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What a UN Truck Means to Me


When I heard on the radio this morning that help has arrived for those affected by the nonsense currently going on in Congo, I could not help but think about the days when the United Nations supply truck meant life or death for me. Even today, a UN truck loaded with relief item is still for me, a symbol of hope in the midst of despair and destitution. It was in the year 1991, in the remote town of Bossou, just two towns or two hours on foot from the mining city of Yekepa, Nimba County. This little town was swollen to bursting point by an influx of Liberian war refugees who felt that it was too risky to stay in the first Guinean town of Thuo for fear of cross border attacks by the Liberian rebels. When the year 1990 ended with president Doe killed, we were hopeful that our nightmare was over. Consequently, during the 1991 New Year celebrations, the Christians in Bossou who had gathered at the Bossou Free Pentecostal Church for the New Year watch night called the passed year nineteen-nothing and were very optimistic that 1991 was going to be the year that peace would return to Liberia and we return to our homes. But we were all wrong. The madness continued and there we sat in Bossou depending on the goodwill of people we have never met. We had reluctantly cleared a vast forest land to begin building make shift structures to put away the UN provided tents which were becoming tattered and the strings eaten away by termites and other living things that were equally hungry and desperate as we were.

Perhaps the UN also thought the war would be over soon and so as we dragged into 1991our food supplies were no longer current. What started as a biweekly food distribution soon began to lapse. It went into monthly and then slowly into every other month. They had told us that the emergency period was over and that we needed to do something to make ends meet. The strongest amongst us took to the bushes to find food; others engaged into all kinds of businesses. Even the oldest form of business was not left off the table. There were those who partnered with local Guineans to make farms, tap palm wine, set traps, and just do anything to survive. Others went back to Liberia to become part of the rebel force since fighters could get what ever they wanted. The rebel leader Mr. Charles Taylor had made it clear that his fighting men were so plenty that even if he could pay them with beach sand, he would still be short in keeping salary current. As such he commanded them to pay themselves with just anything they could find. So refugees including Guineans who wanted a little more heeded to the call. Others made it their business to trade in looted goods which they would bring across the border to sell. Everyone went to his or her own specialty or just learned something new but nothing seemed enough to satisfy the starving bellies and the flashy lifestyles that we were accustomed to. The United Nations food truck was our only hope of getting something down our throats. The vehicles that brought us these food supplies were loaded in the regional capital of Nzerekkore a month in advance and sent to the various counties called prefectures. They would stock them in warehouses in those county seats. So ours were loaded from Lola, the capital city of our prefecture about forty miles north. Regrettably, the more those truck loads change hands from Nzerekore to warehouses in Lola and from Lola to Bossou, the more our supplies were tempered with. They had a saying that no one plays with oil without their fingers becoming oily. So as the trucks drove through those bad roads, there were droplets of oil on almost every finger that came in contact with what suppose to be ours. But no one got inundated with or cared much about the workers “hustling” because as we say in Liberia, “a beggar has no choice” and so what ever reached us was ours. Some one somewhere was doing us a favor and as such we could not lay claim to what was still miles away from us. But mess with a refugee’s ration when it was apportioned and you would find out why April 14, 1979 was termed Tolbert’s mistake (reference to 1979 rice riots).

We waited and waited. Days came and went with only one way to look and that was the road leading to Lola. It was during this time that the line “give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer got the most “amens” more than any line in both the Old and New Testaments combined. We listened for sounds of trucks shifting gears and watched for any white Suzuki jeep bringing in an advance team of Red Cross workers responsible for food distribution. Such wait was a long one that all of us had to painfully live through. Everyone tried to stay alive by doing whatever humanly possible. Some got hurt or sick in finding alternatives. Others died waiting. The tragic death of three adolescent boys who died from eating tubers they dug up in the wild during one of those waiting periods was not unusual. Those we were lucky to remain on their feet have only two words on their mind: supply truck. Even if we were in our deepest sleep, we could tell when the supply trucks entered Bossou. We knew when there was food in the trucks and when they were empty. We could tell even if we were not looking. The trick was simple. Our warehouse sat on a little hill in the Bossou central market. The driver would not change gear when the trucks were empty. So we held our breadths as the truck began climbing. As soon as the gear shifted resulting into a long and loud sound, we would respond with cheers and laughs. If it were in the day, many would start to race to the warehouse just to watch the food being offloaded. Some would sign up to work as warehouse boys for a few extra kilos of rice, beans or liters of oil. As we stood watching the bags of rice, beans, oil, and sometimes can tomatoes and sardines being off loaded and stocked, we felt satisfied as if we were already being fed.

It was at one of those gatherings near the warehouse that a boy, a Ghanaian Liberian whom I only remembered as Diamentee, about 11 years old sang a song that became a true confession of every refugee who believed in God. Although the song was a regular praise song in almost all morning devotions and church services, the line which spoke of the source of our refugee supply went deep into everyone’s soul:

God made everything beautiful, O…..o beautiful
God made every pretty, so very fine
There must be a power, an everlasting power
There must be a God, a God some where

Who makes the sun to shine -
Who makes the night to fall -
Who makes the refugee food to come -
There must be a God, a God some where

God made everything beautiful, O…..o beautiful
God made every pretty, so very fine
There must be a power, an everlasting power
There must be a God, a God some where


Those trucks meant a lot and I know my Congolese brothers and sisters are feeling the same way too. And when the madness is finally over, I hope they can look back just like me and reflect on the days when the UN truck meant the world to them.

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