Liberia, Family and Escape

OAU poster

My father returned to Africa for a third time in 1979. This time he was the director and one of the writers in a team of people making a documentary about the liberation struggles in Southern Africa. They started out at the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Summit which was held in Monrovia, Liberia. I remembered that he had told me a funny story about a cousin who lived in Liberia and asked about him.

What about your family member in Liberia?

 (Laughter) That was funny. It was at the very beginning of the OAU and he made the papers. Now with parking violations the Liberians have a very interesting situation. When you violate parking restrictions they won’t let you just drive off. They don’t put a ticket on your car; they don’t have the kind of super-structure to do that. So instead they let the air out of your tires. (Told while laughing through-out) So they get a guarantee that you are going to be there when they get ready to ticket you. And then, when they get it cool (street corner justice) they send some poor little laborer with a hand pump and they pump your tires back up.

libei flag &So, we’re sitting around reading the paper, and there is this, I think his name was James, but it was Major who is in the paper. He objected to this woman flattening his tires and he slapped her. They were scandalized and it made the paper. Somebody said “Reggie that must be your relative.” I said “Oh no, not mine.” But he was also in charge of hospitality and so they said to me, “Listen man, you go there and find him. And if you are related, you know, he’s in charge of hospitality.”  So I think, “What the hell?”

I went into the city, found the office, went in and he asked me what I was doing there.  I told him about my quest and he said.

“Well, we could be related. I was born in the United States.”

And I said, “Oh?”

And he said, “Yeah, my father brought me here in the ‘30’s.”

He said he had been raised in Florida, etc. etc. and his father decided to go back to Liberia. And so it didn’t take long to find out that yeah, we were in the same family. He knew Doris, he knew Pauline. (USA based Bahamian cousins) So it eased our stuff up considerably.

monrovia bay vew

Monrovia, Liberia view

It eased us up at the hotel. Then they gave us an extra week in Liberia, on them. The hotel that was not completed before, the hotel Alfree, was now completed. (I could not find a hotel by that name online. I may have mis-heard or it may have been renamed. This was 1979 so things change.)  They gave us a couple of suites. We just hung in Liberia, looking around and what not, courtesy of the government of Liberia and my cousin.

That would be Mr. Major?

Yes ma’am, but it ended up being not so pleasant for reasons that I can’t figure out, none of us could, they decided that Nolewe (Belvie Rooks’ teen-aged daughter) was Liberian and that we were spiriting her out of the country. So we caught all kinds of hell behind that. And it made no difference that she had a passport.

She also looks like her mother.

But from their point of view, she was a girl who was trying to get by because of the resemblance. And they would follow her around. And you know, we were in the hotel and that was dangerous too. Because not only would they follow her around, they figured that she was giving it up. And if she was going to give it up to Americans, she might as well give it up to Liberians.

It was a hassle. And we were hassled. And it was an all Black staff. Finally, I got pissed off at this thing and I went up to the desk and I said, “Listen. Somewhere around here there is a white man in charge, and I want to talk to him. I’m tired of talking to your ass.” Because you know we had been complaining. I said, “You just get me the white man in charge.” So the white man in charge showed up and I talked to him. He explained that it was difficult to keep Nolewe in the hotel. (He was of no help) So they gave us a really serious hard time each day and of course there are fewer and fewer non-Liberians at the hotel every day.

Because people are going home because the conference was over?

Right. So we literally snuck out. They were hassling us. They were hassling Nolewe about an exit visa. We decided “to hell with it.” So we got our taxi and put Nolewe on her knees and the filming equipment at her knees and Amika sitting on top. They didn’t realize what was happening and we moved out we went straight to the airport. We didn’t have exit visas so we bought some there. We jumped on a plane. Gone.

Reggie and the film team are on their way to Nairobi, Kenya. You can read more tidbits of this Africa trip next week. If you missed prior Africa stories click here to read about: Reggie’s first trip to the OAU. Or click here where he talks about: Growing an African consciousness.

If you want to know more about author, journalist and political activist Reggie, nee Reginald, Major click here to see how and why I began this: Journey of the Tapes.

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