“This post is dedicated to my grandmother Nuah, who I buried on this trip, Mother Africa who I was meeting for the first time and to all mothers; Happy Mother’s day!”- Tahlee Mambia
Prior to my first trip to Liberia, I heard so many stories about my father’s birth place. I would often hear the stories of how beautiful, vibrant and prosperous “she” was; “little America” is what they would call her. Liberia.
History: Liberia is one of the few African countries that have close relations to the United States. Liberia which means “land of the free” is the first and oldest republic to maintain its independence through the European Colonial Era. Liberia is located on the continent’s west coast and home to nearly 3.7 million people who represent numerous tribes and speak over 20 indigenous languages, however English is often spoken.
Facts: Prior to the arrival of free born Blacks and former slaves (Americo- Liberians, a term that is no longer used) in the early 1800s, Liberia was home to many aboriginal people. My family is of the “Dan tribe” (Gio). We are from Gbloulay (Bloo-Lay), a small village in Nimba County that borders Guinea. So when people say, “oh so you are really American”, no I am Liberian! Get it right!
My Arrival: After thirteen hours, my plane started to descend into Roberts International airport and my mind started racing with all type of thoughts (because I’m an Aries and that’s what we do). 1) Did my daddy tell them I don’t eat beef or pork?, 2) Where is the US Embassy (Just in case a civil war breaks out…It has happened) 3) The heat is going to kill my hair and 4) I only know one person, my aunt Betty, what am I going to do for two weeks. Then my “inner self” told “myself”, “Girl chill, just enjoy the experience!” So I did.
Once I exited the airport I was greeted by two large caravans of my family cheering, screaming, crying and praising God for my safe arrival. The first person I saw was my aunty Betty, then my uncle Issac, some more cousins (there are MANY) and then finally my older sister Yeeloe! That’s when I lost it, I cried like a baby. Because of Liberia’s fifteen year long civil war, I had only talked to my sister over the phone and seen a few pictures. But just as we were celebrating my arrival we were also preparing to bury my grandmother. She had passed just a few weeks before my arrival, which was a hard pill to swallow because this was the whole point of the trip, too see her again.
The Journey: After being in Monrovia (the capitol) for a few days, it was time to take the 12 hour drive (more like 14 hours) to the “interior” aka Gbloulay, where my grandmother was to be buried. So off we go, all of my dad’s siblings (he is the oldest of MANY), my cousins (there are MANY), my sister, me and my security (daddy is a bit protective)! Because of the civil war, most of the roads had been destroyed, so we were riding along very bumpy, crater filled dirt roads that was this beautiful shade of burnt orange. Along the way, I saw my dad’s alma mater Cuttington University. We drove further inland and saw his high school, stopped at my Aunt’s restaurant in Ganta to eat some really good food, then we stopped by my aunt’s newly established clinic, passing my dad’s childhood boarding school and finally we arrive in the village!
It was so beautiful, the lush green countryside, the huts, the outdoor markets, men on stilts and the people dancing and singing as they moved my grandmother’s casket to outdoor viewing area. It was overwhelming! It was so humbling to see where my father was born and raised, this very raw organic place with no electricity or running water and only one particular spot where you can stand to get a spotty satellite signal to make a phone call.
I was in the village for about four days to carry out the burial ceremonies. My favorite cousin Tarkpor showed me around. Although the diamond mines that once financed my dad’s tuition are long gone (DANG!), I visited more cousins (there are MANY), more aunts and uncles (there are MANY), my grandfather’s tomb (Did I mention he was Chieftain of the village? We like royalty!) and we ate and ate and ate! The traditional food was so good. The spices were amazing. Organic vegetables pulled from the earth that day, fresh meat killed that day, and a lot of rice (typical of most Africans)!
There is so much more I could tell you but my editor will probably blow a gasket if this blog post gets any longer. My three takeaways from this trip: 1) Knowing where you come from is important 2) Be grateful for the little things 3) My family may not have much but they are happy and enjoy life! -Thank you Mama Africa
Enjoy the Journey