The year was 1969. The year Stevie Wonder penned and recorded “Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday”. The song haunted me then.
Today I get an eerie feeling when I hear “Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday”. It has the ability to make me hurry up my steps and go and finish whatever I still have left undone.
I enjoy reflecting on my past. Nearly every preteen and teenage girl in Monrovia played nah foh (knock foot). For you who do not know our culture knock foot is like double dutch without the rope. They also played “haa ska” (hop scotch) which has mutated into a game now that I just don’t recognize. Well for us the boys we had to walk around with our hands covering our butts all day. “Oh so that now you can’t remember free kick?” If your hand was not covering your butt, your friend came and gave you a good kick, thus free kick.
And who can forget blade. We took a piece of wire, or cord and made it into a circle. That circle was buried in the sand. All the players had a stick to “juke” into the sand hoping to find the buried ring. The one whose stick found the ring was the winner (usually the one who buried it in the first place). He then had the privilege to pound all the losers’ palms with his folded knuckles. It was called “konking your chicken thigh”, the fat area of the palm just above the thumb.
We seem to have transcended the need to provide food, clothing and shelter; to have gone from “Mat” to “Mattresses”; to have ascended to “Higher Heights” as sanctioned by the government of the late President Tolbert. Against the tide of their refusal to vacate the eroding “West Point”, residents missed the opportunity to occupy and own estate housing in Gardnersville, Barnersville and New Georgia, newly built by the government on previously uncharted lands close to Monrovia. Monrovia had become the City That Did Not Sleep compared to New York for this particular characteristic. We staged The Sound of Music with Vasti McClain starring as Maria. The
National Cultural Center was in full bloom producing Yata Zoe and then the indomitable Nimba Bird. Agnes Nibo, a Kru girl who married Von Ballmoos turned the choir at LU into a high performance act presenting Handel’s Messiah as expertly as they delivered a Bassa or Kpelle song. We were cultured. “Bia Moh Flee”, a song sung by the LU choir in the local vernacular was hailed wherever the LU choir performed in the USA and other parts of the world. The LU choir even recorded a record album in the USA.
Luminaries like Hugh Masekela, Mariam Makeba were residents of Monrovia. I saw Nina Simone and played with her daughter Lisa. I had beers with the actor Calvin Lockhart. Hugh could be found on any given evening at the hangout “Attitude” next to Charles Williams’ house. Jimmy Yhap and Bongie Makeba also hung out together and it was Bongie who introduced us to the “click” sounds of South Africa”. RIGHT HERE IN MONROVIA. And, yes we had advanced socially but politically the government had become too comfortable. Basically, we had gotten used to being called The Most Peaceful Nation on Earth.
Enter the “Progressives” and the spirit of adventurism. The Progressives had the ability to excite the people politically in ways that the True Whig Party could only imagine and after nearly a century of rule did not have the desire to. Their promise was that the world we knew would be melted away and sort of immediately replaced by basically , utopia.
Now I can say that little did the Progressives know that their then political naivety to their own influences was comparable to the True Whig Party’s unpreparedness to deal with situations as they developed. And the situations were developing fast.
The people began to feel that nothing was impossible and all could be achieved immediately. Finally the spirit of adventurism fueled the people to challenge the government’s right to lead. And the government fell.
Nothing seems to be left from that Great Transition inaugurated by the Spirit of Adventurism and the Progressive. It gave birth to Samuel Doe and The People’s Redemption Council which assimilated the movement and eventually killed it. However, the Revolution’s (as it was remembered) enduring legacy, it has claimed, is the multi party system we “enjoy” today.
Finally, The Progressives gave us a healthier appreciation of our traditional names. Rudolph Roberts (Doc) became Togba Nah Tipoteh, Joseph Chesson, Jr. a.k.a Chea Chepoo, Bacchus Matthews (considered the Father of the Movement) remained Bacchus Matthews after convincing everyone else to change their names, and Samuel P. Jackson could not become Samuel P. Tubman; as is rumored he was sired by Vat himself. Uncle Randolph McClain a.k.a. Randolph Kpokpo Weah Worjloh. Quiwonkpa was a “Cooper”; Chris Neyor was a “McGill”; Tom Woiwoyue was a “Smith”; Trohoe Kpaghai was a “Jones” and was recommended for a scholarship abroad by E. B. McClain, Sr., and so on and so on.
Yes all these did happen but there was one thing that was not to occur back then in 1969.
Our generation was to live forever; at least that’s what we thought. I talk about Michael Itoka, Saku Sillah, Samuel P. Jackson, Morris Saytumah, Chucks and Nuks, Nat and Harry, Sekele, Ben Pursur’s brother, Jimmy Yhap, Steven Pelham, Boikai Fahnbulleh, Rupert Hoff, Amara Freeman, Ian, Fahmare and Renold, Gbo Youh and many others.
However just as the sixties was to end and Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday hit the air waves we came face to face with death. Darling Cole, Patricia Stewart’s sister died from either diabetes, or sickle cell and I for one learned about fear.
I had gone up on Benson Street, just above Newport Street and one house from the back of Chief Justice James A. A. Pierre to see Charles Martin. His father, Senator Levi Martin, said that Charles had gone to work at Street and Walker Company and so I left. At the corner of Robert’s Street, a parked car was blaring off Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday. The words said, “I had a dream, so did you, life was warm and love was true, two kids who where breaking all the rules of yester dreaming”.
It was about 9:00 a.m. vacation time. Monrovia was blanketed with a gray hue brought by the dust from the harmattan wind that blew across the Sahara. There overlooking the Masonic Temple on West Benson Street, I thought I saw a man who seemed at least one hundred feet tall.
I recognized the spectra even though he had his back turned to Monrovia. He wore a black frock coat that hung just below the knees and just as suddenly he turned and looked at the city. His face had the sadness of a broken heart and wounded spirit. You know when you tell your two year-old, “I will not play with you”. They go and stand in a corner dejected and alone until you run and hug them again. That kind of sadness. But no one hugged President Joseph J. Roberts. With his head bowed in shame and rejection, President Roberts seemed to turn, walk towards the Atlantic and disappeared over the horizon.
Scared, I, too, turned and ran over Newport Street and down Benson Street near Ada and Irene Watts’ house where Itter Pharmacy is now. Darling Cole’s mother had just moved down there. The song by Stevie Wonder was on some one’s radio. The words said,” now it seems those yester dreams were just a cruel and foolish game we used to play, Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday”.
I take public transportation into Monrovia every day. The bus puts us down either on the corner of Broad and Johnson Streets or on Buchanan Street. We then walk into Monrovia in groups of five because at any time Zogos can attack and jerk your bag, snatch your phone or juke you.
In Monrovia we are not stabbed but get juked.
One bus has earned the reputation of being the most deadly transporter after causing the deaths of at least 7-10 pem-pem boys alone this year. The bus is known as Killer Bean. Killer Bean is actually the Yellow School bus from America, perhaps the friendliest symbol in the western world but in this culture of “Me, Myself and I”,
WHICH IS PRESENT DAY MONROVIA, the Yellow School bus has taken on the persona of the evil Killer Bean.
Let me tell you what I see at 5:30, right before the sun rises. Monrovia seems to wake up from a dream. A dream where “life was warm and love was true.” The city seems to dream of a time of peace as opposed to the hellish reality that night time Monrovia is without a police officer in sight to assist a citizen from getting raped or assaulted or juked.
At 5:30 a.m. with C.W.A. on your right, the Baptist Church on your left, the air heavy with the smell of Kalla being fried on an open fire, you have one last glimpse of colonial Monrovia. The city where everyone knew each other.
Then the sun comes up from over the Ducor and you have got to side-step a plastic bag of fresh ‘boot’ flung into the streets the night before. And of course now you can see the used up condom on the church’s steps, testimony to last night’s frolic. And no one can miss the fresh peepee scent as it wrestles for control of the morning air against the Sweet Palm Butter “cold bowl” odor from the Lappa-Be-Door near C.W.A. Then I recall what we had and how I feel lost and I feel sad with nothing left but the memories of Yester Me, Yester You, and Yesterday.
Dedicated to Connie Yhap “One Bad APPLE”, Joy Grimes, Tanji Bull, Jimi Bull, Lady Richards, Gledy Badio, Cia, Nathan Crawford, Bruce Williams, William Ward, Henry Kesselly, Kolu Basseh, Purple Haze, Kapingdi, The Gardners, Psychedelic Six, Moby Dick, Christine Clinton, Mills (Police band), Mackinley A. Deshield, Jr. (the Saw) and all of you whose contributions continue to infuse fond memories in these challenging times. God Bless You All. Amen.