Love Letter from Lilian to Liberia

Lilian Leneh Best

Dear Liberia,

On this First Sunday after Thanksgiving, I have something I need to get off my chest. And you just have to sit there and take it. Or don't. Whatever. Here goes…

You are so annoying!! And lovable. In fact, before you, I had never met a soul so much of both besides myself. It's no wonder I'm your daughter, your sister, your friend, yourself. And I have loved you ever since I met you. Not the hypothetical kind of love I developed from my mother’s stories of Cuttington and Gurley Street. This love has dimensions because I know you for myself.

You are the twin I always knew I had, like a phantom limb long amputated, then revived and restored. You make me laugh and sing as I hobble along your dusty roads in my pop-pop slippers. You with your sunny self, with the happy Atlantic softly lapping away at your salty face. You are a magnetic force that hauls me home, no matter how far afield I fly. You are the high heap of pepper sauce in my plate, your fiery flavor dominating the blandest dish, making it more than alright. You are the love of my life, and I cannot eat a single French fry without you.

But you don’t see me the same. You don't see me at all. You prefer to paint a caricature of me that distorts my smile and mishears my hello. My greetings are insults to you because I speak Seerees. You resent my service because I got a job you wanted. Then, when given the chance, you take what I've done, smash it to pieces to prove a point, build nothing its place, and leave the mess for someone else to salvage. The sad truth is, you could have done better than I, had you given yourself a chance. But you don't know what I know – that you are brilliant and capable.

How many tears have I cried over you, Liberia? How much anger you've boiled into my blood, as you cut off your nose to spite me to my face. I stayed pretty while you self-mutilated in your petty ire. Why? I bet you don't even know why. I'll tell you. You resent yourself. You hate where you are, where your parents left you while mine picked me up and ran from the fighting. You hate the state in which I came back and found you, thinking I'd always see you as little more than the occupant of the mud and rubble you were sitting in postwar. But I saw you, through the mud, rubble, and soot. I took one look at your face and saw myself.

And yet you see in me a stranger, recognizing me only when it suits you. Today, I'm your aunty because you want cold water. Tomorrow, I'm that "white girl" who can't tell you truth about yourself because I'm half Congor and all American. News flash: I stopped being American when Mary Stepney stepped off the ship that brought her here in the 19th century. My claiming America is as legit as me seizing your left shoe.

Meanwhile, you give true tribalists a pass for their divisive and deadly deeds, just because they fought "for" you yesterday. Today, they keep you in poverty with their policies. But anyway, at least they give you small thing for Friday, when you line up outside their fence.

And you’re there yelling, “Chief, chief,” running behind them. All they do is take from you. But those of us from the Diaspora that have been sending our hard money to keep your households and the economy afloat? We're Liberian enough to top up your mobile account, but not enough to get dual citizenship. Even if you have nobody in America. Someone who does patronizes your shop. So, indirectly, you do. But you see how you mistake your enemies for friends and friends for enemies? I feel sick for you, Liberia. For us. We’re really inside.

Am I wrong? If so, then answer me this: how do you say you want peace then pick a warlord to make your laws? Let's start with that. You say you want a war crimes court then every day you’re crying, “money was flowing Charles Taylor time.” Da nah your money he was stealing and giving it back to you? How you vex because, “no good school for the chirren,” but then you say, “no book people must be in government” because they corrupt?

Alright, the book people not there again. Corruption finish now? Or are we ready to admit that it's not their level of education - it's not that they came from America - but it's the character of our leaders that is at issue? Somebody square these circles for me, and I will pay you five LD. That is all the prevailing logic is worth.

I have to tell you; all this is as sad and twisted a set of thought patterns as I've seen. In fact self, I know what Godma Ellen should have done from Day One. She should have used all that donor money to buy each citizen some face time with a shrink. Forget the roads and bridges, the electrical transmission and distribution, the fiber optic cable. What we needed just as much, or more, was a monthly Mary Broh Day for our emotions.

We needed waste management for our beleaguered souls, to rewire our brains and redirect our reasoning. Instead, we all ignored the scarred tissue inside because we couldn't see it. We said we're strong and resilient, and “left our own with God.” We laughed at murderers opening churches, invoking the Blood of Jesus to refresh their stinking reputations. We shrugged as they stood up in the TRC process and deflected like children caught in a misdemeanor, "He started it! Why should I be punished for what I allegedly did?" And the many who survived the fighting learned to suppress their wartime flashbacks and act “normal.” Whatever that is.

What is normal? I'll tell you what normal is not. Promoting to public office men who have never even led a poopoo platoon with a broken stick in a rained-on parade. Rioting when your university raises its standards, because you shouldn’t get in if you can hardly read at 3rd grade level!! Crying foul on corruption one day, then begging government the next because the corrupt friend you were eating from got fired when reform came. Need I go on?

We're smarter than this, Liberia. And I know you know that. But we apply our intelligence to play wayo on our systems, instead of using it for good. I've learned in 36 years that being smart doesn't make me any less stupid if I don't iron out my emotional fabric. If I don't process anger and hurt, I'm liable to act a fool; and I have on many occasions. And that's what we are right now. Rumpled Fanti with the Vlisco sticker still stuck on it, and no coal iron self to fix it. And the Fanti fine, but the style can't show.

Dear Liberia, I have given you the past thirteen years of my prime. I know that doesn’t impress you. You didn't ask me, and you've been here your whole life. Good for you. In fact, you've told me, time and again, to carry my trouble back to America. But I'm as stubborn as you are, and I'm still here, because you're mine.

And you owe me as much as I owe you. So here I am with my one wish, as Christmas comes and brings my birthday with it. For the love of God, go find quiet area, sit down, and think. Think big. Then, pick a struggle, and stick to it. Remain a nation at war with itself or open the cage you've created and stand firm in your unified power. Each choice is as difficult as the other. Freedom ain't never been free, and power is impotent without concerted effort. Just know that whichever road you choose, I will only join you on the latter.

Yes, my love for Liberia will flourish until peace finds my ashes at my grandmother's feet. And, as my forefathers have, I will teach it to my children. But I will never, never let love lead me to destruction. I jump over that other struggle. And so should you.