Liberians, Ebola and Sex

I find myself being worked up each day almost into a frenzy panic, scouring the various online news outlets for news and updates on the Ebola virus plaguing our country.

Each day you wake up, you hear of more people infected, more deaths. These days, it is no longer unnamed faceless victims in the most rural parts of the country but people we know, or we know people who know people who are victims. The disease has entered our social circles and is now staring us rudely, daringly in the face.

The church and religious “fanatics” have their own theory that this is a combination of this being a plague upon us Liberians for the vile sins we commit and the deep dark levels we have degenerated into and that God is dealing with us and that this is just another sign of the world coming to an end. The End Days.

There is a growing deep distrust of the government which probably stems from decades of failure of past governments and leaders and this is probably why when the alarm was raised earlier this year of the Ebola virus, people generally didn’t believe it was true or felt it was too distantly removed from our comfort zones to be alarmed. Many saw it as another government attempt to milk a situation for more money to steal (or to say it nicely: misappropriate), solicit more donor funds, etc.

When the Ministry of Health said it needed over 2 million dollars to combat the spreading of the virus, there was laughter, jeers and incredulity with many saying “aah, we told your these government people just looking for way to eat money”. I bet 2 million probably seems a drop in the bucket now, eh?

The minister of health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale held a press conference where he give advice to the public on how to deal with the virus and ways of avoiding the illness, including avoiding contact with the bodies of people who died of Ebola, no touching, shaking hands and “no sex for 30 days”.

Aha! We had something to cling to. Something to help us escape the nasty reality of this virus.
Newspapers went wild with headlines of “Gwenigale says no sex for 30 days”. Jokes roamed the various social medias with many joking, “Ebola says we shouldn’t eat something oh”.

As part of an awareness campaign, a song was made. I think Julie Endee made the song and I didn’t get to listen to the song till few weeks ago with the message of no eating dried bush meat, shaking hands, symptoms of the illness, no hugging and no sex. I understand that whenever the song was played at parties and nightclubs, there would be a loud hail from the crowd with many of the dancers pulling their dance partners closer and saying suggestively, “no eating something oh!.

With the recent deaths of some health professionals, of course, again the rumor mills are thriving with speculations that they may have been “eating something to be passing the disease left and right among themselves”. I even heard someone say “don’t mind these doctors, whole day they chasing these nurses and patients, da eating something will kill them”.

Ebola has become a stark reality. The death rates are running high and coming closer and closer to our comfort zones. We are no longer laughing and it’s almost hard to hear the Ebola jokes anymore. The reality is here. Staring us grimly in the face each day. We can either accept that this illness is indeed here and collectively fight and kick it out of Liberia, or we can deny the reality, stick our heads in the sand like ostriches, leaving the rest of our bodies exposed and open to attack.

I was in a vehicle recently with two young men and we passed a very pretty girl standing by the side of the road looking for taxi (or a ride) and one commented “damn, all the fine fine girls coming pass by us these days oh, Ebola spoiling people show”.

The other said “my man, no giving lift these days oh, no hustling, Ebola in town. You ain’t hear, no eating something”.

This is not just “government business” but everyone’s business. Wash your hands. Do not shake hands, hug, don’t eat bats, cook your food well, don’t eat plums that are bitten by bats, etc.

And yeah, maybe even, no “eating something” if that what it takes to kick Ebola out.

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Time

Time

They say time heals all wounds
That Time will heal the vacuum, this emptiness,
This void I feel
They say time will make me remember without pain

When will that time be?
Oh how I miss you!
I wish could turn back the hands of time.
I wish there was more time
Time taken for granted
Wasted time
Cherished time
Forgotten times

The painful tug of knowing
Of accepting,
The reality, that as much as we wish, yearn, crave
Time has run out
The hour glass is empty

Time
Time
Time, I await you
Heal my pain
Make me remember without tears
Fill my void
Help me smile full real smiles
Help me cherish the time we did have
Time shared
Time, wield your magic
Spin your web
Time, I await you

Brenda 2009

My Encounter With A Rebel Leader

The year is probably 1993, I am not 100% sure, but thereabouts. It was a Sunday morning and as usual, my mother was taking us to church.

She had just joined a new Pentecostal church called Mount Calvary and this new church was very far from our home. Probably about 20 miles away.

I wasn’t too excited about going to church today because this new church is loud and they stay too long in service. So this would be an all-day event.

We got dressed to leave and just as we crossed the junction leading up to the Cuttington campus, our jeep started jerking and stopped. I heard my mom say something under her breath and then lay her head back against the drivers head rest. “oh Suzy”. Suzy is the name she has given to the car. I still do not know why she named the car Suzy.

After a few minutes, she gets out of the car and stands by the side of the road and not long after, I get out the car and asks her hopefully “will we go back home?”

She looks at me and shakes her head no and says “ Jesus will send a car to take us to church”.

I mentally roll my eyes at her response and carefully lie against the dusty car and stare down the road to see if any car was approaching. None. Not even the distant sound of a car’s rumbling engine.

We stand in the blistering sun for a few minutes and I hear my younger sister start to wail in the car. She is about 3 years old and probably uncomfortable with the heat and inactivity.

Just as I am about to get into the vehicle to console my sister, I hear a car approaching down the road and turn to see if it’s a commercial vehicle or perhaps the vehicle of a friend of my family. The car gets closer and the first thing I recognize is an automatic gun mounted on the rooftop of the pickup and the back of the pickup is fill with “freedom fighter” looking guys.

I shrink against our vehicle and hope they wouldn’t notice two well-dressed light skinned females standing by the side of the road in a somewhat isolated area.

No such luck and before I could ask mama what to do, the pickup pulls up alongside our car and stops. Two “freedom fighters” alight with guns raised, looking all fierce and angry. My heart skips a beat and I sneak a peek up at my ma to see her reaction to all this.

My ma is about six foot tall and about 200 pounds, yellow butter complexion and a beautiful woman. Probably a sight for those fighters weary eyes.

A man is sitting in the front seat with a crinkly face that is mostly covered with beard. I hear him say to my ma “ Kushe”. I don’t recognize the dialect but I hear my ma reply “hello, how are you?” I later learned it was the creole dialect of the Sierra Leoneans meaning “hello”.

I don’t hear his response, but I see her hesitate a bit before responding “yes, thank you” and then turns to me, “Brenda, let’s get the children in this car”.

I look at her in astonishment and with a look that says “get in that car with all these men and all those guns?” And as if reading my thoughts, she gives me a reassuring look and smile.

I turn to lift my sister from our car, grab my Bible and then I hear the bearded man say “ Oh na no go help dey woman and the pekin them?” in the Sierra Leonean broken English creole dialect “ won’t you help the woman and the kids?” 

His accent isn’t Liberian to my ears and I have never quite heard any one speak like him, so I am a bit fascinated and still scared at his appearance which is a bit unkempt and sinister looking although he is smiling.

By now, my mother has locked our car and grabbed my younger brother and is headed towards me. The bearded man speaks more of his strange dialect and the soldiers in the cabin of the pickup get out and get to the back of the car, thus making space for my mother, me and my siblings.

We get into the car and I am right behind the driver which makes it easy for me to sneak peeks at the beard man up in front.

He turns and smiles at me and after my mom slams the car door shut, the car moves off with a jerky start.

I sneak a peek at my ma’s face and I see her eyes closed, like she is praying. My younger siblings are surprisingly quiet. Probably fascinated by the whole thing as I was.

I sneak a peek through the back glass of the car and see the “freedom fighters” in the back staring straight ahead. Somehow, these fighters look fiercer than the ones I see around the city and they are even dressed slightly differently. I noticed they are wearing a lot more “zay-gay” as they call their voodoo charms that are supposed to save them from gun bullets and enemies. Their hair seems longer and dirtier and there is just this air about them that seems a bit more sinister and scarier.

The beard man turns to my mom and I think he asks her for directions to our church. She tells him and he smiles and I hear him say “ na dey I dey go sef”. That’s where I am headed anyway.

My mother’s new church is located in part of Central Gbarnga city, Liberia, called Jukbamu. In order to get to the church, you have to pass right by the residence of Charles Taylor, the leader of the Freedom Fighters.

I suspected the beard man up front must be a General or a “big man” because he is saluted at every rebel check point and our vehicle isn’t searched as all others are, even when we turn into the lane leading to Charles Taylor’s home.  I try to observe this strange man better but can’t as he is facing front and most of his face is covered with black beard that is generously sprinkled with gray. Same with his head.

I hear my mother giving directions to the church and before long we are swerving in the church yard in a hail of dust and pomp. As is the style of the “freedom fighters’, they jump from the vehicle before the car pulls to a final stop and are looking around all fierce like, guns pointing.

My mother says thanks to the beard man up front and asks him “would you like to worship with us?” and he shakes his head, smile and says “no”.

She thanks him for the ride when we are all out of the vehicle shoos my siblings towards the church and sort of pulls me to her side, partially behind her, almost like she was shielding me and again says thanks and wave, but not making a move to turn her back and walk to the church.

The pickup restarts and in another hale of dust and pomp, pulls away.

Even in all the noise from the church and the vehicle, I hear a deep sigh from my ma, so I lift my face to hers and ask ‘ mama, who Is that?”

She responds ‘ Foday Sankor

Of all the many generals names I have heard, his is strange so I again ask “ who’s that?”

She turns to me and says “he is the Sierra Leonean rebel leader

I am about 13 years old and I still didn’t know who he was, so I shrugged and pulled away from her and walked towards the church.

I forgot all about this incident until many years later when I heard that Charles Taylor was being accused of being in cohorts with Foday Sankor. That’s when my mind ran back to my encounter that hot Sunday morning when my family was given a ride to church by a rebel named Foday Sankor.

sankoh7

The Scars of War

Over the “war years”, I accumulated about 3 physical war related scars.

One is so faint that I can hardly make it out anymore and another is one I see each day when I am undressed. All of them acquired in the course of either running from rebels, jet planes or opposing dissident groups.

Many times months go by and I don’t think on them or how they came to be a part of my body, my life, my story. Sometimes when I do think on them, it’s with a passing memory, a smile, nostalgia or a shiver.

However, my invisible scars of war are a lot more numerous than the physical ones and ironically they are the ones that I “see” almost daily. For example, the “scar” I acquired by learning to eat fast during the war days in order to not be hungry.

During the war food was scarce a lot. Many things that other people took for granted in other parts of the world were a novelty and treat for people in war zones. Like sugar. Milk. Chocolate, Cornflakes. And rice.

Rice is the stable food for Liberia and there are jokes regarding how a Liberian would eat all the food available, spaghetti, potatoes, meat, etc. but if he or she didn’t have rice to eat all day would quickly tell you “ I haven’t eaten all day”

Due to this scarcity of food and many mouths to feed whenever meals were cooked, the food was distributed according age groups and gender. This meant that kids within a certain age brackets/range were grouped together. So for each meal the food for all the female kids within the age range of 10-13 was placed in a big plastic pan and the kids were expected to eat together.

This worked for a lot of the other kids because many of them already knew how to eat with their hand and to eat fast. Unfortunately for me, I was used to eating slowly and with a spoon.

Ask any “native” Liberian child what is a spoon and they will smile or laugh and lift either right or left hand and spell S-P-O-O-N with their five fingers.

For me coming from Monrovia with my “civilized” mannerism, eating with my hand proved difficult. This meant I had to eat with a regular spoon. Now the problem for me stems from the fact that the size of the palm is bigger than that of a regular spoon. So by the time I took one spoon of rice to eat, my “peers” would have in essence taken 2-3 spoons of rice. Of course, the food would quickly disappear (wasn’t all that much in the beginning anyways) and I would be left hungry again.

I quickly had to adapt. No, not to learn to eat with my hand- although it’s a skill I still wish to master one day- but to eat faster. This meant hot or cold food. As soon as that bowl of hot steaming rice was placed in front of us 5-6 hungry kids, I had to be ready to eat fast. The faster I was able to get food into my mouth, the more that entered my belly. The longer I would NOT be hungry. My mouth-tongue, teeth- and throat quickly learned to eat steaming hot food at fast intervals. I survived.

Unfortunately today, 20 years later, I find it difficult to un-learn something I forced myself to learn in order to “survive”. I no longer know how to eat slowly, to savor food. To “play” around with food. I find I cannot tolerate cold food or food that has “settled”. It has to be hot. Preferably steaming hot. Ha! Embarrassing to even write I tell you.

Some family and friends tease me about it and sometimes I catch myself and try to slow down, to savor the food, but after a few bites or swallows, I am back to wolfing it down.

Recently, I was out with some friends from the United States in a fancy restaurant and I had to mentally and physically force myself to count to 20 in between bites and swallows in order to not appear “hungry or country”.

I used to be very ashamed of this until one day it hit me “it’s another scar from the war, live with it. Deal with it”. So that’s what I do.

So whilst I won’t always wolf down my meals, I certainly don’t think I will be a candidate for high tea with the queen of England. By the time she be lifting a pinky to sip her first drop of nice luke-warm tea, I would have probably eaten all the cakes, sandwiches and drunk all the tea and looking at her with raised eyebrows asking “ aren’t you done yet?”

So, I continue to ask myself, what do I do with my scars of war? Especially the “invisible” scars.

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.

calling a spade a spade

I read this week that all 25,000 entrance applicants who sat for the University of Liberia admission failed. 25,000 is a large number of people.

The interesting thing is that many people are shocked and even casting slurs on the University’s Testing & Evaluation team for raising the standards on the quality of tests administered this year.

bulldog_evergreen_spade_600x

One cannot dispute that over the years the University hasn’t been plagued with corrupt practices which starts from admission and goes all the way up to graduation. However, we have all seen vast improvement in the state of affairs at the University since Dr. Dennis took over. I recall there were times when there would be only one semester per calendar year and leaving the university in 4 years was an illusion.  Nowadays we see annual graduations and that in itself is no small feat and certainly laudable.

Dr. Getaweh, Vice President for Relations at the University stated in  an interview with the Daily Observer newspaper that many candidates lacked basic English skills. I can attest to this because as an HR practitioner in Liberia, I am constantly amazed, angry and sometimes just plain ashamed to read the writings of some of the applicants that sit for simple job related tests. The tests aren’t anything difficult or tricky. Sometimes, I may simply ask them to write and tell me why we should hire them for the position they have applied for.   The results are usually dismal and downright embarrassing. These are usually University graduates.

There is something we are all aware of but don’t want to admit: Our educational system sucks. There is a need to upgrade school standards. Schools need to encourage the students to read more. “You can’t build a house on a weak foundation” and I think that is our problem here in Liberia. The educational foundations of our schools are weak. You have teachers teaching who themselves need to be taught. If the foundations of our teachers are weak, how can we expect them to in turn deliver stellar education to our kids?

Unless you are ready and able to pay top dollar to send your child to one of the plush private schools around here, the chances of ensuring your kids get good education are slim. Now given that bulk of our population are unemployed and or not adequately compensated, how many can afford to provide quality education for their children.

I say kudos to the University Testing team and bravo for calling a spade a spade. To me, the results signal hopefully another new beginning for Liberia.

We can only move forward if we recognize our shortcomings, failings and start to address them rather than deny them.

I look forward to the day when I will administer a simple job related test and not cringe or dread reading the responses to “tell me why I should hire you”.

Memories of the “doodoo” birds

Brenda, Brenda. Wake up. Wake up!”

I sleepily moan and curl up even tighter, wrapping the cover sheet closer to my body.

“Brenda, wake up. We late! Get up.” I hear the urgency in my mother’s voice and open my eyes.

Please go use the bathroom and come help me get the children ready to leave. I woke up late and we have to leave here before daylight.”

With that, she turns to leave the room and for a moment, I am tempted to curl back into bed and as if reading my mind, I hear her say “ if you hurry up and finish with the bathroom and changing your clothes in ten minutes, I will let u play in the creek later today”.

My eyes widen in the darkness and all sleep quickly vanishes from my eyes. My mother doesn’t like me playing in the small creek where we hide out and for her to make this promise was reason enough for me to bounce out of bed quickly.

So I hurry to the bathroom and brush my teeth and wash my face. The cold water effectively removes any remaining traces of sleep from my eyes.

I leave the bathroom and hurry to the kitchen where I hear her giving out instructions to the other folks that live with us about food to pack and she hears me entering the kitchen and says “ Brenda, help me get your sister and brother ready. We have to hurry, I woke up late and it’s almost daylight. You know we have to leave here before daylight.

I hurry to the room and wake my younger siblings. I always sort of envy them because even if they aren’t fully awake each morning, we all take turns carrying them on our backs.

You see, each day for several weeks now, my family and about five other families have been leaving our homes before daylight and hiding out the entire day in a forest close to a town called Suacoco, located in Bong County, central Liberia. We have been hiding in the forest to escape the routine indiscriminate bombings carried out by the jet bombers, or “doodoo birds” as people came to name them. I supposed people called them birds since they all soared in the sky.

My family leaves our home and get on a narrow dirt path and start our walk. We leave BCADP where we live and head for Suacoco. This walk is about 30 minutes and on a very narrow path that is overgrown with trees and grass, etc. very scary for a 13 year old and usually, I don’t say a word, only focusing on where I step. Shortly after getting on the path, we hear the heavy footsteps of the other families up ahead and soon we catch up to them. “good mornings” are thrown around and before long, we all settle back into silence.

Just before dawn, we cross the main street that leads to the town and head up to the large bush behind the Koweh’s farm where we hide out each day. By then, I am almost bursting with joy because I can’t wait to tell all the other kids that my mother has agreed to allow me to play in the creek today.

Each family is approximately 5-6 so this is about close to 30 people in one space and before long, the mothers are preparing breakfast, the older siblings like myself are expected to help bathe the younger ones and change their clothes.

The men have dug two big holes in the ground. They call them trenches. Till today, I cannot confidently say how big the holes were, but it must have been quite big to hold all the people when needed.

The grown-ups have come up with a plan of sort. The men play cards and checkers most of the day, sometimes sipping palm wine, and the women cook and chatter among themselves and play Ludo. The kids, well, we help out, but mostly basically just play. The only standing rule was “no noise”.

About midday, just before we had lunch, I hear a sound. It sounds like a car whose exhaust pipes are damaged. Loud, yet faint. Rumbling and rolling. Fading in and out. This is a sound everyone in the bush clearing knows well. We all individually stop for a few seconds, ears turned towards the sky keenly trying to listen to the sound. We all hear it again at the same time. And with a should, my uncle yells “ Everybody Inside!”

With a rush, panicked as usual, we all ran to our assigned trenches. The last grown up covers the hole with pre-cut tree branches. The hole becomes dark.  Imagine. Fifteen persons crammed into one hole in the ground.

No one is allowed to make a sound. Only sound one hears is the heavy breathing from the run and excitement.

And fear.

We hear the plane flies overhead and goes further down, towards central Gbarnga City. Within a few minutes, we hear the predictable loud BOOM BOOM BOOM.

Silence. And again, BOOM BOOM BOOM.

I hear my mother not far from me whispering Psalm 23. I always wondered why she would do that. Say the 23 psalm whenever the planes came. “ the Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want…”.

You see, we hid out in the bushes daily because whoever the pilots of the planes were, they didn’t discriminate when it came to bombing raids. Apparently they were told that anyone seen in that territory was considered a “freedom fighter” as we were told to call the rebels. And so the pilots would target crowded places, or anywhere they saw a gathering of people and just let lose their “eggs” as we came to call the bombs.

My family and the other families that hid out in the bushes avoided crowded places and left our homes before dawn daily and only returned after dark. Luckily for us, the area where we would hide was never bombed but where we lived was bombed many times over the next few weeks. Luckily also, the jet bombers didn’t fly at night, so we were given a few hours of reprieve.

They didn’t come daily so there were days when we were allowed to go father out from our hideouts and allowed to make a bit more noise. But always, with an ear cocked listrenign for that rumbling sound.

Suffice it to say that on that day, my mother wasn’t going to allow me anywhere near no creek to play. I was pissed. Not only would we kids now not be allowed to play our other games we could play away from the grownups, but now playing in the creek was out of the discussion. I knew better than to ask mama.

For a 13 year old, sometimes, all this seemed like one big adventure and opportunity to play with my cousins daily and escape housework. But I always dreaded the times we had to get into the trench.

Trench.

Such a nice sounding word for such a difficult place to describe. A small space, a hole dug in the ground. Dark. I can still remember the smell. The smell of earth mixed with sweat and fear. Trench. Our safe place during bomb raids.

Many stories were told of the plane pilots and how they would fly over market places and suspend the planes in the air and open fire. Some say they saw them laughing. Some say they saw white people flying the planes, others said the planes came in from towards the Guinean border. Fly in, bomb, terrify and fly out. Leaving behind many dead and wounded.

The Phebe hospital folks will tell you that most of the wounded that came in were civilians. Women and children. I often wonder if any was true. And if the pilots later had regrets. I also wondered if these are people who would even be made to answer to murder. Or perhaps, all is fair in love and war, and it was war.

About 15 years after the bomb raids, I told my husband, I have to go back to see revisit some of my war years places. Bury some of my past. And although I drove to Gbarnga and visited many of the other places like Cuttington campus, BCADP, Phebe hospital, Suacoco, I couldn’t draw myself to go and see the spot where we used to hide. To see if after all this time traces of the trenches still remain. I am not sure. Call it cowardice. But I just couldn’t.

There are days I still have flashbacks and for people who never experienced those raids, you might think “oh, its just airplanes”. As anyone who lived “behind the lines” as Charles Taylor’s territory was called about their experience and nine out of ten first response would be “huhm!” and knock their thigh or chest.

It took me a very long time to hear the sound of a plane and not instinctively duck and take cover or feel that deep fear and that “dropping of my heart”. Now I can even fly on a plane!

We are told to forgive and move on. Talk and let go. Yet, in as much as I am grateful I didn’t lose any love one during those raids, I know people who did. Have they forgiven and move on? Should people be responsible be held accountable for their crimes?

Or as we Liberians do, forgive and forget. Forget the doodoo birds.

Tv Tv, Rogue Rogue

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

Tv Tv, rogue rogue!

This is a common song sung around many neighborhoods in Liberia.

Thieves are called rogues in Liberia and it’s common to hear shouts of “rogue rogue rogue” at night in many communities in Liberia. Once someone is pointed out as a rogue, everyone in the neighborhood starts to chase that person until caught. Back before “the war”, once a rogue was caught by the neighbors, they were beaten a bit and then turned over to the police. These days, post war Liberia reacts differently. We have “mob justice”, so once caught, immediate action or justice is meted out to the alleged “rogue”. Death on the spot by beating of the crowd.

My first encounter with a rogue was probably in 1987 and I was probably around eight years old.

At the time, my step father’s sister had come to live with us along with her 3 kids. She had a baby and two other kids about my age.

In the beginning, I was happy to have other kids my age to talk and play with in the house, but after a very short time, I got frustrated because her daughter thought it was within her rights to take my clothes and shoes and wear them without asking. Imagine, even my nice church clothes! I resented this and when I told my ma, she smiled and said “learn to share I will buy you a new one”. I didn’t want to share so I got a tiny lock and place it on my valise.

I also didn’t like all three of them sleeping in my room because I had to give up my bed to my aunt and sleep on a flat mattress on the floor with her two older kids while she slept on the bed with her baby. Plus, my aunt liked taking many sips of “cane juice”, a very potent alcohol made from the fermented wine of sugar cane and afterwards fall into a very deep sleep, often snoring very loudly.

We lived in a community that was sort of congested and the end of one house was the beginning of another. The concrete fence surrounding our yard served as the back wall to the family that lived next door to us and many times it was easy to overhear conversations taking place in their yard. In fact, my bedroom window was directly facing their back door so I heard lots from them all day when I was in my room.

So this was probably the reason why I was able to hear the sounds from next door and then the shout “ rogue rogue rogue!!”

I opened my eyes in the darkness but didn’t get up from the mattress on the floor. I wasn’t sure if I had heard right. After a few seconds or minutes, I heard a sound in the room.

At first I thought it was one of my aunt Lawoe’s kids moving around the room so I didn’t call out.

Again I heard a sound in the room and this time, it sounded like the zipper on the valise so I assumed it was aunty Lawoe’s daughter once again going into my things while we slept, so I got up slowly and moved towards the room’s light switch to catch her “red handed”.

So imagine my surprise when I turned the light on and saw a man sitting on the bed, sweating profusely and going through my suitcase!

Somehow I knew instinctively not to yell or cause noise and surprisingly, didn’t feel any fear.

The man turned to me, eyes wide and without a word placed his hands to his lips signaling not to say anything. “shhh!!”

He was sitting at the edge of the bed right next to my aunt’s leg and gestured me to come closer to him. I hesitated for a second and then moved towards him and sat close to where my aunt’s leg was. I noticed he was not very dark skinned and of light skinned complexion, kind of fat and sweating a lot. He wore no shirt. I wondered how he could sweat so much when it was raining and cold outside.

In a hushed voice He asked “where your ma keeps her money?”

I paused for a second and said “I don’t know oh

Where she got her handbag?”

Her handbag?”

“Yes.”

All this time, I am seated next to my aunt’s leg and slyly pinching her hard so she could wake up. She didn’t budge.

“I don’t know where she keeps her handbag, she ain’t got no money.” Another harder pinch,  on her thigh this time. Still, not a twitch from her.

He turns back to the valise and starts throwing clothes all out frantically. I don’t want him taking any of my nice clothes so I tell him “ That’s my valise there oh, no money inside, her clothes bag on that side” and pointed to my aunt’s shabby looking bag on the other side of the room.

He looks at me briefly and gets up to go to her bag. While his back is turned, I make my hand into a fist and knock my aunt hard on her leg. She doesn’t move.

By now, the man is bending over her bag going through her things, throwing her clothes on the floor.

I hear another loud shout from next door “Rogue! Rogue! Rogue!” and then I noticed that the man stopped and looked towards the window and the house next door. I hear more noise from the house like they are coming outside into their yard and more noise from other neighbors also who are also sounding the Rogue! Rogue alarm.

He looks at the bag he is rumbling through and back at the window. Then he looks at me with a slight frown on his face and again asks “Where your ma handbag?”

For the first time since I woke and saw this strange man in my room, I felt a chill creep up my spine and regretted not initially raising alarm.

I draw even closer to my aunt who seems to be dead to this world and back at him and say “I don’t know”.

I hear my mother’s room door opening down the hall and hear her call out to my aunt “Lawoe?”

The man takes another look at me and leaps out through the window which he had apparently entered through. I noticed that he had twisted the protective steel bars, thus making space to enter and depart.

Soon as he leaves, I give a hard slap to my aunt’s leg. So hard that I feel a sharp sting in my palm and then run to the room door and call out to my ma.

Mama! Rogue Rogue was in my room!”

She enters the room takes a sweeping look at the scatters clothes, bent steel bars and yells “Rogue Rogue Rogue”.

Aunty Lawoe finally stirs from her sleep and her two older kids jump up, sleepily rubbing their eyes.

My ma goes to the window and looks out and looks back at me.

Did he hurt you? Did he touch you?”

No mama. He only asked me for aunty lawoe’s bag and I told him I didn’t know where it was.”

“You sure??”

“Yes mama. He didn’t hurt me.”

She hugs me to herself and I feel her body shaking. Mine starts to shake too. My step father enters the room and takes in the scene. He looks disgustedly at his sister who is still struggling to wake up and pats me on the head.

Nu ma Brenda. Nu ma.” Sorry Brenda. Sorry.

For days after the rogue incident, I was treated with extra care and given extra treats. New clothes were bought, new shoes too. My ma told all of our family members how brave I had been to try to wake my aunt after I saw the rogue in the room and how I reacted to the whole situation. I was a hero!

I have always wondered what ever became of that rogue and what kind of person he was. He obviously wasn’t a bad man since he didn’t harm me or anyone in the room that night.

He only wanted my auntie’s purse.

I also often wondered if the situation would have turned out differently had I shouted “rogue rogue rogue!” would I be telling this tale twenty plus odd  years later?

Approval Of The Decent Work Bill- A Must For The Legislature

The Labor Law of the Republic of Liberia was enacted in the 1950s and was ideal for the circumstances at the time; however, since then, there has been no official revision of the entire labor code to reflect current day realities. A need for this brought about the creation of the Decent work Bill Act that was sent to the 52nd Legislature.

We went to the polls in 2011 to elect people we felt would articulate and represent our interests and the interests of their constituents, however we continue to be disappointed with the lack of concern or interest of our lawmakers in addressing core issues that would affect the very people they claim to represent and whose interests they claim are paramount.

Although there are several other bills currently before the House for approval, my interest is piqued at the delay once again over the approval of the Decent Work Bill Act that stands to address labor related issues for all Liberians.

When this new body of legislatures took office, it was with bated breath we all looked towards them to speedily pass this bill which was presented to the 52nd legislature in 2009. I was dismayed once again when I saw the headlines around Monrovia this week that the bill had again been put on the back burner of our esteemed lawmakers. Why?

This prolonged bickering of our lawmakers over a Bill that has been put before them for over three years is discouraging. These are the same lawmakers who have passed the Political Parties Sustainability Act after almost no discussion or debate, allocating taxpayers money for their individual political parties.

We continue to see stories in the various newspapers talking about bad labor practices across the country which include wrongful dismissals, flogging of employees, discrimination, abusive attitude, etc. and yet rather than approve a bill which will go a long way in addressing many labor issues affecting employees nationwide, they are more concerned about laws that would only enrich themselves.

I have read the draft bill and can say from what I have read, once approved, the bill will regulate employment relations in Liberia and has a lot of what it takes to provide the necessary protection for workers and employers alike. This bill may be just what Liberia needs at this time to raise the bar of employment relations and human resources practice and seek to make workers and their employers look into the future as they work together in partnership to achieve organizational goals and objectives.

Do our lawmakers even try to take some of these draft bills to their constituents for their view or input? I don’t think so, at least not to my knowledge as the representative for my district (Snowe) has done no such thing.

It is my humble appeal to our lawmakers to please realize the importance of passing this bill and how it will impact the nation as a whole and look at the legacy this may bring to their tenure as legislatures.

Originally published on FrontPageAfrica on September 4, 2012

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4089-labor-issues-approval-of-the-decent-work-bill-a-must-for-the-legislatures.html

Respecting Time and Stopping Liberian Main Time (LMT)

This past Saturday, a friend of mine was getting married and while I didn’t attend, I kept calling to follow the progress of the event. The wedding ceremony was scheduled to start at 12 noon and by 2:00 pm I called to find out if the reception was about to start. I was told ‘the ceremony hasn’t even started yet, we still waiting for the groomsmen to arrive”.

Respect for time continues to be an uphill challenge for many of our workforce and society as a whole. We all have heard the saying, “Liberian Man Time- LMT” and sometimes laugh about it when it’s not to our disadvantage. Often you will set a meeting for 2:00pm and people casually stroll in at 2:30 pm. The meeting doesn’t get to start till 3:00 pm. This doesn’t just happen in work settings, it happens across all sectors – from social events to medical appointments.

We all complain about it daily when we are on the receiving end of the “Liberian Main Time”, but are quick to excuse our own behavior when we are at fault by saying “ Liberian man don’t know time”. Go to the banks and the sign on the doors says “Banking Hours 8:30-3:00”. You get there at 8:25 and have to wait outside (in the rain) till sometimes close to 8:50 before the doors are opened and even then, the employees inside tell you “You have to wait, we are still setting up”.

This can be very frustrating as you may have allocated only a short time to do a quick transaction before going to your office (that starts at 9:00) and this causes a ripple effect. From an HR standpoint, tardiness and respecting time applies not only to arriving late to work, but also leaving early, taking extended lunch breaks (in Liberia we call it Lebanese lunch), properly utilizing time at work by accomplishing tasks set out to performed in a specified timely manner, etc. I think the only time employees are ever time conscious is on pay day when we have to go to the salary disbursement center or bank.

Interestingly, this is not unique to Liberia, but appears to be an African malaise as poor time management skills appears to be deep-rooted into our cultures. In most African societies, you are perceived as being “too anxious” when you show up on time for a program and having guests wait on you is a way of showing how important you are. Ironically, one of the earliest method of timekeeping, the water clock, was invented in Africa-Egypt.

While bad time observance may be a part of our culture and an acceptable norm, I also believe that these habits can be changed or at least readjusted. Many Africans (Liberians) travel to the western world and become avid respecters of time. We learn to be very punctual because we know the price to be paid for tardiness.  If we start to talk about the importance of observing time, it is very much possible it will become a part of our culture.

Respecting time is imperative for several reasons, not only does it show that you have a sense of responsibility and take your obligations towards others seriously, but also that you are a person of integrity.

Employers sometimes unknowingly condone the lack of punctuality of employees by not taking action against repeat offenders or following through threats of disciplinary action. When employees realize that management isn’t very keen on respecting time, they will come to work late and leave when they want. It may affect the organization’s ability to meet customers’ needs or even achieve the ideal level of productivity. We have also heard of the cliché “time is money” so perhaps when employers start quantifying in monetary terms how much employees tardiness cost them daily or monthly, they will realize how this affects their bottom line. They could calculate the hourly rate of the employee and multiply that by the number of hours that employee has been late each week or month.

So basically management is paying more and getting less. Additionally, a manager could note  the ripple monetary effect of coming in to work late and staying late -the extra cost of running the generator, the overtime to be paid the generator maintenance person or even your driver who may have to work late also because you are. Employers may also consider the need to train their employees on effective time management and the effect it has on their business in terms of profit loss or decrease in customers.

When I was younger, I used to hear stories of how the late President Doe would show up at various government ministries unannounced at 8:00am and await the arrival of the head of that entity. I am told that some were even fired as a result of being late to work. While drastic, this action of his made a lot of public service managers go to work early. If our public leaders and managers would also begin to show respect for time it will go a long way in helping to change the mindset and hopefully the culture in the long run.

We have a saying that “charity begins at home” so it will also be a good idea to start introducing the concept of good time management from the fundamental stages with our children, both at home and in their schools. Individually we can try to set alarm reminders to help us keep track of time or appointment, set to-do lists, start our day early and

I agree wholeheartedly that it will be big challenge in getting us Liberians to change our minds and attitudes towards adhering to time, but with collective and individual efforts, we can take this on step-by-step and switch our internal clock settings from Liberian Man Time to Greenwich Main Time ( standard time).

Originally published on FrontPage Africa on September 25, 2012

http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/op-ed-editorial/feature-articles/4265-labor-issue-respecting-time-stopping-liberian-main-time-lmt.html