Four years ago, when I first met Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna in Staten Island, she told me she collected stories. She carried them with her on a flash drive that hung from a string around her neck. Later, I opened them on my computer and listened:
“Welcome to another edition of Straight from the Heart on UNMIL Radio, 91.5 Monrovia, Harper, and Zwedru; 90.5 Gbanga; 97.1 Voinjama and Greenville; and 95.1 Sanniquellie. Straight from the Heart is a live, phone-in program designed to air your true-life stories and look at how we can become reconciled to what happened to us…. and, in some cases, the shameful things did to others…with the hope that we Liberians can reunite with one another.”
Agnes was a radio host for a UN Radio Program called Straight from the Heart focused on reconciliation after 14 years of civil war in Liberia. The program opened with the Bryan Adams pop ballad after which it was named, but later Tracy Chapmans’ “Matters of the Heart” became the introductory tune.
When we first met, Agnes had just come to New York to complete a course in trauma and recovery and also collect testimony for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as she did back in Liberia. Liberia was the first country to collect statements for their TRC from members of the diaspora, and Staten Island had the largest Liberian population outside of Liberia. “I collect stories, not statements.” Agnes once qualified.
Her recent book And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation, shares the stories she has collected over the years as a radio producer and weaves them with her own narrative of life during and after the Liberian Civil war. Continue reading