When I am Gone

                                                    By Omari Jackson
    “What are you doing now?”  The question did not come as a surprise to me, for the authorities in Ghana had made their position clear: all Liberian refugees must be out of the country by a certain date. The date was what I could not accept since I felt that I also belonged here.
   “Tom, Tom,” my shrill voice echoed, and I felt my own voice coming, from, as if it was from a distance, “there is the likelihood that we’ve no choice as refugees…” my voice trailed off, and to be exact, my voice failed me.
   I had lived at Buduburam for the last eighteen years, and hence I could argue that I was almost a citizen, or to put it mildly, I was a resident, who deserved the comfort and treatment like the locals. But then in Africa, this poor continent that many of us preferred to describe as, “a continent with all the natural resources untapped,” unless one was prepared to suffer downright human indignity, there was no need to insist that there was any right needed to enjoy.
   “What then are you preparing to do?” Tom’s persistent question probed my conscience and it was clear that I had to make up my mind to either leave Ghana before the deadline ended.
    Mind you, I had lived here for many more years, a situation I found myself informing my friend, Tom.
   “Tom, just in case they send me home by force,” I continued in my attempt to make some sense to my friend, “will you look after my interest in Ghana?” I had acquired some properties that I was not prepared to let them be trampled on by some future users of the Camp.
   “Let me see,” my friend said, his two hands outspread before me, “you have two houses, one near Area B, and the other near Area G, right?”
   “Yes and…”
   “I know about him, your son,” Tom interrupted me, and revealed my third property in Ghana. See, I had managed to build myself two mud houses and had born a child with a Ghanaian lady. My son, Kwame, named because he was born on Saturday, was to honor my wife; since she insisted that in the Ghanaian tradition, names march the days children are born.
   “Oh my son, Kwame…” my voice choked, wondering if I would leave him here in Ghana, or take him with me. He was now twelve years old. My friend looked at me for several seconds before I sensed that he was reading my thoughts.
   “Let me answer your question,” Tom, after lifting his right hand to hold my shoulder, said, “I will make sure that nothing of yours get destroyed, when you’re gone.”
    A faint smile came on my face as I nodded in agreement.
   Tom fumbled something in his breast pocket. Then his face registered what I considered as anguish, for he was a Ghanaian through his father and a Liberian through his mother. Now since he spoke the Fanti dialect so well, there could be no argument that he was not part of those of us who had been threatened by the Hon. Kwamena Bartels, Minister of Interior, to leave this land, formerly known as Gold Coast.
  “Will Gina go with you?” Tom wanted to know.
   “Well, with the news that Ghanaians in Liberia may not be happy about the situation, I don’t think she will be glad to go with me.”
  “But aren’t you taking her with you as your wife?”
   “We discussed it last night but she would not accept the fact that she would be fine, in Monrovia.”
   “Then you’ve a problem,” he said.
   “I sure do, but anyway I must return to Liberia and for good this time.”
    The early morning sun swept across Buduburam, and there were many Liberians, looking like zombies, for the decision by the Ghana Government had destroyed their spirits, since they had not expected the result of the peaceful-demonstration to turn out to be like this.
   “Heh, Sam, you going too?”
    I did not want to answer Janet, a neighbor, whose husband died the second day of the demonstration, leaving her with five children, the youngest three years old. The late Samson was a friend, and I felt I could not turn my back on his wife, since he was gone.
   “Yes, I am.”
    Several children raced after each other, and once in a while vehicles using the Awutu-Breku highway would toot their horns.
    I mentioned earlier I would be returning to Monrovia for good, yes, I had been going back and forth; doing what I thought was business. I would buy some “Fanti Lappa” and take it to Liberia and after selling them, or rather after crediting them, I would return empty handed to Ghana.
    I thought I was doing a fine business, till I did not have any more money to continue with it. The last time I went to Liberia, most of those I credited with the goods had woeful stories to tell me.
   That taught me how to do business, in the future.
    I wanted to sell my two houses at the Camp, and leave, but no one wanted to buy them. And since I did not have a registration card as a refugee, I was afraid that I could be arrested, and sent home against my will.
   Trying to avoid any humiliation, I decided to get my things ready, and whether I got any money or not, find my way out of Buduburam in particular, and Ghana in general for good.
    My heart ached inside me as I thought about the fortunes of Africa.
    When oh, when, would we understand that Africa is for all Africans? By now, I could not hold back my tears. My eyes misted with them, and the thought of leaving Ghana came back to haunt me. Another difficulty I thought of was the sense of hopelessness I had witnessed in Liberia during my failed business trips. There were former colleagues who were still struggling to find any kind of job, to be able to earn a living; and there were still others who seemed to have given up any hope that the future for Liberia could be bubbling with gold and honey.
   I then reminded myself that Liberia was no Israel, and the promise for a better future was by men and not by God. With such a forecast, I knew I had to return, even if it was on the orders of Hon. Kwamena Bartels, or someone else.
  “I am going, Tom,” my own voice surprised me. “One day, I’ll be back.” With that statement, I was reminded of what the former Liberian president, Charles Taylor said, the day he decided to go into exile. A frown on my face registered my disappointment and I wanted to take my words back. My fear was that since Taylor did not have the freedom to return to Liberia, I might not have the chance to return to Ghana.
  “I’m going home by Kwamena Bartel’s order, I am.”
   That was all I could say, though it was in the morning, I fell into a deep slumber, and in a dream I arrived in Monrovia to be received by some family members and friends.

   “Welcome Home, welcome home,” they said, as if in a chorus.
  Though I was no Martin Luther King Jr, I heard myself shout: “Free at last, free at last, thank  God I’m free at last,” but then something jerked on my side, and I heard my friend Tom, asking, “what freedom are you talking about, here in Ghana?”
   “Oh,” I stuttered sheepishly, “So I was dreaming?”
  “Yes,” my friend Tom added, as a consolation, “and you spoke about freedom.”
   “Well,” I said, “I shall return someday.” Though I had the hope that God could make any unfortunate situation fortunate, I could not overcome the sense of let down, as a result of the perennial silence from the Monrovia Government, the United Nations and Liberian embassy staff in Accra. The consequent agony I had seen, since our women decided to do something about the disappointing situation we have had, brought it home to me that we were just alone in the battle. Suddenly bitterness mixed in my mouth. It was then that in my mind’s eye, I could hear a Liberian musician, I could not remember which of them, his lyric drumming in my ears, “Tomorrow I am going home, tomorrow I am going home, tomorrow I am going home, tomorrow I am going home.”
“Yes, I’m thinking about tomorrow, when I am gone,” I said.

 

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