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My Liberian Story From Monrovia Liberia
My story is a mix here and there. Before an individual’s story can be understood, it is important to have a history of the events that contributed to the creation of that story. I am a twenty-six-year-old Liberian living in St. Cloud, MN. I am from Bong District, Liberia and Kpelle by tribe. I was born in Kakata, Margibi District. I have spent most of my life in Liberia, Ghana and the United States.
Growing up knowing nothing but the sounds of different weapons, it all begins in 1989 when former President Charles Taylor launched a military revolution against the government of former President Samuel Doe. I was only five years old then. Many people believe that President Doe did not treat every tribe fairly in his government. He was accused of corruption, of killing innocent people, of having more people from his tribe (Krahn) in the government and thus other tribes were underrepresented. Therefore, some saw Charles Taylor as a liberator, while others saw him as a problem. Many people believe that Taylor was supported by many international leaders. One of those leaders was Muammar Gaddafi from Libya (Pham, John-Peter. Liberia Portrait of a failed State, 2004). There are different perspectives on the causes of the civil war.
The theological perspective believes that the war is God’s punishment for all the sins Liberians have committed against him. The political perspective believes that the war is the result of the Liberian government’s failure to meet the legitimate demands of the Liberian people. Others believe that the war was the end product of a power struggle (Adedeji, Adebayo, eds. Understanding and Overcoming African Conflicts, 1999). For whatever reason, the war had a huge impact on me personally.
When the war started, I lived with my grandparents in Kakata. Both my father and mother were in the capital, Monrovia, attending college. My parents and I were separated because they could not return to Kakata. My grandparents and the rest of the family fled from Kakata to a village in Margibi District, deep in the Gibi Mountains. We have covered over three hundred miles. I went alone, and when I was tired, my grandfather carried me on his shoulders. My cousins and I took turns on my grandfather’s shoulders. When night fell, we slept in the forest with other displaced people fleeing their homes. We ate the roots and leaves of different plants, some of which we did not know.
Upon arrival in a foreign village, my grandfather, older cousins and uncles went into the bush to cut tree branches to build a mud house for us to live in. They built a mud house with four bedrooms for the family. Our family was over forty, so we had to manage in the small space in which we had to live. We did not stay in the house during the day for fear of being harassed by the rebels. If you were a man captured by the rebels, they make you their worker; on the other hand women/girls. That’s why we would hide in the bushes during the day and come to sleep in the mud house at night. Families living in the village took turns guarding the rebels at night. At night we were very scared and because of that we could not sleep well. When they alerted us that the rebels were coming, everyone had to run and hide in the bushes.
There was not enough food to eat and the water we drank was not safe to drink. No clothes, no shoes, no toys, no story books, nothing that a child of my age would need was available to me when I grew up. We lived in the bush/village until my cousin’s father got sick and died in 1993. All that time we didn’t know where my parents were. In early 1994, one of my uncles finally found us after searching for us for over a year. He informed us that he and my mother escaped to Ghana on a ship that came to take Ghanaians back to their country when the war started in 1989. He said that our uncle who lived in New York gave him some money to come and find us .
We left soon after his arrival in the village. Again we start another long walk from the village to the (Ivorian) country bordering Liberia; which is five hundred plus miles away. It took us weeks to get to the border, but we got there eventually. My grandfather was sick and had to be carried on my uncle’s shoulder. I was only ten years old then. I had no schooling; nothing since the outbreak of war. We got on a bus from the Ivory Coast border to Ghana where I met my mother for the first time in five years. A month after our arrival in Ghana, my grandfather passed away after a long illness. He was laid to rest in the cemetery of the Buduburam refugee camp in Ghana in 1994.
The beginning of my life as a refugee in Ghana was another big chapter in my life. I can admit that life in the Buduburam refugee camp was far better than what I knew in the bush. There was safe drinking water and food was sometimes provided by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). I remember being so excited just seeing the white UN trucks loaded with rice, beans, oil, sweet energy biscuits, milk powder and other high protein foods. Our uncle in New York was also constantly sending money to the family to buy food and supplies.
He came as a refugee, I started school for the first time in 1994 at the age of ten. I was the oldest in my class because it’s not common to see a ten-year-old in kindergarten. Although some kids sometimes made fun of me, I was determined to finish kindergarten by all means. Once I settled in at school and made new friends, I started living a normal life. Of course, there were challenges in the refugee camp as well. I could not understand the Ghanaian mother tongue. My relatives and I had to sell goods to raise money and do other things to help the family, and we were forced to learn the mother tongue to earn money.
The story of little Handfull Saydea told by her aunt Jarteh was about some tragic things that happened in the refugee camp. Handfull’s mother fled the Liberian civil war while pregnant with her. Her mother and father became separated as they fled. Her mother died shortly after giving birth to her due to complications and the lack of good health facilities in the refugee camp. Handfull now lives in New York with her aunt, who is her legal guardian, in the United States (Heydarpour, Roja. “From the ravages of war in West Africa, 5-year-old orphan starts over with aunt’s help.” Lexisnexis.com 10 Jan 2006 .) Like little Handfull, I lived in a refugee camp, until 1998 when my mother and I were lucky enough to return to Liberia.
Life in Liberia has gotten a little better, I guess. There were peacekeepers from other countries and they had just had a presidential election where Charles Taylor was elected head of state. I finally got a chance to meet my father and started to build a relationship with him. When I returned to Liberia, I was in the sixth grade. I started school in Monrovia and after a year I asked my father to send me to a boarding school outside Monrovia. My friend and I planned to attend boarding school together the next school year in September 1999. My father worked for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a project director for Phelps Stores. He agreed to provide my school fees so that I could go to boarding school. Life was going well until 2000 when Liberia United for Reconciliation and Democracy launched another bloody civil war against the rule of Charles Taylor; a rebel group that accused Taylor of being a dictator.
That war once again left Liberians thinking they had nowhere to go. When the war was near Monrovia, I came home from school. In 2003, the war reached Monrovia and we had no other option but to flee to Ghana again. Upon arriving in Ghana in 2003, my father rented a house for our family and went to the United States to move there and later send for my siblings and me. I was able to finish high school in Ghana and we joined my parents in the United States in 2004. Since my arrival in the United States, life has gotten a little better as time goes on. I lived in Philadelphia for a year and moved to St. Cloud to continue my education.
Although I couldn’t have a normal childhood because of the civil war in my country, I believe that the war helped me see life outside the box. I, like many young Liberians in the United States, have come to realize that war is not the answer to any problem. It just destroys things that took years of hard work to build. Sometimes people wonder why I’m twenty-six years old and still in college. I don’t blame anyone for what I went through and all I can say is, “It’s part of my story.” Although I was forced to leave my country, I had the opportunity to learn about the cultures of other countries; that alone is a great learning experience. I also made many good friends while living in Ghana. Some of these friends have had a big impact on my life and we will be lifelong friends. I met people from almost all parts of the world. Moving to the United States was a life-changing experience for me.
I try not to focus only on the negatives of the war because that will make me blame others for my situation. I believe that I am still young and have the potential to reach my peak in life. Whatever that peak is, I don’t know, but God does. I would like to go back to Liberia to help those less fortunate. Liberia now is not like it was before the war, but if we young Liberians can try to educate ourselves while living here, we can make a big difference in the lives of many Liberians back home. It’s my story and it’s my turn to make an impact.
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