After official discussion with my twelve muralists in Zwedru, I told the members of the community that I needed help. There were people who I wanted to find. My search wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. I was told that many people who lived in Zwedru back in my Peace Corps days never returned after the war. The only person anyone knew about for sure had died in a car accident. But, one of the twelve, Jeffrey, was determined to pull off an African miracle for me and find my friend Daniel. He was a man on a mission. Jeffrey said that Daniel's last name was common in the southern counties of River Gee and Maryland. He was going to make some phone calls.
After three or four days with little news from Jeffrey on Plan A, I determined that I was going to go south looking for Daniel on my own. Plan B. I assumed his village would be somewhere on the road to Harper. If I went to Fish Town, the county capital, surely someone would know him! I told my contact at the American Corner Library about my intentions. Jouthy was more than just a little skeptical. And, he knew more than me. He suspected Daniel lived in a village that was far from the main road. He was fairly sure I’d never find the village or my friend on my own.
Unfortunately, I had to agree.
But, I wasn’t about to give up. There was also a Plan C. Jouthy said he would go to the local radio station in Zwedru and have them contact the radio station in the next county, Radio Gee. If they made a special announcement, word would get out since it is the primary form of communication in the area. A reunion would be an incredible news story! At least, I thought so. It would have worked too. Daniel is now a school principal so many people would have known him.
But, back to Plan A and Jeffrey. He showed up one day to paint, late, but he had a smile. And, he said, “I have a surprise for you.” That was the truth and then came the lie. He said, “Contact was made with Daniel, but yesterday he left for the US.” Confusion continued. Why did Jeffrey have that smile? About four in the afternoon, Jeffrey ushered in a stranger and said, “This is the substitute for your friend Daniel.” It might have been 26 years, but I knew Daniel and this wasn’t my friend. How could anyone think a substitute would do? Like I said, there was confusion. Then, I saw someone rush through the door. My best friend survived a horrible civil war and persecution in the Ivory Coast! I’d lost contact with him for over a decade and finally he was in front of me where I could hug him. I just couldn’t believe it really happened.
Jeffrey got a hug, too.
First things first. How did he get the word? Jeffrey asked around and found people who knew the family. A call was made to River Gee County making contact with Daniel's cousin who lived in a neighboring village. The young man sent word that one of his teachers was looking for him in Zwedru AND IT WAS A WHITE MAN! Daniel knew that only one white man would come to Zwedru looking for him. He immediately took a motorcycle taxi and rode five hours to see me.
It wasn’t until later that Daniel and I both learned that the radio station actually made the announcement. He was already on the way to Zwedru when the broadcast message went out. It declared that he was wanted in Zwedru to meet a white man friend. Everyone he knew heard about it. On his return to River Gee County, he was given the message – repeatedly. Nobody could imagine he’d already been to Zwedru or actually had a white man friend.
When I passed through Fish Town, I had to stop and thank the people who helped in the search. The guy at the radio station who made the announcement was a distant relative of Daniel’s. Small world at times. I personally think he missed a great radio interview, but it never occurred to him.
Once reunited, I figured I had to ask. So, Daniel told me a little about his experience in the civil war. He lived in a small village outside of Zwedru. However, he came to town to visit on a weekend. Zwedru was in a panic. One of President Doe’s main men was assassinated just on the edge of town. Everyone wanted to flee and there just wasn’t enough transportation. Daniel tried for two days to escape.
He was trapped in Zwedru with trouble on the way!
Fortunately, one transport truck stopped briefly in town and Daniel found a long lost friend he hadn’t seen in twenty years. That man made arrangements to get Daniel and his family to the south of the country to Kanweaken and then to Pleebo. Things were relatively safe for a year and Daniel found another teaching job. However, eventually the Liberian Peace Council (one of the many rebel groups in the conflict, none good) captured the town where he lived. As he fled the area, he ran past bodies strewn about the roadside. It was time to leave Liberia for safety in the Ivory Coast.
But, there really wasn’t much safety in the Ivory Coast.
Daniel’s letters spoke of getting beaten and robbed by the police on more than one occasion. If the police acted that way, the Ivorian army was no better. Both were brutal. There just wasn’t any kind of hope in the situation.
The Ivory Coast remained Daniel’s refuge until 2001. At that point, rebels in the Liberian civil war crossed the border and attacked refugees. Daniel decided that it was time to flee the Ivory Coast and go back to Liberia. His destination was Tugbaken, the place of his birth.
Miraculously, all of Daniel’s family members survived the conflict. They were separated during the war, but connections were reestablished once they returned to their homeland. And, I am delighted to report that I not only had my miracle in Zwedru but I had time in my schedule to visit Daniel’s African village. But, that’s a whole other adventure.