Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Yaron Deskalo Liberia Journal Day 3


We're in Gbarnga. A four drive from Monrovia.
We had two guests with us today, Joseph Kolobeh and Richard Duo. Both are from Gbarnga. Both play amputee soccer.
Nearly twenty years ago, at the outset of Liberia's civil conflict, Joseph was ripped away from his home and in order to protect his family, forced to fight for one of the many warring factions. He was part of the Small Boys Unit (SBU) - a large group of adolescents trained to kill.
Richard, on the other hand was three-years-old in 1990. As he's been told, he was hiding in a Monrovian church when rebels attacked. They killed six-hundred. Richard was left an orphan and an amputee.
Meanwhile, Joseph's stint with the SBU was short-lived. An ambush left him without a left arm.
So today, two members of the team went back to their hometown, each with completely different back-stories.
We visited Phebe Hospital where both spent time recovering. Nothing prepared for me for what I saw in that hospital. It was as close to a morgue as it was a recovery center. Everywhere I turned I found lifeless eyes - whether the body was emaciated, amputated or motionless. The images were equally shocking to Richard and Joseph - or so it appeared. But then again, like most of you reading this, I know nothing about what every Liberian saw from 1989-2003. I can only imagine what Phebe was like during the war. Doctors few and far between. And not just AIDS, malaria or dysentery.
Today was the first full day we spent with the Richard and Joseph. It's hard to approach a pair like them. Their lives started on the same path, but the war altered their course. Today they struggle to recover. As they walked down a deserted row of houses at the Gbarnga Catholic Mission - where Richard recovered as an orphan - our cameras caught a moment. The two drifted off on their own, surveying the damage: burned out buildings, a once crowded dining hall now flattened to concrete and weeds, and dorms reduced to boarded up windows and filth.
Our entire crew - which has grown large - stopped for a moment and just watched the two of them walk. These two outcasts of Liberian society, each with his own physical impediment, sharing a common moment of despair and destruction.
We're always told to forgive and forget. Does Richard really forgive those that took his family, childhood and normalcy away from him?
Can Joseph forget all that he did - beheadings, rapes, and murders?
I'm not sure I know the answer to those questions. But for a moment today, it sure seemed like it.

-YD

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