14 items found for ""
- "Where's Amy?"
“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
- Where Are All the Black People?
...Rosy and Becky's arrival in Bucklin, Kansas, created quite a stir. Heads turned, windows rolled down, and cars inched along to catch a glimpse of them, for few people in the town’s population of 900 had ever seen a Black person before. My sisters became something of a novelty and held celebrity-like status for the few months we lived there. By the end of the summer, the four of us learned to swim in some form or fashion, though neither Rosy, Bertie, nor I ever gained the confidence of Becky. She thrived in the water and even learned to dive off the high board. Rosy struggled to maintain a steady rhythm with her feet, her polio leg dragged behind the other, though she hoped no one noticed. When we weren’t at the pool, we played indoors. Temperatures in Bucklin got into the 100s on most days. Mommy’s mom, Grandma Scott, lived alone in a small one-story house in the middle of town. We spent that summer and part of the fall crowded inside. One afternoon, after unpacking our suitcases at Grandma’s, Bertie and I sat in the kitchen on red metal stools and sipped root beer. Grandma tied her apron and stirred potatoes on the burner. She turned around, bent over, and pulled on a large section of the linoleum flooring. “I’ll be right back.” A trap door opened in the middle of the kitchen, and Grandma disappeared below. Bertie jumped off her stool, poked her head beneath the floorboard, and yelled, “Grandma, Why’s there a hole in your kitchen floor?” I jumped off my stool to see the gaping hole in the floor that had swallowed our grandmother. Bertie and I scrambled after her, tripping over each other down the dark opening while we raced to the bottom of the steps. Grandma yanked on a string hung in midair, and a light bulb flickered. We walked into a small, damp room. “Grandma, what’s in here?” “You girls act like you’ve never seen a cellar before.” “We haven’t,” Bertie said, what’s a cellar for?” “For tornados. Everyone in Kansas has an underground cellar. When a loud noise, like a train, starts whistling in the wind, people run to their cellars for protection. Just in case the house implodes.” My sisters and I had not considered tornados when we dreamed about what life would be like in America. We worried people wouldn’t be accepting of our mixed-raced family and the possibility of getting shot. The thought of being caught up in a whirlwind like Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz terrified me even more. I pointed at a glass jar that rested on one of the shelves. “Grandma, why do you have jars filled with food in here?” “I wouldn't touch that if I were you. It would be best if you girls went back upstairs. I need to find the corn I put up a couple of years ago. I'll be right behind you soon enough.” Bertie and I climbed out of the abyss, slurped down the rest of our drinks, and waited. Grandma emerged from the cellar, arms full of canned corn. Two tucked under her arms and two in each hand. “Bertie, come help me with these jars.” Bertie pinched my ear, stuck her tongue out at me, and hurried across the room. She took the two jars from Grandma’s hands and placed them on the counter. “Grandma, where are all the Black people? “What?” “Black people. We haven’t seen any in town since we got here.” “We don’t have any Blacks in this town.” “Why not?” Grandma opened the cans and dumped the corn in a pot. “You girls are full of questions, aren’t you?” She walked over to the opening between the kitchen and the living room. “Doris, come get your girls. They’ve got more questions than I can answer right now.” Thanks for reading a draft excerpt from my WIP. See more excerpts HERE
- "Our Daddy Nah Come."
The three-and-a-half miles from Belefuani to Warta seemed more like a path where elephants trampled than an actual road. Our bus crept along wearily for over an hour. I imagined seeing leopards described from Daddy's stories bouncing on their tails and berry-stained juju rags hanging from vines overhead. But the only threat we faced was a flat tire from dipping in holes the size of an oversized cheese grater. When we pulled up to the mission compound, two men stood on either side of the entrance, their strong arms swinging wide and fast, creating a gust of wind with every flap of their thick palm branches. "Welcome. Welcome. Welcome to Warta!" Palm fronds waving over the bus gave me a sense we were being ushered into a holy city, though riding in on a donkey may have been more fitting than our oversized and dust-covered VW Combi. When we stepped off the bus, a crowd gathered, all vying for a place in front of Daddy's camera, excited and eager to be seen. Daddy beamed as he staged a group in front of hibiscus plants, his expression like a man who just returned home. Once the camera stopped clicking, the children separated from the adults and rallied around Bertie and me like kids at a carnival. Two girls grabbed my hair and snuggled their noses against my split ends while another held Bertie in a face lock, caressing her cheeks like a pet kitten. "How you get White?" Rosy and Becky smirked from the sidelines, unharmed by the disorderly groping. In a way, Warta differed from all the towns we had seen on our journey that day. Glowing faces expressed a sense of hope and peace not present elsewhere. And the children wore clothes, though some were mere remnants of fabric. I recognized a few pieces—garments I remembered mysteriously disappearing from my closet. A pink pleated skirt Grandma Hungerpiller sent me for Christmas one year, a floral nightie Mommy had sewn for my fifth birthday, and a pair of shiny red shoes I once picked out of a missionary barrel. Harris and Joanna Wiah visited us in the city on occasion, and in exchange for a taxi trunk load of fruit, Mommy gave them our outgrown clothes, school supplies, and sometimes our baby dolls. Mommy found shelter back on the bus and waited for the excitement to settle. Daddy, on the other hand, seemed to relish the attention. He invited the boys to test his strength, and I watched as they grabbed onto his arms, their legs dangled in mid-air. He flexed his muscles and let out an exuberant laugh. "Our Daddy nah come," one of them said. Another repeated, "Yes, our Daddy nah come, oh." Within a few seconds, the whole gang broke into song, "Our Daddy nah come, oh… my people, oh… I tell you… our Daddy nah come," as if Santa had showed up. Their squeals were more than I could bear. Why were they saying and singing that their Daddy had come? This was our Daddy. Bertie and I were happy to share him with Rosy and Becky, but not with this band of songbirds wearing my old clothes. A hammer slammed through my consciousness, and the truth I already knew in my heart pounded my ears. Our Daddy wasn't solely ours. Daddy's capacity to love and care for the "least of these" became his legacy years before Bertie and I ever existed. We had arrived too late to have him all to ourselves. It would be decades before I understood the felt meaning of "For God so loved the world, that he gave…" But on the day we arrived in Warta, Daddy demonstrated to me a God-like love for those around him. He loved and gave with unmatched humility. I knew Daddy would give up his life for any of his daughters, but I would also need to accept he would do the same for these unknowns in the Bush... See more excerpts of my WIP HERE
- Brown Girl in the Ring
Gone were the days of marching through the sweltering heat or heavy downpours to catch a taxi or win sympathy from some kind soul offering us a lift. Our 1970's white exterior VW Combi was now providing dependable transportation for our growing family. The interior wooden benches and cushions were custom-made in dark browns and quickly transformed into a sleeper camper. The two rows of the behemoth back seats could double stack children, so on Sundays, Daddy loaded the bus with kids from the Bassa community next door. When we arrived at Calvary Baptist Church on Tubman Boulevard for weekly church services, more than eighteen of us spilled out of the open side door. One Sunday morning, in the cramped bus, my temper was still high from a wrangle I had with a girl who attended our church. I dreaded facing her in Sunday School—I could feel the sweat trickling down my spine, and my head pounded. The Friday before, on my birthday, Mommy let me invite a few girls over for a sleepover. We talked, laughed, ate cake, and played 'Brown Girl in the Ring,'—an outdoor singing-dance game. With each "Tra la la la la," one of the girls, Grace Yhap, strutted in and out of the circle in playful poses, flinging her sleek dark ponytail from shoulder to shoulder. I had been disgusted with the sight of her from the moment she arrived at the party. She bragged about her looks, and my voice rose to a piercing shriek as I spat out venomous words in response. She cringed, her face stricken with shock and humiliation, but I did not relent. By Saturday morning, she went home with red, swollen eyes. Grace Yhap had a Liberian mother and a Lebanese father. Her mother had recently passed away. The year had been difficult for her and her sibling while their dad tried to keep their spirits high. But none of this concerned me. I envied her—for her beauty, more specifically, for the color of her skin. At eight years old, I became increasingly aware of the contrast between my skin tone and everyone surrounding me. I looked at my sisters, Rosy and Becky, with their cocoa-colored completions. They were Liberian, through and through. Bertie and I talked about what it would be like to be Black. Though being White afforded us many privileges, we didn’t like being different. Then I met Grace. Her complexion, light honey with bronze and caramel hues, reminded me of butterscotch candy. Her chestnut eyes sparkled like amber, making my blue irises seem pale in comparison. I decided at that moment she had just the right amount of coloring. If I couldn’t be Black, then maybe I could be Brown. Grace Yhap's kind-of-Brown. The image of Grace’s beauty burned like fire in my mind, though I knew deep down, I was stuck with my Ivory-ness. While we jolted up and down through the pothole-filled streets, my hands clenched into fists on my lap. My cheeks burned. My new brother, Moses, sat beside me with his eyes focused on the open Bible in his lap. He gave me a knowing glance every time I mentioned Grace's name. "Why you vexed with this girl, Grace?" He asked. I raised my index finger and spoke in my Liberian twang, "She tink she fine past me." "But you yourself fine, Georgie. Ain't you got long hair too? Why you vexed with her?" "Mmmm. Her big mouth won't shut up about her fine self. She Yaps. Yaps. Yaps.—just like her last name." Moses flipped through the thin pages he held and read aloud the words he thought were meant for me. Even after all these years, I remember the verse. "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord. I will repay." He lifted his head and continued. "Whatever she did to you, don't worry about it. Leave it with God." I locked my teeth in place, seething with fury and shame. On the one hand, I wished God would peel off Grace's brown skin so she'd be snowy like me, while the other side of me grew sick with regret. The jealous rage festered like a hardened coconut rolling around in my stomach. But I also ached from the guilt swelling within. This sinful nature—the one Daddy said we were all born with had revealed itself in the ugliest possible way. This was the first time I recognized my dark side and felt remorseful in my eight years of living. Its grip on me seemed so strong. Part of me wanted to accept its shackles, while another part wanted desperately to escape them and be free. See more excerpts of my WIP HERE
- White People Smell like Wet chicken.
John Toga was our first "houseboy." The title "houseboy" was most likely termed by the first Americo-Liberians who settled in Liberia in the 1800s. However, almost everyone regardless of their economic status, who hired domestic help used the term—even outsiders like us. People occasionally employed "housegirls," but young men were the favored choice for house help. John's duties varied: cutting grass with a handheld cutlass, burning brush, cleaning windows, collecting trash, and washing large volumes of oranges, limes, and pineapples that Daddy's friend, Harry Wiah, often brought us from upcountry. On Saturdays, He scrubbed the porches, trimmed hedges, and scaled fish if Daddy had caught any the night before. Sometimes, he helped with unpleasant tasks, like slaughtering chickens. My sister, Rosy, reached across my face and put her hand over my eyes. "Turn your head, Georgie." Her warning only heightened my curiosity. I pushed her arm away, planted my bare feet firmly in the sand, and fixed my eyes on the rooster. "I want to see." Daddy said it was time to butcher the old bird, and if I wanted to, I could watch. And I wanted to. John clenched his hands around the chicken's midsection. It squealed, clucked, and fought to free itself from his grip. Daddy tied one end of a thin rope around its feet. Then, he pulled the other end, tied it to the rafters of the open shed, and hung the poor creature upside down by its feet. The squawking turned into a high-pitched screech like an alarm clock that wouldn't stop ringing. John handed Daddy the knife and firmed his grip on the chicken's body. With his left hand, Daddy wrapped his fingers around the neck of the chicken and clinched the wooden handle of the blade in his right. "Everyone, stand back." My chest pounded. I stared at the rooster and tried not to blink. When Daddy's hand drew back to strike, John let go, and the bird's head fell clean off on the first try. The rooster's body twitched and convulsed, splattering blood in every direction. Daddy dropped the head onto the ground and hopped backward. I felt the sting of tiny wet drops on my skin and turned my head to prevent my face from being completely showered by the flailing bird. I heard a scream come from the house and turned to look. Bertie stared into the yard from our bedroom window. She had run inside earlier to avoid the assassination but had resorted to peeking through the window instead. Her sensitivity baffled me at times. I didn't understand what the big deal was. It's just a chicken, I thought. John started a fire and heated water in a pot under the sheltered building. Rosy and I squatted beside him while he soaked the bird repeatedly in the scalding water until the feathers loosened. I shielded my nose with my hand to mask the pungent odor while he and Rosy plucked the plumes from the rooster's flesh. John glanced at me, and a mischievous grin plastered his face. "White people smell like wet chicken." I had heard the peculiar statement before but didn't understand what it meant. Rosy laughed. "Don't mind, John, Georgie. You don't smell bad. But your hair does smell funny when it's wet." "Funny, like how?" John's grin turned into a chuckle. "Raw chicken. White people's hair smells like a wet raw chicken." After Bertie and I had bathed that evening, I grabbed a handful of her damp hair and held it close to my nose. "You smell like wet chicken." "No, I don't," she protested. "Yes, you do," I insisted. I couldn't bear the thought of being the only one wandering around the yard smelling like a freshly butchered chicken, for other than Mommy and Daddy, there wasn't another fair-skinned soul within a ten-mile radius that shared my predicament. ~ a draft excerpt from my WIP memoir Find more excerpts here
- Dr. Justin Obi's Hanging - Part II
The murders in November of 1969 of the American-born Bishop, Rev. Dillard Brown, and his district secretary, a Syrian, infuriated the Liberian people. Riots erupted in the streets. Angry citizens voiced their frustration over the humiliation brought on the nation by a Nigerian professor. Dr. Justin Obi, a chemistry teacher formerly employed by the Episcopal Church, drove to the Chase Manhattan Plaza in Monrovia and gunned down Rev. Brown and his associate, injuring two others in the attack. In the 1960s, Dr. Obi taught at a college operated by the Episcopal Church but was terminated at some point during his tenure. He left the country and resided in the United States for an undetermined period until he reentered the country to take revenge on the Bishop. President Tubman, who was in office then, ordered his arrest. A country whose citizens held Westerns in high regard felt the killing of the foreigners tarnished their reputation. Market women banished Nigerian vendors from their marketplaces and refused to purchase their wares. At Obi's trial in March of 1970, he attempted to use insanity as his defense, but the jury rejected his plea and found him guilty on all charges. The professor sat in prison for over a year with no pending warrant. President Tubman had allegedly declined to pass the sentence because of a scandalous rumor. The talk on the streets revealed Dr. Obi's motivation: he and the Bishop were engaged in "woman palaver" over a British woman who also worked for the Episcopalian denomination. When Tubman died in July 1971, President Tolbert wasted no time announcing Dr. Obi's sentence. The hanging would be the first in over twenty-five years. He rejected appeals for Obi's pardon from the Nigerian ambassador in Liberia and prominent members of the international community. The death penalty laid the foundation for Tolbert's ambitious plan to change the nation. Tolbert's sentencing weighed heavy on Daddy, and when the execution date drew near, his usual upbeat demeanor turned depressive. He shared the Gospel with Dr. Obi and other inmates every time he visited. They grew close, and due to their extended Bible study and prayer sessions, Dr. Obi made a profession of faith. I recall the day when Daddy left the house to attend Obi's hanging. Women and children were not allowed to enter the premises, at least, that was our understanding. But on Sunday, when "The Liberia Star" newspaper came out, we got a front-row impression of the guillotined affair. Daddy called us into the dining room and spread the paper on the table. A dime-sized image of the professor with a noose around his neck and a white fitted sheet over his head appeared in the picture's backdrop. In the foreground, a crowd of dark-skinned individuals faced the gallows, filling the entire front page. Smack in the middle of the masses was the round-shaped impression of a White balding head, which shone brighter than the rest on the black and white print. It was Daddy's. Daddy touched the spot on the page with his shortened forefinger where his head appeared. The finger on his right hand with the tip cut off from being smashed in a screen door when he was a child. A wet spot appeared on the newsprint, but when I looked up, there were no visible tears. What showed on Daddy's face was confidence. If I could have only read his mind. Later that day, while playing in the sand, our yard man, John, told us his theory of why President Tolbert had hastily signed the death penalty. “They all inside,” “Who inside what?” Bertie asked. “The government people. They use juju for power and protection. President Tolbert’s men wanted to use Obi’s body parts for ‘country medicine’ to keep the evil spirits away from the Honorable—the President himself. “Dat what de say now.” I wonder what had gone through Daddy’s mind back then. If he believed the rumors, he certainly did not let on. His friend, once a convicted murderer, now a brother in Christ, killed for the devil’s medicine? No one could verify the gossip, but then again, Dr. Obi's body was never released to relatives for a proper burial, so I presume only those now dead and gone know the real truth. Until President Tolbert’s demise in 1980, death by hanging became standard practice for convicted murderers in Liberia. Ritualistic killings also increased. That’s why we were always on the lookout for Heartmen. ~ a draft excerpt from my WIP memoir Click HERE for Part I of Dr. Justin Obi's Hanging Find more excerpts here
- Dr. Justin Obi's Hanging - Part I
Every night, Bertie and I knelt over Mommy's hand-made couch in our living room and recited the same prayers. With the precision of a memorized roll call, we ticked off names: Distant family members, supporters in America, local mission partners and neighbors, and a list of people who didn't know Jesus. Nightly prayers and morning devotions were fundamental to our daily routine. Daddy wanted to cultivate spiritual discipline in his daughters. Before we knelt, Daddy opened his King James and read a few verses from Lamentations. "Through the Lord's mercies, we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness." After a short devotion, he announced the order in which we would pray, knowing that Bertie and I would doze off and end up curled on the floor before everyone finished. "Georgie, you go first, then Bertie, Becky, and then Rosy. Doris, you pray after the girls and I'll finish up. And don't forget to pray for Dr. Obi." Daddy met Dr. Obi, a Nigerian inmate, at Monrovia Central Prison, on one of his visits there, so we knew about his troubles. He needed saving on more fronts than one. I began. "Dear Heavenly Father, I pray for Uncle Bill, Aunt Louise, Cousin Deborah… Uncle John, Aunt Elizabeth, Cousin Esther... Uncle Jim and Aunt Barb, Billy Boy, and Louise… I pray for the Harpers, the McNeils, the Griffins… Aunt Grace, Aunt Shirley, Aunt Nancy... The Cantys, Miss McCleary, Miss Herron, Miss Stephens, and Miss McCombs…" My voice lowered, and my head nodded. Becky jabbed me in the ribs with her elbow. I gasped like a fish caught on a hook, then continued. "I pray for Faith, Grace, and their husbands, Paul and the other Paul. Benjamin, Saturday, and Annie." I took a breath. “And keep the whole world safe." Again, I nodded. This time, I woke from my stupor to Becky's pitched directive, "And Dr. Obi." I didn't understand why Daddy wanted to help him. Dr. Obi murdered two people. I wasn't sure how we were supposed to petition for him, so I said it just as I imagined it should be stated. "I pray for the bad man in prison, NOT TO BE HUNG." "In Jesus' name—Amen." Daddy and Mommy didn't shield us from the reality of suffering. After all, we lived in Africa with little escape from hardships. The hungry children, the half-naked women, the funerals, and the fact that a man's neck might end up in a noose became routine. I don't recall being afraid of much except the Heartmen who roamed about at night. Our security came from Daddy's faith, and we trusted him. He reminded us often, by reciting scripture, why we were in Africa. "To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, and to set free those who were oppressed." He'd stretch out his right hand to demonstrate a point. "The Lord holds us up with his right hand. Not His left hand, mind you, but His right, His righteous right hand." We believed Daddy and found comfort in knowing God protected us by holding us in his grip. I lifted my head, studied Daddy's large hand, and tried to imagine how much grander God's would have to be to fit all of us in His palm. As large as the universe itself, I supposed. Daddy made weekly visits to Monrovia Central, a sprawling compound on Center Street close to the ocean and less than ten miles from our house in Sinkor. Dr. Justin Obi, a prisoner there, had recently been condemned to hanging by the newly appointed President. If Dr. Obi were to be hung, Daddy didn't want him going to hell, so leading him to the Lord was his top priority. But he also prayed for his pardon and made sure his girls did too. One Saturday, Bertie and I startled Daddy while he raided the pantry. "Shhh. Come help me, but don't tell Mommy." We knew what he was up to. A few supplies were already sitting on the counter: chloroquine pills, bandaids, rubbing alcohol, bars of soap, and a stack of miniature Bibles. He was gathering items to take to the prisoners. Mommy was visiting our piano teacher, Mrs. Reeves, down the road, and we knew she'd be back soon. A thrill surged through my veins. Daddy wanted us to be his eyes and ears. His spies. I. Was. Elated. He pulled out tea bags, a box of sugar cubes, and a few cans of sardines from the pantry. "Mommy counts the cans," Bertie said. "She's gonna know." "Shhh" Daddy handed me a plastic bread bag and told me to open it. Then with an empty tin can, he reached deep into the oversized croker sack on the floor and filled it with rice. Over and over, he poured cups into the bag until it filled within inches of the top. He tied the loose end in a knot and set it on the counter with the other loot. We loved smuggling food out of the house with Daddy. Sometimes we sneaked food too, usually just bread though, when our friends said they were hungry. We knew how the knawing in their bellies felt. Two meals a day was all we got during the years we lived in Sinkor. Food was scarce, so Daddy decided it wouldn't hurt us to follow the same eating schedule as the Liberians—a small breakfast before school, even if nothing but tea and bread, and then one other meal in the afternoon, which consisted of rice and a stew made from local crops. On Sundays or if ex-pats visited, Mommy made an American meal. On weekdays we used only two pots—one for rice and one for soup. Mommy rationed the rice to one cup per person. That's a lot of rice when cooked, and since there were six of us then, she cooked six cups daily for our afternoon meal. We ate until our tummies poked out like balloons. After scarfing down a full cup of cooked rice in one sitting, I felt like a six-year-old camel. The rice stayed put and kept me satisfied until the next morning. Daddy and Mommy fought a lot over him giving away our supplies and how ministry took precedence over her concerns. Their voices elevated, and the shouts made us cringe. We'd run out of the room, find the closest exit to the outdoors, and leave them inside with their hollering. Sometimes Mommy's griping got so bad that Daddy would say things he didn't mean. "Doris, I'd rather live on the rooftop than hear more of your nagging." And then she'd raise her voice a little bit louder. The fight wouldn't end until Daddy gave up and Mommy got in the last word. But who could blame her? The responsibility she must have felt, having to feed six or eight or however many showed up for a meal, on a budget tight enough to squeeze guava juice from a potato—while Daddy snuck behind her back, giving away our rice and sardines. ~ a draft excerpt from my WIP memoir Click HERE for Part II of Dr. Justin Obi's Hanging Find more excerpts here
- Our Ready Made Backyard Friend
We went to bed without eating the first night we moved into our grand green home. The only food in the house was a twenty-five-pound bag of rice on the kitchen floor and a live chicken someone had brought as a housewarming gift. Mommy planned to make a meal of rice and sardines using an electric skillet she pulled out of her suitcase, but as soon as she plugged the cord into the kitchen socket, the electricity went out. We went to bed hungry. My stomach pinched, and I couldn’t sleep. Bertie and I lay in bed tossing and turning for what seemed like hours until—the smell of food wafted through our bedroom window and made our tummies rumble. We got out of bed and peeked through the shady screen. I gasped. There in our backyard, three dark figures hovered over an open fire. A lantern hung above the flames, and steam rose from a pot. The tantalizing smell of smoky meat created a mouth-watering fragrance infused with hints of burning fat and spices. The aroma drifted through the air and beckoned us. But we were afraid. I looked at Bertie. “Who’s in our backyard? I’m scared. What if it’s Heartmen.” Rosy and Becky warned us about the Heartmen. “Don't go outside after dark. You never know when Heartmen are out. He doesn’t play favors and will take out the heart of anyone he finds roaming in the dark,” they said. Bertie and I ran into Rosy and Becky’s room and jumped in bed with them. “People are cooking in the backyard. We’re scared,” I said. Becky lifted her head. “Those people live there. Go back to bed.” Bertie and I studied the scene outside the open window the following morning. A man, a woman, and a small child sat under the front lean-to of the shed as if they never moved all night. Bertie squeezed. “Look, a little girl. Let’s go play with her.” We ran past moving boxes and scattered furniture and started out the front door when Mommy stopped us. “Where are you going?” “We’re going to see the girl who lives in the yard.” Mommy couldn’t keep us from our mission. Before she could say anything more, we ran out the door, down the long steps, around the carport, and to the back of the house. The man stood from his seat and greeted us. “Moin." We didn’t answer, so he tried again, this time, in English. “Mornin.” I said, "Mornin," and then looked over at the little girl. She said, “Moin,” and pointed to herself. “Matta.” Bertie quickly deduced that Moin meant "good morning" or "hello," so she answered "Moin," and poked her chest with her thumb. “Bertie.” I followed suit. “Moin—Georgie.” Matta kicked her feet in the air, clapped her hands, and grabbed ours. She spoke to us in Bassa, and although we didn't fully understand, we tried to guess what she said and responded in English. “Let’s play Knock-foot.” “Knock-foot? What’s that?” Matta shuffled about like a dancing orangutan. I thought she looked ridiculous, but soon Bertie started imitating her. Together they knocked their feet outward, clapped their hands, and laughed hysterically. I didn’t want to be left out, so I joined the fun. We couldn't believe our luck. Our first Liberian friend came ready-made, conveniently available night or day in our own backyard. It didn't matter that she spoke Bassa, and we spoke English. The innocence of our bond and the thrill of having a buddy superseded our language barrier. We played Knock-Foot and Kol— another hand-and-foot game—with Matta for a solid week. Both games required too much coordination for us to master, but we romped around the yard every day until dark. Sometimes we walked the fence, made castles in the sand, and ate peanuts together that Matta’s mom roasted in their outdoor kitchen. But our friendship didn’t last. Our landlord had hired Matta’s dad to keep strangers off the property when the house was vacant, but now that we lived there, his services were no longer needed. Daddy told us he hadn't bargained for an extra family living within our premises, and besides, we needed the extra space to store our goods once the Port Authorities released them. So Matta's family got evicted from our yard. Our hearts sank on the day they left. Weighted with a knapsack full of her belongings, Matta drudged behind her parents through our iron gate, never to return. Bertie darted after her and caressed her arm while I stood silently from afar. Tears ran down her cheeks. We never saw Matta again, and the pain stuck with me for a long while. My heart ached from her absence, and being denied the joy of friendship once I experienced it, consumed my every thought... ~ a short excerpt from a WIP You might also enjoy these excerpt Swamp Life Africa's Embrace
- Swamp Life
Banana trees grew on the other side of the fence next to a small Bassa community, and a magnificent swamp landscaped our neighborhood. The pepper bird awoke the mornings, and Bertie and I morphed into white fairy princesses who often waded through the swampy waters on the backs of African boys. We raised our eyebrows at the thought of a snack, even though we had no idea what a kissmi was. Benjamin and Saturday walked through our gate one morning and asked if we wanted to go to the swamp with them. They were brothers, the latter named after the day he was born, and looked to be about ten and eleven though they couldn't give us their exact age when we asked. They promised if we went fishing with them for kissmis they would cook them for us. We raised our eyebrows at the thought of a snack, even though we had no idea what a kissmi was. Mommy warned us about the swamp's hazards and forbade us to go in. If our feet touched the mud-caked marshland, we would undoubtedly get a spanking, except Mommy didn't carry through with her threats. On the other hand, Daddy would send us into a bush to cut our own switches if we disobeyed. But that only happened once. Falling out of favor with Daddy was all the motivation we needed to stay in line. But Bertie insisted he had never actually told us not to go into the swamp. "It's Mommy's rule," she said. "Besides, they aren't home. Let's go." I always wanted to obey, but my rebel-born sister had a unique way of dragging me into the perils of her plans. She got in my face, stuck out her tongue, and marched after the boys through the front gate. And so I followed them—out of the yard, down the hill on the narrow path to the murky waters. The air tempted my senses with croaking frogs and buzzing insects. I gazed longingly at the chocolate-colored lake but worried about getting dirty and having to explain it to Mommy. "We should go back," I told Bertie, but she caught me by the arm before I could turn back. The brothers motioned us to climb on their backs. "Don't worry. We won't let you get wet." Benjamin squatted. Bertie climbed on his slender back and wrapped her arms around his neck. He cuffed his hands under her knees, stood up, and waded into the shallow water. An empty tin can hung around his neck by a rope, and it swung back and forth. Saturday placed his hands and knees on the ground and beckoned me. "Georgie, climb up." I hiked up my dress, straddled his back, and he pulled himself to his feet. I squeezed my first and second toes around the thong of my flip-flops to keep them from falling off. Bertie and I held tightly to the boy's shoulders while they walked through the mire. They shuffled, slow and steady, while our legs dangled above the surface of the black water. As we moved deeper into the swamp, the ground grew softer and more unstable, causing the brothers to sink deeper into the muck. I squeezed my first and second toes around the thong of my flip-flops to keep them from falling off. When we got to the midsection of the swamp, the boys deposited us on islands of scorched mud from one dry spot to another while they searched for the tiny snails. Benjamin took the tin cup hung around his neck and handed it to Bertie. He pushed his hands deep into the muddy waters and pulled up a handful of gunk. Bertie held the tin can away from her body, and he stretched as far as he could toward her and plopped his findings into the cup. I squinched my nose to rid my nostrils of the stinky water. "Yuck." The boys laughed and continued to sift through the water for the slimy slugs. I wondered what they would taste like and why they were called Kissmis. We hadn't been gone very long when I heard the echoing of our names come across the top of the water. “Bertie" "Georgie" I saw Rosy standing outside our iron gate at the top of the hill, waving her arms in circles. She and Becky fussed over us like mothers, and Rosy doted on me as if she had birthed me. We would be in trouble if Daddy and Mommy came home and found us in the swamp, and she always tried to protect us. The brothers worked quickly and dug out more soil than snails, filling the cup to the brim. Benjamin took the now-heavy tin can and slung it over his neck. Bertie stepped off the island and onto his back, and I climbed onto Saturdays. I rode across the swamp and tried to keep my toes in the air, for the water had now risen. The boys struggled to pull their knees above the water with every step, dragging our slippers through the slush. One of my flip-flops fell in, and I wasn't going to risk getting any dirtier to retrieve it, so I let it sink. When we reached the shore, I scrambled to my feet and ran up the hill toward the house—my heart drummed in my chest. Rosy met me at the gate, arms flailing and switch in hand. "Georgie, why did you girls go into the swamp? I looked behind me and pointed at Bertie, skirting past Rosy, knowing she couldn't catch me, no matter how hard she tried. Her running was more like skipping. She kept tissue in the toe of her right shoe to keep her foot, which had been affected by polio, from sliding out when she walked. Benjamin washed the snails under the spigot near the kitchen window while Saturday gathered a few sticks and stones and stacked them together. I ran inside and grabbed a box of matches from under the counter. Becky's hands were buried deep in dishwater. She pulled one arm out of the suds, dripped water all over the floor, and pointed her finger at me. "You're supposed to be helping with the dishes." I ignored her reprimand and ran back outside. We needed to get the kissmees cooked and eaten before Daddy and Mommy got home, and we had gone through too much trouble already to be stopped. Saturday got a small fire going, and before long, the water and the snails in the tin can were boiling. At first, we didn't know how to eat the slender snails. "Put the butt end of the Kissmi to your lips and suck out the meat." The boys said. The noise of the slimy snails sliding through our teeth made a hissing sound. Benjamin smiled and shouted, "Kissmi. Kissmi." Bertie and I held our tummies and laughed and laughed. The forbidden marsh brought Bertie and me a world of adventure that day, and many more followed during the years we lived in the green house. ~ a draft excerpt from my WIP memoir You might also enjoy this excerpt, Those Green Corduroy Pants.
- Africa's Embrace
The ship sailed from New York to Casablanca and then southward around the West African coast. Warm winds pushed us closer to the equator, where the air seemed thicker, and the sun burned hotter. Standing on the deck, my hair stuck to my neck, and beads of sweat formed on my nose. We pulled up to the port in Guinea for a scheduled stop. If passengers wanted to tour the sights on shore, we were informed that we could disembark for the afternoon. The gangplank would not be lowered. Instead, we would have to take a rowboat to shore. I felt relieved and excited at the same time. The long metal ramp stretching like a bridge appeared insurmountable when we boarded in New York. My limbs trembled as I walked up the creaky metallic surface. Getting off the ship by way of a rowboat sounded like fun. My four-year-old mind imagined it would be like eating cake, going merrily, gently down a stream—until I looked over the edge of the railing. A long ladder made of rope descended from the towering deck into a smaller vessel below. I glanced at Bertie only to see the same panic on her face. Clinging to the arms that cradled me, we descended the ladder. My fingernails dug into his flesh, and my legs squeezed his midsection with the strength of a python. Bertie started to cry. Then I cried too. I’m not sure why we were separated from Daddy and Mommy—a Liberian couple accompanied us ashore. The rowboat chugged slowly through the waters until we reached the dock. From there, we took a taxi into the town. Bertie and I walked alongside the friendly couple, our feet kicking up dust clouds on a road stretching endlessly ahead. The African soil looked nothing like the white snow I had held three weeks earlier, the day we left New York City. I squatted and patted my hands on the strange, orange soil. A powdery fog clung to me like a friendly ghost, covering the front of my dress, knees, socks, and shoes. The dust turned to mud as I touched my face. I couldn't stop playing in the warm dirt. I reached down again and again and grabbed fistfuls of the crimson clay. Even after all these years, I can still hear the lady's voice when she jerked my arm to pull me off the ground. "Get up. What ting happen to you? Your Ma will get vexed with me, oh." I glanced over at Bertie. She was clean as a whistle. How did she escape the temptation? From the moment I caught a whiff of the chalky dirt, I couldn't help myself. Africa and I had embraced, and I knew we'd get along just fine. Shy and ashamed, I walked in tearful silence until we returned to the vessel. This first image of West Africa lodged in my mind would often repeat itself—me, covered in red clay, and some grown-up fussing about it. Thanks for reading a draft excerpt from my WIP. See more excerpts HERE
- Girls Don't Wear Pants
During a season of transition for Daddy and Mommy, we lived in Atlanta and resided on the upper level of an old drafty building connected with Carver Bible Institute. While Mommy cooked breakfast, Bertie and I perched on short stools, captivated by moving images on a small black-and-white television. After the dishes were done, she summoned us into the kitchen and hoisted us beside the white galvanized sink. With our legs dangling over the edge of the drain pan, we attempted to hold our heads steady as Mommy washed our hair, trying to avoid getting shampoo in our eyes. But I could never stay perfectly still. My head thrashed back and forth as Mommy lathered and rinsed. After washing our hair, she gave us a washcloth bath since we had outgrown the days of sitting in the sink. Drain beneath our feet, she dressed us, skillfully maneuvering around our wiggles and squirms. Bertie and I had plenty of clothes. Mommy sewed long lace strings on our dresses' edges and made sure we always matched. Often, strangers asked whether or not we were twins. Our old photographs reveal we were well-groomed in pretty dresses or blouse-skirt ensembles with white socks and black shoes. Our short hair arranged in neat ringlets, capturing our Sunday best moments. On other days we wore hand-me-downs and thrift store finds. That's how, on one of those days, a hunter-green corduroy pantsuit showed up on top of a heap of clothes near the sink. The shiny green pantsuit beckoned me—its voice echoing from the depths of what seemed like a green forest. A luscious green corduroy forest. Each rib of the fabric stood tall, resembling towering trees basking in the sunlight. I ran my hand over it like velvet. It was not a dress. If Mommy had not intended for me to wear it, I'm not sure why it laid out in plain sight. But the outfit she picked up to put on me that day was a dress. "Mommy, I want to wear the green one," I pleaded. "What green one?" "The green pants." Mommy sighed and picked up the green pantsuit, tossing it onto the floor. "I'm sorry, but you can't wear that." "Why can't I?" "Because…" Mommy paused, her words trailing off, leaving me with unanswered questions. Because it did not sound like a good enough reason to deny the desire that danced in my head. I wanted to look like the little Black girls who played outside our fenced yard, although sometimes their hand-me-down pants were riddled with holes. The green corduroy pantsuit looked new, and I longed to wear it. I also rationalized that Johnny, the White boy living in the apartment below, couldn't look under my dress when we played in the dirt—if I wore pants. He had a habit of peeking under my skirt, even though I tried hard to keep the front of it lodged in the soil while my legs spread wide in a seated position. How else could a three-year-old wearing a dress enjoy playing in the dirt? And Johnny always peeked. I sensed a glimmer of hope in Mommy's eyes, though something held her back. She had endured multiple miscarriages before Bertie, and I came along, making it difficult for her to deny us anything. We were her little miracle girls, having had us when she was just shy of forty. Maybe, if I kept asking, she would change her mind. I longed to step into its green glory, to feel each leg slide down and see my feet emerge from the hemline. "Mommy, I want to wear the green one," I pleaded, day after day, hoping for a positive answer. One day after much exasperation, Mommy stopped sugarcoating her response. "You can't wear the green suit because your daddy doesn't want you girls wearing pants." "But why," I pressed for another explanation. "Just because." There was that word again—Because. The mysterious word that held no valid explanation. I couldn't comprehend its meaning, but it carried a weight of finality coming from Daddy. Bertie and I didn't cross Daddy, our 'knight in shining armor' who could do no wrong in our innocent eyes. Mommy packed the green pantsuit atop a pile of clothes and set it by the door. And just like that, it disappeared along with the other pantsuit hand-me-downs someone had given us. I tucked away the memory of that coveted garment, holding onto the hope that someday, my choices would matter. Having attended a fundamental Bible college, Daddy embraced ideals that dictated acceptable and unacceptable behavior for Christians. These ideals extended to matters of attire, including what Christians should and shouldn't wear. In the 1960s, many evangelical groups held firm to certain fundamental values, one was that girls shouldn't wear pants. Thanks for reading a draft excerpt from my WIP. See more excerpts HERE
- 2 Types of Tribes you need to Survive while Writing a book.
I'm a little less-than-a-year wiser—a new writer, in rough form, I might add. Embarking on my journey of memoir writing has been both daunting and rewarding. And time-consuming. In addition, there's been a lot of soul-searching, but I'll save that for another post. Let's get straight to the subject of finding your tribes. Yes, tribes. Suppose you are serious about completing a significant writing project like I am. Let me suggest two types of groups that will help you survive your journey. Finding them should be your top priority. Tribe No. 1 - Writing Group/s No. 1 - Writing Group/s The What: Find a writing group or groups of like-minded individuals who can: (a) teach you new writing craft concepts; (b) give honest feedback on your rough submissions; and (c) share writing opportunities. More often than not—I prefer the people in these groups to be strangers. Taking criticism from an unbiased and previously unknown character is much easier. At least, for me, it is. You need a group that will motivate you, but also give honest feedback on your work. Why not bare the brunt of criticism beforehand. Because future readers will be brutally honest, we need to get all the upfront critiques we can before our words are exposed—printed—for all to see? The How: Search for local writing chapters in your area. I'm a member of Word Weavers International. which has chapters all over that world. Involvement in my local chapter has been a game changer for my writing. Word Weavers have both in person and on-line groups. Their forum is primarily for Christian writers with writers of all levels. I also participate in FB and instagram groups, but be selective with these. Some are more for entertainment and promotion than quality information. Another great source I use is an online critique forum called Critique Circle. I've found some really great editors here, and it's free. But you'll need thick skin for some of the feedback. Tribe No. 2 - Prayer/Support Groups No. 2 - A Prayer Tribe The What: Find a prayer or support group of heart-guarded individuals. Notice the word guarded. These are individuals that will emphatically guard your heart. This doesn't necessarily mean your best buds or the ones you enjoy hanging out with, although it could be. For me, the best prayer/support partners are often people who are a little bit removed from my daily life, yet, they are people who I've known for a long while. Ones I have skin-in-the-game with—and I know they can be trusted to guard my heart. The How: Think of the people whose lives you may have, at one time, invested something of value in. An old friend from college, a colleague from a previous job, someone you took a trip with once—and you really connected. It could even be your very best friend. Just not that brand new person who seems to be a superhuman prayer warrior. They haven't been in the trenches of life with you, so don't burden them. You'll both end up disappointed. If you have a large social circle, I advise having five or six support partners, although one or two crucial partners is adequate. You know the saying, "it takes a village to raise a child." Well, the same holds true for successful writers. I'll say it like this. "It takes a whole tribe of people to create a compelling story." Happy Writing.