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A Historic and Memorable Day

July 1, 2012

I love an awkward group photo! The Sanni dream team prepares to leave for Monrovia. We took this photo at my house right before praying and piling into the car. In the back row left to right Prince, Me, George, and Junaitor. In the front Fredrick, Romeo, Emmanuel, Festus, and Philicia.

It was an amazing few days with the students.  We left promptly at 8:00 the morning after prom (much to my surprise and delight) and as the car pulled out of Sanni Emmanuel piped up, “Ms. RB, this is a very historic and memorable day!”  I turned around with a smile, “I couldn’t agree more!”

We got to Ganta and everyone wanted to get out and look for food so the driver stopped.  Philicia’s Pa met us outside ECO Bank and she posed seriously in her blue leopard-print dress while he took her picture with his phone and lavished her with bread and tea for the trip.  He was beaming and she was bashful.  It was really cute.

Then we couldn’t find Romeo.  “Runny belly,” George whispered.  Oh no!  Ten minutes later he returned and, assuring me he was alright, we moved out.  Not ten minutes past the checkpoint he was looking rough again and Junaitor called for plastic.  “We need to stop!” I begged the driver.  Romeo had his head out the window puking.  He got down and disappeared into the bushes for another ten minutes.  He got back in the car but when we had to stop again fifteen minutes later I forced him to go up front and let me take his spot in the back.  The driver gave him some tablets and he started looking better.

…then George started wilting and hanging his head between his knees.  The road was in rough shape, muddy and full of pools.  “You allllright?” I asked quietly.  He just shook his head.  “Please put him down,” I asked the driver again.  George leapt past me and barely made it to the bushes, ten people stopping their work to watch him empty his stomach.  He returned to the car with defeat written all over his face.  Just the day before he’d swooned about someday sitting down in an airplane and here he was, barely able to leave Nimba County.  I tried to comfort him, but he just closed his eyes and buried his face in his bag.

When we finally reached Kakata they were overwhelmed.  “Ayyyyye!  We’re going inside the fence!  Today is really a new beginning!”  I remembered how to find the GB shop and before long they had bounced back.  The girls went back to rest but the boys begged to see the city, “We can’t go back to Sanniquellie and tell them we rested!”  I walked them through the market to my family’s shop then showed them Lango Lippaye (the government school), the Margibi County Field, Booker Washington Institute (BWI), and Kakata Rural Teacher Training Institute (KRTTI).

They were in shock.

“Ms. RB, why didn’t you tell us everything was so… fine?” they asked.  I told them our school and town were alright and they should feel proud that they had accomplished so much with so much less.  “When these students visit Central High,” I said, “they will know you are strong and be impressed.  Don’t feel discouraged.  Feel proud of where you come from.”

As we left the County Field, with its fake turf and fine facilities Festus looked at me and shook his head.  “Really, I am angry,” he said, “We have all the resources in our county, at our fingertips and under our feet.  Why do they have all our money?”

Great question and one I wish I could answer.

“In America,” I replied, “we write letters to our big people when we’re vexed.  Maybe you should ask Prince Johnson.”  They thought for a second then laughed.  We all knew the answer.

“When you become big people,” I said, “and you will, you must remember how you feel today and you must make better choices for your people.  And I don’t mean Nimba County.  All must be equal.  All must be for Liberia.  You are getting me?”  George clapped, “Exactly!”  “We will make you proud, Ms. RB,” Emmanuel said grinning, “When we are big people we will make you proud.”

I turned to face him, “You already do.”

At BWI they marveled at the campus.  A lot of construction has been going on the past year and a new three-story building was nearing completion.  “Ms. RB,” Emmanuel asked, “how many stories?  I’ve never understood how to count the one on the ground.”  There are very few two story buildings in Sanniquellie.  Monrovia will be a shock in the morning.

We had a long walk back and I could tell they were tired so I took the short cut.  That meant we’d pass very close to my family’s house and word would get to my Ma that I hadn’t stopped to see her.  So I called and we dropped in for five minutes, as a good Liberian daughter should.  The boys marveled at my knowledge of the area and I smiled that I was taking eight Liberians on a tour in their own country.  A year ago I couldn’t have dreamed this trip or this day with my students.  I could barely find my way home after training!  It really is proof to me that anything is possible if you dare to dream big and back it up with some serious sweat.

When we got back they played volleyball until the rain came.  I stayed on the porch with Philicia and Junaitor and the boys took their turn relaxing.  We hadn’t had any girl time so I was glad it worked out like that.  Philicia is very quiet and I wanted to make a very safe space for us to talk.  I gave them sample questions to prepare two days ago and I helped them practice, encouraging them to make eye contact and use the interviewer’s name.  I nudged my water bottle around the table, addressing it as “Ms. Porter” and they started laughing and asking their honest questions.  They are both remarkable women—they just need help presenting that.  “I know you don’t want to boast,” I said, “but you are great and she won’t know if you don’t tell her.  You are forced to say good things about yourself tomorrow, alright?”

They nodded.

George and Prince came to join us after awhile.  The dynamic of two boys and two girls was really good and I got all of them to tell great stories about integrating into a different culture and feeling like a stranger.  Apparently George’s parents pulled him from school in 6th grade and sent him to live with an uncle because only local language was being spoken at his school and he wasn’t learning any English.  So the next year he showed up at his new school unable to understand… anything.  By the next year he was named prefect and remained a prefect up until his graduation, also serving as Minister of Education and captain of the quizzing team.  “You are forced to tell this story tomorrow,” I said.  “I am almost certain she will ask a question like this.  Tell her this story then tell her you’ll do the same thing when you get to Costa Rica and have to learn Spanish.”  Prince talked about fleeing to a refugee camp in Guinea with his mother and being unable to even go to the pump for water.  He couldn’t speak to the other children and they wouldn’t let him near unless he could say something in French or the local language… which he could not.

Really?” they asked, “She would care about that?”

After dinner I distributed the transcripts, notebooks, and folders.  I’d also spent $35US on WAEC scratch cards so we could print their official test results.  I took Emmanuel to the computer, scratched the card and typed in his information.

“SCORE WITHHELD”

I had (somehow) not anticipated this since our scores had been released to Mr. Demy more than one week earlier.  I closed my eyes and clenched my jaw.  “Be cool,” I begged myself, “Be cool or they’ll freak out.”  I settled for a long sigh and, sinking back in my chair, told them to give me their handwritten result slips so I could make photocopies.  What else could I really do at 8:00pm the night before?  TIA, baby, TIA.

I gathered the boys and did their own mock interviews.  Everyone’s eyes were heavy with sleep, though, so we did a lot less than I did with the girls.  My two hours of sleep the night before were long used up too and I wasn’t fit for more either.  I sent them all to bed and crawled under my own net, falling asleep before I could even read all my email.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Candace permalink
    July 13, 2012 12:48 am

    Very promising group of young people, everyone holding their heads high! This is a picture and moment to cherish. I thought your interview coaching was incredible. You’ve prepared these kids to meet life head on!

  2. blondie permalink
    July 13, 2012 2:32 pm

    “It really is proof to me that anything is possible if you dare to dream big and back it up with some serious sweat.”
    Wonderful words. Wonderful entry. Wonderful experiences for all! This entry made me tear up. I’m so happy for all of them, so happy for all of you to get to meet each other and share in this! They will go far!
    ❤ you B and good vibes to them all!

    • July 13, 2012 6:05 pm

      blondie has said it all! What a remarkable blog entry, and behind that what strong words and what a powerful person you are. This one made me tear up! Never forget how amazing you are and how many lives you touch.

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