Excerpt: 'And Still Peace Did Not Come'
My family is Gio. We lived in Monrovia when the soldiers started hunting people from our tribe. I was two years old and lived with my auntie. When the soldiers came, my parents ran to the church and we were going to run with them, but my auntie said we should wait. While we were waiting, we heard on the news that they were carrying on a massacre at the church. Everyone was being slaughtered. My mother, my father, my little sister! When this happened, my auntie screamed, "I am a Gio woman! See what they did to your mother, your father, and your little sister? If the people come and find out we are Gio, they will kill us, too!"
We could not stay there any longer. We ran to Nimba, which is where the revolution started and where my family comes from. My auntie thought we would be safe there. But she was an old woman, and when we got to Nimba she could not take the gunshots anymore. As soon as we got to our village, she died.
I remember crying, crying, my auntie dead and wondering who would take care of a little boy like me? People were running into the forest, so I followed them. I didn't know nobody, nobody know me. Suddenly, one of Charles Taylor's leaders jerked his thumb in my direction. He said I should follow him. He said he loved me because I was a bright child and had high-headed ways. He would promote me to the Small Boys Unit, which is what they called "The Marines" back then. And you know, as a child, you don't have any sense, so I ran with that group until I was four or five years old.
At seven years, he gave me gun. I didn't even know about guns, but he taught me to shoot and I did some things I still regret. Once, I was standing there and my commander and one of his deputies starting arguing. They made a bet about a pregnant woman — and if anybody is related to that woman, please forgive me. The rebel leader said the woman had a boy child in her stomach. His deputy said she had a girl child. They bet two hundred U.S. dollars.
Then my commander called me over. He said, "Jefferson!" I said, "Sir chief?" He say, "Open that woman! I want to see which child is in her stomach!" She was screaming. Crying "Lord, Lord, Lord." But because we were all on drugs, we didn't do things normally. I opened that woman raw to see what sex she was having. And the child was a male child, so my commander was happy. He got two hundred dollars U.S. for his trouble. And the woman died. And her baby died. And after I cleaned up the operation my commander said, "You are good to go."
People thought it was Judgment Day. The end of the world. Suddenly everything we heard would happen if we didn't live more righteously — Turn to God! Before it's too late! — was raining down on our tiny African nation. Brother killed brother. Sons were forced to rape their mothers. Fathers were forced to sleep with their daughters just to save their lives. Children were sacrificed. Those who weren't sacrificed or kidnapped stayed close to their parents. It was too dangerous for them to play outdoors. The beaches, the jungle, even the schoolyards, were full of bullets. For fourteen years, it was like the last day on earth.
Why God had chosen to start with Liberia was a mystery. So far as we knew we had done little and mattered less in the world's eyes. We had waged no wars, built no nuclear weapons. The average Liberian's salary would make you shake your heads in piteous disbelief. Still, we looked for answers: Would this be happening if I had worked harder? Been kinder to my loved ones? It took a long time for us to understand that the darkness swallowing our country had been building for a long time. We were demanding answers for actions that went back decades and, in some cases, centuries.
If you do not know Liberia, you are not alone. Most people can't point to it on a map or know about the nightmare that for fourteen years tore our country apart. The few who do often lump it together with Africa's other fifty-two countries and island nations and dismiss us. In telling you this story, I hope to change that perception, but not for the reasons you might think. What's done can never be undone. We are responsible for our sorrow, and it is up to us, the Liberian people, to look back, look past, and move on. No one can do that for us. Still, everyone knows history's talent for repeating itself. I am an optimist, but we live in a world where terrible things can and do recur. While I hope with all my heart that what happened to us never happens to you, we can learn from Liberia's tragedy. If we don't, someday our grief could be yours.
Excerpted from And Still Peace Did Not Come by Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna and Emily Holland. Copyright 2011 Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna and Emily Holland. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Hyperion.
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