The Stolen Childhood

There is a song or rhyme Liberian kids sing:

Who stole the cookies from the cookies jar?

Number one stole the cookie from the cookie Jar.

Who me? Yes you! Couldn’t be! Then who?

Number two stole the cookie from the cookie jar….

It goes on and on till the last person is accused of being the cookie thief and all the players in the game are supposed to “beat and punish” the thief.

I often wonder who do I blame for my stolen childhood. The years that I should have been a kid, learning things other kids my age in other countries were learning, do the things they were doing?

Is it number one or number two? Who are number one and number two? Will they accept responsibility or will they shout “who me?! Couldn’t be!”

Who do I blame for my stolen teenage years? I didn’t even have the proper chance to experience teen woes. By my teens I was already an adult mentally and expected to act like one emotionally.

My childhood ended when I was about 9 years old when my country Liberia plunged into a civil crisis that lasted for 14 years. That’s when my life as I knew life to be dramatically changed. That was when I was expected to “act my age” and “be a big girl”. I was expected to act maturely. Know when to be quiet. Very quiet. Not complaining.

My 6 year old son often asks me “mama, why do you love cartoons so much?”

Sometime I tell him “I just want to spend time with you”. Other times, I just smile and don’t give a response. How do I explain to him that by watching cartoons I am able to minutely reclaim some of the years stolen from me as a child when I should have had the time to watch them. That I didn’t have time to be carefree and play hide seek with cute boys and hopscotch with my girlfriends.

The war years robbed me of the chance to learn to fly a kite. I wasn’t allowed to do that, for fear of being accused of sending out “signals” to enemy troops. So today, I cannot even make a kite to fly with my kids because I don’t know how and never learned how. Or go on summer camps like my mother did in her childhood.

I was expected to know things and do things far beyond my years.

Unfortunately, that was robbed from me and hundreds of thousands of other Liberian kids.

Today as an adult I always ask, “who takes responsibility? Who is held accountable? Who faces justice?” Not just for robbing me of my childhood but also taking the lives of many children who do not even have the opportunity today to even talk about stolen childhood.

I always ask “who stole the cookie from the cookie jar?”

But always, I hear a loud silence.

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