Taking Ownership

August 17, 2009

This has been my second trip to Liberia this year and my fourth trip since 2007.  However, the most intense exposure to Liberian culture has come by way of my most recent adventure.  When I returned in April, I was sitting in a meeting deep in thought.  A friend of mind leaned over and asked me what was going on because they had never observed me being this quiet before.  Once I told them that I had just returned from Liberia, she quickly understood my lack of interest in discussing a mission statement more appropriate for a group of 3rd graders.  Don’t get me wrong, organizational mission is important…but, certainly not as critical as organizational effectiveness.  Based upon what I have observed and experienced on my trips to Liberia, call me when it is time to deal with effectiveness..not just babbledigook…(that is a word isn’t it, well since I have a Ph.D…it is one now)… 🙂

One thing about being out in the interior is that it gives you serious opportunity to think…to reflect…to go deep inside of yourself!  It is said in the Tao that it is what goes on inside of us that interprets for us those things that are in our environment.  Being outside of the constant bombardment of stimuli, distractions, daily routines in the U.S. and deep into the heart of Liberia allows plenty of time to deal with what is going on in the inside.

During Dry Season, the sky’s are clear and at night the stars are so bright and innumerable as if someone spread Elmer’s Glue on a paper and sprinkled glitter.  But, during the rainy season it is quite a different story.  The clouds are thick with rain which blocks the view of the stars…and with the thickness of the bush and forest, it is as if you were in a place where there is the total absence of light.  On these nights, it is difficult to even see your hand in front of your face.


No TV, No Radio, No Electricity…no distractions…these are times when it is just you!  I had three keys for my front door…one worked…there is a 33.3% chance that any of them would be selected and that the one key would be picked.  I found myself keeping tabs to determine how over time the probability would stack up…ok, ok, ok…I know…I’m a bit different…ok, I’m a bit strange…anyway, whatever!  🙂  But, you get my point!

There are many interesting things I could say about cultural differences, nuances, etc., but I’ll leave that for your future reading!  Suffice it to say, that my own personal experience has given me much to intellectually chew on for the ages.  Suffice it to say, there is a book called ‘A People’s History of the United States.’  It opens by stating that often times history is told from the perspectives of Government, Dominant Powers, etc…rarely though is it told from the perspective of the people.  In looking at Liberia, much could be said about the Americo-Liberians, the Tribal Chiefs, Presidents Doe and Taylor, or even Madame President Sirleaf…however, the people of Liberia is the more necessary perspective.

Learning can come from many different sources.  I could write about foods, universities, globalization, traditionalism versus modernization…but, these are subjects that you can find somewhere in a book.  The human experience is less likely to make that book.


One human experience came about as a result of meeting the President of Cuttington, Dr. Henrique Tokpa…the gentleman to the left.  As Black Americans, we are often times socialized into being caught up in race and the mystery behind our African roots.  President Tokpa is a Kpelle Man 🙂 and the Kpelle are the largest group in Liberia.  It is said that they migrated from Eastern Africa, near the Sudan, around the 1500’s.  While Dr. Tokpa is the President of Cuttington, he also grew up only about 5 miles away in a local village.  It was quite the enticing sight to see on his wall pictures of his mother and father in their village. It made the thought cross my mind of what my forebearers looked like, where they were from…but, it also brought to mind the importance of respecting what you do know about your family.  It doesn’t make much sense to complain about what you don’t know, when proper respect isn’t even given to what you do know 🙂

This is the type of experience that makes you continue to dig down deep inside.  Experiences such as this really do so much more to help you learn about yourself…to place things into perspective… So as we were leaving I thought about all of those human experiences that I had, how well I had been treated, and my ‘New Life’ experience.  Driving by that section of the road where the accident took place,

The Site

I quickly reminisced…I remember getting out of that car and immediately looking back at the place where I had been sitting…it was most surreal!!!  As if a section from the movie ghost was in play…I remember getting out of the car and looking back at where I was sitting wondering if I was going to see myself still sitting there…I saw nothing…I saw everything…if what goes on inside of us is what defines what is outside of us, then when I looked back it was like looking at the ‘Man in the Mirror’…spending my time in Suakoko was like looking in the Mirror…and the beauty of how I was treated while at Cuttington allowed me to look at myself as reflected from my hosts.

Getting back to the States…gave me an opportunity to identify what I saw when looking in the Mirror…After making sure that I avoided the irritation caused by my reintroduction to the constant bombardment of convenience…I realized the ‘nothing’ is the value of many of the things that have been a major focus in my life…my daily routine, my constant worries, the battles with depression…work…not that work is not important, but when that car was flipping end over end…I didn’t think about that project I need to finish…and the nothing I saw in that car was everything that I no longer wanted to be my primary focus.  Continuing to reflect, I thought about how even when walking on that dirt road to work every morning, each person that walked by either spoke or waved…even though I may not have understood the language or terms they could of used…it is amazing how the acknowledgment of another persons humanity is somewhat of a universal term 🙂  I thought about how when things happened, people whom I didn’t know from ‘Adam’ came to check on me and apologize as if they were personally responsible for what happened…so many times, I saw people take responsibility and ‘Take Ownership’ of each other…so many people took the time to cook, to bring food, to make sure that everything was as it was supposed to be…at the July 26th event where President Sirleaf was speaking…a man approached the door with a cat in a bag…I’m not sure why, but people started to smack him and push him…and eventually the soldiers came to get him and escort him away…there were social rules…that if they were not followed then the entire community implemented the social rejection…

After spending significant time with the people of Liberia, it is difficult to see how a civil war with such magnitude could find a home amongst these people.  But, again…history doesn’t always include people…but, it does include those with a quest for  power.  Now, admittedly, I am more on the conservative side of things…but, let me be clear…not conservative in terms of the misdirected argument about the ‘constitution being in exile’ nor the type of conservativism that really is more of an imposition of personal values on everyone else…being in Liberia watching so many people doing whatever it takes to survive and thrive…really hits home regarding giving people the freedom and opportunity to make life better.  Coming back to the States and seeing the vociferous debates about health care, the constant labeling of liberals and conservatives, and the constant type of politicization that fails to include a respect for humanity as a critical precept…illustrates that on the inside the people who are most fearful of  being judged, are the ones who are most judgmental…those who are the most insecure are the quickest to rush to judgment…and those who have forgotten or who have never known what it feels like to be in need of mercy or a helping hand are the ones who are most distant from their own humanity…

When the war started…there were a few thousand Marines sitting in ships of the coast of Monrovia…the U.S. decided that it was an African issue so the carnage was allowed to continue?  Then after the easing of the war, we are now spending billions of dollars to rebuild a country after a war we could of stopped, saved a lot of money, and saved a lot of people…one hell-uva political philosophy huh?  (if you have questions about the relationship between the U.S. and Liberia, do the research…the U.S. has a unique responsibility to Liberia)!

So what about the people where are they heading:

The BabyThe BoyThe Troop

You can tell quite a bit about a person based upon how they treat people they think they don’t need!  Do we follow through on our responsibilities? What about our responsibilities to each other?  Well, those questions will continue to be answered…In Liberia, I found my answers!  Hopefully, if you have followed along…you have found some of your own!  Either way, keep looking for your answers…even if you don’t have them…the main point is…we all should be looking for answers regarding the much broader issue of humanity.

Another main difference learned deals with the specific points of conflict the pop up when societies still functioning with a high degree of traditional culture are touched by modernization.  This goes way beyond the superfluous points touched on by those who stand on the surface…but, it goes into many deeper cultural issues relating to youth, labor, values,  families…not to mention religion.  Liberia is an excellent place to identify the deeper structural problems in the conflict between Western societies and some Islamic communities.  You can get another take on this by reading a book by Stephen Ellis I mentioned previously:


Not sure when I’ll be heading back to Liberia, but I most certainly will be…

From time to time, I will post more information…but, if you are interested in learning more and continuing a discussion please join me on a new web-site called Taking Ownership…www.takingownership.org.  I would certainly appreciate any comments you have on the site that I can use to help build it to become a valuable resource for those wanting to become more informed..I  also have a book coming out over the next month…look for me 🙂

Eventually 🙂 there will be more pictures and some pretty amazing video’s of my venture in Liberia posted on the site…

See you at Taking Ownership!

Ciao! 🙂


Gbarnga Pics

August 14, 2009

Every person who has visited, worked in, or heard of Monrovia must appreciate this next picture…It is a sign that if you pay attention, you will see posted in many places throughout Liberia…hopefully, you can see it…but if not zoom in…It says…

Do Not Urinate Here...

Yes!  And, it is a sign that comes in many different forms…but, out of all the signs it is one that is certainly needed 🙂  ok… 🙂

As you know, I was at Cuttington University which is situated in Suakoko, Liberia…the next main town is Gbarnga.  I am just posting a few pictures so you can get a pictorial example…or a feel for the city.  This picture was taken from the administration building where some of the July 26th activities took place.   In the distance you see Gbarnga…


This is one of the main strips…the tall white building is the mosque…this is also the main commercial corridor…shops, business centers and such…

Gbarnga II

This is the bottom of the hill leading up to the commercial area…

Gbarnga III

The houses and shops are stack one right behind the other…so there typically is a lot more there than you may see from the street…

Gbarnga Rooftops

This is the view from the top of the hill…same commercial district…just another view…

Gbarnga Top of Hill

I finally had to break down and go to the store.  It is a Lebanese shop…the Lebanese are a major group in Liberia and they are highly involved in the local markets…many of the Lebanese have been here for generations…speak the Liberian tribal languages and live out in these areas…you will find a little bit of everything in this store…scotch isn’t my poison of choice…but, it worked out quite well 🙂  Nice folks!!!

Gbarnga Store

There is another group called the Wheel Barrow boys 🙂  obviously, so named because they peddle goods from a wheel barrow…another example of when people really need to make something happen…if you allow them opportunity…they will figure it out…he had a little bit of everything in the wheel barrow 🙂

Gbarnga Capitalism

This is a picture of the Mosque in Gbarnga…

Gbarnga Mosque

Ok…just wanted you to get a feel of the area…I am back stateside…after a really long trip back…flights delayed, held up in Ireland…missed and delayed flights in Newark…you get the picture 🙂

I’ve got at least one more post coming…where I’ll share some of my perspective on this trip…


Back in Monrovia

August 12, 2009

Well…this has been a most interesting trip!  It will take a while for it to all soak in…I have been in Monrovia a couple of days staying at Bob Johnson’s resort in Kendeja.  It has only been open since March of this year, but it was nice add on to the end of the trip.  As I mentioned earlier, we are in the middle of the rainy season, so it has rained fairly hard each day I have been here…no problem though…I love the rain 🙂


Because of the storms, visibility has been low…but, it is still the ocean…so what you see is quite wonderful!

Ocean View I

Found several good places to sit back and contemplate…meditate…consider the past month…and what the future holds…

Ocean View II

And in the midst of the pouring down rain…a work crew kept on going as if the rain didn’t matter…it is amazing the level of motivation achieved when there is a direct cause effect relationship between work and acquiring the basic necessities of life 🙂  Government programs beware 🙂

RLJ Workers

I’ll be leaving out this evening for a ridiculously long flight home…I’ll post a few more things over the next couple of days as different thoughts pop up…I’ll have to provide some sort of summary at least 🙂  In the mean time, I appreciate all the support…this has been my first attempt at running a Blog…Since I have been here, I received over 1,000 hits…and the supportive comments and well wishes made it great to have travel companions with me…

The Liberian people were great, and the folks at Cuttington University…most exceptional…in all honesty…after making some cultural adjustments and gotten used to them…it feels a little strange heading home…ok, more than a little!

We’ll See!  🙂


Africana Museum

August 11, 2009

Cuttington University also maintains a museum on campus.  The Africana museum has many interesting items from various clans throughout West Africa.  Currently, they have made great progress in trying to rebuild after the war.  Many of the items that were housed in the museum were either destroyed or stolen and sold during the war.  Shame!  I guess the question could be asked, why would someone come in and destroy their cultural heritage?  I guess the same answer is found in why we destroy some of our own neighborhoods back in the states…go figure!


Just so you can get an idea of what is housed in the museum, I am posting several pictures.  You African Art buffs might get a kick out of this.  I’ve been to the museum a few times…the kind gentleman below is the curator and has many wonderful stories regarding the history of the area, the museum, the artifacts and the process they are going through to restore damaged items as well as the overall museum.


Often times at night, you can hear from the far off distance…and I do mean far…the sounds of drums beating.  Now since we are off in the interior I don’t know if the sounds are from a village engaged in a ceremony or if it is some other form of ‘get together.’  Either way, they sound powerful, rich, and full of energy.  Below is a ‘female figure’ drum that stands about 4.5 feet tall (at least).  It is from Guinea Bissau and was used in Muslim Mosques to inform worshipers when it was time to come and pray.  The figure is in a kneeling position to symbolize submission and humbleness to the higher power.  Just standing next to it and feeling the strength of the materials lets you know that this was not the instrument of a light-weight drummer!

Female Figure Drum

These are a pair of drums that go together…one represents the masculine (left) and the one to the (right) represents femininity.  They were utilized primarily during the traditional schools…if you are familiar with Poro and Sande schools.  They are used when school is in session and also to signify graduation.  They were also used in times of war and the death of a Chief, elder, opinion leader, or Zoe (somewhat of a Chief spiritual leader/practitioner).  These drums are also very large and made of strong wood.  They are referred to as ‘Grebo’ Wooden Drums.

Male & Female Drums

This is a Mende female Ancestry figure from Sierre Leonne:

Mende Female

The following are two masks and one statue.  The two positioned the furthest to the left are variations of the ‘Dogon Chiwara’ Antelope Mask of Mali.  It is closely associated with the agricultural culture of the Dogon, Bambara, and Malinke People.  The Mandingoes are said to have descended from the Malinke.

The one furthest to the right is a’Bambara’ Female Figure from Mali…primarily used in ceremonial and ritualistic services.

Various Statues

The next statue is a ‘Kisse’ female figure from Liberia.  It is used mainly for divination purposes…if you look closely it has teeth, corn-rows, and earrings.

Kissi Female

The photo does not provide justice to how amazing the carvings actually are…this is a ‘Baule’ Wooden Door from the Ivory Coast.  It serves as a door to the medicine house that should only be entered by Zoes, Priests and Priestesses.  If you look closely you will see animals, masks and other intricate designs carved into the wood.

Baule Wooden Door

The following picture is another drum.  This is a ‘Kpelle’ drum…the dominant tribe/clan in Bong county.  It is primarily utilized in ‘Kuu’ events.  ‘Kuu’ is a self-help group common amongst the ‘Kpelle’ and other groups throughout Liberia.

Kpelle Drum

What we have here is a ‘Kpelle’ Wooden Horn used by the Zoes when performing rituals.

Wooden Horn

And this, I could not resist taking a picture…simply because it is so colorful and masterfully done…it is a piece of handwoven cloth picturing ‘three women.’

Hand Woven Cloth

And, to give you another view of the amazing carving skills…this is a picture of the door utilized to go in and out of the museum….amazing…that door definitely was not made out of particle board!

Carved Door

For those of you who were looking for some pictures to help explain Kwanza….sorry….didn’t find anything…so you will have to remain confused!!!! 🙂



August 10, 2009

Well…my time is winding down.  Professionally, I came here as a Fulbright Specialist to provide specialized ‘Train the Trainer’ sessions to help build capacity.  Personally, I have had so many experiences that have and will continue to push my personal growth.  These are just a few pics I am posting just so you can get a taste of the many views around Cuttington University and Suakoko.

As you can see from the following picture, I am still standing after my accident “New Life”.  I’m still pretty sore, but ready for more life 🙂

Me in Liberia

The road I’m standing on is the one I walked every morning, afternoon, and evening to go back and forth to work.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful…the greenery is so amazing that is pretty much encompasses everything.  I’ve never seen so many shades of green…don’t get to caught up though looking like a tourist…something may just run along the road with you 🙂

This is a picture of the chapel…’Epiphany Chapel’ where religious services are held.  Cuttington is connected to the episcopal church…so there is a strong religious tradition here.


And of course, what would a church be without the church bell 🙂

Chapel Bell

Another view of the road I walk.  The ponds are used for the Fish Farm…this picture does not do justice to the view…you will have to download it and blow it up…fresh air, a slight wind…birds, crickets…and plenty of other critters on the way…off in the distance…the forest is thick…makes you think about the locals who still practice tradition and go in and out of the forest…more power to them 🙂

A Nice View

A view of one of the agricultural buildings…as you can imagine…agriculture (food cultivation) is a big deal!!!!

Cut Building

View from the chapel…this area is right next to the administration building…on the main drag.

Var Cut

This is an area situated right behind the campus…well, maybe not behind.  Cuttington University resides on approximately 1500 acres of land…so let’s just say that it is behind the main buildings.  It is a gathering point for some…beautiful sight…some wash there clothes here…some well, like little boys like to do…you can figure out the rest 🙂  Whether in the U.S., Liberia…or anywhere else…Little Boys are Little Boys 🙂

Var Cut II

Just a view of one of the living quarters…the campus sits on a hilly area…so the roads weave in and out…and the buildings reside throughout…picture some parts of West Virginia without the hills being so steep 🙂

Var Cut III

There is a bank on campus…and of course a ‘Western Union’…

Var Cut IV

Outdoor meeting area next to the chapel:

Var Cut V

Historically, running water was not a problem…but during the War someone had the wonderful vision of destroying the plumbing…Cuttington is gradually restoring the facilities and they are making excellent progress.  This is a tower utilized to capture water…it provides the gravity/pressure to make the water flow in certain areas.

Var Cut VI

As I mentioned, the agricultural needs are a primary concern…this is a section where some cattle are raised….you can see a delicious looking cow in the distance…ok, a cow…

Var Cut VII

and of course…lets not forget one of the hugely wonderful benefits of being here…unfortunately…it was not the season for picking.  This is one of the mango trees that are numerous on campus.  There are also plenty of oranges, grapefruits, and avocados….soooo yummmy!

Var Cut VIII

University facilities are also interspersed with local residents that practice their trade.  This is a picture of a woman utilizing a traditional mechanism to make hand woven cloth…beautiful…and she knows how to work it…

Traditional Cloth Maker

We may be in the interior of Liberia….but, every university has to have a Radio Station….and they do it very well!  I did not here John Denver one time while listening to them…not that I have a problem with John Denver…but, please…we are in Africa!

Radio Station

Cuttington University also sports a Television Studio and broadcast capability…they pretty much provide the eye’s and ear’s for the local listening audience…if you keep your eye’s open, you never know where a transistor radio will pop up…do any of you remember what those look like 🙂

Television Recording Set

While I was there, I also took a look at the farm.  This day, I took a tour with a group from USAID (United States Agency for International Development)…in the background you see the rice fields…rice is the major staple in Liberia…rice is eaten with pretty much everything…generally speaking…I protest rice like people protest the G-8 meetings…but, since I was going through cultural immersion…I took a break…and actually liked it…until I get home at least 🙂  But, I will admit…Liberians know what to do when it comes to rice!


Another view of the rice fields…I believe this section spreads approximately 13 acres.

Rice Fields

This is a picture of the Rubber trees grown on the farm…in Liberia…where there is dirt…you are not that far from a rubber tree.

Rubber Farm

And what set of general pictures would be complete without including the local group of bad azz kids… 🙂  ok, just playing, some days I walked with them as they ran along the road…very energetic, completely funny, and you know as well as I do…if nobody is looking they will be into something…check out the bad boy bad girl stances…the one with the yellow hat was the point voice of the group…and look at the little girl with her hands on her hips to the left…attitude…already 🙂

The Troop

Well, as I said…the trip is winding down…I’ll be posting more information tomorrow as I get ready to depart…



August 6, 2009

Of course, no description or discussion of Liberia is complete without referencing Firestone.  Many approach it from the orientation of exploitation; however, I think a different take is more productive..or at least provides an opportunity for being productive.  Calling it simple exploitation is like condemning a donkey for not being a horse.  Capitalism generally doesn’t pretend to be the most socially responsible system.  It is fed by land, labor and capital!  If you develop, it is because you are in a position to do such.  That’s it…these days throw in a little technology and you’ve got yourself a system.  Capitalism does its thing…and it is the responsibility of others to look out for their own interests…this is not a value statement or an endorsement…it is simply an observation.  Similar to when I went to Ghana in 2007.  We came across people who had been harvesting the leaves to make chocolate all their lives but who had never seen a chocolate bar.  Yes, it is difficult for those caught between traditionalism and modernization to look out for themselves.  But, what is the reason why deals are signed year after year by those in leadership who know better…well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks.  Maybe the relationship is mutually beneficial…maybe it is not.

Just keep this in my mind as you consider the growth of developed or developing nations or for that matter…post-conflict…particularly when you see a ‘Tree Hugger’ leave a protest in an automobile…those tires made out of rubber came from some where 🙂

Ok,  when you get to the Firestone plantation…the terrain is totally different.  We drove through Firestone and it took over an hour…and I don’t even know if that was the shortest or the longest part…but, it was certainly fascinating.  This is the main plantation…but, rubber stations are set up all over the country…and with China’s exponentially growing demand…they are setting up a plantation also.

Firestone Gate

Of the top of my head, I’m not sure how many acres are involved…but just know the rubber trees go as far as the eye can see.  You may want to save this pic and blow it up so that you can see more of the particulars.  Since non-native Liberians can not own Land in the country…huge lease deals are generally how this gets set-up…they extend over long periods of time.  When you study African history, you will see that these set ups require huge amounts of labor.  This contributed to the shift towards modernization because there was a need for men to work the fields.  Thus, they could not just sit in their villages and do what they had traditionally done.  Now, they could go work at Firestone…this certainly contributed to a shift in the cultural make-up…particularly when you consider that young people no longer had to submit to the elders having control of their labor…and young people no longer had to wait to receive their rewards from the elders…they could go outside of that process to exchange labor for a wage on the market.  Obviously, this disrupts some aspects of cultural transference and contributes to generational/cultural tension.

Firestone Facility

Going through Firestone is an amazing experience…as far as you can see there are young rubber trees…rolling over the hills.


And obviously, if given enough time and attention they become mature Rubber trees…they are tapped similar to the way we get the liquid from tree’s to make syrup…

Old Trees

As you can imagine, an operation of this size requires one serious Labor force.  To this end, Firestone is set-up like a city.  They have schools, a hospital, homes for laborers…

Worker Housing

And of course a transportation plan 🙂  The yellow buses are utilized to transport laborers into and out of the fields to work the land…

Worker Buses

Draw your own conclusions…Liberia is a country rich in agriculture..obviously, but there are huge deposits of Iron Ore…and many other valuable deposits…gold, diamonds…the market potential is phenomenal…expansive forests…etc.  Some of the original deals put in place date back to a time when the settlers/chiefs needed to cut deals with some of the private corporations in order to raise funds so that they could govern.  As time progresses…thoughts on how to best function in capitalism must also progress…government is government…but, business is business 🙂



Well folks, after the recent life changing experience and re-birth 🙂 I am trying to get back at it!  So, let me start with the recent national celebration that took place in Liberia this past week.  The 26th of July is the Liberian counterpart to July 4th in the U.S.  It is the annual celebration/anniversary of the formal establishment of the Republic.  Being here really brings you to a reality of understanding the difference between developed, developing, under-developed and post conflict countries.  It is also easy to get desensitized to international issues when you see the saturation of madness on tv in the states morning, afternoon, evening, and night.  But, as we were preparing to start the days activities a reminder that Liberia is post conflict showed up.  Liberia is one of those countries with one of the highest number of UN troops in the world.  While we were standing there, they started to show up to prepare for the arrival of the President.  Pretty interesting to see…

UN Troops

I pretty much just stood off on the side checking things out and observing.  I watched them secure the area even with metal detectors to make sure all was good for the arrival of the President.  President Sirleaf was coming to Cuttington for the dedication of the Madame Suakoko monument I posted on earlier but also to dedicate several new projects on campus.  As you can imagine, when the President comes…so does Chaos…never-the-less, things went well and it was really wonderful to see her up close and in action.

Troops Searching

After the UN did their thing…the Liberian National Police started to show up…what a sight 🙂  Of course at this time, security came up to me to ask me what I was doing standing over on the side taking pictures…who exactly am I?  Showed my Id…and, things kept moving right along…

Nat Police

Quite a crowd showed up!  Dignitaries, UN observers, Politicians, many locals…but the traditional dancers were awesome.  I have some amazing video to post one I return.  I would upload it here, but it would take so long I would probably miss my plane next week.  If you are looking for a camera, check out the LUMIX/Panasonic DMC-ZS1…small camera, but ridiculously powerful and has amazing quality…ok, enough with the commercial!

As I was saying, the dancers were amazing…had to take this picture though…Check out the guy with the Gold Hat and the drum in the middle…Traditional hat and outfit…look at his feet…Nike Shoes?  East meets West…tradition meets modernization…? Traditional African Drummer with Nike Shoes on?  Man….Just Do it?  Well, at least they weren’t Air Jordans…let’s hope anyway 🙂


I took so many wonderful pictures of Her Excellency Madame President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.  Some call her the Iron Lady as a descriptor of how strong she has to be to bring this country back…and she is doing an amazing job of it.  But, many Liberians call her ‘Old Ma’…when you see her in person you see why…she has this spirit and demeanor about her that just calms everything down…like when you were a kid doing something that you justified to yourself, but know good and dag on well…ok, the old Malik would of cursed here…you didn’t have any business doing it…but then, ‘Old Ma’ shows up and instead of arguing about it, she just looks at you, you drop your head and just walk away…that is her…her spirit is most captivating…I really enjoyed this part of just standing accross from her and snapping pictures while she talked…absolutely fascinating…she has the type of presence that makes you sit down and think about what you are doing even if you aren’t doing anything 🙂

Pres II

This is the President taking a shovel full of dirt at the Madame Suakoko monument ground breaking…tell me that isn’t a great picture 🙂

Pres III

Just had to add in this picture of ‘my man’ with the ‘gat’….he had a look on his face that said…”don’t know body make a move until I say so”  🙂  Just kidding, very curtious…very professional…just reminder, that Liberia is post-conflict, and in a world with so many competing interests, you can’t rely on assumptions of civility by others…there is too much at stake!!!  Considering that there has been more than enough war here…this was a refreshing sight!


Just throwing in a pic of a UN soldier from the Bangladesh Contingency…They were out in force…to help make sure it was a good day!

Sec II

If you keep up with international news, then you are familiar with the current trial of former War Lord/President of Liberia Charles Taylor.  Well, when he first started his insurgency after receiving his training from the guerrilla training camps sponsored in Libya, Taylor set up shop in Gbarnga and also used Cuttington University as a training facility for his crew.  After the initial celebratory activities at Cuttington, the next day we proceeded up to Gbarnga for a more formal activity.  This is the county administration building where the even was held.  If you do some reading or are familiar with West Africa, then you know that many of the klans have secret societies that they use to transfer their culture from one generation to the next.  This has become challenged and for the most part has experienced some change because of the influx of modernization…but out in the interior of the country you still see signs of it…at some of the traditional dances you will see images of the ‘Devil’, ‘Forest Devil’, ‘Forest Thing’…being Kwii  :)…I don’t have full knowledge of it all, but I have read rather extensively…and it is most interesting…I’ll post more on Kwii at a latter time 🙂

Event II

They were most excited…I mean these folks stood for hours at a time…just waiting on the President to come…it was amazing…if you look in the crowd you will see some absolutely amazing colors in their outfits…it was a sight…again, I have amazing video that you must see…I’ll post in a little over a week.

Event I

We then entered into the main hall…where 1,000 people participated in the official ceremony…the head of the ECOWAS committee was present…the President of Equatorial Guniea was there, along with the first national orator who also serves as a provincial chief…I believe he was somewhere around 96 years old…I’ll bet you he has some stories to tell…plenty of wives and plenty of children…and obviously plenty of naturally occuring aspirin or earplugs 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂


It was long…felt like I was in church…in fact, I started thinking about sneaking out of church and going down the street to the store to use my offering money to buy some grape Now & Laters…I’ll just take the beating…then, I rememberd…they don’t have that here…sorry dad!  🙂  Anyway, once President Sirleaf got up to speak….man, ‘Old Ma’ rocked it!  She got everyone all fired up…She has got the gift…and believe me…if you know anything about the history of Liberia…even just over the past 20 years…you know…’Old Ma’ is what is needed here!

Sirleaf Speaking

Ok…I have got quite a number of pics…I’ll be posting them on my web-site once I get back…in the mean time…I’ll post again…hopefully by Weds.  I’m still crazy sore…but, as Celie said in the Color Purple…’But, I’m here….Dear God…I’s here”…. 🙂  Amazingly…people have been coming from everywhere just to come tell me they are sorry…and are apologizing for the accident with such sincerity you would think they felt they were responsible for it.  Such beautiful people in many ways…I’ve taken notes on that…and on my last post…will talk about some of that…

In the mean time…next time you get a chance…that little goat you see on the side of the road when you are driving…take him home, get some peppper, some onions and a few other things…I have really started to like the taste….laughing…


A New Life

July 29, 2009

Well…this is a different kind of post!  I have lots of information to share…got really excellent pictures and video of the July  26th celebration…particularly of the Liberian Cultural dancers (not including the negative connotations of native) and of Madame President Sirleaf…I will post those over the next day or so.  Thanks for all of those who have been following my journey.  I’ve been trying to post when I can…however, I have been busy and am not always able to get to an internet connection. For those of you who know me, you also know I can be pretty closed and private.  However, I believe this experience should be shared…especially for those who are contemplative about life.

Yesterday, we headed out to visit a farm.  I was pretty excited about it…the food was going to be excellent (big thing for me since I am not typically excited about food), I was going to spend an evening in one the large agricultural settings, and would have some good time out in another area of the interior.  I was sitting in the backseat working on a presentation I am to give tonight, when I heard someone in the car yell.  At this point, I didn’t even have a chance to look up.  We must of been traveling at a speed of 80 – 100 mph, (international rules differ a bit), and the driver lost control of the car.

The car flipped end over end at least 3 times…not side over side…end over end…the seat belt saved my life because everything was thrown out of the car…when the car stopped it landed next to a stump that we had flipped over, did you hear me say over,…a few feet of a difference and it would of penetrated the car and impaled someone…I was sitting in the back seat…you see that dent where the roof of the car is bent up…well that was me being tossed around inside of the car even with the belt on…

The Auto

I imagine that we all may have different things that go through our mind when something like that happens.  I never lost consciousness…I was actually very lucid.  While the car was spinning, I first thought…SHIT…this is not good (ok, now is not the time for political correctness)…I thought about when would be stop…I wondered if there was a ravine we were about to roll down…as we kept spinning, I thought about my four children…my loved ones…parents should not have to bury their kids…I even thought about ‘Left Eye’ of TLC…I thought about my grandfather…

Auto II

I had my computer in my hands…and you know I will kill a fool over one of my laptops…my window to the world :)…and as the car kept flipping…I let it go…and it was thrown from the car like everything else…and when we finally came to a stop…I immediately responded by trying to be aware of my body so as to try and do whatever I could do to maintain myself because I wanted to live…the car stopped, I started smelling for gas…and immediately pushed open my door to get out…still trying to make sure I could tell if I was ok…


I then started to help others out of the car!  This was a road where you may see a few people sporadically, but not a lot of people…but, then out from the bush people started coming…like they were coming out of nowhere…  Now, the folks in the interior can be very spiritual.  In fact, they tend to be highly connected to what some would call the spiritual world in as much as others are connected to the material world.  As I stood there in shock and in a daze…people came running out of the push…picking up our stuff…one man came running towards me with my laptop that had been thrown out of the car…people were picking up papers…and you could also hear people crying…  Some were running up to the car crying…as if they had been called from a far distance by a sense that some disorder had taken place that threatened the sacredness of life…  It was completely amazing…

These people were all so helpful…interestingly, the United Nations has a huge contingent here.  At least 10 UN trucks drove by without even stopping…one even almost ran into us…a truck from the organization Dr.s Without Borders also drove right by…and UN Ambulance also just drove right by…I guess I don’t have to say anything else about that…It is a wonderful thing that we all had on seat belts, and there were no immediately terminal injuries or we would of all been able to interpret the different perspectives that others have around the world when it comes to the UN…Except this time…it would of been our own experience!!!  One group who were in a UN truck stopped to investigate…they came with the police…but, they wouldn’t even allow us to sit in the UN truck inorder to gather ourselves….ok, enough said about that…

A Liberian tax driver had stopped!  They shuffled a few people around and took us to the hospital…Phebe Hospital…  The Dr.’s checked us out…said we would live another day 🙂  and so I headed back out…


Needless to say…this was an experience that I wasn’t counting on.  Often times in convesating with people…it is said, wow if I was young again.  I’ve never been one of those people.  Hell, it was hard enough getting through some of that stuff the first time…If I don’t have the knowledge of living to guide me, why would I want to go back through the same stupid mistakes I have already made.  Plus, it is a waste of time to deal to much with the hypothetical…instead…I am like a cat who has nine lives 🙂  That experience of rolling around in that car in rural Liberia, was a journey to another dimension.  Makes you thing about the future…so that is what I will deal with… Instead of talking about reliving life…how about what are you going to do with your New Life?  A day starts…you go through your routine…then the routine becomes not so routine…and it is over…what if you are given another chance…what would you add to your life?  How would you treat people?  What would you do to make it a better place?  Well, that is where I am…Looking forward…fortunately, I was here anyway to do what I could to help somebody…so I will continue on with that…what a great way to help yourself…to help somebody else 🙂

In the mean time…anybody I’ve hurt or pissed off….please  forgive me…and I don’t have any grudges against anyone who has do the same to me!

I saw Abraham, Noah, Elijah, Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, a few Sacred Cows…and everybody else on my road to Damascus 🙂  My Kids:  Don’t worry…Daddy is still banging 🙂

Ok…A New Life…on with the Journey…

As I said…great pics and stories to come…



July 24, 2009

This is the view from the hill above the gate at Cuttington University.  As with most roads in the interior, they disappear quickly into the bush…the pine trees on the highways in Georgia can be thick…but this stuff here, redefines thickness…I’ll write tomorrow about how dark it can get 🙂  This is just one of the many views of the interior…strangely beautiful, no stores, commercial signs, exits…just bush…and it keeps going, and going, and going…oh yeah…there are no toilets and there are plenty…each bush or no  bush 🙂  The gate is entirely brand new!

View from Campus Gate

I don’t believe I mentioned this in prior posts; however, a huge opportunity for me is that this coming Sunday (July 26th) represents the 162nd anniversary for the founding of the country.  This is a big deal every year…and they also have the celebration in different parts of the country each year to promote engagement and development.  This year the celebration is in Grbanga, Suakoko, Bong County.  Madame President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf will be here along with only God knows how many other people.  This should be interesting.  Last year and sat not to far from her at a football/soccer game when the national team played Senegal at (SKD) Samuel Kanyon Doe Stadium…again, this stadium was renovated and donated by the Chinese…is the international politics getting any clearer 🙂

First thing upon arrival, we stopped by the gate because some of the President’s team were there organizing an event:

Iron Ladies

Minister of Foreign Affair King-Akerele (Stylish Liberian outfit facing us) and Minister of State Parkinson (Lady in Black)…they were discussing the dedication of the monument for Madame Suakoko that I mentioned earlier.  With all the events that will be taking place later this week and this weekend, I’ll be sure to post some pics on those…but, those of you who know me…also know that I can be anti-social some times…so lets keep our fingers crossed…may turn into Jeremiah Johnson…but, I won’t wander to far…just back to my place 🙂 …speaking of my place:

Guest House

This is my day to day abode…it is the guest house…very simple accomodations…it holds a few rooms for out of towners.  The great thing is that it is the rainy season…so the temperature doesn’t get above 82 everyday…thank da lawd 🙂  Whew, last time I was here in April, it was like an episode out of the Green Mile, where Wild Bill was screaming…they’re cookn em boss, they’re cookn em…ooooweeee, I can smell em…even being from savannah…it was hot as…you get the picture…and no air…so I am thankful 🙂

This is the road I walk several times a day…once in the morning, twice in the afternoon, and once in the evening…beautiful rich red dirt…of course as you walk…things are running next to you in the grass…I say things because you don’t necessarily see them, but you hear them and know that they are there 🙂  Let your imagination take it from there 🙂

Morning Walk

Very peaceful walk.  Gives you time to think…is there anything else to do…reflect on life, capture of the benefit of slowing things down.  Coming around the first bend before you walk up the hill…you come to the fish farm.  Yes, the fish farm.  They have several ponds off the side of this road where they are raising fish.  They also raise chickens and cattle…in fact, you see chickens everywhere…and I do mean everywhere…it is almost as if everyone has a few…and the little chicks are also everywhere…these are the chicks I saw this morning on the way into the office…sweet little pieces of meat 🙂  especially with some palm oil and pepper 🙂


Also on the way into work, I usually pass the fellas who maintain the fish farms…they use cutlasses to cut the grass…a cutlass is like a piece of metal…maybe about 2.5 feet…the metal at the end of it is loose…so that when you swing it…it can go parallel to the ground and cut the bush/grass…the ones I have seen thus far…the blade is just several inches long…so when you use a cutlass you are going to work!  In the states, sometimes we have to bust a head to get our kids to cut grass with a lawnmower…could you imagine home many times children services would have to come to the house if we made them use a cutlass 🙂

Working the Farm

Don’t remember if I posted this before, but this is my little temporary work area…very comfortable…great view…they have made me feel right at home…

My Temp Office

One thing about this experience that stands out for me…we have quantified human life so much…put such emphasis on income and wealth…however, out here…I have to make some adjustments because there is nothing to buy…so I don’t need that much money…I have what I need.  Sometimes, our thoughts on poverty are based upon what we impose on others…and that really says more about ourselves than other people.  Regularly someone will walk up and offer me something…they may not have much…but, they value what they have…and more importantly they are willing to share what they have…interesting comparison to life in the states…where we often times don’t even know the name of the person across the street.   So it is a real special experience to become a part of the group.  Yesterday, a woman brought me some bananas…I looked at them for a minute…then ate one…and let me tell you…that was the best DAMN banana I have ever had…it even tasted like a banana 🙂 …crazy American…in fact, it was better than a banana…it was fresh, rich in flavor…and it meant something to the person who gave it to me…which made it even better!  It meant the world to me!


Of course in the states our interpretations are based on our history…however, we typically don’t know much about African or in this case the history of Liberia.  The history of Liberia is closely connected to the United States.  It was formally settled by freed slaves from the U.S.; some states even sponsored colonies for the freed slaves; and the U.S. from time to time provided military aid and leverage to help the settlers form into a country.  Amongst many other factors, many Liberians feel a close kinship to America.  For our benefit, I am posting a brief blurb about this city Suakoko and the person of which it is named after.  If you are interested you can ask questions, or just do some research on some of the terms you will find. Her history is particularly significant if you research the dynamics associated with the formal founding of the Republic of Liberia, the evolution of relations between ‘Americo-Liberians’ and tribes already in place, as well as the mechanisms utilized to establish governance: provisional chiefs, district commissioners, etc…Books to read: “Mask of Anarchy” “The Evolution of Deadly Conflict in Liberia: from ‘Paternaltarianism to State Collapse

This information is great just on the history of Liberia, but if you want some pragmatic information that provides transferable information on why and how certain cultures (e.g. some Islamic areas) are at mortal conflict with the U.S….then these are really good reads.

I am posting this because President of Liberia will be here soon to dedicate a statue in honor of Madame Suakoko…enjoy 🙂

Madam Suakoko was born in the 1860s at a time when her parents resided in a small village known as Nyalensu, near present day Suakoko.  Her mother came from Gboryorkweler and the father was a native of Kiayea.  She was given the name Koko at birth and acquired the added name of Sua after graduating from the Sande school.

Sua grew up in Kiayea, today a part of Suakoko District.  She spent some of her youthful years living with her maternal grandparents in Gboryorkweler near the village of Galai.  Sua was a remarkable person as her compatriots acknowledged her ability to unite people.  She is said to have played major roles in organizations and often brought order to chaotic situations.

Sua mastered the arts and traditions of her people much faster than her peers.  It is reported that she quickly learned to identify medicinal plants and the oral traditions from the leaders much quicker than others in her age group.  Legend has it that she received her leadership skills from God.  She was soon recognized as a “Zoe” in training amongst her peers.

When President Daniel E. Howard (1912-1920)  appointed Madam Suakoko Clan Chief of Kiayea her first task was to unify the clan. This she did by asking her kinsmen in Galai and Balama to work with her in the administration of the region.  Thus the villages of Balama and Galai became parts of Suakoko Clan.  Among the many Africans who rendered far reaching assistance to Liberia in her penetration process-establishing effective control in what is today Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties was Suakoko.  The assistance provided included intelligence, logistics and hospitality.  Through intelligence provided by Suakoko, Government forces knew the strength, troop movements, and strategies of the enemies, especially Jorquelleh which refused Government troops passage through her territory.

Madam Suakoko also provided the Liberian Commander Lt. Robert Alexander Harper with porters to convey arms and ammunition as well as the personal effects of Government soldiers.  Finally, through the hospitality of Suakoko, Government troops were able to regain strength and energy lost during their long trek from Monrovia and continue their long march to the far regions of Lofa, Nimba and Grand Gedeh Counties.

In addition to her assistance on the military front, Madam Suakoko also contributed immensely to the establishment of three major institutions in her District. Her excellent negotiation skills resulted in the successful establishment of the Central Agricultural Research Institute (CARI), Phebe Hospital, and Cuttington University in the District. These institutions have greatly contributed to the living standards of Suakoko residents in particular and the nation of Liberia as a whole.

Madam Suakoko administered the region effectively and was a strong ally of the Liberian government in the interior, until her death in the early 1930’s.