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An Interview with Mama Liberia – Part Two

Paul Yeenie Harry ~ (September 22th 2005)  

" daughters, both young and old, are practicing prostitution for survival. Furthermore, thousands of my children have never watched TV in their lives. While other four-year-old children, especially those of my aunts – like the children of Europe and America – are playing with computers on an hourly basis, thousands of my children do not even know that there is something called a computer or the Internet. ...”

"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I say: Hearken to me; I also will show my opinion." Job 32:9,10

You remember at the end of Dr. Gboenmuin Findings’ last question, as indicated in Part One, Mama Liberia accused him of committing three crimes? Dr. Findings was shocked because, according to him, he could not see how he had committed any crimes in his simple question. He then threw a “challenge” to Mama Liberia to point out the crimes. Mama Liberia, you recall, upon hearing the “challenge” from Dr. Findings, laughed.

Though I, too, could not understand how the journalist had committed any crimes, there was one thing that I was sure of: Mama Liberia, one of the respected and experienced daughters of Mother Africa, would not have made the accusation if she had not been sure of the crimes. Even in her laughter, one could sense the unsurpassed wisdom, as well as the ease, with which she was going to identify the crimes and expatiate on them. In fact, I couldn’t wait to hear her response.

I was anxious to hear how Mama Liberia would debunk those crimes at the end of her laugher, but that was not the case. Instead, something strange happened. We saw four little birds fly from the right side of the room to the extreme left side and irregularly sat on the branches of a palm tree that appeared from nowhere. Three came in first, and the last followed. They were similar in shape, but they were of varying sizes and colors. I could only wonder why the birds had come, as I could not ask Dr. Findings to explain the reason to me. He himself was also dumbfounded, as was evidenced by his facial expression. As I sought internal answers to the birds’ presence and Mama Liberia’s laughter, an incident that was by far stranger than the mere appearance of the birds occurred.

First Bird : Gmuein, Ba Findings. Ah won-dein gboey? (The journalist and I, especially me, were shocked, seeing and hearing a bird speak a human language with such an audibility and clear pronunciation.)

Dr. Findings : What does that mean? (Dr. Finding asked me with great shock written on his face. I almost laughed, seeing his face and eyes look like an adult who has just been caught red-handed toileting on the farm road of his neighbour, but I held my peace.)

Paul : I believe this expression comes from the Bassa language. It means, “Good-morning, Mr. Findings! How are you?” (Using a low voice to translate the expression to Dr. Findings, though with conspicuous shock in my own voice)

Second Bird : Bha-buah, Findings. E-doh-mehn? (The second message came.)

Dr. Findings : But what’s the problem? Why are these animals speaking to us? (Again, Dr. Findings turned to me and asked.)

Paul : That’s a good question, but you are asking the wrong person. I can only help you with the translation. I think this second expression comes from the Gio language. It means, “Good-morning, Findings! How are you?” (I, again, told Dr. Findings.)

Third bird : “Yah ku ne-ay. E-kpuoh? (Another expression went out. Upon hearing this one, Dr. Findings hissed his teeth in anger.)

Dr. Findings : Paul, you know what? I did not come here to practice African languages with Liberian birds. If this continues, I will end the interview and leave. (Dr. Findings cautioned me, as if I was responsible for the situation, or as if he knew the way out of the cottage. I guess he only wanted to vent his frustration on me, since he could not physically see Mama Liberia.)

Paul : All that I can tell you is that this third saying comes from the Vai language. It means, “Good-morning. How are you?” (I continued my translation.)

Fourth bird : tweet, tweet, che-li, che-li, ta-ka, ta-ka, woo-pi, woo-pi!

Dr. Findings : Paul, where do these birds come from? (The journalist asked me, hoping that, perhaps, by asking me, his frustration would be diluted.)

Paul : How can I know, Dr. Findings? You and I entered here together, and we have since been here. You are lucky you brought me. I believe life would have been more difficult for you had you come alone. Be grateful to the gods and the ancestors for my presence. (I told the journalist in a clear and authoritative voice that I myself could not believe came from me. Perhaps, my mother – Mama Liberia – had endowed me with some of her power. I could imagine Mama Liberia laugh as she heard her little son speak with confidence to the renowned journalist.)

Dr. Findings : You are right. So, what does the last saying mean? (The journalist asked, with some relief on his face, as he was sure he would get the actual translation from me.)

Paul : Dr. Findings, I don’t want to lie to you. Neither do I have any ideas about what this means nor do I know what language it is. I hope this fourth bird is not insulting our entire generation, including yours, of course. Some animals are as unimaginably rude as some human beings. Be happy, also, that none of them have chosen to toilet on your head. (I jokingly intimated to Dr. Findings, a statement which caused him to laugh.)

While all this was happening, there was nothing heard from Mama Liberia, or from any of the invisible people in the cottage. Later, Mama Liberia cleared her throat with a kind of grunting sound, and the birds flew back to the direction from which they had earlier come, one behind the other, a kind of single file position that refugees usually make when they are escaping from war zones. This took my mind back to August 10, 1990, when the rebels of Charles Taylor captured the Oldroad area and told us to go in their territory. I still vividly remember the single file position the rebels to us to be in, starting from the Joe Bar Market to the German Embassy, to Oldest Congo Town to Du Port Road and all the way to the Soul Clinic Mission. I still remember how some of my compatriots, my fellow countrymen, were taken out of the group and shot for reasons best known to the killers. As the birds flew away, I shook my head to relieve myself of the war-time reflection, as listening to the interview with Mama Liberia was the most important event for me at that point. After Mama Liberia had cleared her throat and the birds had flown away, she began her response to Dr. Findings’ challenge, if it was anything to be termed a challenge.

Mama Liberia : Dr. Findings, The palm tree represents growth, development and productivity. You will be enlightened after the interview with me, the woman called Liberia, if you are willing to be enlightened, of course. The first three birds stand for the three crimes I said you had committed. The fourth bird indicates that you are now accused of four crimes, and not three. The varying sizes of the birds indicate that each of your crimes has a different weight. The varying colors signify that the length of my comments on each of the crimes will vary (Dr. Findings looked at me, and I looked at Dr. Findings.)

Dr. Findings : If I may ask, Mama Liberia, what language was it that the fourth bird spoke, and what did the expression mean?

Mama Liberia : The fourth bird spoke the Ta-wan-tranks language, which you know nothing about. Tweet, tweet means “look, look”, che-li, che-li means “think, think;” ta-ka, ta-ka means “if not, if not;” woo-pi, woo-pi means “shame, shame.” I would advise you to be concerned about the crux of your visit here, and not about the Tar-wan-tranks.

Dr. Findings : Thanks for the education. It’s appreciated. Now, since I am accused of four crimes, could you tell me my first crime?

Mama Liberia : All journalists must not only be cautious of their social responsibilities, but also of the cultural mores and norms of the societies in which they practice their profession. In other words, they must be cautious of the cultural implications of what they say and do, and how they say and do it. I am one of the daughters of Mother Africa, and for us, culturally, age matters much. Respect for the aged is something we do not wink at. Your expression, “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself in that, as old as you are…,” is culturally wrong and unacceptable. That’s your first crime. Even the most disrespectful of my children would not be happy with you for that. I tell you, even some of my children, like Charles Taylor, Alhaji Kromah, Prince Johnson, George Boley, etc, whose activities have crippled me in many ways, would go against you if they heard you use such an expression against me. If you will argue that you didn’t know, remember that ignorance of the law, including cultural laws, excuses no man. (I could see that Dr. Findings had no defence to offer. He knew Mama Liberia was right.)

Dr. Findings : And my second crime?

Mama Liberia : While the first crime is against me and, by cultural extension, against my society, the second crime is against neither of the two, but against logic. By saying “Aren’t you ashamed of yourself in that, as old as you are, you have done nothing to better off your children,” you commit a logical fallacy called appeal to guilt, which is a logical crime committed when a speaker or a writer tries to convince a person by making him feel guilty of a situation brought into the picture, and not by sound reasoning. In your argument, you want me to agree with you by feeling guilty or ashamed of my old age because, according to you, this old age has produced nothing. One should convince a person by logical reasoning, and not by appealing to his emotions. This is one of the fundamental principles of logic. But because most of you journalists, as well as most writers and speakers, are only interested in asking questions and publishing news stories, you have no time, or better lack the ability, to do a logical analysis of what you ask and what you publish. It’s a pity! Had it not been for my desire to educate you during this interview, I would have sued you; I mean, I would have taken you to the Court of Logical Crimes. (At the end of Mama Liberia’s second response, I saw Dr. Findings adjust himself in his seat. I thought he was about to attack Mama Liberia’s response, but that was not the case. He only posed a different question.)

Dr. Findings : Mama Liberia, in which country is the Court of Logical Crimes located, and who is the judge? I have never ever heard about the existence of such a court before.

Mama Liberia : You have just committed another crime, which we call unnecessary digression of the main topic, a logical crime committed when a speaker or a writer unprofessionally deviates from the topic of discussion and focuses on a side issue. You should be concerned about hearing the third crime, which is the next focus, and not about the location of the court that you will not go to, at least for now, because of my mercy. (Dr. Finding laughed and asked for his third crime.)

Dr. Findings : OK, let’s move ahead. So, what is my third crime?

Mama Liberia : The third crime is also against logic. When you say “… you have done nothing to better off your children,” you are guilty of a crime called sweeping statement, which is a logical crime committed when a speaker or a writer makes an unqualified, or unsubstantiated, claim to prove a case. This is your third crime. How can you assert that I have done nothing to better off my children? Do you know how many of my children are millionaires? You may never even be able to buy the cars some of the little ones of mine have as their personal cars. Do you know how many of them have their own real estates, or compounds? Do you know how many of them have masters’ degrees? Do you know how many of them had their own genuine and profitable businesses before the war came? Do you know how many have become successful musicians, sportsmen, doctors, religious leaders, lawyers, business people, accountants, diplomats, engineers, scientists, parents, etc.? You can’t say that I have done nothing. Perhaps, it would have been better if you had qualified your expression by saying one of the following expressions: “You have done little to better off your children, or “It seems you have done nothing to better off your children,” or “I think you have done nothing to better off your children.” Remember, there are many different expressions that can be used to qualify opinions. Think about them next time. (Dr. Finding smiled, but he expressed his frustration about the existing atmosphere.)

Dr. Findings : Mama Liberia, I appreciate your clarifications, but I think your answers are too long. I have a lot of questions to ask you, and if things continue to go like this, I am afraid, I will not be able to ask you most of my questions.

Mama Liberia : That’s what I said previously. Most of you journalists are only interested in asking questions and rushing to press. Don’t be too concerned about the number of questions you want to ask – think about the quality of the questions. Think about what kinds of questions to ask, and how to ask them. Don’t be overly concerned about the quantity. Remember, also, that, in interviews, and in answering questions in general, it is the responses to questions, and not really the questions themselves, that matter. Keep this in mind and share it with your fellow journalists. Remember, also, that after your interview with me, people may be motivated or demotivated, discouraged or encouraged, die or live, commit suicide or fight to survive, laugh or cry, get enlightened or remain ignorant, have hope or be frustrated, unite or divide, fight war or make peace, revenge or forgive, sleep or awake, sing or mourn, and so forth, primarily based on my answers to your questions, and not on your questions. Besides, I want to set the basis for a smooth interview. I want you not to repeat these mistakes in subsequent questions. (I was happy that Mama Liberia was able to respond to every statement and question from Dr. Findings in both a logical and an experienced manner. But, who would not be happy to have a wise and mature mother like Mama Liberia? How I wished I could see her body and look on her face and touch this magnificent woman, especially at the end of this particular response.)

Dr. Findings : OK. Could you briefly state my fourth crime, so that we can go to other things?

Mama Liberia : Of course, why not? Your fourth crime is neither against me, nor against my culture, nor against logic, but it is against your professional integrity, because you failed to do some background investigations about what I have done, or about what I am doing, to better off my children. You should have investigated all this before coming for the interview. It is a part of your professional duties; failure to do so carries some inherent dangers and punishment. It is often said in journalism: “Do your home work before conducting an interview, whether about an individual or an institution.”

Dr. Findings : Mama Liberia, you are right in all that you have said. It would be useless if I took any defensive stance. I, again, register my apology. Now, could you please address yourself to the main question that I asked you?

Mama Liberia : To answer your question, let me cite a few areas in which you are correct. Firstly, you are right when you say I continue to suffer since I was set aside as a nation. Secondly, you are right when you say I am named among the poorest of Dieu’s creation. But, remember that while it is true that I am counted among the poorest of God’s creation, I am rich. This may sound paradoxical.

Dr. Findings : Certainly! Could you elucidate?

Mama Liberia : Well, I am considered poor because, according to statistics, at least 80% of my children live below the poverty line. A great deal of my children eats one meal a day. Besides, they lack the basic services needed to survive mentally, physically, socially, intellectually, and so on. Health delivery services are very limited, or virtually absent. Malaria and other diseases are killing hundreds, if not thousands, of them every year. Employment-wise, at least 75% of my children are unemployed. Educationally, at least 80% of my children are illiterate. Most of them lack basic primary education. Moreover, there are no sustainable programs for the young people or for the old people. As a result of these numerous problems, there is a vicious circle of poverty among my children. Hundreds of thousands of them depend on relief supplies from philanthropic organizations to survive. Most of them have no fitting place to live and to sleep. Some of them sleep on market stalls at night. Others are languishing in disease-infested displaced camps. Some are in the streets begging for food and money. Most of my daughters, both young and old, are practicing prostitution for survival. Furthermore, thousands of my children have never watched TV in their lives. While other four-year-old children, especially those of my aunts – like the children of Europe and America – are playing with computers on an hourly basis, thousands of my children do not even know that there is something called a computer or the Internet. Besides …(Dr. Findings did not allow Mama Liberia to finish, but came in with a captious question.)

Dr. Findings : Wait a minute, Mama Liberia! In spite of all that you have outlined, how can you still claim that you are rich?

Thought it is normal for almost all interviews, I was not pleased with Dr. Findings interrupting Mama Liberia who was poised to list the problems that her children are faced with. How I wished she had continued. From her voice, I could tell that she would have recounted the problems for an additional fifteen minutes.

However, Mama Liberia accepted the interruption without reprimanding Dr. Findings for it. She stopped and responded to the new question. “I am proud to have Mama Liberia as my mother.” I had thought to myself. “Why doesn’t she want to reveal herself to us?” I had also wondered. As all these thoughts were going through my head, Mama Liberia began to respond to the interruption.

Mama Liberia : You know, …

For now, allow me to rest my pen, but watch out: the dream continues in the next part.


About the author:

Paul Yeenie Harry is a Liberian; he lives in Poland. He can be reached at

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