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My Liberian Story From Monrovia Liberia
My story is mixed here and there. Before understanding a person’s story, it is important to understand the history of events that led to the creation of that story. I am a 26 year old Liberian male living in St. Cloud, Minnesota. I am from Bang Bang County and Kpelle Tribe in Liberia. I was born in Kakata, Magibi District. I have lived in Liberia, Ghana and the United States most of my life.
It all started in 1989, when former President Charles Taylor launched a military revolution against the administration of former President Samuel Doe. I was five years old then. Many believe that President Doe has not treated each tribe fairly in his administration. He was accused of corruption, killing innocents, had more people from his tribe (Krahn) in the government, so other tribes were underrepresented. So some see Charles Taylor as a liberator, while others see him as a problem. Many believe that Taylor has the support of many international leaders. One such leader was Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (Pham, John-Peter. Liberia Portrait of a failed State, 2004). Opinions differ as to the cause of the Civil War.
The theological point of view is that this war was God’s punishment for all the crimes committed against him by the Liberians. The political point of view is that the war was the result of the failure of the Liberian government to meet the legitimate demands of the Liberian people. Others see war as the end product of power struggles (Adedeji, Adebayo, ed. Comprehending and mastering African conflicts, 1999). Whatever the reason, the war had a huge impact on me personally.
When the war started, I was living in Kakata with my grandparents. Both my father and mother attended university in the capital, Monrovia. My parents were separated from me because they couldn’t go back to Kakata. My grandparents and other family members fled Kakata to a village in Magibi County, deep in the Jibi Mountains. We walked more than three hundred miles. I walked alone, and when I was tired, my grandfather carried me on his shoulders. My cousins and I took turns being carried on the shoulders by Grandpa. As night fell, we slept in the forest with other displaced people who had fled their homes. We eat the roots and leaves of different plants, some of which we don’t recognize.
When we first arrived in a strange village, my grandfather, cousin and uncle all ran to the bushes and cut some branches to build a mud house for us to live in. They built a four-bedroom mud house for the family. There are over forty people in our family, so we have to manage the small space we have to live in. We did not stay in the house during the day for fear of being harassed by the rebels. If you were a male captured by the rebels, they would make you their worker; women/girls, on the other hand. So we hid in the grass during the day and slept in the mud hut at night. Families living in the village took turns keeping watch for the rebels at night. We were terrified at night and couldn’t sleep well as a result. When they warned us that the rebels were coming, everyone had to run and hide in the bushes.
There is not enough food to eat and the water we drink is not safe. No clothes, no shoes, no toys, no storybooks, nothing that a kid my age needed when I was growing up. We lived in the jungle/village until my cousin’s father died of illness in 1993. All this time, we didn’t know the whereabouts of my parents. In early 1994, one of my uncles finally found us after looking for us for over a year. He told us that when the war broke out in 1989, he and my mother had fled to Ghana on a boat that had come to pick up Ghanaians back home. He said our uncle who lived in New York gave him some money to come and find us.
We left shortly after he arrived in the village. We started yet another trek from the village to the country (in Côte d’Ivoire) bordering Liberia; it was over five hundred miles away. It took us a few weeks to get to the border, but we finally got there. Grandpa is sick and can only be carried by uncle. I was only ten years old then. I didn’t go to school; nothing after the war. We took a bus from the Ivorian border to Ghana, where I met my mother for the first time in five years. A month after we arrived in Ghana, my grandfather passed away after a long illness. In 1994, he was buried in the Buduburam refugee camp cemetery in Ghana.
Starting my refugee life in Ghana is another important chapter in my life. I can admit that life in the Buduburam refugee camp was much better than what I had known in the bush. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) sometimes provides safe drinking water and food. I remember being so excited to see white UN trucks full of rice, beans, oil, sweet energy biscuits, powdered milk, and other high-protein foods. Our uncle in New York also constantly sent money to the family for food and supplies.
When the refugees came, I went to school for the first time in 1994, when I was ten years old. I was the oldest in the class because it’s not common to see ten year olds in kindergarten. Even though I was sometimes teased by some of the kids, I was determined to graduate from Kindergarten by any means necessary. After I settled in at school and made some new friends, I started living a normal life. Of course, refugee camps have their challenges. I can’t understand the native language of Ghana. My cousins and I had to sell merchandise to raise money and do other things to help the family, we were forced to learn our native language to earn money.
Handfull Saydee’s Aunt Jarteh tells the story of little Handfull Saydee about some of the tragic things that happened in the refugee camp. Handfull’s mother fled Liberia’s civil war while pregnant with her. Her parents were separated while fleeing. Her mother died shortly after giving birth due to complications and the lack of good medical facilities in the camp. Handfull now lives in New York with her aunt, who is her legal guardian, in the United States (Heydarpour, Roja. “From the devastation of war in West Africa, 5-year-old orphan starts over with aunt’s help.” Lexisnexis. com 10 January 2006.) Like Little Handfull, I lived in a refugee camp until 1998 when my mother and I were fortunate enough to move back to Liberia.
I think life has gotten better in Liberia. There are peacekeepers from other countries who have just had a presidential election and elected Charles Taylor as their head of state. I finally had the chance to meet my dad and start a relationship with him. When I moved back to Liberia, I was in sixth grade. I started school in Monrovia and after a year I begged my father to send me to a boarding school outside of Monrovia. My friend and I had planned to attend boarding school together in September 1999 for the next school year. My dad works for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as the program director for Phelps Stores. He agreed to provide tuition so that I could go to boarding school. Life was smooth sailing until 2000 when the Liberian Federation 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 left Liberians again thinking they had nowhere to go. I was coming home from school when the war was approaching in Monrovia. In 2003, war reached Monrovia and we had no choice but to flee to Ghana again. After arriving in Ghana in 2003, my father rented a house for our family, then went to the United States to settle down, and later sent someone to pick me up and my siblings. I finished high school in Ghana, then we went to America in 2004 with my parents. Life has gotten better and better as time has passed since I arrived in the US. I lived in Philadelphia for a year, then moved to St. Cloud to continue my education.
Although I was unable to have a normal childhood due to the civil war in my country, I believe the war helped me to see life outside the box. I, like many young Liberians in the United States, have realized that war is not the answer to anything. It just destroys what took years of hard work to build. Sometimes people wonder why I’m still in college at twenty-six. I don’t blame anyone for what I’ve been through, all I can say is, “This is part of my story.” Although I was forced to flee my own country, I had the opportunity to learn about other cultures; Items are great learning experiences. I also made many good friends while living in Ghana. Some of these friends had a major impact on my life and we would become lifelong friends. I met people from almost all over the world. Moving to the United States was a life-changing experience for me.
I try not to focus only on the negative aspects of the war because it makes me blame others for my situation. I believe I am young and have the potential to reach the pinnacle of my life. Whatever that peak was, I don’t know, but God does. I would love to go back to Liberia and help those less fortunate. Liberia is not what it was before the war, but if we young people in Liberia can try to get some education while we live here, we can make a big difference in the lives of many Liberians back home. This is my story, and it’s my turn to make an impact.
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