Anxious about what lay ahead the following day and the ensuing days, I found it very hard to sleep. I woke up early in the morning, took a shower and waited to see the consul as soon as possible about my brother. I was, however, disappointed that he was nowhere to be seen. I did not even know his name. As if luck was on my side, a handsome young man came in. In English, he introduced himself to me as Musa Sumareh, the Gambian consul’s brother. He asked me my name and where I came from. I told him my name and where I came from. He went to buy bread and made tea. We took breakfast together. This time, I realized how hungry I was – I did not eat for nearly 24 hours since my breakfast in Dakar the day before. I ate very well, literally gobbled the loaf of bread brought by Mr. Sumareh Junior.
Without hesitation, Musa, after learning about my mission in Liberia, offered to help. We immediately left for Broad Street, where he said the clerk for the consul lived. He believed the clerk, who had a long list of the names of Gambians in Liberia, would know where we could find Demba. Upon arrival, I introduced myself and informed him what my mission was. He thanked me for undertaking such a brave and noble mission. He pulled out the list and enquired, “Where does he live?” I believed he must have arranged the names according to locations. “I don’t know. His name is Demba, Demba Mamburay.” I said. I had no idea where Demba lived. I did not have his address. He was not communicating. So my journey was that of a wild, frantic search for someone with no idea about where to begin. I might not even recognize him. For some reason, I never totally lost my optimism about seeing him. Though this clerk did not know Demba and did not have his name on his list he offered to take us to a colleague who might know him and his whereabouts. It was almost 10 a.m. My anxiety grew. I was not even sure if he was alive. Luckily this colleague, named Bayo, was at home and knew where Demba lived. He said he knew Demba very well and that they were friends but that he lived very, very far away from the capital, Monrovia. The man said Demba lived in a small town called Varguay. He said this Varguay was at least some three hundred kilometres away into the hinterland. “Now that it is almost 11 a.m. you might want to start your journey first thing tomorrow morning. It could be dangerous out there,” he admonished. “There are so many roadblocks and military checkpoints.” The clerk interjected. I scratched my brain, and quickly thought for a while, my heart pounding. I needed to move fast. However, with all these people sounding some alarm about the precariousness of the journey, I felt stupefied. It’s already Tuesday and I needed to find Demba and family his second wife Daba and child, and go back to the Gambia with them by Monday, the day my visa would expire.
“I can’t wait, I have to go instantly. How do I go from here?” I retorted. My three new friends were very concerned because the roads were very bad and it could be dangerous to travel when it got dark. I was taken to one Lamin Dampha who did not hesitate to take me to the car park. I was told that I would take a taxi to Lofa Bridge from where I would take another car to Varguay. At the mention of Lofa Bridge, I remembered that there was intense fighting going on in Lofa County. My fear was however allayed by Dampha that Lofa Bridge was not affected by the recent fighting. Despite concerns expressed by the three fiends, and now by Dampha, I did not budge. I had to go. I did not know where the courage came from but even people living in Liberia were surprised by my apparent bravery. Dampha even told me that my nephew, Omar, could be in Varguay with Demba. I said well, then I would take everyone home, including Omar. The taxi, a five-passenger car, loaded with seven passengers, was a very old Toyota Corolla. I thanked Lamin and gave him his fare to go back to downtown Monrovia. It was now 12:30 noon.
MY TRIP TO VARGUAY
After passing through a couple of smaller checkpoints, at each of which I gave two-five Liberia dollar bills, we reached a very big checkpoint, which I believed was an army barrack. The barrack had soldiers, the police, immigration officers, customs officers, and many different servicemen of the country. This was a camp I can never forget in my life. I was now accustomed to the barrage of questions that I was asked at every checkpoint. At this particular checkpoint, I patiently answered questions about my name, where I was from, my profession, and my mission in Liberia. This time it was the immigration officer who asked questions and checked my passport. As I was expecting, he requested to get his share of the ‘cake’ when he was done. I gave him ten Liberian dollars. I started leaving, and a soldier sitting by the immigration officer said “how ’bout we?” I told him to share with the immigration officer because I did not have much money. He did not give in. He explained to me that they belonged to different units, and that the camp comprised Immigration, the Military, the Police, the Customs, etc. I responded that I would remember to give each unit the next time I come around. So I started walking away. The gentleman was adamant – he called out, “come back here!” From the tone of his voice, I sensed that this man was going to be confrontational and that there was something sinister about his countenance. When I came back he asked sarcastically, “where did you say you were going?”
“I am going to Lofa Bridge.” I replied. Surprisingly I was very calm, not bothered by the many armed men and women around me.
“What for?” He quizzed.
“To meet Lamin Kebbeh.”
“Who is Lamin Kebbeh?”
“Actually I don’t know him personally but I know he’s a fellow Gambian living there.”
“So you’re going to someone you don’t know?” This question extracted from me the full explanation of my mission to Liberia.
“I do not know Lamin. I was directed to him so he can help me find my long lost brother. This brother’s name is Demba Mamburay. He came here some thirty-four years ago. However during the war he brought his wife, who is a Liberian, and eight children to live with me in the Gambia. His entire family is distraught – they have not heard from him for so long.”
“Where is this Demba?” Another soldier interjected. This time more armed soldiers and other servicemen seemed to be more interested and some started getting closer. The armed men and women drew their guns. Most of them pointed their guns at me. However, I explained that I did not know where Demba was and that I hoped Lamin would help guide me to him, that’s why I wanted to see Lamin.
“Actually we’re not convinced by your explanation. If you cannot convince us we will deport you back to your country,” a third soldier interposed, as belligerent as the former. At this time more and more armed men were coming out from bushes and hill tops. I still managed to be calm but I was scared. I knew most, if not all, of these guys were part of Charles Taylor’s rebels and we had heard about how merciless some of these people were. They could kill in a second. I knew the armed men might just be waiting for the orders to execute. The situation was getting chaotic. The immigrations officer whom I gave money advised me to just go ahead and give the soldiers some money. Before I could say something, the first soldier added, “my friend, we’re not convinced and we’ll deport you back to Gambia! You’re the kind of people who come here and spoil the name of Liberia. You hear the UN and U.S. are now accusing us of blood diamond; that Charles Taylor is dealing in Sierra Leonian diamond. How do we know you are not a blood diamond dealer?”
Looking around, my eyes met the many-armed personnel around me, some on the hilltop, all fiercely looking. My driver tried his best to convince them to release me. He even lied to them that he knew Demba very well. . As if this angered them they ordered him to bring all my items down from the car. He complied but begged to be allowed to wait for me. He was told that he might have to go without me. He was ordered to go and wait by the car. Surprising myself, I gathered my courage, regained my composure and raised my voice, “listen to me everyone, listen please! I’m indeed surprised by the extent to which I am being humiliated and ridiculed by people who I thought were my brothers.” Putting my passport down on the immigration officer’s table, I said, “open my passport and see how many countries I have been to. I have been to Malaysia, Singapore, Russia, Belgium, Norway, Switzerland, Netherlands, U.K., Thailand, USA, not counting the many African countries I went to. Never in my life have I been harassed. If Asians or Europeans treated me like this I could understand. However, as professionals, all they look at is my travelling documents. If the visa and all the relevant documents are valid they don’t bother me. However you people who I could call brothers and sisters are not satisfied that my documents are all intact. Do you know why we are brothers? Not only because of our skin color but both our countries are part of the ECOWAS and the OAU. Do you know what ECOWAS stands for?” They said no. I knew most of the young men and women were not that educated as most of them started fighting at very young ages. Their schools were all closed and destroyed because of the war and they have been fighting for over ten years. I said, “ECOWAS stands for Economic Community of West African States. Do you know what the ECOWAS protocol says?” They answered in the negative? I continued. “According to the ECOWAS convention all West Africans should be allowed to travel freely without any hindrances throughout the region as long as they have valid documents and do not possess any illicit materials. You have all seen that my documents are correct. I am not in possession of any illegal materials. Your immigration department has given me a visa to stay in Liberia. So what is the problem here, money? Is it money that you want?” I pulled out a bunch of Liberian dollars but a number of them objected. I knew my lecture was working. They even rejected the money they were just minutes ago vigorously trying to get. I knew it was not xenophobia; the long war and the lack of learning opportunity had caused them to be so ignoramus and poor. But a lecture was the best thing they needed. They missed a lot of schooling.
This has encouraged me to continue my lecture at this military barrack. However, I myself marveled my level of equanimity at this point. So I continued; “do you know that your this Liberian dollar will be scrapped in ten years? I asked, holding the Liberian currency. “Africa is now trying to move on by bringing its people together, to travel around, trade with one another, just like the developed countries. America is a strong country because its fifty states are united, so is the European Union, the Asians, and so on. Understanding this scenario our leaders in West Africa are trying to introduce a single currency that would be a West African unit of exchange. That’s why the Liberian dollar, the Nigerian Naira, the Ghanaian Cedis, the Sierra Leonian Leone, and the Gambian dalasi will all be no more by 2010, if plans go well. These are the English speaking countries of West Africa,” I continued. “The French (Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Burkina Nafaso, Benin, Togo, Cote D’Ivoire, Niger) and Portuguese (Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau) speaking West African countries will join later.” I was deliberately mentioning all these countries by name so all to impress my captor audience. I knew they did not know these countries.
Conspicuously my captors were at this point my audience
Yankuba Mamburay is the author of three books: The Search for a Lost Brother is a nonfiction book which chronicles his family’s tenuous ordeal in their quest to frantically search for a brother who travelled before he was born. During the search for his lost brother in war-torn Liberia, Yankuba was apprehended by Charles Taylor’s troops at gunpoint. Yankuba’s second book, a must-read mystery book, is entitled The Mysterious Odyssey of a Village Boy. His third book, authored by him and his daughter Khadijah who was eight years old, is a children’s book that came about at Khadijah’s request to write about her grandmother’s farm work. The book is called A Day at Grandma’s Farm.
Until recently, Yankuba, who is also a consultant and a lecturer at UTG, was the Country Manager of Karpowership. Before that, he worked for several other organizations, including ActionAid International, The University of The Gambia, AGIB Bank and World Financial Group (WFG). He did his Bachelor’s degree in Malaysia at the International Islamic University Malaysia and his Master’s in Business Administration degree (MBA) in the United States at the University of Phoenix.