My Dear Liberia, Recollection
by Ophelia S. Lewis
Village Tales Publishing, 70pp. $9.95
Reviewed by Nvasekie N. Konneh
For the past 14 years, the only news coming out of Liberia has been about war, warlords, politicians, hardship, poverty, disease etc. Children born in this period in Liberia have not lived normal childhood life. Circumstances have forced them to live life and deal with issues that are usually considered for the adults. From the effect the war has had on Liberians and their psychic, we know what a terrible thing it is for children not to have the joy of living normal childhood. Child should have the chance to fully live its childhood, not having to worry about things like providing its own means of livelihood in the absence of parents who have either being victimized by the war or overcome by poverty as a result of it.
The only way most of these children will come to know and appreciate what is normal childhood is when someone tells them of his or her own childhood experience. This might have been the vision and motivation for the book, “My Dear Liberia, Recollection,” by a Liberian writer, Ophelia S. Lewis.
Just think of the days or years before the wars. The days when none of us could ever think that war would come, making brothers and sisters to kill each others, even going to the extent of savagely killing their president and video taping the gruesome event for the whole world to see such a naked savagery. So, long before all this, it’s a good and healthy exercise to go back to those days when everything was beautiful in Liberia. Some people may argue that no, everything wasn’t beautiful in Liberia, even back them, for every body. In any case, Liberians now refer to those days as “normal days.” So let us agree that before the bullets started flying, before we began taking cover in apparent attempts to dodge the bullets, or bombs, there were “normal days.” Those are the days Ophelia wants to take us back to. Not that she does not want to acknowledge our present day condition of refugee life outside of Liberia, Ophelia wants all of us to go through a period of healing and believes that by thinking about those good old days we can regain our self-confidence and move on strong as a people and nation. She does not want the wars and all of their degrading experiences to be the only dominant thoughts in our minds. Let us balance it with something positive, even if that positive does not exist now. But the comfortable feeling is to know that that the positive existed before and we can bring it back on. That makes “My Dear Liberia” an interesting reading for anyone who wants to see Liberia bounce back from the brink of madness.
In the foreword of the 70-page book, which is part essays, and part poetry, she says, “We human have the ability to adjust to suffering, no matter how difficult. Take for instance, during the era of slavery when Africans in North America were dehumanized to worthlessness. They survived, otherwise there would be no African Americans in the United States today. The Jews survived Hitler’s brutality. Liberians are no different. We too have survived the self-destructive arena of violence…” Despite everything we have experienced, Ophelia wants us to use this time for healing and that must start “with each person.”
This is not the book about the big shots of those good old days. It’s not about the politicians in government. It’s about the ordinary people we see every day. It’s about the bus drivers, the car boys, orange sellers who peal the oranges in such an appealing artistic fashion, those mission boys and girls who leave their parents to pursue education in far and nearby places such as Lott Carey, Konola, Kwenden, LTI etc. It’s also about those strong enterprising Liberian women who operate cook shops, and Christmas season when children will be singing “Old Man Beggar” song, and before I forget, the Flag Day when the students of various schools would be parading colorfully to give the “Salute” to the cheering crowd which may include their proud parents. So these are some of the experiences “My Dear Liberia” will take you through. That’s what makes it a good read, at least it will take your mind off some of the debilitating happenings that have become common occurrences for us throughout these turbulent years.
“I Am Thinking Of Liberia,” is one of the several poems in the book. The third stanza reads as followed:
In the silence of her country side
I hear the cry of her pepper birds
I yearn to touch her chill in the air,
So pleasantly refreshing after the heavy rain.
In these lines, you can’t help the overwhelming feeling of nostalgia. The writer is longing for something that is beautiful and enchanting about our country, Liberia. While the “heavy rain” in the last line may be referring to the childhood memory, it may also be a metaphorical reference to a Liberia after the war as is indicated by “refreshing” which in another way could mean rebirth of the nation. This is pretty much in line with the contemporary thinking that a new Liberia should be born out of the aches of these years of fratricidal warfare.
We all might have had different childhood experiences. If Na Foe, Zeke Salo Ma, or Monrovia Boy were some of the games you played and the song you sang, then you are on familiar ground with “My Dear Liberia.” Let sing this song, “Monrovia Boy.” It goes like this:
I bought my one-cent candy
My one-cent candy fell down
Monrovia boy picked it up
Ah! ah! Ah! What is this?
Ah! Ah! It’s your birthday!
Yes, the book is made up of essays and poems but the writer seems to be much more defiant and revolutionary in the poems. In another of the poems, she says:
But I have a burning fire inside of me
So rebellious, so intense;
If they are caught off guard
By my profound desire for peace
It’s with my pride that I must gamble my life.
Ophelia is not only determined to tell the stories of Liberia through her writings, she also wants to help other Liberian writers publish their work through her Village Tales Publishing based in Stone Mountain, Georgia. She is hoping to publish a novel written by a practicing Liberian medical doctor in Ghana sometime next year. Ophelia is also a member of the Liberian Writers Network, LWN, an organization of Liberian writers, which is committed to promoting the literary and artistic talents of Liberia.
About the reviewer: Nvasekie N. Konneh is a Liberian writer, and nine year veteran of the United States Navy with his last years in the navy on board the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower , an aircraft carrier based in Norfolk , Virginia . Nvasekie Konneh is the author of the book of poetry, “Going To War For America .” He’s working on his second book, “So Far Away On The Distant Sea .” He is also the Future Editor of the Limany Web Publication, www.limany.org . He can be reached at KonnLove@aol.com ; or Nvaskonn@netscape.net .