Warning: Use Caution When Uttering “Always” and “Never”

This morning my driver and I got into an interesting conversation about comparative cultures. As a African, he viewed how God blessed the people of Europe and the U.S. with the ability and the opportunity to be scientists and engineers. He saw them as brilliant people, because they developed the cures for diseases and invented the technologies that simplify life whereas for the people in Africa this will never happen. I countered his belief by saying, “Africans have also been blessed with these same skills and talents, but are denied the opportunity to use them by humankind and not by God.” Then he followed by saying, “In Europe and the U.S. the people are all united, and this also will never happen in Africa.” I also countered this belief by saying, “Even before the countries in Europe united they had long history of killing and conquering one another, and so it is possible for Africans to come together such as in the cases of Rwanda and South Africa. These are two nations that are trying to make positive changes for their people as they put aside their differences.”

Throughout our conservation the word “never” was consistently used when he talked about the current state of Africans. I finally paused for a moment to ask him “isn’t your belief that with God all things are possible which we also see written on so many taxi bumpers?” He answered yes. So then I followed with “how can you say things will ‘never’ change in Africa if you believe God makes anything possible.” He responded by saying, “you are right”, but soon after the “nevers” continued to leave his lips as if they were automatically programmed responses.

The words “never” and its opposite “always” are excessively used in our vocabulary. They are often the trigger words that spark explosive arguments between friends and loved ones with statements like “You ALWAYS do that!” or “I NEVER said that!” These two words can also damage the mind sets of those living in the developing world who see things as impossible by saying “Africans will never change” or “the people in Europe and the U.S. will always have it better than we do.” Unfortunately, these are statements that I have commonly heard uttered by many Africans, because these beliefs have become ingrained into their psyche.

Interestingly, these same words can also play a critical role in damaging a witness testimony in a legal suit if one is not paying attention to how they respond to questions. In 2003, I was deposed as part of a civil action against the estate that I had been appointed as the personal representative. During the preparation for this deposition, my attorney coached me on the process such as “only answer what was asked” — “if not clear on what was said, ask the question to be repeated” — “be careful when using the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ and similar ones like ‘all.’” He explained why he cautioned me on the usage of these words by saying “it only takes ONE time or ONE incident to prove what was stated as wrong.” So, as I sat through my eight-hour deposition I was very focused on what was being asked and what words were coming out of my own month. When this process was over I was extremely exhausted by this intense concentration and went home with a severe headache. Before this lawsuit I had no idea how these simple words had such an impact on our lives.

From that moment I started noticing how these are very prominent words in our vocabulary, and how often they can be uttered in a day or even in one conversation. It is very challenging to not over use these words since they seem to slip off our tongue with ease. And even though I am not a perfect practitioner of limiting the use of these words, I do try to sensitize others to their meaning and how they can be damaging.

It is important that we realize that our commonly used vocabulary can program our brain in how we see or think about the world around us. It is when we understand this reality that we can start purging the words in our vocabulary that is limiting or oppressing our way of thinking. Therefore, the words like “never” and “always” can be filed along with sayings like “This is Africa” in a folder called “WORDS NOT TO LIVE BY.”

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Connecting Liberia and United States of American (Puzzle Activity Included)

On August 24, Liberia celebrated its Flag Day, and many businesses and government agencies closed to recognize this national holiday. This was a day for Liberians to display proudly their flag either on their house or car similar to how U.S. citizens honor their Flag Day on June 14. The flags of these two countries are a clear indicator in how Liberia and the United States of America are connected.

Just by looking at these two flags one can quickly notice how they are similar to one another. They both share the same color theme that for the U.S. Flag is symbolic: Red represents Hardiness and Valor, White represents Purity and Innocence, and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice (The History of American Flag). They both, however, differ on the number of stars and stripes. The single star on the Liberia Flag represents one nation–Lone Star– whereas the 50 stars on the U.S. Flag represents the 50 states that joined one nation. The 11 stripes on the Liberia Flag represents the 11 signers of their Declaration of Independence whereas the 13 stripes on the U.S. Flag represents the first 13 colonies that started this nation (The History of American Flag and Hyman).

These two nations also share a common reason in why they declared independence that involves Great Britain and taxation. Additionally, these two nations declared their independence in the same month though separated by 71 years and 22 days.

The 13 original colonies of British North America were governed and protected by Great Britain until a stalemate was reached over the argument of taxation. In 1765, two years after the French and Indian War, the British parliament decided to redress the massive war debts they accrued during this conflict also known as the Seven Years’ War. The colonists saw this as an act of tyranny–taxation without representation–and also as unconstitutional, because the British Constitution was not framed and adopted at specific time. Instead it was amassed by laws, judicial decisions, customs and other constitutional type documents such as the Magna Carta. Therefore, in 1775 after ten years of arguments the colonist began their Revolutionary War against Great Britain leading to the adoption of their Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 (The Constitution, 6-8).

Liberia was founded in 1822 as a colony of the United States of America, and for over 20 years it was governed by the American Colonization Society (ACS). However, this new colony struggled to exist since the ACS was financially constrained, so Liberia relied on its revenue from trading with foreign markets. In 1938, Liberia became a commonwealth and adopted a new constitution to govern all the merged settlements. This commonwealth for the next eight years received most of its revenue from charging custom duties on indigenous traders and British merchants. However, this angered the British government and they refused to recognize Liberia’s sovereignty for levying taxes, because this colony was governed by the ACS, a private organization. Therefore, ensuring their right for survival Liberia adopted and signed their Declaration of Independence on July 26, 1847. Thus giving them full taxing authority by which Britain was the first to recognize this new country (History of Liberia).

During the 20th and 21st centuries both countries experienced changes in their landscapes. The U.S. expanded westward from its 13 colonies to 50 states when Hawaii was last admitted in 1959 (Hawaii). Liberia, on the other hand, had some border disputes with the neighboring British and French Colonies until 1892 when its boundaries were officially established (Liberia). Additionally, Liberia as colony was first divided into three provinces–Western, Central and Eastern; however, these eventually split into counties with the first five being created in 1800’s and eight more in the 1900’s. These thirteen counties remained the primary administrative divisions until two counties split creating two new ones in 2000 and 2001 respectively (Liberia-Wikipedia).

This post closes with an activity–Discover the 15 Counties of Liberia–that can be shared with the family by clicking the link below and printing it. This activity includes Word Search and Crossword puzzles, and blank outlined map for locating the counties that can also be colored by the kids. Some of you may find this activity simple while others may find it a challenge. Those of you who find this difficult, the internet is the best resource to search for the answers. The answers will be posted on September 5, 2009. Good Luck and Have Fun!

Discover the 15 Counties of Liberia (LiberiaCounties.pdf)

Works Cited

The Constitution of the United States with the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of the Confederation. Introduction by R. B. Bernstein. Barnes and Noble Inc., 2002.

Hawaii. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 Aug. 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/257332/Hawaii

The History of the American Flag. USA Flag Site. 2006. 28 August 2009 http://www.usa-flag-site.org/history.shtml

History of Liberia: A Time Line: 1820-1847, 1847-1871. The Library of Congress: American Memory. 12 March 1998. 28 August 2009 http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/libhtml/liberia.html#fcr

Hyman, Lester S. United States Policy Towards Liberia, 1822-2003: Unintended Consequences? Africana Homestead Legacy Publishers, 2005.

Liberia. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 28 August 2009 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/339254/Liberia.

Liberia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 2009. 29 August 2009 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberia

Why Write about Liberia?

For twenty years, Liberia,in one way or another,has been a focus in my life. Since being introduced to Liberia in 1989, I have taken a special interest in learning more about this small tropical West African nation that was founded in 1822 by emancipated and free-born African Americans. This learning quest included extensive independent and scholarly research on its history and current situation, and personal observations of livelihoods and culture from past visits and current residency. Based on this knowledge and experience, I hope that I can give my readers a glimpse into this nation that is enriched with a vivid culture, a vast tropical landscape and an abundant supply of natural resources.

My Experience Traveling and Living in Liberia

I first visited Liberia in late 1998; a year after Charles Taylor was elected President [1]. It was during this visit that a child, a preteen boy, captivated my heart when he perfectly recited President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation during a program facilitated by a tuition-free school for over 200 war-orphaned and abandoned children. As I listened to this boy, I sat wondering as the tears filled my eyes, if anyone in the U.S. could accomplish such a feat with one of our most sacred documents.

My next visit was in mid-2005 a few months before the commencement of the first post-war elections. The country was radiating this amazing energy, because Liberians were eager and excited to cast their votes on October 11 for change. These were people who were completely tired and fed up with living through 14-years of civil war that completely destroyed their country; they were now ready for something different. Amazingly, they would participate in no ordinary election for their next President that had to be decided in a run-off election on November 22. The final results marked a historical moment for Liberia when Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia thus becoming the first female head of state in all of Africa.

I moved to Liberia in mid-2007 to volunteer my services and to develop a business partnership in promoting Liberian employment and supporting programs for education and other child-focused projects. My experience with the partnership met with some unfortunate circumstances; however, through my experience residing in Liberia, I assessed how most people live and how they manage to barely survive, if at all, on nearly nothing.

Since coming to Liberia, I have had the opportunity to spend some time out in the interior. During my visit in 1998 as part of humanitarian delegation from Minnesota, I traveled by road from Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire (neighboring country to the east) to Monrovia. At this time Liberia’s international airport could not serve large commercial jets, so international flights were diverted to neighboring countries; however, it could land smaller jets. However, as a first time traveler out of the U.S. it was more rewarding to see Liberia’s countryside by road than by air.

Since this first trip, I continue to discover more about Liberia as I venture beyond Monrovia. It is my goal to visit all fifteen counties to understand the livelihoods of the various ethnic groups and to explore the highly diverse ecosystem of the tropical rainforest. So far, I have traveled as far north as Foya City in Lofa County, as far east as Yarpa Town in River Cess County, and as far west as Clay in Bomi County. As I experience different parts of the interior, I have grown to appreciate the peace and serenity of being out in the bush with its beautiful array of flora and the various sounds of nature. It is the perfect escape from the noise and pollution of the overpopulated city of Monrovia.

My Research of Liberia

In combining my personal experience and educational studies I have done a great deal of research to learn about this often forgotten and misunderstood nation. In doing so, I have closely examined Liberia’s relationship with the United States. To first understand how Liberia was created, I had to delve into the darkest realms of U.S. History—the Slavery era. The idea of re-colonization to Africa developed shortly after the U.S. Revolutionary War and it turned into ongoing discussion with U.S. Leaders starting with President Thomas Jefferson. As the United States of America was declaring their independence in 1776, there was a growing population of emancipated and free-born African Americans. This increase in population became the focal point of the discussion for a colony in Africa, because there were concerns and fears that the African Americans would not assimilate into this new independent nation.

After many decades of debate and financial constraints, this concept became a reality when President James Monroe signed the Anti-Slave Trade Act in 1819. This law authorized the President to resettle Africans rescued from captured slave ships by navy patrols to an American-sponsored colony in West Africa. Since this act appropriated $100,000 USD to establish this colony, it also paved the way for the immigration—under the auspicious oversight of groups like the American Colonization Society—of African Americans seeking freedom from their oppressive state. It was from this enactment of U.S law that prompted the new settlers to name the Monrovia after President Monroe.

Nearly two hundred years, Liberia and the U.S. have had a very strained “child-parent” relationship. During the nineteenth century, it took nearly two decades before the U.S.—in the midst of its own civil war—acknowledged Liberia’s Declaration of Independence of 1847, because of its entanglement with slavery in the southern states. During the twentieth century, there were times of collaboration as strategic allies during the two World Wars followed by the Cold War, and there were the times of separation as unapologetic foes during Liberia’s Civil War. Now during the twenty-first century, there seems to be stronger ties between these two nations in effort to rebuild Liberia into a self-sustaining country. Regardless of this historically strained relationship, the Liberian people continue to love and value their U.S. brothers and sisters.

As Liberia recovers from the destruction and debris left in the wake of its civil war, they are trying to rebuild their physical infrastructure, re-establish their rule of law, strength their education system, and energize their economy by promoting domestic and foreign investment. Rebuilding a country from the bottom up takes a great deal of time, human resources and money, and with some of these constraints Liberia continues to make noticeable improvements little by little. Yet, much more needs to be done to bring this country back to glory and have its people feel at home.

So, as Liberia moves forward with their post-war rehabilitation, I will post various topics that deal with these efforts and some of the challenges that might impede their progress. Also, I hope that these posts can open a thoughtful dialog where anyone can share ideas or experiences; because through information sharing, we are “Uniting Distant Stars”.

[1] Former President Taylor is on trial at The Hague for War Crimes committed in the Sierra Leone Civil War.

Welcome Statement

Welcome to Uniting Distant Stars. This blog will share my experiences as a U.S. citizen living and working in Liberia, West Africa. Some of the posts will include my involvement with climate change issues, human rights, non-profit (NGO) work, and anything else that deals with day-to-day life in this developing nation as it recovers from 14 years of civil war. It is the goal of Uniting Distant Stars that through information sharing more people will come to understand and appreciate this small tropical nation in West Africa since it is often omitted from the history books of its mother nation–the United States of America. It is through information sharing that we can unite these two distant nations who have suffered a long and difficult historic relationship.