Reflections from Harbelville: A Dream Log


Successions of images, ideas, emotions can make people’s existence flash before their eyes. Perhaps then, it’s time to take stock. For me, the stock taking of my life and what I believe are cropping up in Harbelville, Margibi County at my nephew’s residence.   

My brother called me one gloomy January morning in Snellville, Georgia, to announce father’s death.  This sorrowful event occurred about eight years ago in 2006. Since weeping for “the Pa-pay” years ago, we are howling now for the state because it has endured and is still enduring some serious and somber issues. Since we love this country, these desperate times can only put us in a reflective mood. It should never again be business as usual. Can the leopard change its spots? How do we actually become LIB (Liberia Is Beautiful?)

Despite the  Ebola outbreak, curfew, chaos (armed robbery, messy education sector, high unemployment issues, greed and corruption, health care issues, environmental issues, and so on) overwhelming the homeland, I have been having recurring dreams involving my late father and a celebrated coastal country, built on education,  justice, reconciliation, peace and security. My father, Arthur Geezay Tarr Sr. was a patriot. Pa, a term of endearment, was a teacher, sheriff, and mayor of Cestos City (where the coconut trees dance with the Atlanta Ocean. This city could become a tourist paradise in Liberia).  Pa was born in the Zarflahn District, Toboe Clan, Darway Town in River Cess Territory (now River Cess County).  This Botah man never earned $100.00 monthly for any job, yet he believed in our country and people and often told us that the “me, myself, and I” mentality would not do; we had to be our brother’s keeper according to the Great Book.  Life was tough, but by his sheer shrewdness, he took care of us.

As mayor, Pa was responsible for the general management of the city, set plans and policies to improve the lot of the people but got into “political hot water” for giving the people “false hope,” which simply meant that he was doing the right and just thing; he used to say what he thought and to feel what he said. Pa wanted for the poor and the needy to be able to afford their daily meal: a big bowl of rice, fufu, or dum-boy with a piece of chicken or a piece of fish in every bowl.Was that too much to ask?

When I was eight years old, Sam six, and Nancy four, Pa taught us the multiplication tables and the Primer One Reader. One such reading passage from this book read this way:

                  “I am in go on

                   Is he to go in?

                   No, he is to go on

                   On, on we go.”

For Pa, fathering meant instructing, disciplining, and preparing us for school because he loved the world of learning. In his mind book was the great equalizer.  Nancy told me recently that her fondest memory was writing, reciting, and reading with Pa, mostly wearing dark khaki, in the front yard of our River Cess home.   “Pa loves book business,” she concluded. Just like Pa,we must care about the future through education. Because it matters, we have to prepare them to lead the people.  Wanting to make a difference by serving the children, Sister Nancy and I became teachers; she graduated from KRTTI, and I from Cuttington College.

The Coalition for Transparency and Accountability in Education (COTAE) promotes Liberian education in its very pointed and powerful Web jingles in English and local vernaculars. The jingles caution us to…Emphasis added.

“Stop corruption in education…The future of our children has to be secured. With sound education, let’s give them quality…the better people we will be…”

Education has become one of the most powerful weapons known for reducing poverty and inequality in modern societies. It is used for laying the foundation for a sustainable growth and development of any nation. Getting the students prepare so that they can move the country into the future from darkness to light. To President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, we say, follow the Strategic Roadmap for National Healing and Reconciliation (2012-2030) because it addresses the past, the present, and the future changes. Your Excellency, it has the potential to make this a better place for all Liberians alike.

 The Preamble of the Education Section Plan of Liberia (2010-2020) states: “Most of the challenges confronting education in Liberia can be traced back directly to what happens at the primary level. The successful handling of primary education issues therefore is a pre-requisite to getting education in Liberia a leading role in ensuring the development and wellbeing of the nation.” Simply put, we need a transformative educational system for the 21st Century.  Pa believed in the teaching and learning process, for he provided his eleven children with a rigorous and relevant readiness program of learning; my father was also a very busy man; Pa loved life, so he ate with gusto, too.

  Arthur G. Tarr Sr was a nice-looking yellow-skinned, opinionated, strict man with broad nose. In the 1960s, He dictated a letter to me— all of his 11 children served as his personal scribes—about greed and corruption and then sent it to the Department of Justice. President William V. S. Tubman then dispatched a team to investigate the charges. At the City Hall, Pa took center stage. Both he and his friend Joe Nelson brilliantly presented the case against the rogue politicians. The investigators swiftly rendered their final decree. The scoundrels were found guilty, removed from office, and properties confiscated and   jailed; they were then ordered to make restitution to the Department of Treasury because of their ill-gotten gains and their “brown envelops,” cheating and oppressing poor folks along the way. What a country!

Years later in 1975, as a Cuttington College graduate, I inquired about the investigation. My dear old father smiled and said, “The culprits remained in power; therefore, they blackballed us astroublemakers.” Sounds familiar? Pa then continued, “We were the Underdogs who dare to bark with the Over dogs.” I much preferred my vision then his; but, his version is the Liberian experience. My father, Saint Patrick’s drop-out, had the guts and the intellect than most college graduates. My father took on an “old order”. Of course, he boldly met his foes, but he did not win. The cards were stacked against him; the “new order” had to be deferred as a result of his marriage to Ms. Charlesetta Dunbar of Sinoe County and his ever growing family. This union was blessed with seven children; six males, namely: Joseph, Trokon, Benjamin, Lawrence, Clarence and Esau.  One female, namely: Comfort. Another Sister Beatrice lives in Bamako, Mali; she was born out of wedlock. What an educated and productive bunch they have become; the old man would be extremely proud as a peacock of the family.

My father was working on Randall Street as a tailor when he met my mother in the 1940s—a petite and an ebony woman—fresh out of a Bassa Sande Society in Ce Kay-Kay’s Town (a place so named in honor of her grandfather) in Compound #3, Grand Bassa County. Madam Pennie Kay-kay, a homemaker and prayer warrior was caring, quiet, kind, and soft-spoken.  Both My Ma and Pa divorced in the mid-1950s. Before that time, she bore him three children; two males and one female. She then remarried to one Charles S. Dean Sr. for whom she had a son, Paul. She cared for us and a host of step children at her home in Slip-Way, Monrovia.  She departed this earth last October; rest in peace dear Sweet Mother; rest in peace Pa. We remember… Thanks for the memories!

     “Hear ye, hear ye,” to use a standard sheriff  lingo, what would the old sheriff say now about this fantastic coastal country laden with spices?  Specifically, how would he view the national reconstruction exercise and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report? Do we not know? Have we not heard? Over 200,000 of our citizens died during the country’s 14 years long civil war (UNDP). Recently, I heard a colleague suggest that the TRC report divided the country in two camps: for or against. I think another attitude toward the report is possible, beyond that of total embrace or total rejection. In my view, we should approach the report in a manner that is not only critical and questioning, but affirmative and sympathetic. The report did not only shed light on the past, but served as a guide to the creation of a new future. This is because I believe, along with some compatriots that the report is necessary, for it offers a critical insight into the historical and social predicaments since the founding of the republic in the 1820s till present.

As President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela remarked, “Reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice…” Apropos to reconciling Liberia, we ought to work together against poverty, ignorance, and disease, high unemployment, illiteracy, Liberian greed and corruption, etcetera. Consequently, we must build responsive and accountable structures of governance to address most of these concerns just like some of our brethren’s. Liberians, like most humans, are allergic to change. They like to say, “This, too, is Liberia,” which really implies mediocrity and backwardness. We can do better!

A South African writer wrote in 1999, “Reconciliation is not only a process. It is a cycle that will be repeated many times.” Are we ready to do this? The goal is not to avoid pain or reality, but to deal with the never-ending quest of self-definition and negotiation required. Because of the humiliation, degradation, terrible atrocities, devastation, and much, much more during the war years (from 1989 to 1996 and from 1999 to 2003), realizing these exemplars of reconciliation would go a long way in healing the nation’s wounds and allowing truth, justice, and peace to roll like the mighty Cavalla River. Four big ideas in the report that we wholeheartedly support are as follows:

  • National Palaver Hut Forum—this process of traditional dispute resolution mechanism could be put into practice for exchanging of ideas, views and national dialogue by making it a truly Liberian institution;
  • Reparations—this process could take the form of mental health, physical health, economic, low-cost housing, educational assistance to individuals and communities devastated by the civil conflict;
  • Memorialization—a county-by-county scheme/gesture should be encouraged, organized and implemented, thus signaling to the world that we are capable of doing great things for victims and communities of the bloody war;
  • Transformation of the educational system—–Put your money where your mouth is; improve education because it is a fundamental human right. Period.

Thanks to my family and my lucky star for making me into a dreamer, and the man I am today—a bilingual educator.  We adore this country, its landscape, its cultures, and its history. As a nation, it has a million problems to solve; yet, our love for it grows deep and passionate. I can quite honestly say that my parents did breed a generation of qualified and productive children who are making their contributions to the country.

Liberia’s educational system ranks among the poorest and weakest within the region according to UNICEF.  Overcrowded classrooms with pupils sitting on the floor, combined with lack of basic equipment and teaching materials, lack of a support system, unfriendly schools, and so forth, contributing to the lack of progress in this sector. When will these problems be                                                   

alleviated?  Do you remember the time when William V. S. Tubman High School and Cuttington College used to be the guiding light of education in West Africa?

Will Ebola put the future on hold?  I hope not. This virus is controllable, and it has to be controlled for this splendid coastal country to provide quality education and national reconstruction to benefit everybody.  The TRC’s final report and Ebola permit us to be introspective and retrospective about the homeland. What a great future it could be if and only if we would give the report a hard, second look. Honor the victims who paid the ultimate price; keep their memories alive.  Also this virus is making us to cry and to have awful dreams about the beloved country. We have tons of fears and anxieties now about Liberia.  George Bernard Shaw (arguing about the power of dream) writes these heartening words: “You see things and say, why? But I dream things that never were and say, why not?” May the Almighty God bless us all.

The Author

A bilingual educator holds degrees from Liberia, France, and the United States. For more BIO info, visit and


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