Category Archives: Liberia

DE LANGE WEG

My secondhand copy of this book (The Long Road) has been signed by the writer Bruce Cerew in 2010, in the Dutch town of Ede. He travelled a long way to get to The Netherlands. I assume that this book is an autobiography, in which Bruce writes about his life in Nigeria (where he was born and raised and where he worked as a tailor), Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Netherlands. It is not clear to me if the original English text of this book has been published in English. Maybe only the Dutch translation has seen life in print. I did not see any English title in the colofon.  

The protagonist in this book is named Ray. He lives in Aba Town in southeastern Nigeria, where he was born around 1971. Hardship is his due with a very difficult relationship with his father. During the long summer holidays he stays with his grandparents in another place called Amata. Here his dreams and nightmares with apparitions start.  A constant dream is about a young white girl, who he names Nexus. In his dreams the two even marries. To Ray this is a sign that also in real life he wants to marry a white girl. 

After many days and months in turmoil Ray returns to his father (his mother and siblings have been sent away by Ray’s father!) and for a period of three years he studies and works to be a tailor. He moves to Part Harcourt where he gets a job in a tailoring sweatshop. He is very talented and gets the approval of the wife of the governor of Cross Rivers State. He gets a job with her. The wife of the governor, however, is not the only one who is interested in the skills of Ray. One Jenny Bangale wants him to go to Monrovia to work for her company. 

In Monrovia disaster strikes for they witness a coup against sergeant Doe. After some time they manage to escape to Sierra Leone, but also here life is pot of boiling water. All the time his dreams of a white girl is still very much alive in his mind and he stays away from other girls. 

The next phase of the life of Ray are the attempts to leave West Africa to get to Europe. One day he is on a boat leaving Monrovia and suddenly he is at Schiphol Airport in The Netherlands. All the time he has given details about the events he was involved in but now: nothing on his journey to Amsterdam. Silence, complete silence. WHY? 

In The Netherlands we follow his long journey through Dutch screening to weigh his life and his background and his motivation to settle in The Netherlands.  At times Ray is very critical of Dutch society and politics and the camps he has to stay in. And still his dream of a white girl is alive. In the Dutch part of the book the hunt for a white girl is on, both inside the camps for asylum seekers as outside. He visits clubs and disco’s, looking for that girl. Later on he moves to near Utrecht and in the streets he starts conversations with white girls. He hooks girls but not very succesful in the end, till he meets Trudy. In the end he marries her. 

Remarkable are his tailoring skills that seem to have absconded once he arrives in The Netherlands. In the first plays he stayed in a camp he was in love with a Russian girl and the feeling was mutual, but when they are brought to different camps, there is not much effort on the side of ray to find out where she lives.  

At the end of the book Ray recounts what happened to some of his friends. One married to a Dutch girl and lives in The Netherlands. Another friend also married a Dutch girl and the couple now lives in Canada. Jenny Bangale and her husband seem to have vanished into thin air.  And The Russian girl Irina? He does not know where she is.

At times Ray gives the impression that he is very shy, but underneath he is very clear about what he wants and he works towards it, also in his relationships with women. 

A few times Ray mentions that he is a member of the Seventh Day Adventists (SDA). I have know several SDA members from Central Africa, and they were very clear about their christian position. For Ray religion does not play a role in his life. 

Bruce Cerew – De lange weg. Het verhaal van een oorlogskind – 2009 Afbeeldingsresultaat voor bruce cerew de lange weg

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How to “Madame President”

Madame President is not referring to the madame who did not become president of the United States of America. Hillary Clinton did not make it. 

The title, however, refers to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a lady from Liberia, who has achieved political experience over many years. At her pinnacle she became president of the West African country Liberia. Helene Cooper has written a book on her and she interviewed her here

THE LAND OF THE FATHERS

The Liberia-born (1973) writer Vamba Sherif lives in The Netherlands. He is a man with a knack for languages. This book was written in Eglish and translated into Dutch and published in Dutch. I do not know if this book has been published in English as well. 

In this book Sherif returns to his country of birth and its history spanning two sides of an ocean. He weaves with two strands. The local population and the ‘invaders’ from the other side of the ocean, who came back to Africa after a period of slavery. Two strands that have an uneasy relationship noting the history of Liberia as a haven for freed slaves and their descendants (from the United States of America) and as a place where the local populace saw those strangers (and still so familiar) coming. There were however descendants of slaves who tried to bridge the gap and settle with the local people.

The pattern of weaving starts in the the 19th century and ends in small steps and in large steps in the final periods of the 20th century. It is a story of love and uneasiness, a story of closeness and vast gaps, a story of east is east and west is west and shall the twain ever meet.

This book shows the complexities of a country with a ragged and torn history, a history of power and sharing of power (of the lack of sharing), it shows the ravages of war especially for the common man and woman.

Vamba Sherif has written a very nice book, his debut in the literary world. 

 Vamba Sherif – The Land of the Fathers – 1999 

johnson foundation distributes

To get a proper education in many African Countries it is needed to have good books. Liberia is not an exception. To get books, as a school and as a pupil, is not an easy task. Every help is welcome. Read what happened in Liberia.

act award judges

The Awele Creative Trust has a mission to support the literary scene in Nigeria. The trust especially wants to encourage young writers. The creative director is Chika Unigwe. Read about the judges here

Vamba Sherif

Vamba Sherif, one of the judges

book presentation ‘the black napoleon’

The name of Napoleon (the French emperor) is familiar to me. Two hundred years ago he was defeated at the battle of Waterloo (present-day Belgium). But I did not know about a man nicknamed ‘The Black Napoleon’.

Next month a novel on this man will be presented. The book has been written by the Dutch-Liberian (or Liberian-Dutch) writer Vamba Sherif. The man who has been compared to Napoleon is Samori Toure (1830 – 1900). Toure was from presentday Guinea and he conquered a large area, comparable to the size of Europe. He was fighting against the French and the British powers. 

Cover De Zwarte Napoleon

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