Sunday, September 2, 2007


I stayed overnight at the Liberian refugee camp on one of my last nights in Ghana, and watched “Refugee All Stars” on a big screen in an outdoor courtyard. “Refugee All Stars" is a documentary about refugees from war-torn Sierra Leone who formed a band on their camp in Guinea, which borders Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa.

It was an emotional experience watching this film with my friends from the camp. I see documentaries like this at home, but it’s usually with people like me who empathize but can’t personally relate to the subject matter. The Liberians connected on a very personal level to the experience of the “Refugee All Stars.” They felt the pain of exile from their homeland; they also felt that their newspaper “The Vision” inspired and entertained Liberian refugees in the same as the "Refugee All Stars" gave to a lift to people from Sierra Leone.

The “Refugee All Stars” have now gone home to Sierra Leone, however; “The Vision” and the people who publish it are still in Ghana, though they plan to take the paper to Liberia as early as December.

The Liberians are an articulate and passionate group, and they feel comfortable expressing themselves in front of a crowd. A few of them spoke to the group about their perceptions of the film once it was over. Joseph, an editor with the paper, addressed the question that’s on everyone’s mind: when do they return home to Liberia?

“We’ve have been in exile too long,” he said. “It’s time to go home.”

We tend to think of Africans as eager to immigrate to places like Canada, because life is so difficult in a lot of African countries. And in truth many people do long to get out, but many more want to stay home, or return home in the case of the Liberians.

A few months ago, I met a taxi driver who was very upset that Ghanaians had a hard time getting tourist visas to Canada. The Canadian government is very reluctant to issue visas, especially to young single men, because it suspects - and rightly so in many cases – that they will stay in Canada and not return home to Ghana.

This infuriated our driver because he wanted to visit Canada one day, and he was insulted by the suggestion that he would not want to return home to Ghana. “You can’t take me away from Ghana anymore than you can remove salt from the sea,” he said.

I agreed and told him it was the same for me, though I came from the other, colder side of the Atlantic.

I will miss Ghana because it has become a home of sorts to me, much like India, Halifax and Toronto, other places I have lived for short and long periods. But after seven months in a self-imposed exile, the Bay of Fundy beckons me. It’s time to go home.

- Mark


Jack said...

I hope you're home now safe and sound. I'm sure it's a geat joy for you and your family to be reunited again after all your time away.
You've made me more aware of what goes on in another part of the world and I thank you for it. I only wish you and Janet will continue your blog from home. Surely you should both be able to write about your experiences here with as much enthusiasm as you've been doing for what seems to have been a really worthwhile time.
I'm curious about your future in Canada. What will you do? I'm pretty sure that you're both changed from you experiences. That's not to say you weren't enthusiastic and committed before you went. But there certainly must be some changes in your way of looking at things.
You have so many new friends now who have benefitted from knowing you. They'll not forget about those two Canadians who came to their country to spread some good will and helped them.

When is the book coming out? I want to have a signed copy.

Please keep up the blog. It's become a part of my routine to check it frequently.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jack,

This is Mark's baby sister(31 years old), Becky. My parents, sisters, husband, Janet, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephew are overwhelmed with happiness to have Mark back in Canada. We are a very close family and it was difficult to have Mark away for so long. However, his blog made it much more easier to have peace of mind. Our family recently returned from our annual family vacation on Sebago Lake which is located in Maine. Mark, Janet and Mark's friend Rickey joined us the day after Mark arrived back in Canada. It was a wonderful way to celebrate his homecoming.

We too hope that Mark and Janet continue their blog. We enjoy it very much.

All the best,


Anonymous said...

Great having you back in town. Let's do lunch...


Janet & Mark in Ghana said...

Hi guys, thanks so much for your comments. We had a lot of fun writing this blog. I hadn't written regularly since I stopped writing my 'here' column two and a half years ago. I may have to keep writing a blog, Jack, because I've been bitten by the bug again. I'll let you know if - and when - I start another one.

I have changed a lot but it's hard to say how it will affect my day to day life here. I'm still going through "reverse culture shock," which is pretty common for people who return from living in a developing country like Ghana.

My life is taking another new turn, though. Next week I'm starting a Master's degree in political science at UNB, though I will keep teaching at STU and doing freelance journalism work. My Master's research will likely focus on Africa, so I'm certainly not leaving that experience behind me. Janet and I will also be giving presentations on our experiences in Ghana. We'll post the times and locations here, so you'll have a reason to check in once in while. Talk to you soon, Mark

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