Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Liberia: Desk Officer, Bureau of International Organizations Affairs

June 4, 1990, a Monday, started out as a typical day at the office in downtown Monrovia. My uncle usually drove me to work but this particular morning my mother had to meet an old friend at the main campus of the University of Liberia and offered to give me a ride. I was a Desk Officer in the Bureau of International Organizations Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This was my dream job. All those years of sacrifice, study and hard work had finally paid off.  Here I was, a senior official, representing the interests of the people of Liberia to the international community. Here I was, interacting with heads of states, ambassadors, and other high ranking government officials, both foreign and domestic. Here I was, shaking hands with President Samuel K. Doe.  The possibilities seemed endless.

The Assistant Minister and my other colleagues had not yet arrived but that was not unusual. I settled in and began to look through the pile of correspondences on my desk.  I was in the middle of drafting a letter to the UNDP Resident Representative when my mother burst in, breathless and frantic;  “come on, we have to leave right now…rebels are just outside the city, there are government soldiers everywhere…let’s go!”  I was frazzled, no time to think; started shoving personal papers into my briefcase. Running to the door, I stopped and looked back at my desk, at the empty chair and scattered documents; I hesitated then my mother and I flew down two flights of stairs and out of the Ministry. We scrambled into her Mercury diesel station wagon and burned rubber out of there.

The scene on the only main road out of the center of the city was surreal. It was sheer pandemonium. Truckloads of soldiers, some hanging off the sides like children on a jungle gym, screeched by top heavy taxis, buses and other vehicles.  It was like a road race, no traffic rules; everyone was anxious to get to the  safety of the suburbs. My mother took off like Mario Andretti and made it to our home in Bardnersville in record time.

What followed was…well…war. The gravity of our situation began to crystallize by the end of June. The water was shut off on the 27th followed by the electricity on the 29th. A 6 p.m. curfew was imposed on July 2nd and that is when we began to hear and feel the rounds of heavy artillery and automatic weapons.  Over 25 people had taken refuge in our home and we struggled to keep our sanity; no food and constant harassment by government and rebel factions. Elisabeth Blunt of the BBC kept us informed about the war via a small battery operated radio. On July 28, 1990, Charles Taylor proclaimed himself president and told us that we should remain in our homes; his “freedom fighters” would not harm civilians. We were ordered into the bush by the 30th. So much for that.

I never made it back to my office. A career that I loved and was very good at, poof, was gone. Over the years I’ve obsessed about resuming my work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  I thought the present administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf offered the best opportunity to do so. Wrong. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, it has been placed out of my reach. It is what it is.

So, I’m done. I had to let it go. To quote Bradley Joseph, a family friend, “Forward ever, backward never.” “Watch me climb.”

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