They say HeForShe
She reports rape
He stands not with she
Unwavering in solidarity with He
Increasing the pains
Dumping blame and shame on She
She is victimized
He is canonized
She is left to grieve
He basks in relief
A fool She must be
Thinking He is for She
When all that he truly seeks
Is He protecting He
Even at the heartbroken expense of She
Until He believes She
And truly hears and acts on what She feels
Haunted griefs painfully and publicly unloaded
Against a relative, coworker or trusted friend
He can never honestly say He is For She
Pervasive in high and lofty places
Heralded champions of HeForShe
Engaged shamelessly in sex with children
Using power, influence and wealth
To steal innocence, exploit bodies and fashion poor mental health
He beats his chest to He
Pronouncing his conquest of a ‘green plum’
“It’s best plucked half ripe”, He boasts
And takes his bow to rousing ovation
She walks on in troubling silence
It’s her fault, She is made to believe
Her fault that She was borne a She
And dared to dress, compete and work as She feels
It’s okay if He can truly be for She
But She has better be for She
In all sexual abuses
She must never walk alone
Last week, a detailed story was published on sexual abuse at a charity school operating in Liberia. The full story can be found here and the video documentary here
I have decided to use my blog to share my thoughts on the story…
I know how it feels to have the people you trust violate your trust, steal away your innocence, and sexually abuse you.
I know the guilt of shame and the pains of blame which ensued. I know the fears, the doubts, the deep scars and the mental anguish to be borne for a lifetime.
I know how the girls who were raped and sexually abused, exploited feel. Felt.
Even today, more than thirty years later, I live with the haunted memories and emotional scars of being sexually abused as a child.
As a way of healing, helping others heal as well as raising awareness to and preventing the crime and immorality of child sexual abuse and it’s associated cover up which is so prevalent in our society, in December of 2017, I publicly told the story of being sexually abused as a child.
As a way of both creating awareness and giving a tool to parents and caregivers to start conversations with children about inappropriate touching and abuse, thanks to my friend Lorpu Scott, my story was made into a film.
The story of the rape and sexual abuse of the children, and what appears to amount to efforts to cover them up is mind-numbing and outrageous. It is wrong. And it is shameful.
Of course the claim of a systematic cover up at More Than Me is being disputed. However, what has NOT been denied is the rape of the children – the abuse of their bodies and their trust. What is undeniable is the promise of help spurned into lifetime of hurt, sickness and deaths from HIV/AIDS.
Who do we hold responsible for these girls?
Who do we hold responsible for turning a blind eye or not taking better steps to protect those they promised a better life, and swore to protect?
I am not in a position to pass judgements on the intentions of Katie Meyler and More Than Me. But its hard not to imagine that more could have been done to help the survivors and to protect them. This is especially true if More Than Me, as promised, was dedicated to giving child survivors of sexual abuse and rape a chance at healing and a better life, in their care and protection.
How could it have seemed right and appropriate to take traumatized child-survivors of sexual abuse and rape to adult raunchy parties, and sleep-ins?
As a matter of full disclosure, I manage a local charity organization, Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP). We work primarily with children instilling in them a culture of reading.
It’s pretty tough managing a charitable organization, especially a local one with both funding and capacity challenges. But we do this because we care. We must care about the people for whom we are claiming to be charitable, in this case, and like mine, the children, their parents, their wellbeing, and of course, their futures.
It therefore struck me as seriously odd that More Than Me (Its face and Founder) came to be so absent at the trial where it was so obvious the survivors and the Liberian society needed them the most – needed them to demonstrate sufficiency of care for and understanding of the evil of child sexual abuse.
Where was ‘Abigail’ at the trial? How must the abused and raped girls have felt unguarded in the courts staring at one of their alleged abusers, alone? What could have been more important to More Than Me than to stand with the survivors in the trial, and on their behalf say, as truthfully as they could, what they knew, and when they came to know it?
More Than Me was not just a key witness but also a key member of the prosecution; how could they not have known this? How could they not have known that their absence would undermine the survivors when, as claimed, they were instrumental in bringing the matter to the attention of the authorities, and the alleged abuse and rape are said to have mostly happened on their premises?
How can you remotely lay just claims to helping survivors of child abuse and sexual exploitation when you choose to be silent and absent before the law where it is so much harder for alleged victims, especially children?
As to exploitation, maybe Johnson may have sexually exploited their bodies, but should we have been alerted earlier to possible exploitation of their conditions when the children were being advertised to the world as “prostitutes” for fundraising purposes? As parents, as members of society, and as government, where must we draw the line? How could we let this happen?
Of course we need help. Our country is desperate for support with many social problems especially inherited from our years of conflicts and decline.
However, our desperation for help must not permit us to be blinded to long term negative consequences a “help” may engender, whether the consequences are intended or unintended. How could we have permitted a Liberian child to be introduced to the world as a “prostitute”?
No doubt, what we have read and seen about this story is outrageous. But it is not enough to merely express how outrageous it is. We must remind ourselves, if we needed to be, that child abuse, rape and exploitation are real in our society.
We must care more for the victims. And we must do all we can, together, to rid ourselves of this menace.
At KEEP, we are introducing policies and measures, including against inappropriate touching, of children placed into our care. And we’re encouraging them to speak freely about any inappropriate behavior.
All of us, wherever we may be, we need to do more. We cannot change what happened to those girls but we can work together to ensure such fates never befall other children across our society. We have a moral duty to do so.
One of the truths of human experiences is the possibility to use pain to both inspire and empower.
For thirty years, I lived as a victim with the pain and trauma of child sexual abuse. I was scared to even talk about it, shelved it in my mind from where it haunts me, and found a way to skirt around the shame.
All of that was until I looked into the eyes of my daughter as she celebrated her eighth birthday – the age I was first abused. It struck me that my continued silence risked her, and many other children.
So, I braced myself for whatever would be thrown at me, and I told my story. For my daughter, and all other children, I hope my pain would be enough. Rather than to continue to bury it inside, I have chosen to use it to uncover the deafening silence, raise the needed awareness, and inspire prevention around child sexual abuse.
It is time to end the menace – to stop the theft a child’s innocence and abuse of their trust often by their own relations with impunity!
Thanks to Lorpu Scott and a number of Liberian artists, my story has become a short film. In a few days, in partnership with OXFAM Liberia, using the film, #KEEPwill undertake a public awareness campaign on the menace of child sexual abuse and how to possibly prevent it.
This campaign will take us to 15 schools across communities in Montserrado, Margibi, Grand Gedeh and Rivercess counties.We hope to target 700 students and parents, and inspire.. Stimulate conversations in homes, churches, mosques and schools.
And this is only the beginning.
We will announce the specific dates and locations for each public broadcast of the film, to be followed by what we hope will be inspiring conversations about the need to take collective actions to halt the theft of the innocence of our children, and the abuse and violation of their minds and bodies mostly by people who should be protecting them.
Educating the kids early on what is inappropriate touching, comments and behavior can go a long way in preventing sexual abuse.
The Liberian Women Humanitarian Network (LWHN) recently conducted a one day sensitization outreach in, Wacco Community, Grand Cape Mount County on Monkey Pox. The sensitization came in the wake of 2 confirmed cases of the virus/disease in the area.
The exercise was geared towards educating members of the community on the virus, its mode of transmission, ways to avoid the virus, and how to treat in the instances of infection.
Whilst the discussion was centered on Monkeypox, the team used the opportunity to also talk about infectious diseases spreading, control and how to react when there exists no medical personnel immediately. The outreach awareness engage both men, women and youths. Like most rural communities, the issues of limited access to safe drinking water, health facilities and timely treatment are among the numerous challenges faced by dwellers.
To date, there are 6 confirmed cases of the virus in 3 counties in Liberia and 28 cases in Nigeria.
Monkeypox is a viral disease that produces pox lesions on the skin and is closely related to smallpox but is not nearly as deadly as smallpox was. Monkeypox virus causes monkeypox and the majority of cases are transmitted from animals (rodents) to humans by direct contact. Person-to-person transfer, probably by droplets, can occur infrequently. Risk factors for monkeypox include close association with African animals (usually rodents) that have the disease or caring for a patient who has monkeypox.
During the first few days, symptoms are nonspecific and include fever, nausea, and malaise. After about four to seven days, lesions (pustules, papules) develop on the face and trunk that ulcerate, crust over, and begin to clear up after about 14-21 days, and lymph nodes enlarge. There may be some scarring.[i]
The Liberia Women Humanitarian Network was formed in 2016 out of a need to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew which left several hundred people dead in its wake.
Having recently recovered from a national health emergency crisis, women from diverse backgrounds who mostly lead national charities saw this as a way to lend support to the people of Haiti, specifically women and children who are often the hardest hit during such crisis.
The network also later did a fundraising to also support the victims of the mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone and raised $2000 which was channeled thru the women led organization, 50/50 to support victims with immediate relief items to help them recuperate.
Liberia suffered from Ebola in 2014 which left more than 5000 people dead. The disease e spread rapidly at the time due to lack of knowledge on care, prevention and awareness. With the recent announcement of a new outbreak in Democratic Republic of Congo, the outreach was also a good opportunity to remind people about the importance of not just community hygiene but also to avoid eating “bush meat” and playing with monkeys.
Ms. Facia Harris who runs the Paramount Young Women Initiative said the reason she is interested and supports such networks is because it provides an opportunity to show that first response starts with nationals. She noted “We try to respond to different needs in our communities and networks, but coming together as women with different interest and backgrounds of work is an expression of unity and togetherness in meeting the needs of others in a more timely and critical manner. The skills, resources and experience once brought together change the narratives around humanitarian work and promotes localization and ownership.
Community dwellers practicing how to use plastic bags as preventive tool
I work with girls and women through educational and empowerment programs.” Facia Harris, the Executive director of Community Healthcare Initiative (CHI) Mrs. Naomi Tulay-Solanke also stressed the need for more community engagement by local actors especially women led organizations at the national levels. She believe that having more women at the frontline of humanitarian response will help change the male dominated and gender biased within the humanitarian system. Humanitarian response will become more local, effective and gender trans-formative.
Community dwellers practicing how to use plastic bags as preventive tool
The Liberia Women Humanitarian Network was formed in 2016 out of a need to stand in solidarity with the people of Haiti after Hurricane Matthew which left several hundred people dead in its wake. A reflection of the Ebola crisis in Liberia and its adverse effects on women and children primarily motivated women leaders from diverse backgrounds to lend support to the people of Haiti facilitated the establishment of the Liberia Women Humanitarian Network . The network successfully supported victims of the mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone and raised approximately $ 2,000 USD through local fundraising. The fund was channeled through a selected local women-led organization to support victims with immediate relief items and help them recuperate. The network intends to do more awareness in the near future, with focus on the Lassa Fever outbreak which has now claimed the lives of more than 12 persons in 4 counties with 24 confirmed cases over the last 5 months.
Maimah Pellam, Executive Director of Serene Mobile Clinic, a charity that provides mobile healthcare support to families in rural communities in Liberia said “Being a part of the LWHN is an opportunity to work with other women groups, who have similar passion in serving or giving back to our country . I also saw it necessary to join the team in reaching out to Grand Cape Mount County upon receiving the news about the monkey pox outbreak. It was important because we as a network vow to respond to any situation that has a potential to cause problems especially health and social welfare amongst people of Liberia:
Brenda Moore of the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) noted that the network intends to do more awareness in the near future, with focus on the Lassa Fever outbreak which has now claimed the lives of more than 12 persons in 4 counties with 24 confirmed cases over the last 5 months. She said it top of their priroty list for the next few weeks as awareness is key to prevention and control.
I watched my daughter’s twinkling eyes as she excitedly blew out the candles on her birthday cake. As she blew, I exhaled. This was her eighth birthday. A moment of excitement for her and me. But, as I watched the scene, I had a moment of deep refection. My memory of being eight is one of pain.
At eight, I was sexually abused.
At the time, I had no idea what it was, or what it meant. I did not even think much about it. In fact, it seemed “normal”. I guess my eight-year old mind could not fathom people that I knew – that I would run to when afraid; that I would hold onto for support; that represented what was good; that my parents would leave me with to guide and to protect me – would not do abnormal things to me. I was abused by people in my home I trusted – people my parents trusted.
I knew them. They were not guests or strangers. They were relatives. Family.
Like many Liberian homes, mine was often filled with relatives. An aunt from up country for a weekend would end up staying for months “visiting”. A nephew whose parents could not afford to send him to school would be sent to our home “to help out”. A cousin who finds herself down on her luck would “stop by for awhile”. They became a part of the household. Their children became brothers and sisters.
Then there were the other people in the home. The nurse (housekeeper) who manages the home, cooking, cleaning, shopping, and supervising daily chores. Then there is the “houseboy” who does yard work, runs errands, and other menial works. So my home was never empty, always filled with family.
Family. I do not seem to recall fear in their eyes, nor did they seem nervous. It was as if they were doing what was expected of them. The reality is that I did not know I was being sexually abused, but, I did come to recognize the signs much later.
Alas! Much too late.
My mom worked full time with a very affluent organization. She was gone most of the day and usually got home at night. We had very little time during the week for as much interaction as I would have liked. She had to work, and would often return tired. As such, my rearing was split between the various aunts, cousins and nurse who were always around. “We will tell your ma oh”, was the overused line to put me straight. I would be reported to her for misbehaving, and my mom would be called in when I was being difficult.
“We will tell your ma oh” was more than an inconsequential threat. It represented the disciplined involvement of my mother. It was not a moment of judgment between me and anyone elderly. It would be punishment time. I soon learned to be obedient, kind, tolerant and trusting of my older relatives to avoid the punishment that would be handed down after “telling” my ma.
I adored my mom. Most of everyone who knew her, even superficially, tell me I look just like my mother. It makes me feel really good in a way. She was this beautiful woman that I wanted to be like. Tall, always smiling, smelled good and dressed nicely. I would go sit and watch her dress for work, or for a social event. I would watch her put on her makeup, and try to do the same. She would afford me a disarming laugh and say “you’re not ready for that yet”, and gently proceed to take the colorful palette from me. Such was the picture of my household at the age of eight.
The overflowing memory came rushing back as I looked at my eight year old. And rather than the joyful and celebratory moment now presented, I slipped to my past. No less than thirty years later, the stinging image was as real as today. Shelved in an inner recess of my mind, the memory just seemed to burst to the fore. As I looked at my daughter, I saw me being molested and abused. I saw my innocence taken. I saw my trust broken. I saw my mind and body violated.
I had shelved it. But I have been unable to forget it.
It may seem difficult to understand but the truth is that I did not know at the time that it was bad. I did not know that I was being molested. I did not know that I was being abused. Of all my childhood memories, suddenly as I looked at my daughter, at eight, this one hit me unexpectedly hard. With such clarity that I could actually recall the color of my dress so long ago as the repressed memories rushing back.
The first time I was molested, John (alias) was the culprit. John was a relative who had come from Lofa to “go to school”. He asked me to sit with him atop the manhole which was under the bathroom window.
“Come sit on my lap” John said. I did.
Pointing to the blooming plum tree he said “bigger girl you really learning how to climb tree good good now oh, come go pic me plum to eat”. I was excited being praised and called a “bigger girl”.
Just as I got up, anxious to show off my climbing skills, he pulled up my dress, pulled down my panties a little, and put his fingers on my vagina.
I was frozen. I said nothing. I did not react.
My silence and lack of response may have embolden him.
He touched me again, lingering a bit more, then removed his hand, and quickly pulled up my panty. I just looked at him. Blanked. No thoughts. No sense of what had happened. No response. I cannot imagine what he saw or sensed in my reaction or lack thereof. But I recall him putting his fingers to his nose and smelling it. I just stood there. Waiting.
Then he smiled and said, “Go pick my plum now”.
So I did. I was off climbing as he watched from below. I climbed the tree, shook the branches and watched the ripe plums drop to the ground while he picked them up. Eventually, I climbed down. I sat next to him while we ate the plums.
I thought nothing of what John had done to me. I did not mention it to anyone.
In fact, I felt happy that my “big brother” had told me to go climb the plum tree and pick plums for him. You see, I was forbidden from climbing the plum tree, and was constantly punished whenever it was told that I did. So it felt like my “big brother” and I shared a secret that day – a secret of allowing me to climb the plum tree, something that I liked to do, and he would let me do without “telling” on me.
And so, the abuse started. It got progressively worse. John became bolder and bolder. He would place my hands on his genitals, asking me to rub it. His looks became furtive. I began to sense that something was “wrong”. I became uneasy. I reached for the available, and less troublesome help. The nurse was always around supervising throughout the day.
I asked her: “What does it mean when a man puts his “thing” in you?”
She was ironing clothes. She stopped immediately. Abandoning the ironing, she looked at me quizzically. And she alarmed: “Someone put their thing in you?!”
I did not know how to respond. I didn’t want to get John into trouble. In retaliation, he would tell that I had been climbing the plum tree. And I would be punished. So I lied. I said, “No”. She was unconvinced. She changed tactics. She became more interested in my question, and encouraged a conversation rather than alarming about what I had asked. It then seemed alright to confide in her without getting me or John in trouble.
I do not know if or when the nurse ever told my mom. But not long thereafter, John left our home. Today I believe he may have been thrown out. Years later, news filtered into the house about his death as a rebel fighter in his native Lofa. I silently felt happy hearing the news.
As I watched my daughter blow out the candles that dressed up her birthday cake, it occurred to me that mine was blown out for me. I watched the blissful innocence that lit up her countenance, and I realized that my innocent childhood mist got lifted too early.
At eight, I see her smile light up the room, and it warms my heart. And I swear to protect her – to protect her innocence. I long to tell her that this world is filled with good people. And yes, there are bad people too. That the good and the bad can reside even in people we know – in people we are comfortable with; people we believe hold our best interests at heart. People we trust.
I have not forgotten me at eight. And although John is dead, it just does not seem right that I did not have a chance to confront him with this memory. So, I do the next best thing. I share it with you – with the world. I do so not to seek revenge on John, but to tell that I, too, was abused, beginning at the innocent age of eight.
Why am I telling this story now 30 odd years later? Many reasons.
For one thing, I hope that my story will inspire others to tell theirs. It is troublesome that victims are too accepting to throw a lid on sexual abuse out of the real fear of being stigmatized. I have felt this way for at least thirty years. That is, until I looked in the eyes of my daughter. If we do not tell our stories – if we do not talk about sexual abuse as happening to real people and affecting real lives – how do we hope to come to grips with it? How can I protect my beautiful daughter in a society that tolerates sexual abuse by covering it up, and or being too afraid to talk about it?
Another reason is that I find “un-shelving” this experience healing. It is no longer this silent hidden burden I have to carry.
Thirdly, I feel there needs to be a more “national” open conversation around sexual abuse in our society. For us to recognize the various cultural nuances that we either don’t realize happens or that we ignore.
Like the elderly male “compliments”: “Baby Brenda and all got rice grain on her little chest oh!” This is often followed by the humiliating pinch. And the outbursts of laughter.
Or the “You are a big girl now oh!” when they know you are really a baby but are planting seeds of sexual exploitation which “big girls” are supposed to be engaged in.
Or the comments about the “getting big butt like her ma” followed by a light (and sometimes not to light) pat.
Nothing is thought of the “uncle” who invites the “niece” to sit on his lap. No one seem to notice or care about his wiggling.
There are much more examples I could give. You live here, you know what I mean.
All of these being dropped on an innocently trusting mind with an air or nonchalance – as if it is right and expected. No, it not right! It is wrong.
I certainly wished it had never happened to me. But it did. And I know it continues to happen to many so much younger than eight. And it must stop! But sadly, it will not until we are willing to talk about it – to confront each other. And to hold each other accountable for it.
Lest I be mistaken, sexual abuse is not limited to girls. Boys are also being molested and abused. We have to stop this – and stop it now. This is not a “western concept”, it is a shocking reality, and in some places may even be viewed as expected and acceptable.
We have to talk about it. And we have to stop it.
It has ruined lives. It is ruining lives. And it hurts.
I, too, was sexually molested and abused. And I was only eight years old.
I read a young woman’s appreciation of her mom’s determination to obtain a Bachelor’s degree and decided to share it on my blog, liberianjue. This is Jarsa’a tribute to her mother on how she redefined strength and sacrifice.
On December 8th, Mama graduates from college. She graduates with honor – a GPA of 3.295, and I’m so proud of her. It’s also the birthday of her second child, by the way #sniffles. It has not been an easy journey, but somehow, we are here today.
She is strict – very. A grade ‘A’ disciplinarian. A ‘no nonsense taking’ woman, but Edith T. Deline is one of the kindest person there is. Raising her four children and fostering many, (five of whom she’s seen through high school and college, respectively), her home is a revolving door. There are always people in and out of the house as she always has an open door to everyone.
Whether you are someone looking for a place to stay for a while, till you get back on your feet, a teen, looking for a little discipline, some food and education, mama feeds, shelters and educates everybody who comes her way and needs help – if she can.
She’s clearly had no time to put herself first, to say the least. But it was okay with her – she was doing a good thing.
Graduating from high school in 1983, she wanted to work and attend college, concurrently – being the sixth of seven children of a single mother, she had to work if she wanted to continue her education. Grandma worked as a school teacher, a career where she barely made enough to feed her seven children and every other child she fostered, let alone send anyone to college. If you wanted higher education, you had to find a way on you own to get it. So, mama had to work – and go to school.
She took the University of Liberia’s entrance exams and passed, but when she sat the interview, (yes, apparently you had to sit an interview – and pass, after you have sat and passed the entrance, to be admitted into the university, at the time) she was denied entrance. She had applied to attend the College of General studies (Continued Education), a college strictly for working people who wanted to ‘continue’ their education, but you had to be at least 30 years old to be admitted – she was 19. Cuttington University however, the only alternative university in the country at the time, privately owned and very expensive, it was a non-starter.
Not really having much options, she enrolled in a Secretarial Science school and obtained a diploma in Secretarial Science and office management – holding a career as a Secretary for the last 33 years.
In 2009, during a conversation with a friend, he asked her if she had ever attended college. She said no and he went on to tell her that she is too smart to not give it a try. Mama took that as a boost to want to do that – give it a try. At the time, her last set of children, the twins, were only four years old and the newest child in the house was eight. She took the University of Liberia’s entrance exams – again and passed – again. This time, not having to sit an interview.
When she called to tell me she had taken the entrance exams and passed and was going to start college, the first words that came out of my mouth to her were “no, you can’t go to college. Why would you want to do that? You’re already old (she was just in her mid-40s, by the way) and living a well-off life, what do you even want to do with a college degree?” she responded, “I’m not even that old, there are people far older than me who are going to school and there’s a lot I can do with a college degree.” “Mama”, I said, “the boys are only four and Mae is eight, you have children to take care of, you can’t go to school and work full time and still have time and strength to take care of them.” She laughed on the phone and said, “watch me” – WATCH ME.
Few months later, when it was time for registration, she gave me her money and documents to go and register her ‘cus she was busy at work and the process was tedious. Ah! I said it, you cannot do this. It’s just the beginning and you already cannot handle it. I took the money and documents, and never registered her – she did not attend that semester.
It’s not that I didn’t think she could do it – which I undoubtedly knew she could, because she is strong and she is brilliant – I just could not wrap my mind around My Mother going to school. Selfish, I know. Moving on.
She didn’t let that stop her, the following semester, she took time off work and handled her process herself. I could not understand why she wanted this badly, but I was in awe of her persistence.
Mama went to school every semester after that (excluding 2014, the year of the Ebola outbreak), taking just the right amount of credit she could handle in addition to her life as a full-time working mother of small children. She went to school every day, did every test and every assignment, attended study groups when she could, asked us to tutor her when there was need.
There were days when it was more difficult to go to school. Days where she would leave work, tired, but would go to school, come home at night and cook the food for the next day, so that the children have something to eat when they come from school. Days where there was no one to take care of the children while she went to school – especially when she had to start taking care of my one year old when I traveled in 2013 – but she didn’t let those things stop her.
There was a short period when she worked at the airport and had to drive an hour every day after work to get to school. It was overwhelming, but she did it anyway. When it got too strenuous for her, she quit the job – it was anything but school.
She has taken care of everything and everyone and now this is her time. It is her time and nothing or no one can stand in her way. She has redefined strength and sacrifice and as her oldest child, I couldn’t be any prouder.
“And one day she discovered that she was fierce and
For a few months now, I have been meaning to write this personal story about my hair. Each time I try to, it just seems so personal to put out there. One part is like “why would anyone want to hear you write a long blog about your hair?” There are many other more important things I could be commenting on right now- like the current tense elections and political climate at right now in Liberia, like corruption. like…but hair?
Anyway, today is thanksgiving day in Liberia and I felt I needed to do something with this unexpected free time on my hand that was not work. So, here I am sharing a personal story. And yes about my hair.
For millions of women around the world with “nappy” hair, it’s a constant myriad of emotions and moods about our hair. It ranges from being in love, falling out of love, frustration, resignation, etc.
I am no exception. I used to have a love hate relationship with my hair for years.
From an early age we are conditioned into feeling how “tough” and difficult our hair is to manage. I remember that I eagerly waited to turn 12 to be able to be officially allowed to try the “white crack” on my hair so it could be straight, silky and manageable. Of course, as the nickname depicts, you get hooked. There is a constant cycle of needed to retouch to maintain that full straightness.
In the process, we burn and damage our hair. Over the years, I went through several heartbreaks due to my over use of perms and chemicals in my hair. There is this constant search for the right products. This one is good for black women hair. This is good for conditioning. This one shines. This one moisturizes. Before long we have tabletops full of various hair products, a variety of brands. Always searching. Always unappeased.
Of course I have had my share of hair adventures and experiments. I have cut it, dyed it many colors, permed, over permed, braided and weaved it, too often to even remember.
In recent years, there has been a revolution of the nappy hair. We have come to see it differently.
It is en-vogue to appreciate the various nappiness of our hair. It is actually okay not to be ashamed of the nappy texture but to embrace its versatility. Everywhere I look, I see black women proudly and adventurously trying out new ways to embrace our unique and versatile hair.
Pregnant with my first child, I decided to lay off perm – after reading all those online articles that said it was not safe for the baby. I decided to grow out my hair. And so, I fluctuated between braiding it and keeping it weaved for months at a time. In between, I treated myself to new fad two-finger twist. It was nice, but it was still the constant struggle of going to the salon for hours, sitting for hours to have the hair braided. Then there was the additional hours spent unbraiding it. All of this left me constantly annoyed, antsy, tired and with short-lived appeasement.
After about a year and upon delivery, I got frustrated and went back to my perm addiction. Few weeks in, I was angry and unfulfilled.
So, I resorted to doing only micro braids. For one year, it seemed nice. I had no need for salons for up to 3-4 months at a time. My head was very light weight. But, there was still the stress of sitting for up to 9 hours to get them braided and another 9 plus hours just to loosen them.
You get the picture. I do not have 9 hours in any 24-hour cycle just to do my hair.
Quite simply, I could not afford to do that! Additionally, the hair STILL seemed to be breaking! AND those “100% human hair” didn’t come cheap either.
I was nearly at a point of cutting the hair and sporting a low cut for a few years when IT happened. In January of 2013 I saw a strange hair style on a friend. Samantha lives in Ghana. She was wearing what looked like tiny braids. I kept staring trying to figure out if they were extensions cleverly weaved or braided. I couldn’t figure what they really were. They looked like nothing I had seen before.
I was intrigued.
“Sisterlocs”, she said.
I had never heard of it. She explained that they were strands of her hair interlocked into tiny locs. They were not the usual dreadlocks. I touched them and confirmed they were her own hair. They looked beautiful, felt soft and seemed manageable.
I fell in love!
I knew I had to know more. I googled it. The more I learned, the more I got interested. I found a new resolution: To give myself 6 months within which to research further about sisterlocs, and to figure out if I would still be as interested as I was after 6 months. If I still was, I would try it out and if I did not like it I would cut my hair after a few months. After all, it’s not like I had not cut my hair before, right?
After 6 months, I was still in love. I was still interested. I decided to take the first big step towards locking my hair. I chopped it off. With only new nappy growth, my hair was down to about an inch.
2 finger twist
in late May 2013 I made the final decision. My transition began to loc my hair.
Four and a half years later, it has proven to be one of the best decisions I have made in my adult life.
I feel fulfilled. Free. Liberated! My hair has blossomed. My hair and I are finally a peace with each other.
Today, I love the freedom to not worry about sitting in salon for hours and using up my Saturdays just doing my hair. I am also spared the hassle of waking up too early to fix my hair inpreparation for the day or even worries of protecting my expensive “human hair” from damage due to unexpected down pours. I also have less concerns about loosing my hair or its breakage due to various chemical applications.
And, it is quite cheap to maintain. What can beat that?
Except for twice a year when I apply light hair coloring, I no longer apply chemicals to my hair. I use only natural oils. They include, coconut oil, olive oil, tea tree oil and castor oil. All of these I am able to buy at a very low price right in my home country Liberia.
In the years since I locked my hair, it has opened a new and happier chapter in my relationship with my hair. My hair has grown at a pace that amazes even me. In four and a half years, I have gone from an inch of hair when I chopped it off and locked it to 11 full and healthy inches of nappy hair.
Nappy IS pretty.
I am free of the constant stress about what do with my hair in the next two weeks or even the next month. One thing for sure, I will look the same today as I would the next two weeks or the one month. The fact that it is my own hair gives me added sense of confidence and pride in myself and about my appearance. And I look fashionable.
Of course I get stares and compliments about my hair from both men and women. I treat each compliment with a smile. I also cannot say that I do not secretly enjoy the chatter when I go down to the local market and overhear the market women wondering whispers that my hair HAS to be extension or cleverly weaved. I can’t say I blame them. I did the same.
I have had many queries about how I manage my hair. Here are few things I do:
Wash it about 2x a month. Depending on the heat and sweat from exercise I do it more. But generally 2x a month.
I oil it once a week (or when I remember hah) with a natural oil mixture I do myself comprising of coconut oil, castor oil, olive oil, tea tree oil)
Because my hair at the front is very fine and prone to falling off very easily, I try not to do too many twisting and pulling of my hair to cause more hair loss and damage to my front hair
Retighten every 6 weeks.
We live in a world of stereotypes. My decision has further reinforced my impression that natural can be beautiful.
I am raising a beautiful daughter. And I am inspiring her to accept her hair as unique, rich and beautiful as naturally as it is. Yes, she can grow up and choose to want to perm it, weave it or braid it. But it should be her decision to explore, and one with which she must be content and afford to do. What I hope she will learn is that her natural hair is beautiful and she can choose to keep it as natural as she desires.
Today in Liberia, I am happy to see the various trend towards natural hairstyles. There is an evolving pride in the way Liberian women are wearing and displaying their natural hair.
A whole new industry is developing. There are young Liberian women entrepreneurs like Satta Wahab of Naz Naturals, Thelma Debrah of Kouzoya’s Nature who are making their own natural products and brands to promote the growth and easy management natural hair. Together, we embracing our nappyness in all its unique splendor and beauty.
So what can I say about my love affair with my hair? We are at the happily married couple stage, where you now know your partner well enough to know how to navigate and accommodate each other. You know what you need to do to keep the peace.
In early October, many countries were hit by Hurricane Matthew. Of the countries ravaged by the hurricane, Haiti recorded the highest number of deaths and loss to properties.
Haiti is no stranger to disaster. In 2008, the country was rocked by an earthquake, and while still recovering from its devastating effects, the country was again swept by an outbreak of cholera which caused the deaths of hundreds of Haitians.
Haiti, which means “mountainous country”, is located in the Caribbean. With a population that is mostly black, many elements Haitian culture originate from Africa, the Continent from which many Haitians trace their roots.
In many historical accounting, Haiti is considered the first Black Republic. The country gained its independence after successfully revolting against their slave masters.
Although Liberia did not gain independence from slave masters, I could not help but observe some similarities between the two black nations of Liberia and Haiti, with Haiti being the first free Black Republic to gain their independence from slave masters, and Liberia being the first African Country to become independent.
Both nations have also been plagued with mismanagement and poor governance by their leaders, with both countries still being considered amongst “the poorest countries in the world”. Dismal health care, low education, lack of basic infrastructures and social services, to name a few, stand out as unwanted features of the two nations.
So here is Haiti once again, devastated by another natural disaster. And the world either shrugs with indifference, or move into action to support.
In 2014 when Liberia was hit by the deadly Ebola Virus disease, Haiti, a “poor” country like Liberia, looked to her sister country and came to our aid albeit in a small way. Still, they came.
In solidarity with Liberia, Haiti joined ActionAid member counties to raise funds in support ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response which was mainly focused on support to vulnerable women and children in affected areas. This money was timely and needed. Along with its local partners, ActionAid-Liberia was prompt in providing support to several Ebola Treatment Units (ETUs), quarantined families, and provided several needy communities with support “kits”. Again, the support from Haiti (and other ActionAid Federation countries) proved to be timely, needed and impactful.
Today, Haiti has recorded over 800 deaths, with of course, women and children being most affected. Thousands have lost their homes, leaving them homeless and their livelihood affected.
Liberia can never forget. We remembered that in our time of need, Haiti, also a “poor nation” responded as best as they could. They answered our call for help.
True to the nation’s character of never abandoning a friend, a number of national organizations that participated in ActionAid-Liberia’s Ebola Response efforts which Haiti supported have decided to join ActionAid-Liberia in fundraising efforts to support women and children recently affected by the deadly Hurricane Matthew.
AAL sounded the urgent call to action! It was a call to raise funds to assist and support Haiti. Mrs. Naomi Tulay-Solanke, founder of the Community Health Initiative (CHI) decided to lead the initiative on behalf of AAL’s local partner organizations.
The organizations included CHI, COSEO, NEP and the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project (KEEP) along with some ActionAid Liberia staff and other well-meaning Liberian women who also heard and responded to the call for action. They, too, decided to support.
The women organized 3 days of car wash at various traffic light stops around Monrovia and offered to wash the windscreens of cars and serve passengers and passersby hot tea to raise funds. For 2 days the women set aside personal pride and made time for up to 4 hours in the early hours of the morning to undertake the exercise. They washed cars. They served tea, often to passengers and passersby who took them because the women insisted.
Some of the women explained that at the beginning, passers-by were curious to know why they were doing what they were doing. Once explained, they would receive small additional donations. For these Liberians, it seems to be the right thing to do.
And yet, it was not to be unexpected that a few passersby were rude and abrasive while others were very supportive expressing how sad they felt for what was happening to the people of Haiti. Many of these people would donate what little cash they had to support.
The women noted that a majority of the contributions came from taxi drivers and passengers in commercial vehicles while drivers of private vehicles mostly refused to support and threw out insulting words.
The fundraising team also went into the local markets where they got a lot of support from the market women who willingly give L$10-20 each. Each woman in the market contacted said they could relate to having lost everything in a heartbeat during the civil war and knew what the mothers of Haiti were experiencing.
On the 3rd day of their fundraising activity, the women went to various offices of private companies, government ministries and agencies.
At the end of the exercise, they were able to raise US$1425 and L$62,000 (Liberian currency).
The takeover of sorts of this activity by local organizations led by women is profound and admirable. It also reinforces a campaign championed earlier this year by many organizations calling for more localization of aid and the empowerment of local/national organizationsas well as the recognition of women as capable First Responders in times of crisis and natural disasters.
Naomi of CHI explained “When I saw what was happening in Haiti, my heart broke for the suffering and it reminded me of the various trials we have faced here in Liberia. I was pondering what we as Liberians could do to help, and just in that time, I saw an email from ActionAid-Liberia reaching out to its local implementing partners to contribute to funds being raised to support the people of Haiti. Recognizing what my organization – CHI- had started doing to raise funds in Liberia to support our work during Ebola, I thought it would be a good strategy to use to support the cause for Haiti.”
The initiative was led by women who currently run local charity organizations in Liberia. Many worked as First Responders during the Ebola Virus outbreak in areas ranging from community awareness on Ebola preventive measures, providing psycho social counseling support, or ensuring that thousands of Liberian school children remained engaged academically during the compulsory closure of schools.
Other Liberian women who heard about the work on social media also volunteered their time during the car wash fundraising drive to help support the effort. Mrs. Souriah Haider Dennis, a young mother and entrepreneur said:
“As a concerned Liberian, I saw this as an extremely important initiative and I
immediately cleared my schedule to assist. This fundraising act of good will and kindness felt like the right thing to do. While it is true that our challenges as a nation seem to never end, it doesn’t mean we can’t help others in their time of need especially when they did the same for Liberia. The fundraising effort was a very fulfilling experience for me personally and I would like to extend my gratitude to the People of Liberia who contributed to this cause, especially the Market Women and Commercial Drivers. As a Liberian, it felt good to see the reaction of fellow Liberians when they were told about the devastation in Haiti as a result of the Hurricane”
For me, as a “young” Liberian woman who is personally committed to seeing positive changes in Liberia, this collective support from a cross range of Liberians – old, young, male, female, the haves and the have-nots – has warmed my heart and shown me that Liberians are caring people, and will continue to give to humanitarian causes. This is contrary to the common belief that Liberians do not give or care about what is happening globally.
I am even more motivated and touched to see Liberian women stepping up and moving into unchartered territories proving that women can indeed be First Responders – that we can lead and show the efficacy of localization even in times of crisis.
I have long heard terrifying tales of other Liberians of their experience while travelling either from or to Liberia from other parts of the world but for some reason, I felt their tales were a tad exaggerated.
Earlier this year, I had the worst travelling experience ever, while travelling back from the United States to Liberia. Initially, I was booked to return on SN Brussels, but, had to change due to the attack on the Brussels Airport. We got changed to travel back home on “Royal” Air Maroc.
Initially I was simply relieved that my travel dates hadn’t changed and said to myself “I just need to get home”. But little did I know what was in store for me. And others actually.
My first hint of what was to come was when we disembarked in Morocco. We got herded to room where an airport attendant who didn’t seem to speak any English beyond “Hello, Go There” scanned passports at the entrance of a room that seemed at the time after a long flight, the gateway to the Promised Land.
I noticed quickly that some people were allowed into the room, while others were directed to some other vague room down the hall.
When it was my turn at the door, I handed my passport to the security personnel who didn’t open it, just took one look at it and pointed me down the hall and said “Go. There”, pointing down the hall to a place I could not easily understand.
That was when I noticed that those who were being directed down the hall all had one thing in common: Liberian passports.
Those with American passports, Scandinavian passports or British or EU books were being allowed into the “promised land”.
Mind you, I had seen several Liberians whom I knew were all going the same destination as I was- Liberia- being allowed to enter, but because they had the “right book”, gained access.
So I took my weary self down the hall to find out where the other rejects were heading.
That’s when my nightmare really started.
The layover time was 13 hours. 13 long hours. I was tired. Sleepy. Hungry. I was having visions of a shower, nice bed and some sleep till the flight at 9/10pm. I even had illusions of prolong internet access where I could work while I waited the 13 hours away.
Ha! Illusions indeed!
We waited for 45 minutes for the airport attendant to call a shuttle for us. All this time siting on a bench. Like a reject. A prisoner.
In my mind I am still thinking ok, 13 hours, one already gone, we still got 12 more to go, they will take us to a nice hotel where we could rest.
It seems I had serious illusions of grandeur.
We got piled into a shuttle that took us to a building about a minute away. I walked into a large room with chairs and thought “this must be the hotel waiting area”. Little did I know, that this would be my comfortable illustrious waiting place for the next 9 plus hours!
Apparently some of the other Liberians had been on this route and knew the drill, me, “Johnny-Just-Come” was standing, looking around expectantly.
Then I noticed folks scrambling quickly for couches that were placed near electrical outlets and being a quick study (and possessing an immense love and connection to my slowly dying cell phone) I found a couch too, near a socket and sat.
I looked around then I saw others folding their bags near them and curling up to sleep. I looked at the chair, my “resident stopping place” as we say in Liberia which had a chair cover on it. The cover seemed like it hadn’t been near water in awhile. There were some questionable stains on it that had me mentally creeping.
But, it was either that or the floor or sharing a couch with someone else. No one seemed ready to have me share, plus, they all seemed unkempt.
So I spread my shawl (thank God for the forethought to travel with one) on the filthy looking couch and sat.
That’s when I heard the loud conversations (ehn you know us Liberians and loud talking ehn?) from a group near by who started lamenting the way Liberians and other west Africans are treated when travelling through Morocco. Where those (even
blacks) with USA, European or other passports get sent to a nice hotel where they receive meals and have access to internet, etc. but those with west African passports are brought here.
I decided like a few others I had noticed previously, to get on my computer and catch up on emails.
Ha! I worked for like one hour then I noticed that I was not connecting to the internet. That’s when I found out that you only get one hour of internet in the “lounge”.
I was not perturbed and decided to still work on my computer, minus the internet.
That’s when I noticed an influx of new arrivals. Within seconds the place became even noisier. It seemed the new arrivals had a lot of young children with them and the children were cranky from their own long flight I guess and decided to play out the tantrums on their weary mothers. Some of the mothers just allowed them to scream and cry their guts away while they pretended the kids didn’t exist.
One child even puke right there and that mess sat exposed for nearly 30 minutes before a custodian came by to clean it up. The mother was unfazed.
By 1, I saw people standing in line and heard the other Liberians muttering “lunch”.
I was not so hungry because I had had the smarts to travel with lots of nuts and snacks, but I needed to drink. So when I the lines went down a bit, I went up to get a few bottles of water. That’s when I was told oh no. you get one. I asked if I could buy a second bottle and was told No.
I took a glance at the “food” that was being given to the others and it took Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a host of Angels to help me not to puke like that child that threw the tantrum earlier.
When I got back to my now endearing couch, another traveler had encroached on my territory and made himself quite at home, with legs up. Hahaha
Of course I wouldn’t ask him to leave, and so, I had to share the couch with him for the next several hours, with no opportunity to lie back and sleep.
At about 5:00pm, an announcement was made for those travelling on so so and so flight to please go down stairs and get on the shuttle.
By then, I knew not to have any good expectations and I was right.
We got taken to the airport terminal where for a few blessed minutes, I again had access to internet and could quickly send notice to my family and check emails. Then of course, the joy was short-lived.
This time, there was no electrical outlet where I could charge my phone or computer as the one or two I saw around the terminal were being hogged by other travelers who seemed to guard it in a fierce, territorial manner that dared you to be brave enough to approach their sacred charging outlet.
By 7:00, I noticed that those who had been separated from us early in the morning, those with the “right passports” had been brought back in. That’s when I heard the odd “Liberian-American” series and the words I really find condensing and stupid “ Your Liberian people, your hello oh”.
Your Liberian people.
Not long after, boarding call was announced and we all filed into our flights back to Liberia.
The few blissful minutes of internet I had, I sent a picture of the food, the place to a friend and he said, we Liberians always complain, we need do anything about stuff. I told him, “well, I intend not to fly with them again and I will write a blog on my experience. Hopefully that will start an open conversation on how we can start to hold these airlines more responsible to us who are customers and paying same money as those with the “right passports”.
Do you have the right passport or the wrong passport?
Have you experienced the Royal Air Maroc superb hospitality?
Share your thought and stories. Lets start this dialogue.
I have always been someone who was good at expressing myself- on paper. I could sit for hours and hours and write long essays, letters, hold long conversations electronically. Ask me to stand in front of a few persons and speak, I would find reasons not to be there or why I couldn’t.
I managed to get away with this fear, to conceal this fear for many years. As the saying goes “I faked the funk”. So well. But I knew I had a problem that I needed to fix. I just was not sure how I could do that.
I recall back in 1995, I decided to contest my school’s student council leadership and ran for the position of Student Council President.
It didn’t dawn on me the magnitude of what I had signed up for until I had to go from class to class and “run campaign”. I managed to hide behind my classmates and other students who helped do a lot of the talking for me.
But the day of the elections, we were told that we had to make a campaign speech.
Lord have mercy! I won the elections. Mostly because all the kids we had campaigned to, liked the sweets we gave them and they remembered us for that. I doubt it was because of my superb, enthralling and captivating oratory skills.
Another time, in January 2014, I had to speak in front of 96 employees at my job. Only for a few seconds and to basically just tell the staff body my name, job title and what my role is in the organization.
I found myself sweating profusely. I thought on the many ways I could slink out and away from the meeting and hoped they would not notice my absence. The introductions went line by line and finally it was my turn and I had to stand up and speak.
I stood and those 5 seconds were probably one of the longest timeframes in my life. I was at a loss for words and I just wanted to sit down and move those 96 pair of eyes from on me. So all I said was “my name is Brenda Brewer Moore and if you are in this room and don’t know me or what I do, then you need some explaining to do.”
I sat back down and I can’t explain how ashamed I felt. That I could not say something so simple!
That’s when I realized I had a really big problem that I needed to deal with heads on.
And so in February 2014 I heard from a friend that someone was starting a Toastmasters club, I immediately got interested. I asked her what the club was about and she told me that it’s a professional club where people go to improve their public speaking skills. I also went online and read up on what Toastmasters is all about and Bingo! I was sold.
I tackled Toastmasters like I tackle most things in my life: with determination, passion and commitment.
The first day I had to go up to give my Icebreaker speech (first speech), I wore a white pants suit and the 5 minutes allotted for the speech seemed like 30 minutes. When I had finished doing the simple job of telling the club why I decided to join Toastmasters and introducing myself to them, my pants were visibly soaked through with sweat. I was shaking like a leaf. I was so petrified!
But, no one laughed. No one sniggled. No one booed. No one teased.
Why? Because we all in that room had one thing in common: fear of public speaking and we had come together to overcome our fear of it.
I have come to love Toastmasters. I tell people that Toastmasters is in my blood. I love the fact that I can go to a safe space and make mistakes, get feedback, learn and also motivate others.
Fast forward to two years after joining the club, today, I am still nervous of public speaking, but I know that it’s a journey and I have come to learn little tips and tricks to apply to help calm my nerves, connect with my audience and get to the point. I have learned to make eye contact, to build expectation with pauses and to captivate.
In this period, I am proud and excited that my Toastmasters experience has helped me
speak at several high profile places that in another lifetime I would have shied away from. Places like the United Kingdom House of Parliament in London, the United Nations Headquarters in New York, the UN Building in Geneva, Switzerland, at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey. At all of these places, I had to address a room full of people and or serve on panels.
No one watching me at any of those places would know I was a nervous wreck or that two years ago I would not have even been able to mutter “hello”. I exuded confidence and spoke well (well, so I am told. Ha!).
In June 2016, I proudly, excitedly completed 10 speeches and 10 leadership projects. This is the first step in the Toastmasters Education Program. I had completed my Competent Communications (CC) Manual and Competent Leadership(CL) manual and I was one of 2 members of the club to be the first to do this. Imagine that! The shy person!
I also have been privileged to serve first as Vice President for Membership of the club and most recently, President of the club.
And so, I share my story to motivate others who may also have the same problem I had (still have, but working on it) but may not know how to deal with it.
Join us at Ducor Toastmasters, the only Toastmasters Club in Liberia, where you can work on and improve your public speaking, communication and leadership skills at your own pace, in a safe, supportive environment.
For more information about Toastmasters, go to www.toastmasters.org and for information about our local club in Liberia, check us out on Facebook : ducortoastmasters