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.

Price tag vs relationship

I know everyone has their gripe with their community but I am convinced Africanslead the pack when it comes to price negotiations. Basically, there are two types of Africans, price hagglers and freebie seekers. Regular hagglers are always looking for a deal . But an African haggler finds a deal and proceeds to  wrestle the price to the ground.

When these notorious African hagglers are not consumed by an ‘I-am-being-cheated’ paranoia, they are filled with a sense of entitlement which motivates them to arbitrarily negotiate the set price of goods and services. Some of the excuses African hagglers use during the negotiation process are: “I am your African sister/brother”, “times are hard” and “God will bless you.” I am familiar with these excuses because I am a black belt African haggler. I haggle with taxi drivers, department stores, food sellers, financial institutions… I have not met a price I have not attacked. Name your price and I will drive it down with my high pitched voice. If that does not work, I will grovel and whimper until in exasperation, you give up.  But, even I, can admit that it is infuriating to do business with people who ridicule hard work by offering ridiculously low prices because their tactics erode profit margins and cripple business. In the words of a Ghanaian videographer, “As for me I don’t do business with Africans. Why would I do business with my people when I can do the same job for somebody else and get paid the full price, plus tip?”

If African hagglers are bad for business, then freebie seekers, irrespective of their nationality, destroy relationships. Freebie seekers are people who want things for free. Why? Because your mothers are cousins. Or, you used to be classmates, roomates, wombmates… Whatever the connection, freebies believe that their relationship with you is enough leverage for a lifetime supply of gratuities. Now my friends reading this post will have a nice chuckle because they know I have a really hard time charging friends or family for any service that I offer. For example, I braid hair like a Senegalese in Harlem. In University, I used to charge for this service. Since graduating however, Idon’t typically charge a fee. So if I decide to do your hair, I like to dictate the time and place, oh, and you have to bring your own extensions!

This example should serve as a PSA to all the freebie seekers: Beggars can’t be choosers.  If you are not ready to pay up, you can at least be considerate and cover the overhead costs. You have to ask nicely, you have to put up with the terms set by the giver and you have to say THANK YOU.

To the penny-pinching professionals who are looking for every opportunity to pay off their student loans, remember, money is not everything. Now can we all just get along? Well, that will depend on how you complete this sentence: ” As for me, I don’t do business with —- (insert family member’s name, if you are really brave)

Afro Bourgie

Afro Bourgie: Black, educated and established
If you are reading this post, chances are you are Afro Bourgie or you know a card carrying member of this global guild. They are people of African or Carribean descent whose elite lifestyle or mannerisms places them in a universal upper middle class status.

To identify them, you don’t need a composite sketch or a pathologist. First, pay attention to their English, it will betray too many summers holidays spent in Europe or America. The francophone ones speak Français like they live in the exclusive quarters of Paris’ 2eme arrondissement. If you know what arrondissement is, give yourself 5 points. Do complete the remainder of the test below to find out if you are a part of this guild.

1. Do you call more than one country home? 6 points
2. Did you receive any part of your education abroad? 5 points
3. Did you attend a preppy boarding school? 5 points
4. Did you attend a private school and then follow it up with a degree program in a preppy university? 5 points
5. Do you live in a gated community? 2 points
6. Do you consider having a maid, a cook, a gardener or a security guard in your home normal? 4 points
7. Have you altered the spelling or pronounciation of your traditional African name e.g Kofi - Cophi? 2 points
8. Do you have or ( Are you trying to add) initials such as Dr. Phd. MBA. MA. LLM to name? 3 points
9. Are you married witha hypenated last name? 2 points
10. Do your children (born or unborn) have hollywood names or a wierdly manufactured name? 5 points
11. Do you drive a luxury car? 5 points
12. Do you wear designer clothes? 3 points
13. Do the words Brazilian, Peruvian, or Indian, denote a meaning other than human race (think hair)? 5 points
14. Do you work, or aim to work with organizations such as the UN, IMF, WHO? 2 points
15. When asked about when you are going back home do you consistently say “in the next five years” year, after, year, after, year? 3 points
16. Do you find yourself correcting grammatical errors of other people? 3 points
17. When asked about your religious affiliation do you respond ‘I am a spiritual person’ ? 3 points
18. Do you and your friends fund the fiscal growth of companies such as British Airways, KLM , Delta and Lufthansa? 5 points
19. Do you refer to a politician in your home country as Aunty or Uncle? 6 points
20. Do you call the President of a country Mummy or Daddy? 10 points

If you got 40 points or more, you are a BONAFIDE Afro Bourgie

Grading 2010

If you were asked to rate 2010, what grade would you assign to it? I would give it a solid C+ with no grounds for an appeal. See when I left 2009, I had asked specific things of 2010 that have not been accomplished. I am still carrying that blasted handbag from the Spring 2008 non-leather collection which has so many holes that coins leak from its base. I still have a mortgage hanging on my head, and an insatiable appetite for procrastination. I still eat after 10pm, I do not work out, and most importantly, I have not mastered the art of filtering my thoughts. If you can imagine the physical and emotional repercussions generated by this cocktail of flaws, you can understand why I confidently give the year a ‘C’ for effort. The ‘+’ is for the mere fact that I am alive.

Judging by peoples’ Facebook status, the dissatisfaction with 2010 appears to be a common sentiment. This has been a year of deaths, debt and divorces. Many lost their jobs, some lost their homes, others lost their faith and or their sanity. Considering the fact that I am one of the fortunate few who suffered no such tragedy, a C+ makes me an ingrate who finds cheap comfort in complaining. For although I want many things, I lack nothing. I am surrounded by people who know my flaws but love me anyway. Unlike millions of women around the world, the barriers to success only materialize when my Faith or ambition waver.

With that being said, I can confidently reassess 2010 and give it an A+. ‘ A’ for the Ammazing opportunities that have come my way and the ‘+’ for finally having the guts to execute them. It was the year that I decided to respond to disappointments with a smile. It was also the year that I stopped waiting for happiness and started creating happiness. With that mindset, I found happiness in the details of a phone call, a good mattress, a good book, a leisurely walk, and of course, a tub of ice cream. 2010 was a fantastic year! It was the year that I nervously launched my AmmazingSeries. 23 videos, 73 posts, 386 comments later, what was supposed to be a shot in the dark is shining a light on my path.

Thus, if you also started out by meting a measly grade to 2010, do reassess. So what if you did not achieve everything you set out to do? The results may not have been great but the lessons are bound to be invaluable. If you have the strength to update your Facebook page or receive a phone call from the comfort of your home, then 2010 has been good to you. Happy 2011. May it be a year where we align ourselves with that which is edifying and contagiously joyful.

True Love

Being around Christianne and Nenad makes you believe in true love. I am not referring to the flaky depiction of love that silver screens are made of. Theirs is a palpable affection you catch them stealing glances at each other or reaching for the other. They are honest without being hurtful, they lean on their mutual strengths to carry them through difficulties and they still find time to be as playful as two cute puppies. Take a look at their wedding pictures and you will know that they bring humor and joy to their surroundings.

Some may attribute their efferversent love for one another to the fact that they are newlyweds, who just married less than 6 months ago. However, if you know their story, you will know that four years of dating has thrown many challenges their way and that they have surmounted each obstacle hand in hand, Faith in mind, and love on the heart. I could fill this post with words in a futile effort to describe the depths of their love, but my words will be inadequate. You may be moved closer to how knowing how loving and lovely they are when you listen to the words of their wedding song ‘Better Today’ by Coffey Anderson, or you can watch their video ‘Finding true love’ to hear them in their own words and you will believe in the essence of true love.

Sinfully delicious snacks

Attention all food lovers, I have decided to treat you to a compilation of some of my sinfully delicious snacks guaranteed to make your toes curl. Now this collection is not for the calorie counters who report to the weighing scale even when they think about food. It is not for those who want to crowd their laps with multiples of the different food groups. It is best suited for those who love food so much that they don’t talk whilst eating for fear that some of the aroma might escape. If you are a member of this elite group the collection below will take make your day.

The first recipe is sweeter than the apple that did Eve in. Cook a bowl of Quaker oats in the microwave for 3 minutes until it is nice and soft. Make sure you blend the consistency with a dash of sugar and salt. When you can still see the steam rising out of the bowl, add two scoops of French Vanilla ice cream to the oats. Do not mix! Watch the heat gently melt the delicious mounds to the corners of your bowl. Then, add a handful of salted peanuts into this yummy delight and pull out your spoon…

You have probably eaten rice krispies cakes before but do you know how to make it with pizzazz? Melt butter in a pot and stir in some marshmallows until it is thoroughly melted. Turn off heat and add some shredded coconuts to the mix. Add your rice krispies and transfer into a buttered pan. Allow to cool for 30 minutes, cut it up and you are ready to indulge in a chewy dessert.
When you are ever in the mood for a rich night cap, reach for Milo or your favourite powdered chocolate. Warm a little bit of milk in a mug and top it off with 3 scoops of Hazelnut ice cream. Heat it in the microwave for 2 minutes and add your powdered chocolate. Allow yourself to be seduced by the steamy aroma before you take your first sip.
If you believe in desserts as hors d’oeuvres, then you will love this simple treat. Load your your favourite ice cream bowl with scoops of ice cream. Cover the ice cream with a handful of Kellogs cornflakes and you are on your way to crunchy ice cream heaven.
Only real friends like me will share these yummy treats with you.

Facebook lies

Today I am going to have a cyber makeover by updating my Facebook profile picture. With the click of a button, you are going to see me in my favourite blue dress, perched perfectly on security rails with blue skies and cotton wool white clouds cascading behind me. Ah don’t I look lovely? Before you answer, I have to let you know that this flattering picture of perfection is a departure from the current state of affairs. It was taken 14 months ago and bears minimal semblance to the girl typing who is suffering from tangled hair and post adolescence pimples.

When I first signed on to Facebook, it was with caution and trepidation. Two years later, I have been sucked into this vortex of narcissism where I view my profile picture as my mirror. Don’t judge me if your album just shows your pre-pregnancy pictures or your pre-beer belly photos. The seductive illusion gets worse when it spills into your social life. If your Facebook page is filled with Jpeg clips of parties, weddings, and festivals, people buy the lie that you must have a booming social life. You could be at home bored out of your mind hoping even a telemarketer would call, but your albums have created the idea that you live a charmed, champagne popping lie life.

Naturally, the charm flows into our social network because Facebook has redefined friendship as we know it. Thanks to Facebook ‘friends’, even the most anti-social people appear to be Mr. Famous and Miss Congeniality. According to my Facebook page, I have 600+ friends, but I can admit that only 1% of that number are what I will call friends. Today Facebook has become the yellow pages of our lives. We use it to find friends and plumbers or to announce births, deaths and divorces. Changed employers? Update your Facebook. Just got hit by a truck, go on Facebook and describe the pain on your status.

If I could leave everything behind and take only one thing from Facebook, I would take the Hide button. Recently, a girl sitting next to me on a Megabus asked ” That is a really pretty picture. Who is she?”
“Oh that is me” I purred. “No WAY” she concluded emphatically. I was too shy to defend myself, I only wished I could reach for the Hide button.