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|John Cuprisin started in Sierra_Leone 1983|
|John Cuprisin, Bill Waters|
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|Patty Floch Bruzek, Alan T Cathcart, John Cuprisin, Gloria Derge, Mel Glenn, Mark Hager, Robert Hixson Julyan, Leo Madden, Joy Marburger, Susan McGowan … further results|
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|Patty Floch Bruzek, Alan T Cathcart, David Cohen, John Cuprisin, Gloria Derge, Tom Derge, Leslie Fox, Mel Glenn, Mark Hager, Robert Hixson Julyan, Leo Madden, Joy Marburger, Anne Matthies, Susan McGowan, Elizabeth O'Malley … further results|
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The following essay appeared in the Leeward Community College journal: Harvest, Spring 1990 edition.
It was a typical sizzling African day. The harmattan wind had nearly desiccated the young man after his dusty hike. He needed something cold to drink so he stopped at a small shop to buy a bottle of ice cold Coke. Looking around for a spot of shade, he settled down next to a boy who was quietly grinding parched nuts into paste, and made himself comfortable. The boy looked to be about thirteen. He seemed weary as he dropped the nuts into the top of the grinder with one hand, turned the long handle with the other, and awkwardly held onto the apparatus with his legs. The hot paste dropped onto a large round platter and the slimy brown lump always flattened out and oozed towards the edge. The boy had to continually stop grinding to rearrange the machine and center the paste on the tray. The familiar aroma of roasting groundnuts caught the young man's attention. When he looked beyond the boy he saw an elderly woman bent over a three stone fire; she was stirring nuts in a large flat pot. She gave a small girl the roasted nuts to take to the grinder. The girl stood next to the struggling boy and poured the hot nuts into the mouth of the grinder. The boy had been working for a long time and was getting tired. The upward stroke on the handle was labored and gravity helped him force the handle down. The young man finished his Coke and returned the empty bottle. After chatting with the trader for a few minutes he returned and sat down next to the boy. This time when the boy stopped to re-arrange the grinder, the young man reached over and steadied the base for him so he could turn the handle. After a few minutes the boy stopped again to use his other hand. Before he could resume his grinding, the young man took over and began to methodically turn the handle. Without a word the boy firmly held the base. The small girl returned with another bowl of roasted nuts and began to pour them into the bell shaped mouth of the grinding machine. The nuts ground very quickly and the young man enjoyed the task. He was very surprised that hundreds of nuts made so little paste. The boy kept the mass of paste centered on the plate as the young man ground the nuts; the clear oil that quickly separated from the warm paste was collected in a cup by the small girl. No one spoke as the young man, the boy, and the small girl worked in harmony. He had been working in this little African village for nearly a year and enjoyed the simple pleasures he found with the local people. After about an hour the old woman finished roasting the groundnuts. The paste nearly ran off the large platter despite the best efforts of the boy. Everyone remained silent as the last of the nuts finally became paste and the handle turned freely. The young man's arm was stiff; he stopped cranking, stood up, and stretched his cramped body. The young man was about to walk away when the old woman grabbed a handful of the freshly ground paste and put an ample amount in a plastic bag. He tried to refuse the gift but it was gently forced upon him. The young man smiled at the elderly woman and modestly accepted the gift. He was left speechless by her generosity. He had loitered in order to help a needy family, and they in return had given him more than they could spare. He had to turn away as all the cynical feelings a white man can have toward Africa were washed away by the single tear that ran down his cheek. In that one moment he comprehended the spirit of Africa and the friendship of human beings.
The following essay appeared in the University of Hawaii journal: PLEIADES, 1992 edition.
The Last Drive
After two years in Sierra Leone I was finally going home. I had no reason to suspect that the last drive to Freetown, from my up-country post in Segbwema, would be any different from scores of other trips I had made to the capital city; simply another African memory destined to fade over time. I made that final drive with my wife and my best friend. Andrew sat in front, and my wife Josephine sat in the rear seat of the overloaded Datsun pickup truck. Andrew had accompanied us so that he could drive the truck back up-country after Josephine and I departed Africa for our future and left Andrew to his. The broken road had beaten us mercilessly for two hundred miles; we were grubby and hot and exhausted after the ten-hour drive. When we finally arrived at the junction to the smooth highway I relaxed a bit because it indicated that we were only twenty miles from our destination. A few minutes later we approached a rural town known as Hastings--most of the towns have unpronounceable African, or ethnocentric British names. The regional airport is adjacent to Hastings, and is used only twice a week for local flights--I flew into this airport once and it amazed me how it bustled; police, hawkers, and idlers jammed the terminal. Our luggage was trundled to a waiting bus, and everyone present--executives, laborers, and bums--was whisked to Freetown. The bus driver stopped at the entrance to pick up the sentry who locked the gate and then took his seat on the bus. Hastings airport could now sleep for three days. The slumbering airport looked lonely and abandoned as the control tower cast an oppressive shadow over one dormant runway. A sun bleached wind sock hung from a crooked pole as a heap of worn out airplane parts reverted to their natural state. That's what I thought about as we rolled up behind a rickety Mercedes-Benz delivery truck stuffed with bundles of firewood that had been lashed together with rope made from palm fronds. The truck stopped at a checkpoint that had been hastily erected. This roadblock was curious though; it was manned by soldiers, not the police. The soldiers had searched the vehicle looking for God only knows what, and now the driver and his partner casually reloaded the truck; a task made easier at each stop because a few bundles always remained neatly stacked on the side of the road as dash--the bribe extorted at roadblocks. "They will want to search our truck." my wife told me. "No way..." I looked at her in the mirror and then looked at Andrew. "...I won't let them." "They are soldiers...." she began, but I cut her off. "I'm not gonna unpack this truck or dash those clowns. This isn't even a real checkpoint." Josephine and Andrew were silent as I put the idling Datsun in gear and moved forward when my turn in line came. A soldier with a vintage rifle walked up to my side of the truck: The rifle had been through hell, its oily wooden stock looked ancient and battered, the shoulder strap hung in tatters. He told me to uncover my load so he could search the truck. I told him no. "I beg your pardon?" It sounded so stupid for him to say that. I looked at Andrew and made a goofy face; he smiled. I turned back to the soldier and told him no again. "I must search all vehicles going to Freetown." His bass drum of a voice didn't sound so stupid this time. I knew what he wanted and I got mad. Two years of harassment by these self-important idiots had become tiresome. But he wasn't a regular police officer: Then I realized that the military must be out in force because of the election. Siaka Stevens had decided to retire. (This in itself was interesting, since only one other African president in history had ever done that.) Everyone expected violence during the primaries, so Freetown would be a tense place right now. I was still angry though. "This is a Ministry vehicle." "What?" The soldier looked dumbfounded. "This is a Ministry vehicle..." I stuck my arm out the open window and pointed at the words painted on the door. "...look." When I saw the lost look in his eyes I realized the words may just as well have been written in hieroglyphics; the soldier with the rifle couldn't read. Africans usually mouthed the words painted on the truck: MINISTRY OF HEALTH. He stared obliviously at the red letters on the muddy door. It took only a few moments for that exchange to take place and this soldier stood alone next to the truck; but not for long. I saw the other soldier walking in our direction and I sized up the situation: There were only two of them and they would undoubtedly want a ride, or a dash, or any number of other things that I didn't want to give them. I pressed on the clutch pedal and revved the engine. "John...what are you doing?" Josephine asked when I slid the lever into first gear. I looked at Andrew and he nodded. "I think you guys better duck in case he starts shooting." I said. The slow truck offered itself as an easy target. "I don't think he has any bullets." Andrew said. The truck jumped forward when I released the clutch; I glanced in the mirror as we made our escape but I couldn't see what the soldiers were doing. "I sure hope you're right."
About a month later I awoke from a dream in a cold sweat: I don't know why it scared me more to think about the incident than it did to experience it. I also don't know whether the soldier had any bullets or not; Andrew's letter didn't mention it. He said that he had met no extra roadblocks when he drove back up-country. He also recounted how Siaka Stevens' hand picked successor received a 98% majority of the votes. Africa remains a vivid memory; each day a distinct episode punctuated by the incessant begging, the magnificent people, the chronic corruption, the sheer beauty, the potent aromas, the boisterous markets, and of course, the rough road. Siaka Stevens died a few years ago; now the military controls the government. Last December, Liberian rebels invaded Sierra Leone; today, I'm sure the soldiers rifles are loaded.
(for all information above)
Harvest, Spring 1990. PLEIADES, 1992 edition