of the Colombian magazine of PIW, and Gabriel Jaime Franco. Of course, they were assisted by a great group of poetry enthusiasts who banded together to establish what is now a cultural revolution, impacting the entire world over twenty years. Today, one of those hardworking poetry lovers is Gloria Chvatal, whose dedication to organizing and helping to run the festival is simply inspirational.
FOUNDERS: Fernando Rendón (R) and Gabriel Jaime Franco
Gloria Chvatal, a strong arm of the festival, Fernando, and Gabriel against the backdrop of one of the festival audiences.
With the powerful vision to reach their people through poetry, they launched a poetry festival that draws audiences from across the Americas, their neighbors and from other regions of the world. They have featured close to 1000 poets from around the world, bringing in African, European, Asian, South, North, and Central American poets and poets from every region of the world. This year, I was invited for the second time, including my first invitation in 2007, to be a featured poet among one of the largest if not the largest group of world poets in the twenty years, nearly 100 of us, in a celebration worthy of itself. Again, as with my first visit to Colombia, the International Poetry Festival of Medellin remains the most powerful experience of any poetry festival in the world. Stay tune as I bring you various features, photos, video clips, etc.I in this blog posting. It is long overdue, but you will forgive me if you realize I had to get a new book out and begin readings to promote the book.
A Poem for Fernando’s Colombia (copyright “Where the Road Turns, 2010) By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
to God, I wish I could take out my heart for you,
but how will I sing this song to you without a heart?
You, with so much heart for love and poetry,
for hope in the eyes of the little girl
who with a scrap of white paper, wants me to say a word
to her, to autograph my name for her, to write it in her
name. She tells me with that unusual smile how
she loves my poems, but she is only eight years old.
She and Carlos, the five year old brother who have
pushed through the thousands to get to me.
Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
where we go down from the mountain
into the bowl of a city, into the deep heart of a city,
so warm, a city where people still smile
and clap to a poem, and cry for the war, a city
where concrete houses hold up the hills with muscles
of steel, muscles of pain, and somewhere along the roads
as the bus descends from the airport, the poor have
erected their own lives so sadly, waiting,
and yet, they overlook the city with hope.
From the edge of sharp cliffs and the side roads,
the burning lights and flames of the city, hard
and indistinguishable from anger.
But theirs is of the pain from the years gone.
Medellin, Oh, Medellin…
Waiting can be so hard, Medellin.
And I love you from my heart. I love your laughter,
your warm hugs and kisses, your Spanish, so simply
plain and warm. I love even your tears that
you have shared with me, when a poem I’m reading
touches you in that place where only a poem can go.
At the International Poetry Festival, you sit there,
along your hill arena, clapping, thousands of people,
sitting and thinking and listening and hoping,
Medellin, I have never seen anything like this before.
Thousands of people sitting for long hours
at a poetry reading, Medellin…
we wait for that day, Medellin, we wait.
Trust me, I know how to wait, and I know you do too.
Here, I am, reading with African poets in the beautiful Jardín Botánico. Theatre al aire libre on July 10: l-r: Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Niyi Osundare (Nigeria), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia) and Amin Haddad (Egypt), reading.
I was honored to read with, meet with, eat with, and be in the company of some of the finest poets in the world. Our poets came from every area of the globe, different languages and cultures, different world issues in their works, different looks, dress and cultural patterns, but we were all one in the use of poetry as a medium of expression of the sensibility of our unique people, and therefore, of the world.
Here, a group of us poets on our way to sight-seeing in Medellin, Colombia, were chased by newspaper crews who made us stand in the middle of a busy city street to take this shot, featured in the paper the next day. (L_R)Poets sJean Jacques Sewanou Dabla of Togo, Alhaji Papa Susso of Gambia, Lola Koundakjian of Armenia, Veronica Zondek of Chilli, Althea Romeo-Mark, representing Antigua and me, representing Liberia. Middle photo- Me and Althea Romeo-Mark, Me and Koumanthio Diallo of Guinea, West Africa, standing with an Afro-Colombian brother after our last Africa Reading.
Poets, Gemino H. Abad (Phillipines) and Imtiaz Dharker of India looking on.
I have been privileged as a poet to be in the company of Pulitzer Prize winning authors, renowned authors, even Nobel Prize winning authors and to be influenced by their unique ways of viewing the world. But the experience at the International Poetry Festival of Medellin 2007 and 2010 alone has been a life-changing experience for me. Let me discuss in brief the kinds of impact such a great festival has on the invited poet, the Colombian people and others from parts of the Americas who descend upon the city, and finally, upon the country, friends, associates of those who return home with this huge vision in their life experience.
A Life- Changing Experience:
The city of Medellin, Colombia, is a city on a hill, skyscrapers of the wealthy alongside the dwellings of millions of the poor. As in any other country, the poor find a means of survival. It is in the center of this city that has survived forty years of civil war that poets from around the world must all merge with their many voices of hope with the voices of hope from Colombia and nations around the region. The most exciting is not in the structure of this beautiful city and country; the most exciting for me is in the people of Colombia. They are a warm and beautiful people, vibrant in every way, their warm hugs and kisses will melt your heart. But what will cause you to jump from surprise is their love of poetry. Upon arriving at the airport, you will hardly clear out of customs before noticing the crowd of volunteers, festival organizers and friends out at the Medellin Airport to meet you.
The hugs and kisses will be a regular part of your nearly two weeks of living in Medellin, basking in the beauty of poetry and culture. And then, another big surprise is the crowd at the opening and closing ceremonies. The number has been estimated at between seven to ten thousand out in the open arena, cheering, listening, shouting, enjoying the experience of one poetic voice after the other. If you are a first time festival visitor, your jaw drops, you wonder if it is real, whether you are now a rock star, and whether these great people have all lost their heads. But trust, me, it is real. They love poetry and they will change your world after this. This was when I realized that my coming to Colombia was meant to change me, not me, them.
Yira, my Spanish reader assigned to me at the 20th festival (l) Yira & me, Me, Norwegian poet, Erling and the Colombian team.
Images of the festival. Me at the Afro-Colombian center in Medellin, where I was the only presenter, Me after the reading with and my girls after our reading out of town in Municipio del Carmen de Viboral. Casa de la Culturaon next to a quick photo from the car driving from Bogota Airport to the city of Villavicencio.
The Most Important Impact of Such a Festival:
The crowds of thousands who are dedicated to listening to poetry, reading poets from around the world, sitting in rain or shine, bringing their babies, toddlers, old people for two decades now tells you something about this country, about the visionaries of the festival, about how poetry, reading of poetry, and writing can be a powerful tool of healing. If anyone tells you that you can have such a literary revolution where people are dedicated to using words as a tool in healing produces small results, that individual is a fool. When you begin to mingle with the people, whether they are poor or rich, you will know the impact of the festival on the country, on ending violence. Remember, in case you forgot, Colombia has been in a civil war with drug lords and armed movements for more than forty years now. So, how is it possible to have such a peaceful festival when the country is supposedly at war? Well, my visit in 2007 and the 2010 visit indicated to me that yes, there has been a great change.
A group of young people who had come for our last African poets reading on July 16, stayed on after everyone had left, lining up to greet us. They were a force to see.
One of the most powerful evidence of how the festival is positively affecting the Colombian people in a powerful way is through the photos. I know of no other place in the world where thousands of people will sit to hear poetry read in various languages with translators reading in the pouring rain, people pulling plastic coverings over their heads, and just intent on listening, where mothers will bring their children, including infants with gifts to authors they’d never met, as if these authors are Priests needing to bless the children, they come by the scores to teach their little ones how important it is to learn, to be intellectual instead of being a rebel fighter. This to me is one of the most wonderful gifts any people can give to their nation. But we all know how much it must cost for organizers to raise the money to feed 100 poets, excluding staff, student volunteers, to give them all stipends, to give them lodging in individual rooms in a beautiful hotel, to tend to them when they are ill during the 12 day for most and more days for others, to help provide transportation from across the world for many, and to pay for the use of numerous venues, to fly dozens of poets across the country or drive them hours away. It is a powerful machine that must be recognized. We are most blessed to have lived this experience; hopefully, some of us will be inspired to emulate this great example.
Poets Saturate the City & Country With Poetry: A Dynamic Organization by the Festival Organizers:
Many of us poets had several readings throughout the 11 day festival. The poets included the following number:We were eleven poets from Africa: Niyi Osundare (Nigeria) Alhaji Papa Susso (Gambia), Arif Khudairi (Egypt), Paul Dakeyo (Cameroon), Mohammed Bennis (Morocco), Luis Carlos Patraquim (Mozambique), Koumanthio Zeinabou Diallo (Guinea), Patricia Jabbeh Wesley (Liberia),Jean Jacques Sewanou Dabla (Togo), Amin Haddad (Egypt) and Chirstopher Okemwa (Kenya). Some of us poets came from the Diaspora of Europe and America while others came from the continent of Africa.
After the African poets reading the 16th of July, the elderly gentleman was so excited, he came up to be photographed with us.
The audience waiting before the African reading. Above: After the reading photos
Among the 100 invited poets, less than hundred in attendance, there were beside us 11 Africans, 58 poets from the Americas, 10 from Asia, and 18 from Europe. Some of the poets I connected to include all on the African team (speaking French, English and Arabic), Althea Romeo-Mark, my American Lit. professor of long ago, Sir Howard Fergus of Monsserrat, Obediah Michael Smith of Barbados, Grace Nichols and her husband, John Agard both of Guyana, Renato Sandoval of Peru, Bob Holman of the US, Gemino H. Abad and his spouse (guest), of Philippines, Hala Mohammad of Siria, Lola Koundakjian, U Sam Oeur of Cambodia, Uwe Kolbe, excluding our very fascinating volunteer translators, interpreters. Special among the entire crew was my dear reader, the young and beautiful Yira Plaza Obyrne. Yira went with me everywhere to read the Spanish translation of my poetry whenever I appeared, and where there was no interpreter to translate my short speeches before the reading, Yira would step in. The only trip she did not accompany me on was the one to the far away city of Villavicencio.
Hala of Syria, making an early departure and that goodbye photo as the poets hurry through breakfast for another busy day
I had about ten readings throughout Medellin, reading in various venues with a team of four assigned different authors each time. I also had one solo presentation at the Afro-Colombian Center of Arts. My two out of town readings included a reading far into the Andes Mountains. This was one of the most fascinating of my participation. The Nowegian Poet, Erling Kittelsen and I were sent out to read in a far city of Villaviciencio on July 12, returning on July 13. I also had another reading out of town, with Armenian poet, Lola Koundakjian, just about an hour away to the town famous for its ceramic art, china ware. The town, Municipio del Carmen de Viboral.
Here are some connections in photos made during various readings:
In Municipio del Carmen, a five or six year old girl clung to me after the reading, telling me how much she liked my poetry and how she wanted to me to take her with me.
Connections to Children When Parents Bring Them:
Book signing after the African Poets reading in the Botanical garden that morning. Whenever there was a reading, the audience was so inspired and excited, they in turn inspired and excited us poets. Many in the audience came from various parts of South America. Besides these readings, I did a number of print, TV and newspaper magazine interviews.
Reading InVillaviciencio, Colombia:
When I arrived in Medellin on July 7, 2010, I saw that I would have to be driven to Medellin Airport for a one hour flight to Bogota, the capital city, and then driven to Villaviciencio for two hours. So on the morning of July 12, the Norwegian poet and I were taken to Medellin Airport to be flown to the high mountain city of Bogota. The driver, one of my favorite and the son of one of the founders of the Festival made the journey to the airport. To my surprise, the driver stopped by a mountain side eating/stop place and treated all of us to a beautiful lunch. We then took photos in the kitchen of the stop station.
The Driver The sign says 50, but hey.
The City of Villavicencio, according to Wikipedia, lies “in a rural zone of tropical climate… on the great Colombian-Venezuelan plain called Los Llanos. The city is east of the Andes Mountains. The Andes are a series of endless mountains that allows you to drive on clouds as if you were on a plane. I was so mesmerized, I took numerous photos as clouds swirled around the windshield of the car.
Despite its closeness to the vast Savannas that lie between the Andes range and the Amazon, you cannot drive from Bogota to Villavicencio without meandering through high mountains, long winding tunnels or feeling the pressure of the height of the region. According to the records, Bogota is the second highest capital city in the world, boasting more than 9000 feet above sea level. Right off the plane from Medellin, the cold chill hits you along with the pressure of the height. My allergies kicked in right away and I was quick to grab hold of my jacket. My Norwegian poetry colleague, Erling was a gentleman who quickly took my laptop from me as we made our way to the outside for the ride to Villavicencio. Our reading that night was at 7 pm, therefore, we became a bit nervous at being picked up fairly late.We arrived more than two hours later to an auditorium filled with more than 300 people, eager to hear these two foreign poets from different ends of the earth. Our Colombian colleagues and poet partners, interpreters, translators, including the Director of of Cultural Affairs were again as Colombians are, very warm, excited, loving, happy and welcoming. We were exhausted, but we went through quick orientations with our partners, which poems to read, gestures, what to expect, rehearsing quickly, hugs, embraces, laughter, and we hit the stage. Below are the photos of that evening, one of my last three reading evens of the festival.
Erling reading while I try to stretch my back on stage at our reading soon after arriving in this far away town.
Here in this photo are Erling of Norway, me, my reader, a Colombian young woman, a Colombian poet, Erling’s reader and the government official, Cultural Affairs Director, who hosted our visit and the Festival in his city. What a privilege it was for us to meet these warm people. Before the program began, the Colombian poet read a poem dedicated to me, presented flowers to me, a surprise, and everyone was happy.
Reading that evening in Villavicencio, Colombia
A Cross section of the hall that night.
The After Reading Photos: Folks are often excited after reading, and in this city, the norm was no different.
Kids who come to the reading ask the toughest questions. They know so much about poetry, about suffering, about war, and want to know how someone like me can end up not only in the US, but in a huge poetry festival. How did I begin writing, whether I like their country, and how I feel about returning to another festival. Often, they are accompanied by parents, also wanting answers. The most fascinating when the questions are posed is the warmth, the appreciation, and the open affection of the Colombian people, grateful to the visiting poet. There’s so much to learn from the Colombian people, from the International Poetry Festival, from their survival stories.
Kenyan poet and a friend posing and photo from my hotel room porch with my visiting bird friend.
The visiting bird at the Gran Hotel visiting the visiting poets.
Bringing a Great Festival to Closure:
The last couple days of our stay in Colombia, many of us needed to go shopping, but the rain, the busy reading schedules, the lack of individual private translators, and of course interview schedules for some of us kept us from doing so. And yet, we found the time to slip out, some of us in small groups, visiting small vending places nearby the Gran Hotel where we were lodged. Althea, Grace Nichols, and others with me, joined the others, shopping for souvenir for our families and friends. We met the warmth of more Colombians in the market places, receiving small gifts and being recognized by the many who had followed us around the city. I took off on my own in between the beautiful hand-made jewelry counters, and came upon one Colombian vendor unlike everyone else I had met. He wanted to sell a necklace to me for 80,000 Pesos, but the necklace was worth 12.000 pesos, and I knew that. I could not speak Spanish, so I gave him a sheet of paper to write down the price. He did, and I asked him again to do so, and he repeated the price. I looked at him and smiled. “You are a big crook,” I said, but he did not understand me. I left him as he stared after me and went to the next vendor to purchase the same necklace at less than 12,000 pesos. In every beautiful country, you will see someone who is ugly, I laughed as I made my way bravely through the busy traffic back to the hotel where a journalist working for a French news agency was waiting to interview me.
July 17 marked the end of the festival; therefore, our hotel was ready for the last party with our own private dance group to shake up the place. Many of us watched for a few minutes and went to our rooms to pack. We would depart early for the airport, groups of us, coming from various regions of our one world, carrying in our hearts the one spirit of poetry, telling our sad and happy stories in stanzas and metaphors, the power of language that can heal and destroy, depending on how you want to use language. But here in this mountain country, these wonderful people have discovered that words can be more powerful as a tool in forging peace. They have found the treasure of life, and have passed on this wonderful gift to their children over two decades, have brought the world to their doors, won hearts, and have sent us all out to let the world know that we have seen here is bigger and more wonderful than the negative propaganda that we’ve been told. As for me, I will never be the same again after meeting Colombia, after meeting the world at the festival, after sharing my own stories of pain and suffering with the Colombian people, after learning that love is not about what we have, but rather, about what we can give.
And so, the great festival ended on this note even as we poets sat around to watch the professional dancers do their thing.
(All photos are the exclusive right of Patricia Jabbeh Wesley, and must not be used for any commercial purposes)
You must be logged in to post a comment.