The Spaces Between Your Fingers

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I interviewed my mom, Leomi at home. She had her hair wrapped up in traditional fabric (as she usually does) My family is from West Africa Liberia. She used to work for the government as a secretary. There was a coup in our government and as they were killing government workers she, my father, and my brother had to flee from the city to the villages.<br />
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My mother is a small 5’5 force of nature. Hearing her war stories makes me question how she survived every day. She is very funny, sarcastic, and is not afraid to tell it exactly how it is. She saw and experienced some unspeakable events, so being able to retell her stories using her humor is a great way for me to honor her experiences.<br />
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These memories mean everything to her because she has not been home in 20 years and what she went through made her the strongest person I know.

A swift hit with the bottom of his rifle sent me to my knees in the mud. I stared hard at the ground. It was raining season and I could see the little beginnings of a tomato plant. I took a deep breath in and thought, this is it.  I am going to be shot and the last thing I’ll see is this damn tomato plant.

I had gone out to get food because during the war there was no food. We were displaced in a village called Bo Jay. On my way back from buying two cups of rice, I reached the checkpoint where there was a gate that we cleverly called, “the checkpoint.” I joined the line hoping that it would be uneventful and I could return to my family. A rebel motioned for me to get out of line. Me? For what?

 “Do you work for the government?”

 The rebels were killing those that opposed their leader Charles Taylor. He repeated his question. I couldn’t lie and say no because I knew he knew the truth.

I took a hard swallow and responded, “Yes I worked for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Suddenly, someone in the line stepped forward and vouched for me, convincing the rebels to let me go. I went back to Bo Jay to bring the rice to my mother, father, and son.

Later on, that evening I heard yelling outside. Another group of rebels were outside our makeshift home. Two were sitting on top of the jeep and the other two were half hanging out the back. Their green uniforms were stained with dark brown smudges that I hoped were from the mud. They carried large rifles and had that desperately dangerous look in their eyes. I guess the war had been hard on everyone, including them. The driver hopped out and came in the doorway pulling me out of the house.  

“Everyone out, I need everyone out of this house!”

He came for our two cups of rice. They must have followed me back from the checkpoint.

“Give me any food you have and that box of cigarettes,” he demanded pointing his rifle towards the box of cigarettes siting on the porch that I had planned to sell or trade for food.

 I responded, pleading with him, “This is all we have how can you expect me to give it to you?”

 He had his rifle pointed directly at me. I was tired. Tired of running, tired of being scared, just plain tired.

At this point I can’t tell you what I was thinking or what led to my next actions. Looking back, I would say exhaustion and hunger made me delusional.

I charged at him pushing his rifle up into the air. It fired off. My ears ringing, I shut my eyes tight and doubled over. My head pounding, I turned my head to see my father standing in the doorway holding a rifle the exhaustion under his eyes and the anger like fire inside them.. I stumbled forward and saw the rebel holding his leg.

My father yelled, “next one goes in your head.”

Bo Jay

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First Liberian Civil War
Liberia, West Africa

I interviewed my mom, Leomi at home. She had her hair wrapped up in traditional fabric (as she usually does) My family is from West Africa Liberia. She used to work for the government as a secretary. There was a coup in our government and as they were killing government workers she, my father, and my brother had to flee from the city to the villages.

My mother is a small 5’5 force of nature. Hearing her war stories makes me question how she survived every day. She is very funny, sarcastic, and is not afraid to tell it exactly how it is. She saw and experienced some unspeakable events, so being able to retell her stories using her humor is a great way for me to honor her experiences.

These memories mean everything to her because she has not been home in 20 years and what she went through made her the strongest person I know.

Tags: Africa, Liberia
Decade: 1990s
Rating:
Recorded by jema varnie on June 7, 2018
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