“Standing here beneath the sunny expanse of Africa's skies, we most heartily salute you, Mr. President, Mrs. Carter, Amy, and members of your suite, and with intense warmth, embracingly welcome you…”
President William S. Tolbert's warm greeting on April 3rd, 1978, marked a momentous occasion—the first time an American president ever paid an official state visit to Liberia.
“It’s long overdue,” stated President Jimmy Carter in his speech to the Liberian public. “The bonds between our two countries are too strong for such a long period ever to elapse again.”
President Carter complimented President Tolbert on Liberia’s long-term preservation of independence and noted the country’s “senior status” among other African nations. Carter spoke of “a friendship that is very old,” which referenced the joint venture when the American Colonization Society encouraged American Blacks to “return to Africa.”
After Liberia’s independence in 1847, the United States began to drift away from its “stepchild,”—a term used to describe America's somewhat benumbed relationship with Liberia.
Stepchild or not, every Liberian living between the 35-mile route from Robertsfield Airport and the city of Monrovia planned to take up posts along the highway—to get a glimpse of the President of the GREAT United States of America. The day before, volunteers hung tens of thousands of palm branches at ten-foot intervals along the route to welcome him, though he and his entourage would only be staying four hours.
School-aged kids were especially thrilled to learn that President Carter's daughter, Amy, would accompany him on his visit.
And Bertie and I couldn’t wait to meet her.
Meeting Amy meant we hoped she'd acknowledge our existence with a simple wave after we stood in the blazing sun for hours and hours, awaiting the presidential motorcade.
April 3rd was declared a national holiday, and our entire school, all 300 of us, stretched side-by-side along the highway outside the Carver Mission compound entrance. The sun burned hot across our faces, arms, and legs while we waited. A sea of blue and white uniforms swayed back and forth while we practiced our waves for the moment we heard the sound of the government vehicles approaching. I imagined we looked like ground swells creaking the shoreline at ELWA Beach. The waves thundered merely five hundred yards away.
Days before, Bertie and I bantered back and forth about who Amy Carter looked like.
“I heard she has red hair,” Bertie said.
“Blond with blue eyes,” I said, “and she wears her hair just like I used to wear mine when I was her age. Long with short bangs.”
Rosy once told me I looked like the President’s daughter, and I wanted Bertie to acknowledge it.
“You aren’t anything like her,” Bertie said, “she’s the daughter of the President of the United States. You’re just a so-so Liberian.”
"I'm not Liberian. I'm American."
"All of a sudden, you’re American now?"
I roared back and bolted from the room. “At least I’m closer to her age than you are."
I hoped Amy would notice our resemblance when the motorcade came through. After all, we could be twins. Maybe she’d tell the driver to stop so she could shake my hand. Then I’d be famous.
When the sleek black limousine raced past Carver that day, I threw all my arm strength into a thrashing motion, waving it fast and hard. I squinted. My eyes darted from one vehicle to the next while I scanned the car windows, searching for Amy's face.
Everyone shouted, “Where’s Amy? Where’s Amy?”
But no one spotted her, not even me.
Our chance to meet the President’s daughter zipped past like a fast-moving train.
Why hadn't Amy looked out the car window to see our cheers? Given all the fanfare in her honor, her nose should have been pressed against it.
Perhaps the eleven-year-old slept in her mother’s lap. That would explain why she didn't acknowledge anyone when we jumped up and down, calling out her name.
After the convoy of government cars passed, Bertie and I walked home. I kicked the dirt. My hopes dashed to the ground. Bertie tried to comfort me. "Never mind, Georgie. Just because she’s the President’s daughter doesn’t mean she’s better than us. And you’re fine past her."
That’s all I needed to hear from Bertie.
I was “fine” past Amy Carter.
At thirteen, that’s all I wanted anyway. To be “fine.” Even if I couldn’t be brown, I wanted to be prettier than any other girl and especially prettier than the President’s daughter.
Thanks for reading a draft excerpt from my WIP. See more excerpts HERE