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Esther Kamara

Esther Kamara

Liberian-born Nursing Assistant and College Student

Born: Liberia
Heritage: Liberian

Great! For 4th grade going into 5th grade. My word of advice is I want you guys to learn independency! When the teacher teach you anything, you should learn it more. When he tells you A, you should understand what the top of A means, what the two part of that A mean. That means to say, when he give you any homework, don’t just do little, do everything and go beyond. Read more about it and it will help you to be great!

Esther Kamara

Liberian-born Nursing Assistant and College Student

My name is Esther Kamara. I am a Liberian. I’m American now. I was born in Liberia on February 10th, 1965. I got my American citizenship in 2010 in August, last year.

Um, Liberia is a country that was colonized—do you understand colonized? Colonized…yeah…it means the country be delivered or be free by some other country in power and um… Liberia was free by Americans. Americans is an organization that was from America, they called them American Colonization Society.

So, we got our independence in 1847 by the American Colonization Society. And I was born in Liberia, they didn’t call it Liberia, they called it County Lofa. And Lofa County is located on the north of Liberia.

What interests me to come here today is that when I read a paper and I share with Loshaka, my son, your classmate, and he told me, he said, oh, Mom, the flag of Liberia look like the flag of the United States. And I told him, yes, the flag look alike and I will show you. This is the Liberian flag and this is the American flag.

The only difference with the Liberian flag is one star because is one state. And the American flag is fifty stars because it’s fifty states. But it has the same blue field, blue field and eleven stripes. The same design.

The reason is Liberia got her independence from the Americas, so they imitated, they copied the same kind of society or government setting. You understand government setting? Okay. It means that they got president here. It’s the same thing, they got a president of Liberia, they got legislative, we got a person, an executor, they legislative, the judiciary, the same setting in Liberia. The same kind of government setting.

And, um…in Liberia, we speak different dialects as compared to America, everybody speaks English here. There, everybody don’t speak English. We speak different dialects. And in Liberia, we have 16 spoken dialects there.

I’m from one of the dialects. We call that Gbandi. (sounds like Bahn-dee) and I would like to share a song with you people if you are interested. Are you? Well, before I sing this song, do you have any questions about what I just said? (student asks about the flag) Because Liberia was…Liberia got her independence from the organization that was based in America, so the American organization, they call it American Colonization Society. So they colonized Liberia. They lead Liberia to freedom. So they teach Liberia everything. So Liberia just…they were taught by Americans.

(Student asks, are there big differences between USA and Liberia?) Yes! It’s a big difference. Ah, the difference is the dialects. In Liberia, we speak 16 dialects. It’s only one teached, but we speak 16 dialects.

And in America, they got 52 states; they all speak English. Except now for all the nationals coming like Spanish and Mexican, but in America, the national language is English. But Liberia, they speak different, different dialects.

(Student asks something, but can’t be understood on mic) The reason is America has 52 states and Liberia is one state.

(Student asks, how do you speak Gbandi?) I will teach you. I will pronounce a word and I will ask you guys to pronounce it after me. Let me show you how to speak Gbandi is um…ah, one is like, say…Toiyay. Toiyay. It means in English, truth. Toinyay…truth. (sounds like toy-yay). Toiyay, truth.

(Student asks, the song you’re going to sing to us…what’s the name?) The name is …Mary Eenada Raya Ta Yah Ma Jesus. Mary eenada Raya Tayah. That is the Gbandi dialect, it means Mary born a child named Jesus.

(Student asks, what’s the language you speak?) The language I speak is Gbandi.

(Hi, my name is Daniel. What is it like in Liberia?) Um…with regards to living? Security? Or…? (Maybe, what was it like growing up?) Oh, growing up in Liberia is pretty much fun. Like here, in winter, you have to be indoors a lot. There’s nothing like snow in Liberia. You have a lot of outdoor play.

(So, like what do you do?) Um…me, personally? When I was a kid like you, I used to play um…football, not the football we call there is…no, not soccer, it’s the baseball…ah, yeah…we got football, we got baseball. But I used to play baseball and the football there, you call it here, um…soccer. Soccer here is baseball, I mean, baseball here is soccer there. So, I used to play the baseball, but in a different form.

You kick the ball and then you run to the base and um…the other team catches it, the ball, and there’s different play.

(Student asks, what was the fun things you did as a child?) As a child, I used to play a game called Naffoh. Naffoh, where you clap your hand and you snap your feet together and you know, throw your foot. It’s a fun game.

[...]My life as a child in Liberia was from the beginning of my…like from infant to 4th grade, I’m grateful to my parents, they did a great thing for me. They took care of me, they fed me, they keep me healthy. But when I got into 5th grade, where you’re going next year, I became independent.

I became independent from the time I got promotion to the 5th grade. That is I need to think and figure out what I eat and I need to think and figure out when I go to bed. I need to think and figure out what is right and what’s not right when I was in the 5th grade.

And I hope you guys are going to be mature at that time, too. Not that my parents wasn’t there. They were there, but they live far off in the village. And I thought growing along with my parents in the village had set me back.

For some reason, I felt that growing through the village with my parents had been not good for me. So, ah…I chose to stay where I could be and go to school. And then when I said that they told me you’re gonna risk yourself if you stay here alone. And…I took the chance and I stayed alone with some maybe family people around, but I took it upon myself when I got promotion through the 5th grade.

What kind of work did your parents do and why did they have to leave home? My parents were the farmer and a trader. My father had lot of coffee farm and cocoa farm and you have to go and take care of the farming work. And they have a lot of cattles, like cows, sheep, and goat and chicken, you know, poultry farm. I thought it was not a good choice for me so I just decided not to go along with them.

How many brothers and sisters did you have? I have five sisters from mom and seven sister and a brother from father.

My mother…my father is my mother’s first and only husband. But my father, in Africa, don’t copy that… In Africa, they…the males, they marry a lot of women because of farming purposes. So that they can have a lot of people with them to take care of the farm work. So, my father had three wives at the same time.

So when your father and mother went to work on the farm, did all of your other brothers and sisters go with them? Yes, they all went. But for some reason, I chose not to.

So, you were on your own? Yeah.

You cooked your own food? I cooked my own food. And um...there’s some food in Liberia you just put in the pot or you put it in the fire, it get toasted. You put in potatoes and you will get some, it called cassava—they are high carbohydrate food and proteins. So I eat them.

The village was a small village. It was located…it was located on the hill with some rivers on the bank of the hill. And the village have about…the village have about…one-two-three-four-five-six…about seven houses. The village have about seven houses and approximately maybe fifty people there.

Were your grandparents and aunts and uncles in the village? My mom and my father live different place, different from um…grandma…my, my grandmother was living like a different town. My father and my mother were living in a different town far off like um here from Plymouth all the way to ah, Mankato, a distance like that.

So the home that you lived in—you look at this room here—was the home as big as this room or smaller? Where you lived when you were in 5th grade? When I was in 5th grade, the houses are big, but not as compared to this room. They’re, they’re…the houses are designed in different format where the people sleep is open like this, were different, I don’t know…kinda like beds. The men all sleeps in one—I don’t know, kinda like a dormitory format. The women sleeps in a big room, like they would get a different beds with a tent around it—how you call it, net around the bed. (Oh, yeah, mosquito netting for malaria.) Yeah, yeah, nets around the bed, but separate bed into different…but just open like this.

So, people of different families lived in the same house? No! People from the same family lived in the same house. Different families lived in separate houses.

But the same family has all these bed? Yep. Like how my father had three wives. A house like this had three beds. (Oh, with three wives in the same room?) In the same house. (Really?) Yeah, my mother had a bed and my step-mom had her bed and the other one had a bed and we—all children—grew up together.

Oh, so you had three mothers? I had three mothers.

So, when your father and mother went away to work on a farm, do some of the mothers stay? No, everybody goes along. Everybody left. I was alone in the house at the same age as these children.

But when I refused to go, my father had…my father had…my father had a neighbor, my father had a neighbor and she was an ethical woman so they told her, since I refused to go, that she should guard me. So I had a guardian, but in my house…I would go to her and then come back to my house.

How far away was the school from where you lived? The school was in the walking distance. It’s like from here to…my house was like from here…let’s just go from the school and then there’s 7th avenue. It’s like two blocks away.

Did you wear uniform to school? And could you explain to the students what kind of uniform you had to wear? Yes! I wore a uniform. In 5th grade, I can’t really remember, but it was a skirt and a blouse. When I were in the 5th grade, it was khaki pants and a white blouse. It go by stages. When I got in there in junior high from 7th grade, it changes color from khaki to a different color. I can’t remember that color. But it’s different when you go from one stage to another.

How many months out of the year did you go to school? We went to school from…we went to school all year-round except December, when the Christmas break, so we took Christmas break December, January, then we go back to school.

So when it’s winter here it’s summer in Liberia? Winter here is um…it’s like spring because it’s rainy there now, it’s winter here. Now it’s rainy in Liberia. (So, it’s opposite?) Yeah. (You’re close to the equator?) Yeah, when it’s snowy here, we get a lot of rainfall. When it’s not snowing here, we get a lot of sunshine.


I Am American Now

Honoring Esther Kamara

I Am American Now
(Honoring Esther Kamara)

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

I was born in Liberia,
With one star, the red, white, and blue,
When I was in the 5th grade,
Around the same age as you,
My mother and father they went to work,
On a plantation far away,
With my brother and twelve sisters,
But for me, I decided to stay.

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

I cooked my own food in a pot,
Cassava and potatoes,
Started the fire - all my myself,
When I was ten years old
Got myself dressed and went to school,
Didn't think nothing of it,
With mosquito netting over the bed,
At night so I wouldn't get bit.

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

In a village on the bank of a hill
With seven families
It takes a village to raise a child
And they all kept an eye on me
On weekends I would walk
Twenty miles, or so both ways
To visit family on the plantation
Back to school on Monday

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

After High School moved to Monrovia
Found work at the embassy
During that time a Civil War
Rebels and military
With bodies floating in the river
The rebels wanted me dead
Since Kamara is an Islamic name
To America I fled

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

I'm a single mom, and I'm raising
Two children on my own
With a full time job, plus going to school
And when my kids are grown
I'll go back to Liberia
When I get my nursing degree
To build a school and a clinic
To help those in need

My name is Esther Kamara,
I am American now.

Words & Music by Larry Long with Scott Sykes 4th Grade Class,
Birchview Elementary School, Wayzata, Minnesota.

© Larry Long Publishing 2012, BMI