In the SKD Stadium, where less than two years ago thousands of internally displaced persons lived after rebels shelled them out of their homes, thousands again crowd the stands--this time for a free concert organized by the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), a new cell phone company, and Music for Peace & Reconciliation. It is a national holiday--Armed Forces Day--and we are here to say, according to a flyer being passed around, “Guns No!! Elections Yes!!” I am smiling already.
As I passed by the long lines of people waiting outside for their turn to trickle into the stadium, I wondered if they remember…if standing and walking together like that brings back memories of the civil war that made this concert necessary. But of course they remember. What all of us are here to do is make peace with the past and pray silently that history does not repeat itself.
Some of the featured artists at the peace concert are impressive: Nawassa Wassa from Guinea and Savan Alla from Côte d’ Ivoire are truly stars. But Nigerian actress Patience, known fondly as Mama Gee, elicits the wildest applause from the audience. For me, the local artists shine brightest: I love Tokie Tomah, the traditional dancers and drummers, The Peace Crusaders, King O’Brien, and a character named Boutini. Boutini’s trademark costume is a jester’s hat and a pair of giant glasses that looks like it’s made out of cardboard. He is my generation’s “Bullshitter” (international readers: think Mr. Bean with a voice and an attitude).
As the concert is about to end--without any major unruly incidents as so often happens at SKD--I take my leave to try to avoid the crowds and increase my chances of getting a taxi back to town. No such luck: People are already streaming out and heading towards ELWA junction like an army of ants. I fall into step with them and trudge along. It’s impossible not to try imagining the death marches of Liberia’s recent past, when fleeing civilians had to pass through checkpoints where inevitably some would be randomly picked out of line to meet their end. I have a lot of time to think about it, because already all the public transportation is full to the max--inside and outside as people climb to the roofs of the vehicles or stand on the bumpers. I thank God though, because “peace” is here; I only have to walk to Sinkor--not to Sierra Leone.