The People in my "Neighbourhood"
Home again from Liberia, I was contemplating what aspect of my week there I would blog about – what illustrators were learning and doing with Gord Pronk while I worked with writers? how a group decides which “personal heroes” qualify for inclusion in a Liberian anthology? the fun we had with an oral “dialogue” exercise? – when my sister’s blog post about a few of the Very Important People in the virtual world her business takes her into gave me another idea.
The world has seemed a smaller place since last year when Liberia became an extension of my neighbourhood, and I’d like to introduce you to just a few of the Very Important People I hung out with there last week.
Mike Weah (with the help of his wife Yvonne and others) runs the We-Care Library in Monrovia. He is the dynamic mastermind behind the Reading Liberia program that has taken me to Liberia twice now. At a meeting last Thursday, after Gord described what needed to happen with the artwork being created for the books soon to be published, Mike said, “There is this big river between us. God made a mistake.” I love the man’s sense of humour, and of course his passion, too, for doing whatever it takes to get books written and illustrated by Liberians into the hands of Liberia’s children and their teachers.
Ade Wede Kekuleh is one of the writers whose work I was given the chance to read last week, and I was pleased because I found her a bit elusive last year. After discussing her story about kids who miss out on breakfast because they’re too busy watching on TV to pay attention to their mother, we had a conversation in which she explained to me that, yes, children in Liberia today would relate to her story. “But,” I said, “I was told that homes in Liberia don’t have electricity.” “That’s right,” she said, “but there are generators.” From Ade, I also learned how the Liberian people keep their clothes so immaculately pressed, despite often difficult living conditions. Ade is one of only four women in the group of sixteen writers in the group that met at St. Teresa’s Convent School last week, just down the road from the Cape Hotel. The reverse male:female ratio to what one usually finds in a comparable group in Canada.
The third person I’d like to mention, I can tell you very little about. Only that she is ten years old and was one of a dozen or so kids who flocked around me and Gord last Thursday, the one time we got down to the beach across from the hotel. I was riveted by the girl’s poise and beauty (it’s her picture at the top of this post) and she totally captivated my imagination. Does she go to school? Are any of the younger kids her siblings? What exactly did a man who seemed to be attached to the group of kids mean exactly, when he said the kids were “community kids”? I wonder if this girl, or any of the other kids on the beach, go to school. I wonder if she’ll ever read the story by James Dwalu that Chase Walker was illustrating last week, about a boy who discovers that his father was just as afraid to cross the monkey bridge as he was.
I’d like to tell you about James and Chase. And Nementorbor, Llord, and Gabriel. Watchen, Elfreda, and Woryonwon. And others. But CODE is expecting to see a report from me soon, and of course there are the demands of my closer to home “neighbours” I need to catch up with.
My sister was inspired by someone else’s blog post, and I was in turn inspired by hers. If you’re inspired now to write about the people in your neighbourhood, I hope you’ll leave a link to your blog post, or else drop it right here in comments.
Kathy Stinson is the author of the classic Red Is Best and the award-winning The Man with the Violin. Her wide range of titles includes picture books, non-fiction, young adult fiction, historical fiction, horror, biography, series books, and short stories. She has met with her readers in every province and territory of Canada, in the United States, Britain, Liberia, and Korea. She lives in a small town in Ontario.