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Postcard from Monrovia: Drei Res n Fish, give me some more

HomePostcard from Monrovia: Drei Res n Fish, give me some more

Postcard from Monrovia: Drei Res n Fish, give me some more

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By Osman Benk Sankoh

Emotions surged within me as we passed through immigration at Bo Waterside, and the Officer’s words, “Welcome to Liberia,” echoed in my ears, triggering a wave of nostalgia.

My return to Liberia was a significant milestone, marking almost seven years since the end of my assignment with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

As a Public Information Officer in the Community Outreach Unit, I traversed the nation, orchestrating awareness campaigns on the mission’s objectives. Our first task was to persuade the combatants to participate in the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) process, a mission that took us into rebel-controlled areas even before the arrival of military peacekeepers.

Once, we went to Tubmanburg in Bomi County to negotiate with a rebel-installed city mayor for a peace concert. He gave us his blessings. He did not consult with the rebel Commander. He was no longer in charge on our return to facilitate the musical concert. We were told he was tried for making a unilateral decision without the consent of the Commander, found guilty, flogged and dethroned. We had to renegotiate, but this time, with the Commander himself amid gun-toting and RPG-carrying, red-eyed child combatants on standby to snuff life out of human beings at the slightest command.

After the DDR, we joined civic education, voter registration, and other related campaigns that hugely contributed to the peaceful conduct and acceptance of the 2005 elections. The elections ushered into office Africa’s first democratically elected female President, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

As I prepared to return to a place I had called home for many years and always felt at home, anticipation and curiosity washed over me. I was eager to witness the progress or lack thereof, that had occurred since I had last been there.

My emotions were a mix of anticipation and apprehension as we journeyed from Freetown to Gendema, the Sierra Leone border town and just across the Mano River Bridge is Bo Waterside, the Liberia border town. The transition was seamless on the Sierra Leonean side, but signs of the country’s challenges were evident on the Liberian side. The road from Klay Junction to the city gates has deteriorated and is today marred by potholes, some as deep as an infant’s grave, a stark reminder of the infrastructure issues still plaguing the nation.

Piles of plastic waste littered along the way. ‘Star Base,’ the logistics office of UNMIL, was a pale shadow of its former self.

I could not help but notice helmet-wearing and baton-wielding officers of the Emergency Response Unit (ERU) at the gates of the University of Liberia. Someone mentioned that a protest was in the offing. The traffic was not hindered. There was no fear that the perceived demonstrators would go into a looting spree, nor would the ERU curb the demonstration with the heavy-handedness the police are known for elsewhere.

At the other end, towards the Stella Maris Polytechnic University, a senior police officer waved our vehicle through with a salute, probably because it had a foreign license plate and we could as well be a high-level delegation. No questions. No complaints.

The following day, I woke up to a call from Chris Wolo, my buddy. He stopped by. Before that, the previous night, Beyan Flomo Pewee had picked me up for the Karaoke night at Club Montserado, formerly Anglers.

From afar, the melodious voice of someone doing an All-4-One ( an American male RnB & Pop Group)  song kept coming as we descended the stairs. The voice was familiar, but I wasn’t too sure. At the final landing, the singer noticed me. He smiled but did not stop singing. He walked up to me, hugged me, and returned. It was Nicolas, winner of the ‘A Star is Born’ singing competition that we organised in the immediate aftermath of the war and the second-placed winner of Project Fame West Africa – a singing competition once hosted in Nigeria. I was thrilled to see him in his usual self, blowing his pipes.

Following my memorable encounter with Nicolas, my sojourn to Monrovia continued. Stepping into what was once UNMIL Radio, now ECOWAS Radio, I was greeted with a warm, familiar chaos. My former colleagues swarmed around me, their excitement palpable. Ebenezer Sipoh, in his usual boisterous manner, exclaimed, ‘Man!’ and nearly lifted me off my feet like a 50 kg bag of rice. He playfully questioned why Freetown was in darkness, hinting at our shared sense of humour. I smiled, the unspoken answer hanging in the air.

Eva Flomo, the Station Manager, was having lunch when I walked into what used to be Kojo Mensah’s office. She nearly ‘breakdanced’ with me. Hillary shouted, “My Arsenal Brother from Freetown”, and wanted to know if Chris Wolo had done the needful.

Downstairs, Sayou Tequah was meeting with journalists from the counties for training. He immediately stopped and waxed lyrical about yours truly. I encouraged him to get the Press Secretary, Ms Kula Fofanah, to invite the lads to audit one of the press conferences for inspiration.

I visited a former colleague who now heads the Liberia Petroleum Regulatory Agency. She was pleasantly surprised when I walked in with the swagger of one seeking to prospect for petroleum products. The same was true when I met with a friend, now a Deputy Minister of Justice.

Kekura Kamara, leader of Balawala International, one of the twelve groups of traditional communicators we used for our outreach engagements, also came to visit. We reminisced over the passing of Bennie Johnson, Mawolo Kpadeh, Moses Swaray, and Georgio Boutini. All of these, through awareness-raising, contributed to the peace Liberia now enjoys.

 

Rechline and Clifford, friends I first met at the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont, also visited. We spoke about Yekeh Koulibah, a Representative in the National Legislature who has constantly given headaches to those in the Executive. He had no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics.

My colleagues from the UN in Liberia, Christian and Christiana, joined me for dinner at Club Montserado. I ordered grouper, pepper Karlah (akara), and plantain. It was the only time I ate food other than ‘drei rice n fish’, a Liberian dish with smoked fish, fried fish, okra, and rice mixed with oil.

I ate the delicacy for dinner at Christiana’s Dumboy Valley on the Old Road on the first day of my arrival. It opened a floodgate of more drei- rice and fish. Zara Karsie came with food. It was drei res and fish. Beyan Pewee sent his PA to deliver food- drei res and fish. Drei res n fish galore.

On the last day of the visit, I opened the freezer and realised I still had some leftovers from the fish of the drei res.

Once we crossed over to the Sierra Leonean side of the border, I had it for breakfast. This was after a security officer had welcomed us back, saying, “Na, we brother dem.”

Thank you, Monrovia, for the pleasure of your company.

Till then, au revoir.

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