Mama na come

Liberia, November 19, 2009

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Nancy Farese for Mercy Corps  </span>
    The fortunes of Liberia's people are being raised by hard-working businesswomen like Tetee, who has been supporting her family for two years by selling goods in her small shop. Photo: Nancy Farese for Mercy Corps

Liberians have lots of great expressions, and I've enjoyed learning some of them as we traveled the country. I've shared a few of them here on my blog — how da body, tryin' small, a fish cup of rice.

My ear got used to the patois after we'd been here a few days, and I was happy to be able to rely less and less on our translators. I found myself slipping into Liberian English enough so that I could understand what people were telling me. I even was able to adapt my own spoken English with a touch of patois so that they could better understand me. It was fun and satisfying to connect with people through our talking, listening — and our shared language of simple human caring.

We met so many strong, proud Liberian people who are digging in to do the hard daily work of rebuilding their ravaged country. On this trip, we made a point of talking with lots of women. Most of the one-on-one conversations I had were with the grandmothers and mothers, sisters and daughters whose bright outfits often provided the only spots of cheerfui decoration against the drab browns of their mud-brick huts. Their personalities were as colorful and distinct as the fabrics they wore.

Liberian women are the cocoa farmers I met, like Mary and Samah and Annie. They're vegetable farmers who have also been trained in secretarial skills, like Isabella. They're businesswomen, like Tetee (in this picture), who has been supporting her family for two years by selling goods in her small shop. Many of them, like Wadey, have horrific stories of their experiences during the war years. It was hard to hear their stories of the violence that has scarred them.

And yet, they are looking forward with hope. That's the thing that stays with me the most from this trip.

To a woman, they talked about education — their number one priority for their children and themselves. "When there is no education," said Isabella, "you are blind. You can't do anything. Education is the key." They're earning their own money and counting every penny to try to save enough to pay school fees so their children can learn to read and write. They're absolutely ecstatic about the Mercy Corps literacy classes and other training that are helping them acquire the basic skills to get ahead.

They're also applying their own sweat and muscle to the hard slog of farming. They're eagerly absorbing new methods of planting, mulching and composting to improve their yields.

And the many people who have had Mercy Corps training in community-building are showing how much they have absorbed those lessons. Clearly, they deeply value respectful dialogue and inclusive democracy. At every village meeting I attended, people packed into the palaver huts to participate and listened with the utmost courtesy and attentiveness as each person spoke.

These are the some of the images and memories that will stay with me as I wind up this trip. I'm thinking about one expression I learned: "Papa na come." It means, "Things will be good," as in "Papa's gonna come." I think Papa here is meant to signify any family provider.

But after this trip, I've coined my own version of this saying. It's "Mama na come." Because I think the women of Liberia — the same women whose uprising helped lead the country away from a cruel dictatorship and towards a democracy led by a woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — are showing the way to this beautiful country's future. I'm betting on their success, because I've seen with my own eyes what they're accomplishing.