By Ernest S.Maximore
February 22, 2011
August 24 flight from Accra to Monrovia, however relatively short, remains memorable. A particular conversation between me and a Ghanaian, still gyrates in my mind and brings aching memories. I still feel the twinge of anger which, of course, I deliberately surprised least my fellow discussant, my Ghanaian friend, noticed an inkling of it. Pondering over the conversation today, I am happy that my anger was never displayed visibly. I would prove naïve and stupid to do so. Yes. I felt offended. I was bitter. His funny ridicule was irking. But I kept my posture. I kept my cool. I wonder why I was feeling shame; so imprudently carried away by a sense of patriotism, nationalism or whatever spirit that may have fueled me to feel very unease and discomfort internally during my conversation with my Ghanaian friend who was probably been frank and truthful as he saw in his mind’s eyes Liberia and Liberian politicians.
“No one needs to tell me that we are descending over or arriving in Liberia; I have a way of knowing even if the pilot or captain does not announce our arrival,” my Ghanaian seatmate said without any provocation.
I went in deep cogitation, trying to presume mutely how he would know without difficulty when our arrival was not announced. Could he have known from the type of cloud over Liberia? Or from the vegetation far below? If so, how were these natural features different from other African settings we were flying over? I wordlessly wondered whether the cloud or sky in Liberia was different from the ones in Ghana and other countries or the trees, the buildings, the airports. Or was it just a part of the wasteful conversation we had to buy time aboard? I remain wallowed in trance for possible suppositions but was not too sure which guess was correct or wrong.
“Charlie, by what means you will easily know we arrive in Liberia?” I asked. I repeated myself. No answer came, at least, at once. He pretended he was not listening. He appeared focusing on munching his fish and rice; sumptuous courtesy of caterers onboard the plan. I repeated the question, nearly three minutes later. When he had taken a sip on his wine, he looked me in the eye, shifted himself back on his meal and said: “Liberia has got many skyscrapers which naturally welcome airborne arrivals. I need no other introduction. The skyscrapers are everywhere around Africa’s oldest republic, illuminating with one color of design that makes Liberia look very gorgeous on the ground when observed from in the air.”
Charlie, as Liberians fondly call Ghanaians, and I chatted for, let say 90 minutes on a medley of concerns. He sat at the left side window of the plane and I sat close to him at his right. While I was in mid-speech of conversation, he, out of the blue, screeched at my hearing, “We are in Liberian territory! We have reached Liberia! Can’t you see the skyscrapers all around the country?”
“Skyscrapers?” I heard myself almost yelling, dumfounded because I was not seeing what he was really talking about. Skyscraper is an unusual word in Liberia. Yes, in the country, we have Pan African Plaza, the Ministry of Finance and the damaged Ducor Palace but relatively high-up buildings aren’t considered skyscrapers. Even assuming they are skyscrapers by Liberian standard, they aren’t near our Airport to be seen by us as we landed at the RIA. I tried pepping through the window and at the same time askance his eyes; trying to follow or, figure out what his eyes were looking at. All that I saw were not buildings. I could not see the skyscrapers he was talking about or looking at.
“Charlie”, I said, “I cannot really see those skyscrapers you are talking about”, I told him. I was getting impatient about this. The plane was steadily descending, a time on plane I feel emotionally torturedscary. I am always enraptured by gut wrenching fear of a crash during landing.
I managed to compress and hold back what was becoming tears that was inch by inch forming in my sockets and waiting to sprout into bubble and roll like a rivulet on my face, when my Ghanaian friend told me scornfully that the skyscrapers he was referring to were the green forest and huts engulfing the vicinity of the Airport and the Liberian landscape as a whole.
The Ghanaian has spent 27 years in Liberia with promising businesses in his home. He confessed that he accrued the wealth from Liberia. His long years of residence in Liberia give him a reasonable insight into Liberian history.
“Max” he cried out, apparently not bothered by intermittent rocking of the plane as the pilot struggled to land safe. “One of my greatest wonders about Liberia is route from RIA to Monrovia. Why is it a single lane when Liberia was second to Japan in the 60s in terms of GDP and Liberia was once the highest producer of Rubber and Iron in the world?”
He coughed hysterically, as if to get my response on this point. He got it not and continued.
“You have diamond, rubber, iron ore, fertile soil and have a population of 3.5 million but your citizens survive on less than a dollars a day and no standard development on the large scale for 163 years of independence and also you cannot produce rice, your staple food, to feed yourself. You must be shamed for your country.”
Was I shame? No. Not on account of a Ghanaian’s critique. I could not be shame. What is wrong with my country that I should be shame about? Should I bow by head? No, though I almost did it anyway and he did not see it. If he had seen this, it was a defeat. I have to look strict in his face to put up a defense. I have to talk something back to him at all cost. I could not allow him to win me. I am a Liberian and, better stay, I work in Government; and in the public relations domain.
“Charlie,” I told him in stone face. “We were never colonized. We didn’t have the luxury of a colonial master’s sense of ownership of our country and the lavish investment and development that comes with it. Two, we have no patriotic inclination that not only comes with nationalistic fight for liberation and freedom, but which also drives the spirit of self-actualization and development.”
“Do you need to be colonized to be nationalistic?” he retorted nearly scornfully. “This is untrue and very far from logic and reasoning. Do you need to be colonized to know that you suppose to improve and better up J.F.K Memorial Hospital instead of most of your public officials in nearly all of your successive Liberian governments rushing to our 37 Military Hospital and Kalaba Hospital for medical check -up nearly every week?”
I looked the other way, pondering how to counter him. He tapped on my side to attract my attention. ”You do not need to be colonized to know that it is against public good for the Government to only have one x-ray machine that is dysfunctional and only one radiologist who is not even practicing his field.”
“But, b…u..t”, I was stuttering trying to put up another resistance when he intercepted:
“I understand there is another modern Hospital built in Tapita, Nimba County by the Chinese and this is a good initiative,” he indicated ,”but your public officials should know or have reason to know that this new hospital should have been completed this very year and should have three years ago sent more medical students or others in related areas for further studies. They would have been back by now to add up to the less than 40 doctors in your country to provide better services to your people and maintain the new facility and equipment. I understand you are waiting for Nigerian or Ghanaian doctors to come”.
“B…u…t,” I was still trying to make a point: ”You know we were ahead of Ghana and others around here in terms of development. It is the 14 years war that took us back. We should have been better developed in all aspects but the war took us back.”
He laughed again and said: ” You come back with the same war story that I hear every time when I discuss with Liberians on your underdevelopment. This is a poor excuse. You are 163 years old. Minus your war record of 14 years you get 149 years. What were you doing those years? What you could not do those years that you wanted to do in 14 years? This is poor excuse. You, Liberians, always put up empty defenses. You are your own problem to your underdevelopment and you must be your own solution. Until you demonstrate will power to sincerely and honestly put your feet and heart down to develop your country, Ghana will continue to be your Florida where some Liberian public officials buy houses and placed their children and come visit every weekend at the expanse of your taxpayers’ money.”
My next defense was swallowed in the hails of the pilot’s announcement calling on passengers to fasten their seat belts.
We landed at the Roberts International Airport (RIA). My Ghanaian friend and I got out of our seats and from the plane together in silence. At the stairs he looked around the airport and then looked at me. He did not say a word. I, too, did not. We walked our separate ways.
Liberia! Liberia! Liberia! What’s the matter? I wondered throughout the RIA route to Monrovia on the taxi cap that took me home.