So, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving Day I saw the amazing Africa Umoja at the Rialto Center in Atlanta. What a show! Africa Umoja brings together exquisite music, scintillating dance, and theatrical drums to tell South Africa’s story. Beginning with the period when African tribes lived undisturbed on the land, it covers the arrival and eventual dominance of White settlers, the long struggle for freedom and equality, and concludes with current efforts to build a Rainbow Nation. It’s a beautiful story that unites a beautiful people. It’s a story around which millions of people coalesce. It is story told with unbridled excitement and pride.
It really got me thinking about Liberia – the Liberian story. What is it? When did it begin? Really? And don’t tell me 1822 or 1847. But why not there? It’s a fair question. What’s the narrative that units us as Liberians? What’s the thread that holds us together? I have struggled in the past two weeks to arrive at an acceptable response. And it frightens me that a uniquely Liberian narrative evades my imagination! Because without a unique Liberian story – without a distinct Liberian story that respectfully includes all of us – how do we know what to build?
Maybe the absence of a clearly articulated “Liberian narrative” explains the deficiencies of patriotism that proliferates the Liberian psyche. The absence of a well-told Liberian story means that we, as a people, do not profit from the tremendous benefits of a national narrative.
A Liberian story would incite us to nation building, because our story would remind us of where we come from, who has gone before us, and what we have done in the past. We need a sense of our collective past so we can plan and execute our collective future.
In addition to inciting us for nation building, our story would inspire us to take pride in our homeland. I am yet to meet a group of people who scorn their homeland as much as Liberians abhor Liberia. How else can we explain theft in the public sector if not deep hatred of the Motherland? How else should we explain our entrenched inability to build or do anything worth celebrating? Really, when was the last time we did something big as a nation? Nothing inspires us about Liberian because we do not have a Liberian story to tell.
Finally, a Liberian story will help us aspire to a future unfathomable to all observers. Our story will help us believe in a future where democracy, free market, liberty, rule of law, justice, equality, and true Liberian Brotherhood – and Sisterhood – are the culture of our lives.
So, let’s begin to write and tell a unique Liberian story, one in which every facet of society has a voice and equal stake. Man, I want to hear a Liberian story. One upon a time, time…
Every day in Monrovia, and all around Liberia, thousands of young, well-toned Liberian men rise early and mount a motor bike to ferry commuters from one place to another. These men provide an important economic service, and should be celebrated. I have observed that most of them actually take pride in their work. There is a detectible spirit of comradery among motorcyclists, or “Pen-pen” as we call them.
In spite of their invaluable economic service and strong comradery, pen-pens represent a rising public health challenge. They ride without helmets, and they are generally reckless – weaving in and out of traffic on Monrovia’s skinny roads, or bumpy dirt roads in the country side. Absence of helmets and reckless riding present immediate threats, both to pen-pens and pedestrians.
However, a big, quieter threat lurks just beneath the surface. Consider that the average pen-pen rides 10 hours a day, six days a week. That’s 60 hours week, 3,120 hours per year. Meanwhile, the lack of helmets mean their eyes are exposed to the elements, especially the wind. In addition, they inhale all the fumes in the air. You and I know how polluted the air is in Liberia. So, a pen-pen who rides for 5 years accumulates 15,600 hours of exposure to the elements – too many hours of exposure that can lead to serious health consequences.
After speaking with several pen-pens during recent visits to Liberia, it is becoming clear to me that a wave is gathering that requires urgent attention. I have spoken to pen-pens who complain of pain in their eyes and chest. It comes as no surprise. Our brothers will have significant visual impaired or be blind coupled compromised respiratory functions. The combination of impaired vision and compromised lung function presents a serious public health challenge. It won’t be very long belong these men can’t see and can’t breathe well. It won’t be too long before they can’t work; we can be sure that they will turn to the government and their families for assistance.
Even more alarming is the fact that as you read this post, these our brothers are having multiple children by multiple women. It is easy to understand why: they have economic power because they can ride daily and earn some income. I am concerned about what will become of these children when their fathers are unable to work and provide food and school fees. Imagine the implications for the rest of society.
Instead of just requiring helmets, we have to develop educational modules that present the health consequences awaiting our dear brothers. Our posture cannot be confrontational; it must be one of a loving, caring community deeply concerned about our collective future.
For optimum health,