Saturday, November 6, 2010

Thoughts about Liberia

Since publishing my memoir, "Sweet Liberia, Lessons From the Coal Pot," I have happily re-opened the mental file of Liberia. When I fled Liberia, August 8, 1990, 8 months into the Liberian Civil War, thought then to be a "rebel incursion," I thought at first that I would be retreating only briefly to America. I prayed that the violence would stop and I'd be able to gather my family and return, reopen my school, resume my life on Chubor Road, to re-establish my relationships in Liberia.

Unfortunately that was not to be and Liberia was plunged into 15 years of Civil War. In the twenty years that followed my departure I received letters about acquaintences and friends in Liberia that I could not bear to open and simply put aside. All I allowed myself to think about was how to retrain my five children for life as Black children on the South Side of Chicago. I needed to teach my children about gangs, and drugs, and how not to trust adults you didn't know, and about African American history, the part that includes lynchings, Jim Crow and institutional racism. In short I had to teach them how to navigate America, a new home where they would have less freedom and less human dignity than they had experienced in Liberia. It was really, really hard to lose the promise that I had come to Liberia with, and to convince myself that it had never existed so that the loss of it was not so painful. That's what I did in the years between 1990 and 2007 when I began to seriously write the vignettes and stories that would become Sweet Liberia, Lessons From the Coal Pot.