A Soldier’s Diary: The Long Road

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It was during the heat of the civil-war and former Armed Forces of Liberia’s soldier, Alfred Gosoe decided to reject the war and leave Monrovia, perhaps for good. He would leave through Kakata. His journey to Kakata from Monrovia began early a Saturday morning and his wife sat behind the driver in the first passenger car bound for the capital of Margibi County. Originally expected to carry twenty two passengers, it was overloaded with forty five. Several young men, considered the brave among them, sat on top the vehicle.

    Ordinarily, it would have been illegal and as a result a violation of the transportation rules in the country, but the overwhelming fear of war had rendered the country lawless. And the police service had gradually disappeared from the streets of the city. As the car moved towards Kakata, the driver, Sonny Boy Jackson would ensure he had enough money to bribe the soldiers at the various checkpoints before reaching the city. The first encounter was just before the car eased outside Mount Barclay, a community of nearly seventy residents.

   The fear and rumors of war had affected the community that most of the residents were moving out into what they considered as safety zones or were moving out of the community altogether. Alfred Gosoe counted fifteen soldiers on duty, and wished there would be no one to recognize him as a soldier. There was a thin line across the road and the driver eased the car to a stop.

   Three soldiers trooped around the car, looking at faces and apparently searching for their enemies, if they could find them.

    “Any rebel among you?” The tallest of the soldiers threw the question at the passengers cramped in the car. There was silence and Alfred Gosoe heard the same soldier say, “We have reports that some of our friends, soldiers are running away from the city…”

   His voice trailed off and Gosoe, seated at the speaker’s immediate right, next to his wife, remained calm. Then he heard another soldier asking the driver, “Hey driver, do you know any soldier in this car?”

   “No, since you can see these are all people traveling to their places in Kakata,” the driver said, throwing his right hand over the passengers. There were a number of women with babies, and the heat in the car might have been responsible, as three began to cry simultaneously. While it was not a trick pulled by the mothers of the children, it apparently worked in their favor as the third soldier shouted at the driver, “My man, what’ve you got for us?” The driver, smiling, thrust his right hand in the direction of the nearest soldier, who opened his palm and received the amount.

    “Move on, driver,” the soldier with the money securely in his hands shouted, and the temporary check-points were pulled aside, and thanking the soldiers, the driver eased the car through the check point and increased the car’s acceleration.

    He was a popular driver on the route. From here, Gosoe saw that whenever they reached a check-point, the driver would thrust his hand into the hands of the immediate soldier and they would be allowed to proceed. Arriving in Kakata at eleven, which was more than four hours since they departed from Monrovia, Alfred Gosoe engaged the next available car to Gbarnga, in central Liberia.

    There was news that the National Patriotic Front had made major gains into the hinterland and Gbarnga had that morning fallen into their hands. While it was difficult to verify rumors and reports from civilians coming from the city and other places in the country, Gosoe would not reject their realities outright.

     So, sensing the danger that might come in any encounter with the rebels, Alfred Gosoe decided not to go directly to Gbarnga, which was about more than three hundred miles away. Instead, there were two smaller villages, Totota and Sergeant Kollie Town, where he felt he could be secure with his family for a while to give him the chance to investigate what was happening in the city. Another problem that confronted Gosoe was the insecurity in asking strange questions since there was a chance that every young boy or woman could be a member of the National Patriotic Front.         

   The residential facilities at the Liberia Agricultural Company, (LAC) stretched on each side of the road. They were located at Sergeant Kollie Town, (SKT), which lay directly between the town of Suacoco and Gbarnga proper. Not many people know the historical significance of the name or the man, Sergeant Kollie, in whose honor the town bore. But it was agreed by all that whether the Sergeant Kollie was once a member of the Liberia Frontier Force or whether he just adopted the title, it was better he was let alone.

   The current war had increased the pain and anguish of the people and every Liberian, including those in the rebel armies, were all suffering. There was no more peace for everyone and it was becoming an increasingly disturbing experience for all those who had been making Sergeant Kollie Town a transit point on their journey into freedom or death.

   It was therefore no strange that when Gosoe and his family finally arrived in the small town, he was beside himself with horror. For the rebels' presence was tremendous and he wondered whether there would be any more of the unfortunate situation he had dealt with in Monrovia. And it was the second day that he arrived with his family when news circulated that an enemy and his family had arrived in the town.

   It became apparent to him that there were some informers among the rebels, or the National Patriotic Front's soldiers. This was because hundreds of soldiers from the national army, having been overwhelmed by their enemies, chose to join the rebels, believing in the adage that if they could not defeat them, then they must join them. So on the third day of his arrival, he was visited by a lanky boy of about seventeen.

    The morning was calm, but there had been a rush of civilians trooping from nearby villages, and moving to Gbarnga, the headquarters of the National Patriotic Front. The young rebel might have been told about the new comer, since he was kind of speaking as if he had received information about Gosoe and his family.

   “We know we'll meet with you here,” the rebel soldier said, as he approached the small hut, located between three mud houses, where Gosoe was preparing some breakfast for his family. He did not show any sign that he was surprised of the visit, and gradually turned around to face the visitor.

   “Hey, my son?” His voice surprised him, since it rose higher, and he could feel some power in it. “Oh, we arrived here from Monrovia two days ago.”

   “We’ve been watching you, and in fact we watch everyone who come here,” the young soldier said. It was then that Gosoe saw the gun, the popular AK-47 assault rifle behind the visitor's back. Though he was not surprised to see the weapon, he could still not imagine that he had been identified as a soldier. Even if that indicated that he was no longer a member of the Armed Forces of Liberia. And after all he was running away from the danger that he had observed and witnessed in his life.

  “We know you are a soldier.”

   “I am running away from Monrovia with my family, as you can see.”

   “But still you're a soldier and you can be working for the Krahn people.”

   Alfred Gosoe felt betrayed. Was this war against the government and its bad policies or against individuals because they were Krahn? He wanted to defend that part of it, since people do not choose their tribal affiliations. But like the ones he had run away from, commonsense does not count in the deal. He reasoned that to admit he was Krahn would give the rebel the opportunity to murder him. And then what could he do? What chances did he have to inform this young man that though he was Krahn, his life was in danger like any Gio or Mano tribesperson in Monrovia?

   Then, still formulating plans to satisfy this soldier that he was harmless and needed a refuge for himself and his family, an idea struck him. He would seek the help and reason with him, and just maybe he could throw some sense into the unfertile mind of this boy.

  “My son,” his voice was still strong, and signaling to the soldier to sit with him, he pulled a small table to his left and grabbed two cups and placed them on it. “Please sit down.”

   The young soldier hesitated, but on second thought brought the weapon from his back and lowered his lanky frame on the chair. There were some noises coming from the room and coming out was Gosoe's wife. The woman's face showed some concern, and being of the same tribe of the young soldier sitting there, greeted him in the Gio dialect.

   The young man replied likewise, and a smile swept across his face. Gosoe realized that the young man relaxed and the gun that he had on his thigh, he now placed it behind him.

   The soldier engaged Mrs. Gosoe in a flurry of exchanges, and once in a while she would look at her husband, and something like pain would come across her face. At length, the young man turned to him and gritted his teeth.

   “You can come with me,” he said, lifting his body from the chair. “I know long time that you're one of our enemies. And you woman listen to me, and listen to me carefully, to hide our enemy is bad and this can cause you something.”

   Tears filled her eyes, and looking at the soldier with apprehension, Alfred Gosoe stood up, pulled a shirt on the clothesline and walked in front of the young rebel. But before he moved away with the young rebel soldier, Gosoe turned to his wife and said, “Be strong and pray, for God's redemption is greater than man's determination to destroy himself.”

   The rebel soldier looked at him and unable to understand the message in Alfred Gosoe's encouragement to his wife, urged him to go without looking back. With his heart thumping Gosoe walked ahead of the soldier, and all his thoughts centered on the fact that he might die this time, and leave his family behind. He wanted to weep but he was a soldier, and in a society that is male-dominated, it is difficult for men to give in to tears. It was in fact true Gosoe had heard reports about many men, on their way to be murdered by their captors in this war time, had wept in an attempt to solicit the sympathy of their captors. But all that had not been able to touch their captors and had in the end been murdered.

  As Gosoe saw the situation even when he was in Monrovia, the devil had visited Liberia, and many of those in the midst of the conflict had no concern for another. He would have understood it if Liberia was engaged in a war against another country. Sadly, this was not the case. As it was happening in Monrovia where the government held authority, Gios and Manos were not having it easy. They were being mowed down, and destroyed by a government and army that were, by the authority of the constitution of the republic, supposed to secure their persons and protect their properties

   It was a replay of events that he realized would come back to haunt Liberia for many, many years to come. As he walked in front of the young soldier, he felt like a lamb going before the slaughter. At least he had tried, and God in the heavens knew that he wanted the best for his wife and children.

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