An attitude of gratitude: Maya Angelou

When the flash from the camera died, Maya Angelou was escorted backstage to make her grand appearance. The stage manager led me out of the green room and planted me in a seat so close to the stage that I was sure  her message  would bounce directly into my ears before it reached anyone else. I needed to hear her. 

6 hours prior

The day started on the wrong foot and seemed to deteriorate with each passing hour.  I was nervously waiting for an important call from Dr. Angelou’s assistant to tell me if I was going to be granted access to to see Dr. Angelou or not… I felt like my life depended on this call so every 5 seconds, I glared expectantly at my phone. The seconds rolled into minutes. The minutes became hours. My spirits sank lower and lower. Oh God, I am not going to meet her. I am really not going to see her. How can I come so far and miss another opportunity to meet Maya Angelou… I was hypertensively nervous.


That is the nature of this dream I am pursuing. The highs are great. I land a great interview, I don’t sleep until I edit the work, post it and then bask in the glory of Facebook likes (sad but true). The lows are abysmally lonely. I deal with soulless web developers who take money without producing the work. I send tons of emails to managers and PR agents and I do not get a reply. On a decent day, I wait outside a hotel for hours for a ‘get’. On a bad day, people promise me an interview and at the last minute, the rag is pulled from underneath my feet. I often sit alone in my living room and lick my wounds and ask myself why I do this. I was mulling over this very question in my cousin’s  Springfield apartment, staring at a phone that won’t ring. Admittedly, I was a bag of nerves and as I braced myself for disappointment I began to relive every setback I have ever experienced. I did this until I felt so sorry for myself  that pelts of tears hit the pacquet floor like a torrential rainstorm. When the last shred of hope evaporated from my body, I decided to break up with God 

” Dear God, 

you can’t possibly love me because if you did things would not be this difficult. Why must everything be so hard. Really Why? Why can’t things just come easily to me for once. A few years ago, I asked you align my path with my passion, instead, you put me on this bumpy road where the potholes are steep with disappointments, heartbreak and setbacks. As for today, I have reached my breaking  point. I am tired so please take away this dream and the passion that comes with it  because when you give us the desires of our heart, you match it with the courage to pursue them. I can’t find my courage and I am tired of trying, so just take it back. I don’t want it anymore.”


In between the sniffles I heard my ringtone. A text had come through. it read. “Dr. Angelou will c u. Go 2 venue ASAP .” I immediately dried my snort stained face and wondered why I had ever doubted God. 

———————————————————————————————————————————–

By now, you have read of my  euphoric meeting with Maya Angelou in the green room. However, even after the meeting, I knew I needed to hear more words of wisdom because as a child of Faith, I realised that I had lost sight of everything that mattered. 

 

The curtains parted and Dr. Angelou stood up to a thunderous ovation. When she reclined into her chair she told us that she was going to talk to about  about how to have an attitude of gratitude. 

My pores dilated and I soaked in her sagesse. Here are a few of the memorable things she shared:


Someone else was there before you. Lonely before you, passed over before you. And yet miraculously, somehow they survived and did better than that, they thrived. These words are now etched in my psyche. Whenever I think I am having a bad day, I remember that someone has been here before and yet they thrived.  

Make thank you fall of your lips all the time. You are not lessened by it, you are increased by it. 

With courage you can live a life with distinction. That moved me.

How brilliant you are to dare to live your life. 

Have an attitude of gratitude

She took the time to tell us about difficulties she has experienced and shared with us how writing her blessings on a yellow piece of paper changed her perspective about life. Have an attitude of gratitude she repeated. Then, she reminded us of all the people who were really having a bad day. Those dealing with cancer, death and real misfortune yet they still remembered to count their blessings. Have an attitude of gratitude, she repeated. 

The message was sealed in my heart. 

 

Gratitude used to be an after thought – something I felt once I achieved a goal.  After hearing Dr. Angelou speak, I decided that instead of breaking up with God when I hit my threshold, I was going to have an attitude of gratitude, irrespective of the outcome. I decided to go back on that bumpy road. I went online and booked a multi city trip around the horn of Africa.  I did not know a soul in these countries, but I surrendered all my goals to God and thanked him for providing. It is with a grateful heart that I say that because He is a forgiving God, a faithful God, and a loving God, in the scorching deserts of Sudan my thirst was quenched with water from springs that never ran dry. I met film makers and visionaries who want to take their country to new heights. In the mountains of Ethiopia I never stumbled. I was greeted with grace and kindness and I interviewed volunteers and entrepreneurs redefining the course of their country.  In the Savannahs of South Sudan where I had no money, I was sustained by the generosity of strangers and I met phenomenal people who are transforming this new nation. In Djibouti , they enveloped me with love. At every step of this journey, in the peaks and the valleys, I remembered the words of Dr. Angelou and I gave thanks. Everyday was a GREAT Day and I can’t wait to share the details with you.


Thank you

Sudan Speaks

A few weeks ago, I visited what used to be the largest country in Africa – Sudan. Inspite of the travel advisories and the pleas from loved ones not to go to the country, I flew into the capital of Sudan, Khartoum. This trip was immensely important to me because the mere mention of the name Sudan conjured images of suffering and oppression. I entered the country and found a nation filled with people with kind hearts and resilient spirits.

About a week after I left, the Sudanese people who generally avoid confrontation with its repressive government took to the streets. On the surface it seemed as if they were demonstrating against newly released austerity measures, but their message was deeper than that… The video attached is the first of a three part series which features the candid views of young, patriotic Sudanese.http://youtu.be/N3dCzg3kTD0

 

An evening with Maya Angelou

I am standing inside Hanover Theatre trying to tell the security man that Maya Angelou is expecting me. He does not seem to believe me. I cannot blame him, even I find it hard to believe that I am going to meet this living legend…

In my final year of high school, I discovered the poem Phenomenal Woman and it immediately elevated the way I viewed myself as a woman. I soon found out that the poet behind those edifying stanzas was a civil rights activist and the author of ground breaking books like “I know why the caged bird sings”. I wanted to meet Dr. Angelou. I have been nursing this dream secretly for many years but six months ago, it almost happened. She was supposed to be in Toronto and a kind friend who addresses her as ‘Auntie Maya’ made a few calls to see if she would meet me. She generously agreed. I took the day off work to meet my heroine. I got as close as her hotel only to find out that she had fallen ill so she had not made the trip. Disappointment rumbled through my body like hunger pangs. When would I ever get this opportunity again?? As fate would have it, a few weeks ago, I read that Dr. Angelou was going to be talking at the uniquelives.com conference in Worcester. With a nod from my kind friend, my feet raced as fast as my heart until I reached Hanover Theatre.

… Now I am in the foyer, gesticulating persuasively to security to send me backstage. Several verification phone calls later, I won my case. The stage manager comes out and leads me to a private entrance. Two students and an impeccably dressed woman ( I will tell you more about her later) are already waiting in a narrow hallway. After a few minutes, the stage manager beckons us to follow him into the green room.

The first thing I see is a silver platter filled with diced fruits and food that you only eat with two fingers. I am tempted to walk towards the feast but my eyes are being pulled to the centre of the room where a regal looking woman sits like an Ashanti Queen. Silvery locks have been neatly coiffed on her head like a crown. A string of freshwater pearls dazzle around her neck. The other people walk to her and they talk for a moment. I want to do the same but I am surprisingly shy. Then, she calls my name.

“Ms. Bonsu?” The room is instantly filled with the richness of her deep voice.

I approach her gingerly. I don’t know whether to courtesy or bow. I feel my knees buckle into a shaky bow.

“You don’t have to bow!” Her firm words halting me midway. “Come closer. No, don’t go behind me. Here, come in front of me so I can see you.” She directs. We exchange a few words in the Ghanaian dialect, Fante, before I step aside to give the others a chance. My palms are a bit sweaty but I am coming into myself. I want to get closer to her. No, more than that. I want to interview her. I turn boldly to her PA and asked if I could ask Dr. Angelou a few questions. “Yes, but quickly, the event starts in a few minutes.” Now, what do you do when you have a really tight window to interview a legend? Do you ask about her favourite lipstick or do you skip the frivolity and discuss current affairs? I take a deep long breath and straighten the creases in my dress. I fix my eyes on the resplendent woman before me. As I think of the great things she has achieved in life simply by following her passion, I decide to ask a personal question that has been burning a hole in my heart.

“Dr. Angelou, Thank you so much for this opportunity.”

“You are welcome Ms. Bonsu.”

“Dr. Angelou, I’ve started this initiative which highlights positive stories from Africa but after three years, I feel burnt out. I am so tired. What do you do when you feel discouraged?”

“Don’t get discouraged. If you have a ‘to do list’ do it.” She replied.

“But what if you want to give up because you don’t see the results of your hard work?”

“You just press on. There is nothing more to it. Just keep going and sooner or later, the people who rejected you will come begging. Don’t give up. Just do your to do list. Just do it.” At this point my heart is doing the listening. The impact of her words stir my soul because she is speaking directly to my fears. Does she know about my inbox which is flooded with rejection letters from literary agents? Does she know of my fantastic manuscript that publishers won’t touch? Does she know about the incomplete website, the travel plans and the personal matters ricocheting in my head? Whom I’m I kidding? Of course she can relate to my angst. Not long ago, she was also a thirty-something year old idealist. She traveled the world, wrote books, won Grammys, earned Doctorates and inspired a whole generation in the process. Through the dark tint of her glasses I could read the warmth in her eyes. I smile and ask my next question.

“Dr. Angelou, my favourite poem is “Phenomenal woman”. It was the first poem that told me how a woman should carry herself. What inspired you to write this poem?”

“My life, but really because we are ALL phenomenal.” She delivers this with a certain confidence that is lost to many of us. From the corner of my eye, I see the silhouette of the stage manager. It is my subtle cue that my time is up but I feel emboldened to ask for one more thing.

“Dr. Angelou, I would love to take a picture with you. Would that be alright?

“Yes.” She drawls. “Stand next to me. Here, you can hold my hand.” Really? Disbelief is washing over me. I uncross my fingers and plant them firmly in her palm. It feels soft and inviting. The ridges of her wisdom and experience rub smoothly against the naivete of my. Disbelief is coming over me again. I am actually a breath away from my heroine and I am really holding her hand. As if she sensed the awe overwhelming me, she speaks firmly to me.

“Ms. Bonsu, stand up straight. Lean on no one and Bow ONLY to God.”

The depth of those words resonate in me. For months, my head has been downcast with self-doubt and fear. Now I hear the truth in her words loud and clear. I push my shoulders back, unbuckle my knees and smile like an Ashanti princess. In a flash, the moment was sealed.

To be continued…

My date with Oprah

I reached for the bejewelled halter neck dress and held it against my chest – naah too much skin. Maybe I should wear my beautiful African print dress. I stripped and zipped myself into the outfit – naah too much colour. I threw the dress on my bedroom floor and flipped through my closet until my fingers landed on a satin green dress. That’s it! I slipped into the sheath dress, dabbed gold dust on my eyelids and tinted my lips with strawberry flavoured gloss. Now I felt ready for my date with Oprah – well, me and 9000 people from Toronto but who’s counting?

The show was supposed to start at 4:30pm but by 12 noon, CityTV was showing a very long queue of enthusiastic people waiting impatiently to see Oprah. Not to worry, my friend Christianne’s wonderful husband was holding a spot for me. I walked towards the Metro Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. A bubble of joy was pulsating in my heart, traveling through my veins and causing me to smile and wave at strangers. After 20 years, I was finally going to see Oprah – I could not stop smiling. I walked into the Convention centre in a euphoric state. As more people funneled through the doors, the cloud of anticipation that hang in the air intensified. People were giggling and squealing. One girl I walked past was trembling so much her friend had to remind her to breathe. Not me. I was as calm as a fed baby. Nothing, not even my emotions was going to come between me and my Oprah.

I planted myself in the front row and smiled generously at my neighbours. But as soon as I crossed my legs and leaned into my chair, I started to cough .At first it was the sputtering kind, then it became a full-blown, relentless cough. I don’t know if I was reacting to perfume, hair spray or dust, but my throat was severely irritated and I could not stop coughing. I tried to talk myself out of it. Ok Amma, you need to calm down. Oprah is going to come out any moment now, relax yourself. But I continued to cough until my beautifully dressed neighbours became as irritated as my throat. Some passed mints and Halls my way. “Breathe in.” I could hear someone saying but the simple act of inhaling air triggered a coughing fit so strong that it summoned tears into my eyes. I had to leave the room to find the washroom. By the time I made it to the lobby, I was retching and wheezing. I leaned over a table and coughed and retched and coughed. A lady in a blue blouse rushed to my side.

“Are you ok?”

“Cough, cough cough” I could not talk. My nose was running, my cheeks were streaked with tears and I felt a tightness in my throat.

” Are you choking? Can you breathe?” The lady asked.

“No- it is diffi–cough, cough, cough—cult to breathe. I think- cough cough-” Before I could finish the sentence, I dropped onto me knees and coughed until I could taste my lungs in my mouth. When I lifted my head, a woman in hospital overalls was standing over me.

” Hi my name is Wendy and I am a nurse. Are you ok?”

“Oh, I will be fine, I just- COUGH COUGH…”

“Ok you need to come with me right now!”

I followed her to a yellow room with hospital beds and First Aid instruments. Oh God, I am supposed to be listening to Oprah, how did I end up in the Emergency response unit of the Metro Convention centre? Before I could utter a word, two paramedics carrying debrillators entered the room.

” We were informed that someone is having difficulty breathing. Ma’am are you ok?”

I was trying to tell them that I was ok but they were not listening. They strapped my left arm with a blood pressure monitor and started pumping away. “I am ok, I am ok.” I croaked but they were really not listening. Out came the stethoscope.

“Oh lawd, sir, that will not be necessary. see Oprah is coming out in 2 minutes, I need to be in the convention centre to see her enter.”

” We understand ma’am but this is important.”

“No, I can’t miss Oprah. I can’t! I have waited 20 years for this.” I could hear the screams coming from the centre. They were chanting “Oprah, Oprah, Oprah.” He placed the sethoscope on my back.

“Breathe in? Out? In… good”

” See, I told you I am ok. Can I go now. Please?

” Ma’am we need you to sit for a few minutes so we can figure out what is going on. Did you eat something? Do you have allergies?” This man can’t be serious. The chanting had reached a frenzied pitch. Oprah must be walking on the stage and I was confined in a quasi ward with 3 medical attendants standing between me and my moment. I peeled the monitor from my arm and stood up. “Thank you guys but I gotta go” ” I rushed inside the centre, but no Oprah. Iyanla Vanzant was speaking. Anthony Robbins and TD Jakes were next in line. Thank God, at least I had time to calm my nerves and collect my thoughts before Oprah. TD Jakes wrapped up his sermon by rousing the crowd to an ecstatic state. We jumped on our feet and started chanting “Oprah, Oprah, Oprah, Oprah…” Then, the moment I had been waiting for arrived. Oprah strutted onto the stage. She was wearing green, just like me. “AHHHH!!! I screamed even louder. My neighbours were screaming, people in the back rows were screaming the entire convention centre was charged with excitement. In her metallic Loboutins, hair flowing with confidence, she walked to the front of the stage.

” Canadaaaaaaaaaa!!!!” She screamed. We went berserk! “Thank you, thank you. Sit down, sit down.” She pleaded. “I feel the love, I feel the love,” she kept saying. I sat down and soaked her in. The Life class lesson was on forgiveness and she brought in several speakers to help guests and audience members make peace with their past. My ears absorbed everything they were saying. But I had eyes only for Oprah. I could see her green eye shadow, her matted lip stick and turquoise earrings shimmering against her neck. I could see her. Like really, really see her. She was so calm, so herself. In between takes, she would make jokes and talk to the audience. I just watched and listened, completely mesmerized and in awe of this dream come true.

I will confess that I thought of pulling an ‘MTV moment’ where I would dash onto the stage and surprise her with a Koala-like hug. The opening was there, security was not paying attention. Quick Amma, do it, you are wearing the right shoes. Do it Now. Ready… Set… DON’T! A voice of reason yelped. “That would terrify her. Plus when you hug Oprah, you want her to hug you back, not flinch with fear.” So I stayed put and continued to admire her from my seat. She look comfortable and content. She was scanning the front row, appreciating each individual with her eyes. When her brown pupils rested into my, I lifted my head and mouthed “I-LOVE-U”. she smiled gently.

I love Oprah. You guys know that. She has taught me lessons about love, life and the importance of giving back, and for this day, the Lifeclass lessons she brought were just as impactful. When it was over, she thanked the crowd again and went back stage. I followed the crowd out of the convention centre, but I had a plan in mind. I can’t come this close to Oprah and watch her leave? I had to do something quickly. Unfortunately, my phone was ringing. It was my friend Christianne.

“Amma, where are you?” We can’t find you?”

” Don’t worry about me Chris I am fine.”

“Well do you want us to wait for you at the subway?”

“No, you guys go ahead”

“Ammaa? She drawled. ” You are up to something aren’t you?”

“Yes, I am” I whispered. “Yes I am….”

Kazuri beads

For over thirty years Kazuri has been a lifeline for economically disenfranchised women in Kenya. Nestled in a quiet suburb in Nairobi, this modest facility is the workplace for three hundred and forty women who have acquired the skill of molding clay into jewelry and various artifacts. Their handiwork is exported to different parts of the world and the proceeds are used to cover their salary and provide health care for their families.

This inspiring workshop was started in 1970 when Susan Wood, a Kenyan born British woman, invited a Kenyan woman from a neighbouring village to help her craft beads out of clay. This woman in turn invited other women she knew to join the initiative. In a few short years, this small-scale project blossomed into a reputable business and a hotspot for international tourists. During a 2011 visit to Kenya, I toured the facility and met women like Teresa who have been empowered economically and socially by her work at Kazuri. Listen to Teresa’s story http://youtu.be/hZDRC0S_1X0

Help!

I usually roll my eyes when desolate photos of Africans dominate headlines. Here they go again, ready to ridicule Africa. This week however, several heart breaking headlines have forced me to pay attention to  gaunt frames and withered children walking miles to find relief  from a ruthless famine that has ravaged Somalia. Truth be told, I would rather be skimming through horoscopes and you would prefer to read about Jlo’s divorce, but here is why you have to pay attention. This is the gravest famine to hit East Africa in 60 years. The already desperate situation has been exacerbated by warlord blockades and regional politics. 

In a typical famine, relief agencies intervene with food and medical aid. In the case of Somalia, an al-Qaeda splinter group called al-Shabab control the drought stricken areas and they are preventing aid from reaching the people.  As a result, thousands of Somalis in the rebel controlled areas are fleeing to government controlled camps where they can receive aid. Sadly, these camps are overcrowded, and the resources cannot support the deluge of refugees. The drought has now spread to Ethiopia, Eritrea and South Sudan – many more people are expected to suffer.

 

An immediate solution to alleviate the crisis is for neighbouring Kenya to open Camp IFO 2 which international donors built at a cost of $16million dollars. The camp can provide relief to about 40,000 people and is equipped with schools, a police station, and a medical facility. Unfortunately, the Kenyan government refuses to open the camp to Somalis because they are concerned that the exodus of Somalis from the al-Shabab strongholds poses a security risk to Kenya. The Kenyan government is  also concerned that if they make  the amenities in the camp available to Somali refugees,  there will be a greater influx of  Somali families into Kenya to take advantage of these facilities.  The government is pressing for aid to be delivered directly to Somalia, but the warlords continue to bar humanitarian agencies from reaching the needy. This is a classic example of how one nation’s  problem rapidly evolves into a desperate regional crisis.  Meanwhile, the stalemate is costing lives. Refugees are forced to ‘self settle’ or wonder about in search of better living conditions. The farther they drift, the more vulnerable they become to rape, attacks and death by starvation.

 

They need aid, they need food, they need rain. This Saturday, one of those wishes was answered and torrential rains came down, but, it destroyed makeshift  structures and tents in refugee camps. Currently, more than 11 million people are estimated to be in need but the Kenyan government refuses to budge. If Humanitarian organizations cannot act and governments will not help, what can we do? We can follow the example of ordinary Kenyan citizens who have bypassed their government and donated $200,000 by mobile phone banking to help the victims of this famine. 

 

11 million starving refugees is an overwhelming image to digest. Whilst some erect blockades and others look away, I beg you to donate. Any amount will help heal this wound. 

Journey to Liberia II

“I shouldn’t have come alone.” I whispered, eyes darting nervously around the technicoloured foyer. “I really shouldn’t be in a hotel by myself.” I sighed, my usual calm disposition giving way to panic. Although my life was not in any imminent danger, from the moment Tamba the driver unloaded my luggage, I felt an uncomfortable ball of anxiety building from the pit of my stomach, crawling via my midriff and settling in my chest. Was it the dim lit foyer? My palms begun to sweat. I felt unsettled about something, and the more I could not figure it out, the more anxious I became.

“It is not usually this empty,” greeted the owner of the hotel. Before I could respond, It came to me. It was the silence, I was intimidated by the silence in the hotel! Krystal Oceanview Hotel is positioned near the coastal enclave of Mamba Point. Aside from the intermittent splash when the waves meet the shore, It can be an incredibly quiet place. This was a sharp contrast to noisy Accra where hotel waiters balance trays in their palms to avoid bumping into gregarious guests. I had expected Monrovia to be like Accra, but in fairness, it was 4pm on a Thursday evening and most people were at work. Nevertheless, I still could not cope with this silence. Fearful that my sanity was about to snap, I phoned a lady called auntie Miatta who my friend Kukua had promised would welcome me. ‘”Hi baby, welcome to Liberia,” she exclaimed. Her voice which was the perfect blend of Nina Simone’s raspiness and Maya Angelou’s depth, ignited my spirits. “Sleep. You sound tired. Tomorrow I will send a driver to bring you to the radio station to meet the whole family,” she promised. Oh can I come tonight? I wanted to say. I am really lonely in my hotel and I would appreciate some noise and a hug. But I offered some diplomatic pleasantries instead. As as soon as the conversation died, I felt sad again. Frankly, I was not mentally prepared for the realities of being in a  country that was recovering from war. In the same vein of honesty, I admit that although  I did want to be like one of those foreign tourists who ignore their crime-ridden cities to question the security of Africa, the silence and the emptiness of the hotel set my imagination on fire. Are the people violent? What if someone spazzes out from a bout of post traumatic stress disorder? What if someone breaks into my room? What if… my eyes skimmed across the yellow walls  for an emergency exit plan. I found none. That night, the voice of a CNN anchor kept vigil with me. I was alone and afraid. 

I did not need an alarm clock to wake up the next morning. The excitement of meeting Auntie Miatta at Radio Veritas drove me to the shower. She was poised and regal at the head of the table, her dark skin glowing like melted Milo. “Hello my daughter.” She stood up and folded me in her bosom, her long locks tickling my forehead. “Everyone say ‘ hi’ to my Ghanaian daughter, Amma”.  A unified “hello” echoed in the studio. She was in the middle of hosting a show called ‘ Lets talk about it’. The active panel was engaged in discussions about how to encourage Liberians to register to vote for the upcoming presidential elections. Fifteen minutes after I entered the studio, they opened the telephone lines and people begun to call in. Callers passionately aired their opinions about the voting process. Some wanted to draw attention to spotted incidents of multiple registrations, others called in to welcome their Ghanaian sister to Liberia. As I listened to the detailed accounts of their electoral expectations, it was evident that they were all committed to a singular objective – a transparent election process. 

Coming to Monrovia, I expected a taciturn group of people who had been traumatized into silence by the war. Not Liberians. They are gentle but assertive, polite but passionate. The latter is particularly rife when it comes to issues concerning stable governance in their country. I received an undiluted taste of this passion when I assembled a group of young people from the “Register to vote campaign” for an interview . S. Gibson has a firm handshake and mesmerizing brown eyes that widen when he emphasizes a point. He is proud to be known as a ‘serial caller’ because having lived in Liberia throughout the war, he has made it his mission to persistently call radio stations to report any malfeasance he encounters. Ulla has a charming smile and an effervescent personality. When war first broke out, she was a toddler whose family sort refuge in Ghana. Today, she is a bright university student who speaks with such authority and wisdom that I could see her being the next Chief Justice of Liberia. Tawe, Paypay, Monique, and Oliver are a small percentage of fearless and intelligent individuals dedicated to the rebuilding of Liberia. You need only to watch my interview to understand that they speak with eloquence and wisdom far beyond their youth. Naturally, I obliged when they invited me to join a float which was going to canvas the city to get more people to register to vote. The float was late. It had come up Ashmund street where we were waiting and turned around. “What! ” screamed auntie Miatta. She quickly placed a call to the group managing the float.

“Where y’all at? Hey! y’all better hoory up, I say now… I say when I see you I go cuss y’all real good. Now y’all come back men. ” Within minutes, they had all assembled in her living room. She greeted them with enthusiastic high fives. I started to giggle. “Auntie Miatta’” I teased, “did you not say you were going to cuss them real good?”  “Amma these are my family, we don’t stay mad at each other.” As we walked towards the float, she explained that these young people had taken time off school and work to encourage others to do their civic duty. The young musicians rapping on the float had chosen to use their music and their star power to motivate the crowd to vote. They do this selflessly as their contribution to the rebuilding of Liberia. As she says this, I take stock of where Liberia is at. Churches, mosques and schools have been renovated and coated with new paint to signify the birth of something new.  The city is booming with new businesses such as car dealerships, hardware stores and boutiques. Previously deserted markets are  now filled with women coaxing passersby to purchase their tomatoes and cassavas. Financial institutions like the Liberian Business Development bank and Western Union have expanded their operations to meet the fast growing demand in Liberia.  Restaurants have become a hot spot for the ambitious to discuss their political aspirations or their business plans. There are also several lifestyle magazines such as ‘Liberia Travel & Life Magazine’  which showcases all that is blossoming in Liberia.

Back on the float, they are rapping, dancing, shouting and asking people to get registered. “They are wonderful kids.” Auntie Miatta remarked, beaming proudly at them. The crowd is just as impressed. I join them in the celebration. By now, I know some of the lyrics so I can sing along. Ulla is amused, she passes the mic to me to address the crowd. ” Errm… errm… your vote is your power, please register to vote.” I squealed in my English sounding accent. We all burst into laughter. One of the boys pulls me aside “You know auntie Miatta, she has a heart of gold. She opened that school in front of her house so the little girls who used to wander the streets can get an education. Now over 200 boys and girls attend Obaa girls School. She uses money from her singing gigs to pay their school fees because she does not believe any Liberian child should be without an education.” As if she sensed that we were talking about her, she came to join us, waving at the crowd, reminding them of their civic duty.

We posed for pictures and laughed at ourselves. I could not believe I had known them for just a day. It felt like I had known them since childhood. Like we had walked the deserted streets of Snapper Hill together, missing family members who had fled or died from the war. They talked openly up about how war had set their lives back. About the pain of being a refugee; wanting to come home, yet not having a home to come to. We continued the conversation over dried rice and fish. “Amma watch out men, the food hot.” They were all concerned about how I would handle the spicy sauce. Their instinctive compassion brought tears to my eyes. How wrong I was to question the safety and security of my visit. Liberians have gone through a gruesome war, but their humanity remains intact. They are prepared to use the lessons of the past to usher in a new dawn of healing and opportunities. That night, I crawled into bed like a tired babe who had just found her mother. Feeling safe and loved in the bosom of my childhood dream land, I closed my eyes and slept.