From Out of the Rubble

Image by Andre Lambertson. Liberia, 2007.

As the Mighty Conquerors climbed the bleachers to accept their award, Mabel was dancing. "I love that!" she repeated over and over, unable to hide her excitement. "That's Charles," she added, as if I hadn't met him several times previously. As we descended the stairs to follow the team outside she grabbed my hand — always the caretaker, always ready to lead the way.

Back at the compound, there was nowhere to hide from the late afternoon sun. The walls were the only thing left standing; The roof of the building was long gone and there were no doors or windows.

While Charles hung out with his friends celebrating after the game, Mabel changed her clothes and began sweeping the house. It was that time of the day again — just before the sun goes down — when the house needs to be cleaned and the food needs to be prepared before the last strands of light leave the sky.

A few minutes later Charles came back and began feeding Franklin some rice. Mabel went inside the house and changed into a black and maroon dress for the evening. She sat on Charles' lap and watched as he fed the baby.

In all the chaos of Charles and Mabel's world — scraping together money to feed the family, trying to heal war's wounds — these moments made me realize just how normal their lives were. During the war, they lost many loved ones, but in the rubble they found each other.

Charles and Mabel thought the disarmament program would provide them with a way out of their poverty, but they felt disappointed and let down by the commission's broken promises. In the end, they are living in a compound that belongs to the government and can be taken from them at any time. The last time the Public Works department came to demolish their house, the community fought back with their fists. This time they may not have the strength to fight.

Now that the war is over, what will become of youth like Charles and Mabel who fought in the war? As Liberia rebuilds, will the young be able to rebuild their lives? And if Charles and Mabel's compound is demolished, will the work of reintegration be destroyed with it?