Friday, August 01, 2014

Geoff, Guinea, Prospect Hill, Liberia & Ebola

I suppose it could be considered inappropriate to mention here that I remember a time when Geoff, at left, then considerably younger, ended up in hot water after exploding a Molotov-cocktail-like device in a Clear Lake parking lot --- purely experimental of course, no malice intended.

The good news is that he survived that, then adolescence in general; went on to graduate from St. Olaf ---  the Harvard of Lutheran academia; and joined the Peace Corps. Who knew that idealism still was alive and well in the land?

For the last couple of years, Geoff --- offspring of my friends Judy and Dave --- has been serving in a village in Guinea, West Africa; and that village along with others in Guinea and adjoining countries has been dealing since spring with the Ebola virus, recently much in the news.

The good news, again, is that Geoff is fine, and now will be headed home because he is only three weeks away from the end of his term of service and the Peace Corps --- because of Ebola's spread --- has decided to temporarily remove its volunteers from Guinea (102); Liberia (108), which joins Guinea to the south; and Sierra Leone (130), which Guinea and Liberia when combined embrace on Africa's Atlantic coast.

According to his mom, Geoff is kind of angry about the abrupt departure. His village has been Ebola-free for some time, he feels safe and now may not have time to say his goodbyes and gain closure on the multi-year projects he's been involved with.

Who knew, when that long-haired little guy would turn up after school at his mom's desk, what a fine, productive and dedicated young man he'd turn into. That probably has something to do with parenting, too.


Anyhow, Geoff is one of the reasons I've been thinking about West Africa for the last couple of days --- and wondering in this land of monumental geographical illiteracy how many Americans would be able to locate Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia on a map; or would even know upon which continent to start looking.


I've also been thinking about Liberia, in large part because of an Archaeological Conservancy project --- Prospect Hill Plantation --- that I follow via Facebook.

Prospect Hill is a near-derelict plantation home with nearby family cemetery northeast of Natchez, Mississippi, linked intimately with Liberia because approximately 300 people once enslaved there were among its early non-native settlers.

In case you've forgotten your American history basics, Liberia was carved out of Africa by Americans as a colony where newly freed slaves, former slaves and their free black descendants could be resettled. The first ship, the Mayflower of Liberia, departed New York in 1820 with 86 passengers. By 1847, when independence was declared, thousands had been resettled there and their descendants continue to form a significant percentage of the population.

Neighboring Sierra Leone was formed in similar fashion by the British for similar purposes.

There was a degree of altruism involved this colonization of Africa by Americans --- and remember that the settlers were American, not African; all were generations removed from ancestors who had been brought from Africa to the Americas as slaves.

Some members of the American Colonization Society and its affiliates believed black people would find it impossible to live peacefully and productively in a land of racial polarization where a substantial portion of the national economy was based upon slavery.

But there were darker motives, too. Some considered black people inferior and considered them ill-equipped to live anywhere other than Africa; others, especially slave owners who knew that they had made deals with the devil and were looking for a way out, feared black people who --- in some cases --- outnumbered whites in southern states. An obvious solution: move them elsewhere.

If you're interested in learning more about Prospect Hill, colonization and their places in U.S. History, Alan Huffman has written a book I'd recommend highly, "Mississippi in Africa." The video clip below features Huffman speaking on the topic while standing in front of Prospect Hill house.

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