Where Patience is More Than Just a Virtue

Image by Ruthie Ackerman. Liberia, 2007.

As Junior stands up in front of his fifth grade class at the Christian Bible Faith Mission High School he has a piece of chalk in his hand and a look of authority on his face. He's teaching the students about how to write a complete sentence and as he makes x's and lines on the chalkboard his words are drowned out by the sound of the history class next door. The walls do not reach the ceiling and as the students in the next room get a lesson in the founding of Liberia, Junior struggles to teach his students English. Beads of sweat form on his forehead and he begins to pace. When a student comes to the front of room and scribbles "My Mane is Patience" on the blackboard, the room breaks out in hoots and hollars. It looks like Junior's going to have to have a lot of patience to get through this day.

After school lets out Junior goes to pick up his daughter. From there he heads to his girlfriend's house in the back of the makeshift market on the main road. When we tell him he has a beautiful family he responds by saying, "I'm trying to make it even more beautiful than that." For Junior to take care of his family — sending his daughters and himself to school and supporting his wife — it would mean going to America to get a better education. Then he could send money back to help his family. But his family promised the same thing when they left for the States seven years ago. His little sister, whose diapers he changed as a young girl, now drives a brand new Nissan Altima. He wonders why she can't even send $50 a month to help him out.

As we sit talking with Junior he starts reminiscing about the war. Junior remembers the day the soldiers came to his house and his father gave them his Nike's to make them go away. He remembers crying because he knew he'd never see those Nike's again. And he recalls hiding behind his older brother as they passed by the soldiers on the street outside their house because he was scared he might get hit by a stray bullet.

What Junior doesn't realize is that his brothers Isaiah and Kenje, who are now living in Staten Island, are still dodging stray bullets. Maybe not from rebels or warlords, but from gang violence and turf wars. When we tell Junior that, he looks at us surprised. He says that if he moved to America and there were stray bullets, he'd have to leave. He wonders if life would be better in Nashville or Wisconsin. Would people accept him more there?

Junior's whole life he's dreamed of moving to the U.S. because of the safety, security, and opportunity it offers. But what he doesn't realize is that life in America comes with its own set of challenges. He may end up getting more than he bargained for.