September 23, 2003
Hard news is difficult to come by when we're talking about Liberia. It is harder still, when the focus is not Monrovia. I was thrilled the other day when 'Friends of Liberia' published some news about Maryland County. Reading the names of places where I grew up was thrilling. Although the news out of Pleebo and Harper is not quite good, it was nice to be assured that those lovely places still exist.
It's been quite a long time, a very long time, since I was in that neck of the woods, but as my mind's eye awakens and travels back in time, I see myself walking down the streets of Harper. I cross the Hoffman River and I go past Jimmy Anderson's big apartment building near the bridge. I cross Marsh Street, Water Street and Green Street, too. Now I'm near the general market where the Fanti women have a monopoly on the fish market. The Grebo women bring fresh produce of all sorts from farms far, far away. First they ferry across rivers and streams in home-built canoes and walk the rest of the way to the market. The Kru women sell rice, salt, chicken soup, peanuts and other retail items.
I hear the noises and wonder how anybody hears anybody else. But they do, because I see them laughing - they seem to be enjoying the hustle and bustle.
An assortment of taxicabs and pick-up trucks add to the noisy atmosphere
as they compete for passengers. “Pleebo, Barrakeh, Springhill, Cavalla,
Rocktown and Fish town”, they yell. These are all popular destinations.
These are not just transportation vehicles, they are pieces of artwork on display - drawings of all sorts adorn them. On them are also written some strange pieces of poetry, for example: “God never sleeps” or “God don't sleep”, one says “Woman that trouble”. Another simply says “Man Pekin”. There is “Young Man” and there is “Luck Pass Fine”. There is always “In God we trust” or “God never fails”. But the one that blows my mind is “Easy Does It”. The driver goes one hundred miles per hour in a residential neighborhood with three schools and a clinic. And I'm wondering easy does what?
Many of the cabs and pickup trucks are driven by Mandingo and Fula drivers. They also own smaller merchant shops and tailor shops, as well. They are the personification of entrepreneurship. For a quarter, they'll give your hunger a quick fix: Bread, butter and a coke. It's a wise thing to be able to open a credit account with them - yes, charge it.
However, the big stores are run mostly by Arabs. Local people call them all Lebanese. But some are Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians and Persians, too. But they are all Lebanese as far as we know. We call them, “those damn Lebanese”, to be exact. But life is still beautiful; there's room for everybody.
People gather into these stores to quench their thirst. Many drink Club Beer and dispense some wild and wise tales; sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
By now I've reached Maryland Avenue to visit my friend and brother, the late Harold Fredericks - the best friend anyone could have asked for, truly. We stand in front of Roxy Cinema and the Psychedelic Inn, but we've already seen all the Bruce Lee flicks, and that's all being shown. I look across the street at Bob Willie Tubman's grand mansion and I wonder: How can one family occupy that thing? Oh, well, we must move on. As usual, Harold is “on a case”, so I hang with him and we take a stroll down the street.
I can see the Island of Pudukeh, that mysterious place where my mom warns me not go. It is surrounded by the Pudukeh and Hoffman Rivers and the Atlantic Ocean. Not too many people ever go to Pudukeh. You must have some real pressing matters to go there, unless, of course, you are the daring or over-adventuresome type. Some dudes swim across the river just to pick coconuts and test their swimming skills; I admire them but I stay away.
There is a military barrack there and many of the soldiers are from the Lorma, Kpelle and Gio and Krahn tribes. Many, therefore, don't know how to swim. So when the get to Pudukeh, they stay there. No absences without leave (AWOL) for these guys.
We go past Old Kru Town and past the post office. The old post office seems like it is in the middle of the ocean because of soil erosion. Anyway, we go past that and take the back way to the island, Dead Island; that is. There's a story to the name, but let's not deviate here; just strolling for now.
We hitch a ride back to town. We go past the Tubman Mansion in up cape, the small mansion, that is. This one belongs to W.V.S. Tubman, remember him? He had another mansion in Monrovia, too. We go by way of South Baltimore Avenue or was it North Baltimore Avenue? We get dropped off on Gregory Street and Harold makes another stop on Printing Street, I think that's what they call it.
Back by the cinema, I hitch a ride on a Bishop Ferguson High School bus, picking up day students for an afternoon soccer practice. We go past Our Lady of Fatima High School and the Convent, past the City Hall and on towards Bethel Temple High School to the football stadium. Some market women are on their way home to Little Wlebo.
It's not too long before I hitch another ride to New Kru Town where I make a pit stop. I eventually take a stroll towards Bassa Community where I stop to chat with some other fellows before finally heading on home. By this time John Hillary Tubman Junior High School lets out and J.T. Darrel is about to take in, that means there is a parade of girls - girls of all proportional dimensions. I watch the girls go by in their nicely pressed, crisp uniform skirts and engage in some chatter with the ' players' before I go back home to Hoffman Station. I don't go by way of the bridge; I go through Wudukeh, past the big, old, tall and grand cotton tree.
The next day, I head on to Pleebo. Today is St. Francis Day and I won't miss it for the world. We go by way of East Harper and Tubman Town, or is it Bunker Hill? I see the new Tubman College of Technology. Trucks from the Liberian Sugar Corporation (LIBSUCO), ply the roadways, full of laborers. There are LIBSUCO motorcycles, too.
There is a football match between St. Francis School and Pleebo High School. Poor Pleebo High loses again, but it's a good game. The evening social event takes place at the Cavalla Social Club House on Evansville, near Gedetarbo. The radio ads have been running on the Voice of Pleebo radio station for all to hear. But to be on the safe side, elaborate, handwritten notices are posted everywhere; on storefronts, on bill boards and even on electric poles. Before going to the jam session, though, I stop to mingle with some other party people. They are being entertained by the Kweedokeh Band on its way back from the parade. Here I see people from Kweedokeh, Gbolokeh, Gbekeh and Gbolobo doing their thing. The bandmaster is incredible - he's got it going on!
At the Club House, I see old friends from Drivers' Camp, Factory Camp, Rubber Bed, Hospital Camp, Gebio, Glebionenekeh, Sodokeh, Sidikeh and all the Firestone Divisions (too numerous to name). Did I mention Palm Camp, Zinc Camp, Lawrenceville, Kru Town in Gedetarbo, Neekambo and East Camp? Yes, everyone's here; all dressed up!
St. Francis Day does attract a lot of people. They are coming in from as far away as Weasekeh, Trembo, Tuobo, Tubakeh Bonnokeh and even Karlokeh. St. Francis School Day is a grand occasion in Maryland County. And on this festive occasion, as usual, Maryland Combo is there doing its thing. The jam session is amazing, although there are so many folks, not everyone can hit the dance floor at the same time. But an unwritten agreement seems to exist: Some will dance while others sit and watch and others take strolls down some dark alleys, trying to find life's meaning. Let's not forget a few lucky youngsters manage to drive their parents' cars and they'll steal the show any day, it seems. Well, all you've got to do is hang out with them - these are mainly the boys from Harper. There is always a tension between Harper and Pleebo boys, usually over girls. Thank God I fit right in. I'm both a Pleebo and Harper boy.
Well, it was nice taking this trip down memory lane. Long live Liberia. And long live Maryland, the shining star in the East. May you shine forever, we pray.