The Tug on My Heart
By: Emmanuel Dolo, Ph. D.
So too, have I been thinking about the powerful men and women that used their power ruthlessly to damn many Liberians to a disgraceful life of displacement and second class existence in continents from Western and Eastern Europe to Asia, Latin America to Africa and North America to the Arab world. I have talked to friends who have visited Liberia and returned and this deep longing for returning home only overwhelms me at each interval. There is a vacant lot inside me. I have not been able to fulfill this yearning since I took the flight that landed me in Tulsa Oklahoma nearly 20 years ago, where I begun my story of refuge.
A Sense of Imprisonment
There are days that the only thing that I feel is a sense of being in prison and wanting to catch a glance of freedom. The way that I feel is like a lump in my stomach and a sickness of despair; and it sometimes anguishes and angers me. It is not that I am angry at a person, but there is a deep longing that just cannot be satisfied. There is something in Liberia and in being Liberian that keeps me lusting after my homeland. Liberia needs me and I need Liberia even more, to be fully human again. I am re-searching for my Liberian identity that suffered a gash years ago when I was forced by instability and warfare to leave and to stay away for so many years. I do not belong to any other nation, but Liberia, and I am having a hard time fulfilling my desire to reunite with my homeland.
Unease of Abandoning the Ties to Refuge
I have gotten older and put some sticks in the ground, had children, and cannot just abandon these obligations without immense consequences. But I know that America is not Liberia and will never be Liberia. There is no day that goes by that something does not happen to remind me that I am not an American. Those who tore up my roots to Liberia and have caused me so much of a craving have yet not realized the costs of their crude actions. I see them in public spaces every day through the mind eyes. No pain is more acute than having a dream that puts me back in Yekepa where I grew up or Ganta, my hometown with childhood friends talking about the things that we wanted to do when we grew old.
There are some of us who might even be feeling that we have achieved a place in the tedious and repetitive life that brings a level of material satisfaction that is relatively less gruesome. But perhaps it is even more painful to realize that the dose of reality – that you are not an American; a real American comes flashing when a person with less than stellar credentials screams in your face – “This is my country and not yours.” All it does is to pull the rug from underneath you. You fight so hard to hold on, and then convince yourself that it will be over one day, when you can go home again. And being home will give my life the meaning that being displaced has taken away from me.
I wake up confused with a heavy heart and a wound so deep that all I can do is toss and turn many times. My family tells me that the nightmare can become so real that I talk to myself. Perhaps, it is this deep ache and yearning that cannot stop me from seeking solutions to our problems or expressing my disappointment at those who think that they still must continue on the self-indulgent pathways that caused the level of suffering that many of us feel. I have also often wondered about the naïve anticipation of my brothers and sisters who often call wanting me to help them come to America.
No amount of telling them that they need to at least complete college before even considering the idea of coming to America. And their reply is often a sense of disappointment that I am so strong in my determination that they come prepared to endure the sense of not belonging to America that being here delivers. It is a dull life, I try to tell them. You do the same thing over and over and again, and even if you are tired of it, you have to do it repeatedly because your survival hinges upon it. Those of us here only wish that we had the Liberia of old and the many things that we failed to appreciate then.
Would going back home restore the craving for my homeland that I feel? Is there a place for me in my homeland? When I return home, would the exhaustion that I feel everyday in refuge be replaced by strength to serve my fellow Liberians? While at home, would my sense of self be humbled by a refuge experience that has rendered me a second class person to give, rather than take away for selfish purposes as others have done in the past? Would I be one that diminishes the efforts of others measuring it by false yardsticks that make no allotments fro the textures of their lived experiences in war? What would convince me that Liberia is not dead, that it has vitality and it might just take my sense of pride in it to revive the resources that predators have depleted, thus rendering it a collapsed state? Could it be that the turmoil and confusion that is going on inside me is a matter of a voice seeking to reinvigorate and spur a new vision for reconstructing Liberia?
Why should I be angry at those Liberians who placed us in exile? Yes! We faced a setback or series of setbacks from the founding era to the Doe and Taylor eras. Personal bickering and self-seeking aims overwhelmed some of our elders and these lopsided ambitions; we could not stop from endangering the state. There will always be Liberians dripping wet with the false sense of themselves and sinister in their wickedness and bigotry against others; using those as backdrops for wanting to spike conflict. We cannot liberate those kinds of people from their decadence. What we have control over is challenging their narrow-mindedness with a stronger belief in Liberia to bounce back and give us the meaning that they robbed us of. The most critical step that each Liberian citizen or anyone who loves Liberia can take is to stand firm and demonstrate their faith in Liberia and its rebirth. In each Liberian or friend of Liberia, I want to look and find a love for Liberia and an accompanying moral fiber so strong enough that it can break the chains of self-affliction and in some cases, self-hate that has caused us so much pain and agony.
What is it that has caused me so much misery since I left my homeland? Yes! I want to be back on the soil that is physically called Liberia. But it is more than that. The place called America is a physical space where I have settled and gained assets that my own country was unable to give me. My quality of life has improved since leaving Liberia, but all that do not compare to what being home could deliver. Nonetheless, my humanity might just be feeling out of alignment because something irreplaceable was cut out of my existence when I was forced to leave Liberia. That imbalance is explained in part by many events, which occurred since I left Liberia. I have been unable to see my father for over 18 years. I could not be by my mother’s bedside as she was dying and could not bury her. I was unable to bury my brother and sister who died during the war. I lost many childhood friends to the war and have no idea how they were buried. I still walk around naming names of people who have been dead, until someone says, they died several years ago. Some professionals call it closure – putting a psychological lid on one’s agonizing past. Many of us have yet to experience closure and will remain haunted by it until we made the rounds full circle.