voices of liberia: vamba sherif

It was a long way from Liberia to The Netherlands, but Vamba Sherif travelled this road over the years. He has settled in the low lands and he writes. He writes about living in the low lands. he speaks about being a stranger in your homeland. His Liberia is never far away. 

In his voice of Liberia he tells about the possibility of returning to Liberia and the difficulties that accompany that thought. The memories of the cruelty and the violence and the war. A memory of a country torn apart. 

Voices of Liberia: Vamba Sherif You know, sometimes we can get so blinded by our passions, we fail to take into account things having nothing to do with those very passions. It is no secret by now  how incredibly passionate I am about the progression of Liberia. It’s crazy really., whenever you say ‘hello’, or ‘How are you’ to a Liberian, the response is not the common response one would expect, but always “oh, what to do”, or “we’re here oh”, or “we thank God oh”… I believe it stems from us  having to constantly validate to ourselves, and to others, that we are making it despite our seemingly never-ending strife for betterment. However, back to my previous point of how I have gotten so blinded with my passion for Liberia. I find myself constantly persuading Diaspora Liberians to make it part of their plans to return home and give to their nation whatever it is they have learned abroad, as it so desperately needs what each of us have to give.  In all this persuasion, I’ve failed to take into account the many reasons why Liberians might not want to return home. After my conversation with this week’s feature, I realized that Liberia holds painful memories for most of us in the Diaspora. Most of us fled Liberia during and after the war in search of refuge. For some of us who actually lived through the horrors of the war, Liberia is not a safe haven, as those very streets were massacre and burial grounds for our loved ones. Not only is Liberia no longer seen as a safe haven, there is a great distrust in the system, and in the security of the nation, which was made worse during the Ebola epidemic and it’s constant reemergence. Additionally, people might not want to return home because they have their families there to provide for; some of whom do not seem to understand how tough life abroad is for immigrants. We have to make life in a land strange to us while finding our daily bread, still having to deprive ourselves only to save and send back home. It is definitely no gold mine as it is believed. Lastly, there is so much resentment from Liberians back home towards those coming from abroad, as if we too are not Liberians. This could be a result of the high expectations of those coming from abroad which they rarely meet, as they forget the discipline they were accustomed to abroad and adopt the same Liberian ways we are all trying to get rid of; some even becoming much worse than those living back home.This week’s feature to the Voices of Liberia series is a Novelist and Film Critic, Vamba Sherif. After an incredible conversation with Vamba, I now understand the many factors preventing some Diaspora Liberians from returning back home. However, I still stand by my encouragement of us returning back home, as it so desperately needs us now that the Ebola epidemic is over and have left various mediums of investments and growth opportunities. As Vamba so eloquently stated, Liberia is our home. No matter how much it might hurt us to return, the joy it brings to us, that overwhelming feeling of homecoming we get whenever we do visit, or the feeling of loss when we have to leave will never be replaced. - Colloqua is the language of our people. It is what brings us together across nations. It is our story, our culture, and our voice. Coming from The Netherlands, here is Vamba’s story: Liberia“There’s a road leading from Monrovia, through Kakata, Gbarnga, Zorzor, Voinjama ,and to my birthplace, Kolahun. A road that is flanked by a canopy of forest, dust-swathed villages, and littered with memories of my childhood. These memories are like snippets of a song that reaches me across the barriers of exile, and I found myself yearning for the place that give birth to me, Liberia. Liberia is a theme in itself in my writing - a place with vibrant people and a unique, but at times, terrible history, especially the recent war and the Ebola tragedy.  Every time I return to Liberia, and I am surrounded by buzzes of our English, like most Liberians of our heritage, I am overwhelmed with an inexplicable feeling of homecoming. My recollections of life in the country, which are limited to prewar era – for I left Liberia before the war – make my longing to understand its past, its present, and future more urgent than ever. I want to know what happened, and to understand why it happened. So I listen to people share their stories and experiences in the war with me. The stories are a way of reaching out to me, a way of sharing in their pain, and in their loss, which is also my loss. It is way of affirming the tie that binds us. Literature-WritingThe first book I bought with my money was The Arabian Nights. It was in four volumes. I remember lying in bed and reading those stories for hours on end. One of my elder brothers owned dozens of novels from The Heinemann African Writers Series, and he would allow me to read them. I read Wilton Sankawulo, Bai T. Moore and others in a home that was as noisy as a marketplace. I discovered Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. There’s a scene in one of his novels, in which the main character, a teacher, confronts his people with the choice of siding with him or not. A young woman, his beloved, stood up to support him. This was a defining moment in the novel, a scene worthy of any other in world literature. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve read everything this great writer has written. I grew up with stories. I felt then, and feel now, that not only were stories a means of escaping to other worlds, but also a means of relating to them. I began to tell stories myself, not knowing that one day, after a life in Liberia, in Kuwait, in Syria, and in The Netherlands, I would end up choosing storytelling as a craft. ExileEdward W. Said wrote somewhere that ‘The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind forever.’ This is how I felt while war raged on in Liberia. My existence was undermined by the reality that the Liberia of my childhood was lost to me forever. Out of that despair, I became a writer. One night, I picked up a pen, and without knowing exactly what I wanted to do, I began to write a story that would end up becoming the novel of the founding of Liberia, The land of the fathers. It launched my career. I miss Liberia in my adopted home here in The Netherlands. Whenever I visit it, I begin to miss it, because I know that sooner or later, I will leave it. I think that sense of loss will never be overcome. I’ve lived two-thirds of my life outside of Liberia, and being a writer makes me acutely aware of that irrecoverable loss. Liberian Literature A country is its stories. It’s the same in Liberia. The story of Liberia was told by the settlers through the letters sent home to America; detailed letters of hardship and relationship, and of how the settlements which would become Liberia were governed. The people who inhabited the shores of Liberia and its interior prior to the arrival of the newcomers preserved their ways of life through their stories. We know of movements of people from one place to another, we know of the relationship between one group and the other. What is lacking in postwar Liberia is the appreciation of these common histories, and the inability to be honest when telling them. No one group of people in Liberia is independent of the other, historically or otherwise, and the more we learn to appreciate our common heritage, the better for our future. In a letter from a woman in 19th century Monrovia to her relatives, I recognized the anxieties, the concern of a people who were trying to survive on strange shores. Just as in the stories of Sankawulo, I see myself, and can relate to the characters. I grew up reading these Liberian stories and listening to them. It was a privilege then and still is. We should appreciate our heritage.”You can keep up with Vamba at vambasherif.com, and on Twitter @vambasherif 

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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