JERVINA TOWHAN KORKOYA
My name is Jervina Korkoya. I was raised in a tight knit community in Liberia and some of my happiest moments and best memories are from my time spent on the continent. To me, Africa is beauty, collectivism, fraternity and compassion. It is delicious food and upbeat vibes. As Liberian statesman Edward Wilmot Blyden once said, "[Africa is] the spiritual conservatory of the world, where one can recover some of the simple elements of faith in the midst of the grandiose Western materialism which blunts spiritual susceptibilities”.
I moved to the United States at the age of 5 when Liberia was going through a civil war, but I often return to visit family members who live there. During my high-school days in the United States, I told a classmate about a summer I spent in Liberia and mentioned that my dad practiced law there. To this she said, “There are law firms in Africa?” I casually laughed and said, "yes of course". Then she went on to ask if there were lions and monkeys in my backyard, to which I responded that I did not live amongst lions and monkeys. Truth of the matter is, in all my regular travels to Liberia, visiting both the city and the village; I only came into close contact with one monkey. And I, along with the majority of Liberians, have never seen lions except at the zoo as they are not indigenous to the country.
I had another friend of mine say that all of Africa and the Middle East should be eliminated. According to her, these regions are like leeches that suck an outrageous amount of resources out of Western countries and were hindering the maximal productivity of the West. I was taken aback and very offended by the ignorant and ridiculously false claims, and I attempted to denounce what she had said.
It is important that Africans continue to address the developmental impediments to our success as a continent with the necessary mental firmness and diligence. There must be a shift from dependence on imported Western solutions, to self-sufficiency. There needs to be a focus on autonomous innovation and an efficient expansion of internal industry. In my opinion, continued exposure by both Africans and non-Africans, through media and literature, to the diverse lifestyles on the continent can combat this cultural ignorance.
I was born in 1995 towards the end of the first Liberian Civil War, which lasted from about 1988 to 1997. The second half of the war began in 1999; my family and I left the country towards the end of 2000 before the on-ground fighting directly hit our area. I have a few memories of Liberia as a child. I remember there was a chicken spot right across from the Dunbar and Dunbar Law Office at which my dad worked. After school everyday, I would go to his office, sit across from him and lovingly stare at him as I ate the chicken he had ordered for me.I would always want to go everywhere with my dad. I was a very shy child; I remember that very well. My parents would throw huge birthday parties for my brother and me. I remember that the two songs I would always hear were “Premier Gaou” and “Vulindlela.” I remember singing Liberian songs at my school, Hester Williams, about being cautious in life. I remember the lyrics to one of the classic Liberian songs: "I was passing by, my Aunty call me in and she said to me Jervina (or insert given name) take time in life, Jervina take time in life for you got far way to go. Oh rock it, shake it." I remember singing "All hail Liberia Hail," the national anthem, every morning before class.I remember my parents playing a game called see-saw with me where I would sit on their feet and they would lift me. I remember telling on my older brother because he would always take my parents’ car. I remember my next-door neighbors, the Sumos, and how close our families were.
The Sumos had three daughters and a son. I remember making mud cakes with one of the girls, Nyama, and using smashed leaves as topping for our cakes (which we may have tasted lol). I remember trying to learn to play marbles from the boy; this did not usually happen because girls were not supposed to play marbles.
I remember first learning about the devil from a pop up picture book; I will never forget the fear I had, as a child, of him and of evil spirits. There are other moments that are escaping me now but I do not remember the violence, since my family and I left Liberia before the on-ground fighting directly hit our area.
I do, however, remember suddenly having to leave my house and extended family for a long period of time. I think I had my hair braided in extensions for the first time when I left Liberia to permanently move to the United States.
I remember coming to the United States and being at my grandmother's place with my cousins and aunt. I was happy to be with my family members in the United States, and as a child the mystery and excitement of my new home overpowered any sort of feelings of loss or longing.
As a child, I identified more with feelings of happiness and excitement than with a particular environment or ideologies.
Every summer since High School, I have returned to visit Liberia.