After spending several years abroad, I decided at the end of 2005 to travel to Liberia. On Nov. 28, 2005, I left my army base located at Fort Campbell, KY and started my journey to Africa. I did not get to Liberia until the fourth of December 2005, thanks to the inconvenience of my local West African flight—Bellview Airline. (I spent three days in Abuja and Lagos, Nigeria).
When I arrived at Robert’s International Airport (RIA) at Harbel Firestone, Liberia, I was shocked. There was no real security at this port of entry into our country, Liberia. I saw a great many immigration and custom officials endorsing travel documents of foreign and local travelers on the corners for a charge. I refused to do a behind-the-door deal with the low integrity officials, and asked that my travel documents be properly endorsed at the designated counter, where two well-dressed Liberians sat waiting.
I had to pay a little over 200.00 U.S. to customs for my personal luggage. The custom officials did not believe me when I told them that the basic items in my bags were “handouts” for my relatives who had survived the Charles Taylor war. They believed the items were intended for sale in Liberia, so I had to pay sale taxes. I did. But, I did not get a receipt for those taxes; I did not see them log the funds in anywhere. Somebody got paid that day, I guess. It took seven hours—03pm to 10pm—before I was cleared at RIA. Note: There were other Africans who had far more stuff than me, but I guess it was my “marginal English” – neither Liberian nor exactly American – that made me to stand out. They called me “American man,” and it was obvious they wanted money from me.
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I noticed that just about every government official I saw was essentially a beggar— always asked for “small thing for my cold water.” The government hardly pays them; I understand what they are going through. It took me nearly an hour and half from RIA to reach to Caldwell, outside Monrovia, where my folks lived. The road condition was poor, and the Monrovia traffic did not help either.
By the way, this visit was my first ever in our nation’s capital, Monrovia. From what I saw, though, Liberia is going to have a square-one restart. Just about everything I saw was ruined. The so-called “New Bridge” looked a lot older than the “Old Bridge.” But the best news out of Liberia is this: the war is truly over. The people, it seems, have very little time for violence now; they are too basic trying to survive the aftermath of the war. The only thing they obviously lack now is real security, especially at the various markets around the city. So, sometimes they have the tendency to take matters into their own hands. I was shown a dead man on the roadside not far from the Freeport Market, Monrovia. With no police in sight, market women and men beat the poor chap to death because he had allegedly stolen an item from the Freeport Market.
I stayed six days in Monrovia before moving on to my hometown, Jarkaken, River Gee County, Liberia. It took my driver, Prince [Prinzo], two days to get to Jarkaken. Zwedru is like “another Jarkaken.” I saw lots of Jarkaken people in Zwedru, including Bernice Nagbe, who worked for an NGO there. Not all of them lived there. Some of them were travelers, but a great many of them called that city home. Almost all the schools in Zwedru are opened. The mostly young Jarkaken people I saw there told me they were attending those schools.
A few miles outside Zwedru is a tiny Krahn township [John-David Town]. I met several Jarkaken boys here, too. There is a “gold rush” there. This is yet another clear indication that the war is truly over, having Grebos in a Krahn town. The Monrovia-Jarkaken road is very terrible. We were stuck in the mud at various places during my trip home. For those familiar with the road between Killepo Kanweaken and Chedepo Putuken, we spent several hours at “Combat Gate,” Taylor rebels’ name for the point on that road where the path to Jelepo Township starts off. Our vehicle was stuck there. We used a shovel and several cutlasses and excavated ourselves out. We had to take out our cargo and then pushed our vehicle out of the mud. In other feared wet places, we simply got out of the vehicle [to minimize the vehicular weight] and walked while the driver drove passed those wetlands. We were very muddy and dirty by the time we reached Jarkaken.
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From Putuken to Jarkaken, the road is very bad. In fact, there is very little sign of vehicular traffic on the road; equally, there is very little sign of human traffic as well. Basically, Jarkaken is isolated because of the bad road condition. The entire road is abundant with “snaking holes,” thanks to wearing down as the result of erosion. Some of the holes are as deep as a foot or better. It took serious maneuverings before my driver made it to Jarkaken.
I did not see a vehicle entering Jarkaken or going to Geeken within the eleven days I stayed in the town. That explains why business owners like Victor Noring, Paul Dweh, Jeremiah Dweh, and Moses Tebae Noring [to name a few] must leave their goods in temporary storage at Putuken. They would then hire “foot carriers” from Jarkaken before they can transfer their goods to the town of Jarkaken. Moses Tebae Noring told me that it not uncommon to lose items in their storage at Putuken.
The Catholic Church in Jarkaken must be applauded for the job they do on the Jarkaken-Putuken road. They hire several people from Jarkaken and its surrounding areas who are tasked to cut the brushes along the road. But, while the sides of the road are widened, the actual road surface gets no care. Because of the road condition, the people of Jarkaken have no choice but to leave their nicely built Market House on Karwea foothill (near the school ground) and go to the main road in Putuken every Market day—Saturday—to sell local items and buy factory-finished goods. It is hard to find “casual things” to buy in Jarkaken—again, thanks to the bad roads. Only the most basic items are brought to the town—salt, pepper, pots, dishes, slippers, water containers, farm tools and the like. (There is no market building in Putuken.)
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I want to be very unambiguous here. All the roads in and around Jarkaken are basically reduced to mere footpaths. For those familiar with Jarkaken Streets, “Tlejajlo” [or the new street], which runs from Mr. Elijah Choloply’s house and passes between the houses of Mr. Brown Quayee and Mr. Josiah Winn before linking on to Geeken road in front of Mr. Joe T. Sayee’s house, is nonexistent, to put it bluntly.
“Petehkousnu” (clinic road), which starts out from Mr. James Po’u toi Geegba Nyanfor’s house is also erased. There is a lone sign at the start of this road that reads: “Jarkaken Clinic—>,” with the arrow pointing towards the main clinic. [The Catholic Church in Jarkaken has a small thatch-hut aid center, just across the street from Mr. Joe Sayee’s house]. No ambulance can access this road that leads to the main clinic. Not even a wheelbarrow can go to the Main clinic because of the bad road. Believe it or leave it, this simple machine is used to transport the sick, elderly or dead in several rural areas.
In Jarkaken, the standard (or hardship) carrying method is “Gbatee,” a bamboo platform on which the sick, wounded, elderly or dead is placed and carried by strong men on their shoulders or the “Tu” method, which requires a blanket tired to a strong and long piece of wood. The disabled person or dead is placed in the blanket and carried by strong men.
The town truly survived the wars. Their tales, however, were very painful to hear. In 1993, I was told; Krahn militiamen attacked Putuken, which is arguably a 40-minute foot distance from Jarkaken. Very brave young men from Jarkaken took up whatever they had as weapons and set out for Putuken. They wanted to confront the militia. They wanted to stop them from entering Jarkaken. Well, something went terribly wrong; the young men from Jarkaken perished in the wicked hands of the Krahns. Their dismembered copses, I was told, were scattered around the town of Putuken. Just a thought: doesn’t it make sense to build a memorial for their selfless and heroic service to our people?
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As if that wasn’t tragic enough, Oldman Wayee Doweh and other old people were set ablaze by hit-and-run Krahn militia fighters. The old folks’ homes were burned while they were in them. Those who had been caring for them reluctantly ran away to safety and left them at the mercy of God. Other villagers, including Peter Dohl Gbeye’s wife Ebor, were killed while on their way to Jarkaken to seek personal safety and security. Some died in their self-made hideouts.
I was told that the only “good war” (less-violent war, I guess) was the Model war. Only armed “young Pallipo men” took advantage of this war and looted food and properties from Jarkaken and its surrounding areas. In an attempt to hide their most cherished belongings, many Jarkaken people buried their luxuries but lost them when they tried to retrieve them.
The town lost only few homes to the violence; they had since rebuilt them. The town is pretty much intact; it was just too grassy. In Boqutoken, a quarter, banana was everywhere. There were large trees too. The ever-present local plant they call “tencoco” was everywhere, too. But here is good news: the town is a lot bigger now than the one I left in 1992. Three new communities are added. I don’t know whether or not the names below are formal, but they were the names I heard during my visit to the town (December, 2005):
“Wilsontogbedlo”— [the top of Wilson’s hill]—this settlement is on the foothill called Wowaytogbedlo. It is behind Mr. Joe Sayee’s house. Houses built here continue until they merged with those near Portohnorgbae Creek. So, Mr. Joe Weah and Oldman Tila-Gbebge’s places are now in the middle of the town.
“Winnville”—it is the newest of the communities. It is located 100 meters (+ or -) behind Chianorgbae Creek. It is near the pond known locally as Magminina [hold nose when drinking]. Well, the people of Jarkaken, as their token of appreciation, gave this area to Mr. Josiah S. Winn, Sr. for his many years of public service in the town. Mr. Winn voluntarily gave up his job as the Township Commissioner to spend time with his families. [Mr. Fulton Pah was appointed to replace Mr. Winn].
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“New Jarka”— this community is located about 120 meters (+ or -) from the big Kola Tree, when accessing the town from Bell Timber Company (BTC) yard. Jeffery Saylee, a Geeken man, first built here while he served as personnel manager for Prime Timber Products (PTP).
There are several homes here now.
Actually, I wasn’t “all-smiles” when I saw the Jarkaken Market Building as well as other individual homes on the old school ground. I still believe that that place – from the street to the current two-unit school buildings—belongs to KJHS. Let’s keep it that way. I visited the campuses of Brown Nyemah Quayee Elementary [A.G.] and her sister Kaytoken Junior High School. I was well received by the kids, especially at Kaytoken where nearly thousand kids where screaming—laugh out loud. I even had a meeting with Principal Alfred Williams and his staff [Quayee Weah and Girl Young]. They had the following message for the Jarkaken community in the United States:
1. There are nearly 300 students at A.G.
2. They need chainsaw (power saw) to make construction plank
3. They need seats for their students
4. They need seven bundles of zinc (sheet medal) for their school
5. They need books, including references, dictionaries, chalk, blackboard and cement
6. They need a copier and type writers
Only days after arriving in the States, I learned that Principal Williams had died in Jarkaken. He will be missed.
At Kaytoken, the students and teachers had an hour-long welcome program for me. They also used the program and expressed their concerns to the Jarkaken Community in the United States through me. The teachers gave me a letter, two neatly penned sheets, for the Jarkaken association in USA. Those sheets summarized the school’s problems.
Mr. D. K. Nyanfore, a staff member and one of the veteran teachers at KJHS said (paraphrased):
1. Kaytoken has a two-unit campus, with six classrooms
2. 1,100 students at KJHS
3. School is second most populated in all of River Gee County, Liberia
4. Teachers’ salary $800 LD and have not been paid for nearly six months; [Hint: $20.00 US=$1000 LD]
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5. Needs sports gear for boys and girls teams
6. The school needs another six classroom building, a library and an auditorium
7. Because of the large student population at the school, classes are subdivided (e.g. 3rd Grade would have 3rd A and 3rd B etc)
8. Many classes are held outside
9. Welcome program was held outside, many kids sat on the floor because of the lack of seat or benches at the school
10. A makeshift building built for KG has no seats; floor is a pile of dust.
11. Kids go to school cleaned but return home dusty
12. The microorganisms typically found in Liberian dust (locally known as D-so) are affecting some kids
13. Improvised seats at Kaytoken (and AG): two cement blocks placed 4 or 5 feet apart, a flat wood placed on them—a seat is ready for use (saddened, I must say)
14. No type writers; the school needs 2 or 3 type writers
15. Need copier (memo graphing machine); they have no choice but to make copies currently in Zwedru, which is a $500LD driving distance away.
16. Student make-up: about 60% of the kids attending the KJHS come from the greater Kaytoken area (i.e., Geeken + Jarkaken); the rest of the kids come from Killepo, Pallipo, and other places around Jarkaken.
17. The school needs educational material to facilitate teaching
18. Some of the teachers, like Bolton Yarl and his brother Sam Yarl, are off the government payroll. They elect to teach anyway.
I talked to many people in the town, including the young, elders, women and children. Water, clinic and school were the issues they cried out for every time.
Addressing a message to the community in the states, Oldman Saykpa Tinyan said, “We want you people to build our school, clinic, and water system.”
These points stood out among the messages I got for the Jarkaken Community in the states:
1. Build your own homes here in Jarkaken
2. Visit home more often
3. Send highly motivated high school graduates to college so they can return and elevate KJHS to high school and/or work at the Jarkaken Clinic
4. Only two of the foot pumps (“Kpache’a”) work.
5. All of the hand pumps (“ sa’aw”) do not work
6. The reservoir is riddled with bullet holes; the solar panel system and the motor which once helped to channel water to the reservoir were stolen by the rebels
7. All the pipes underground are untouched, assumed to be fully functional
8. The cement platforms at all water collection stations are still intact and very serviceable as well
The people also told me that they were instructed by Mr. David K. Chulu to make dirt bricks so that U-S based Jarkaken community could build KJHS. They made over 11, 000 bricks, but they did not get any further guidance until the material/ stuff were damaged. They were infuriated over this so-call “wasted effort.”
My recommendation and personal opinion
To those who don’t know me, I am Wilfred Komoh Winn. I am also named Chulu, but I choose to leave it out most of the time. I am 33. I was born in Pueken, a few-hut settlement in Jarkaken’s Dior’mo region. I am a Boquior man. Now you know.
I really think, like many of you do, that we should (or need to) help our people. Let’s give them the “common areas”—school, water, or clinic that they need from us. Some are hinting that I probably want a leadership position in this association. That is less of a concern for me. What I want is at the end of the day we have a school that can fully accommodate the kids and teachers of Jarkaken. I am concerned more about having a fully functional clinic and a safe drinking water in the town. With that said, there is no law that says we must take our hard-earned money and help others; however, I think those of us who had suffered back in Africa before coming here should feel morally obligated to those that are still suffering back there. They are not as fortunate as we are to have the luxuries of safe drinking water, good schools and sound healthcare system; therefore, they need our help.
The beauty of this, our people are not asking for party funds; they are not asking for personal gear, such as jeans or shirts. They simply need our help to fix or build their common areas, the ones we take advantage of in this foreign land. They want to educate their children so that someday they too will have or create the opportunities for their loved ones. So, when their kids are educated, they too can turn around and educate our children’s children. In short, so the educational tradition is sustained in that town. They want safe drinking water. I had to take “mineral water” from Monrovia before traveling to the rural area. We can eliminate such a need by simply fixing the water system, which the factional wars destroyed. There are waterborne diseases in the town and its environs. I want us to help them in this area, so they will not have to worry about illnesses when they take a sip of water—just as we don’t have to worry here in the States whenever we drink water.
I saw the Main Clinic. There is no need to describe it because there had been no improvement to it over the years. The Jarkaken women in Monrovia told me they will build a clinic after their guesthouse is completed. That is a welcome effort on their part. I am not putting them down, but what they are doing is essentially providing temporary solutions to our peoples’ problems by building stick houses and coating them with cement. Let’s give them many thanks. That is the limit of their capability. However, I believe we have far more capabilities; thus, we can provide permanent solutions to our peoples’ problems. I want us to put up permanent structures in Jarkaken. It is too easy for us to do; it is within our capabilities. We can do it if we put our hearts and minds to it.
Let me tell you what I really do not believe. I don’t believe that we will ever achieve maximum participation in this organization, JSDA/USA; meaning, we will always find it hard to do anything meaningful in the name of this association if we wait until maximum participation is obtained. With that said, I want us—those of us that believe we have the town at heart—to get together and build the town’s school. I want us to fix the water system; I want us to build the clinic.