Sierra Leone - A Prespective by RPCV Elizabeth "Beti" Nabie

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By Admin1 (admin) on Thursday, June 28, 2001 - 8:44 pm: Edit Post

Sierra Leone - A Prespective by RPCV Elizabeth "Beti" Nabie

Sierra Leone - A Prespective by RPCV Elizabeth "Beti" Nabie


A Perspective

Sierra Leone West Africa is a small African country that has 200 miles of beautiful beaches along its western and sits between Guinea and Liberia. It is a tropical country located about 500 miles north of the equator. I lived in this country for five years, and I will always consider it my home.

o Written by Elizabeth "Beti" Nabie to her mother on January 2, 1987.

I brought in the New Year feeling more a part of a community than at any other time in my life. At 39 I felt I had found my home, almost as if my long awaited spaceship had finally come and brought me to that illusionary land where I know I belong.

It was New Year's Eve in Taninahun/Malen in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. About 9:00 p.m. Mary, the nurse came by and I gave her a drink of my Christmas rum. The Member of Parliament, the Honorable B.M. Koroma, was in town and she had just fed him dinner. As we visited I heard the sound of the native dancers begin their melodic chants. Just as Mary said we should go join them, Mr. Jaia, my landlord and eventually my husband, called "Beti, come!" So the three of us went and joined the dancers in the street. I danced alone, I danced with the women, and I danced with the men. It was in those brief fleeting moments, the wonderful feeling of finding my home and belonging, filled my entire being. It was wonderful, it was complete enjoyment, it was total relaxation - no strings, no hang-ups, no inhibitions, just being there and a part of the community.

There are many hardships here, but I love my work and my life.

* Excerpts from the eulogy given by Surmana Sannoh (June, 1991) at Jaia Nabie's memorial service.

Jaia Nabie was born on July 15, 1945 in the small Sierra Leone village called Gendema. He worked several years in the diamond fields before settling in Taninahun/Malen as a farmer and trader. He was known as kind, gentle, and intelligent man who was a born leader. On November 7, 1987 he married, Elizabeth Robinson, a Peace Corps Volunteer whom he had known for 18 months. By January, 1991 ten children resided at the Nabie residence, four of who had been officially adopted.

In March, 1991 the peaceful country of Sierra Leone was invaded by Charles Taylor's rebel troops from neighboring Liberia. On April 23, 1991 while trying to move the children to safety, he was assassinated by rebel soldiers just five miles from his home. He was one of the first civilians killed in this horrific war.

* Excerpts from a letter from Liz to her cousin Phyllis (November 21, 1987)

It was November 7, 1987. At 1:00 p.m. the marriage vows between Elizabeth Anne Robinson and Mohammed Jaia Nabie were solemnized. Though they looked like many other wedding couples, this wedding was different as both traditional Catholic and traditional Muslim prayers were proclaimed during the service in the small African village of Taninahun/Malen, Sierra Leone, West Africa.

In one hour, the marriage of these two people was completed with all the pomp and circumstances only a combined Catholic/Muslim wedding ceremony could bring. Under the setting of a palm frond barrie that was transformed into a Catholic altar, wedding vows were exchanged in English by the bride and Mende by the groom during a nuptial mass. Catholic hymns sung both in English and Mende filled the air with the vernaculars of the two cultures uniting in this regal ceremony. As two cultures united, so did two religions, the Catholic altar was transformed into a Muslim prayer ground. Arabic prayers, chanted by the Muslim Iman, completed the union of these two souls into one sacramental encounter that could only take place between two people brought together by God to fill their destiny, whatever it might be. The Catholic mass homily and Muslim prayers were translate to Mende, Krio, and English to insure the clear understanding of this religious happening by the thousands of people who witnessed the event. A diverse populace of people participated in this joyous occasion. Paramount chiefs, representatives of members of Parliament, section chiefs, town chiefs, Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, the groom's family, and many, many friends and strangers alike filled the field around the nuptial court barrie.

A devout Catholic and a devout Muslim, neither trying to convert the other, produced a religious marriage ceremony never seen before in this country (or so many said). It left no doubts to most Christians and Muslims in attendance, that this marriage was made in heaven, and that religious groups so diverse in beliefs can combine because they both believe in the one true God, and the goodness only a marriage ordained by the Almighty Father can bring.

o On April 23, 1991 the dream was shattered

On April 25, 1991 two days after Jaia Nabie's assassination Beti Nabie, his wife, received the call that he was dead. Today, as she has done since that fateful date in 1991, Beti continues to try and reunite herself and her Sierra Leone family.

o Update on the fate of the Children

The war has taken its toll and many members of the Nabie family line are dead. The oldest adopted son Surma was one of the "boy soldiers" in the junta. Miraculously, he was released and is now back working on the family farm which is so crucial to the survival and growth of the family in the post war times. All the children have survived the war, malaria, and starvation. Massah, Jaia Nabie's daughter who is so dear to Beti Nabie, can be praised for all that she has done and continues to do as the "head of the house" for the Nabie family. She has two children a boy and a girl named Jaia and Beti as a testimonial to their grandparents. Through the miracle of telephone conversations Beti and her eldest daughter, Massah are now able to keep in touch frequently. This is considered a miracle because even in the pre-war days telephone conversations were very difficult and at times impossible.

Jaia II and Mary who were both in first grade the last time Beti saw them, in March of 1991, have now entered Secondary School. Another miracle considering the difficulty it was to go to school in Sierra Leone during the ten years of civil war. Fatie is helping on the family farm. And Beti's foster daughter, Jebbeh Koji who was deaf from high fever for many months, has now completed secondary school. This is a major accomplishment and a tribute to her perseverance to complete school. An ambition she demonstrated from the first moment she entered the Nabie household in 1987 at age 10.

This web page is set up to open another line of communication to help create awareness of what is happening in the small, once peaceful, country of Sierra Leone. It is also done as a memorial to the memory of Beti's husband as her way of keeping the plight of her family as a symbol of the wrong that is taking place in Sierra Leone. One of the original Peace Corps countries, it is now left to its own reconstruction. Estimates place the death during the ten year war around 30,000 people, but so far, no estimate of the death rate caused by disease and starvation has been given. A Peace Treaty in place since the summer of 2001 has been honored, and I pray it will hold forever.

Beti, now called Liz as she lives once again in the American culture, and friends are currently seeking assistance with shipping clothing to the area she calls home in Sierra Leone (Bo to Taninahun). Family and friends are collecting all types of clothes and shoes to fill a container. It is hoped the container will be shipped in October.

Additionally, Beti and a friend, Renee' Gayhart, continue to research the steps to set up a nonprofit called the Jaia Nabie Restoration Foundation. The mission statement of this foundation is to provide relief in the form of food, medical supplies, and clothing to the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. The goal of the foundation is simple: To coordinate efforts to get food, medical supplies, and clothing to the relief organizations in existence in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone.

There is another U.S. organization based out of Washington, D.C. that is diligently giving aid to Sierra Leone. This organization is called the Friends of Sierra Leone. An individual membership begins at $20.00. They have done tremendous work in helping Sierra Leone and can certainly use more support. If you are interested contact:

Friends of Sierra Leone

Tim Curley, President

P.O. Box 15875

Washington, DC 20003, USA

Email address:

As the fifteenth anniversary of her African marriage ceremony to her beloved husband, Jaia Nabie, approaches Beti wants to share with you the Sierra Leone she knew.

* Excerpt from a letter to Liz's Mother (January 2, 1990)

The Christmas and New Celebrations are over for this year. I hope you had as joyous a holiday as we had. I got the best present a mother can get, the adoption of four of the children living with us. I am now the mother of Suliaman (Surma) Johnston Nabie, Fatmata (Fatie) Elizabeth Nabie, Mary Ellen Nabie, and Jaia (II)Thomas Nabie.

o Excerpts from Liz's Letters in 1990-91

In this field of rice (our last rice field before the war began) are some of my children. Though they were small, the rice was also very high because it was a very bountiful harvest. The next picture shows some of my children again. Here the rice is ready for harvesting. Rice is the staple of Sierra Leone. There is an old saying in this country: If you asked a man from Sierra Leone if he has eaten today, he will say no if he has not had rice to eat. The boy in this picture is my son (now one of the returned "boy soldiers"; victims of the terrible civil war). The woman with the small girl on her back is my sister-in-law and a niece. She is the natural mother of Surma. In this picture depicting happier times, Surma's mother is harvesting rice for her family meal. As a member of the family she is entitled to any rice she needs to feed her family.

The diet in Sierra Leone was very balanced and healthy. It was the scarcity of food that caused most of the malnutrition experienced in the country. Fish, as seen held by this fisherman, along with cassava leaf first harvested in the leaf stage and then prepared in the pounded stage was a very tasty green plant filled with vitamins and nutrients. It had one drawback. The plant is very high in cyanide, so it had to be cooked exactly right or it would cause serious health problems. Though Sierra Leonean women and girls did not understand the poisonous risk of improper cooking, each knew exactly how to cook it from the time she was old enough to be a member of the cooking team at a home cooking fire. Lastly, all ingredients cooked in Palm oil poured over a plate of rice was the meal almost everyday in households. After seven years of war and no farming it is beyond imagination how much malnutrition and starvation are now in a country that was already among the poorest of the poor even before the first shot of war was fired.

o Excerpt from Liz's letter to a friend (February 21, 1987)

I hear the death wail of a mother who has just lost her child. This time it is a 12-year old boy - dead of pneumonia. Since returning to my village after a short Christmas break, this death wail has become a familiar sound. I have used the word sorrow in my vocabulary for as long as I can remember, but only now do I understand the reality of the feeling. A small girl full of life one minute, just learning to walk, died within a week of an undiagnosed ailment. A small girl is brought to the clinic because her skin is flaking. She almost looks white. The parents are so concerned, but I'm aghast they don't see her toothpick arms and legs. Or the sad "monkey-like" face. At a year old, she weighs only a few kilograms. This is the final stage of marasmus (malnutrition-starvation). Adults die from dehydration - cholera (disease only studied in school). This letter is not a reflection of a depression of my life in Sierra Leone. It is only an expression of my feelings for "Sorrow: A Reality." I want to be no other place than here to help people grab for a moment of life, and in return learn the deeper meaning of life that I have taken for granted so often.

o Excerpt of a letter Liz wrote on August 6, 1986

I call this letter sights and sounds. I awake each morning to the clamorous verbal display between the trader, Mr. Jaia, and the rest of the village. The greetings and bargaining taking place each dawn sounds like neighbors feuding, but in actuality is how this very friendly African community unites. Sierra Leone must be among the loudest cultures in the world. In my house made of mud brick covered with a thin layer of cement with no insulation, voices across the village sound like they are inside my front room. Except for the occasional motorcycle and the 7:30 a.m. lorry, there are no extraneous man-made noises in this area. For what should be a solitude of delight, in actuality is the deafening roar of a barrage of resounding verbiage that lets me know I'm in Africa. Babies crying put the final touch to this uproarious awakening each morning at 6:00 a.m.

Sitting on my veranda (front porch) the African world that goes by is amazing. From villagers carrying large burdens on top of their heads to a monkey getting adventurous and swinging through the trees in my compound - right before my eyes! Yes, this is a strange, fascinating land I have chosen to call home. As I watch the day become dusk, I observe the mountain goats perching on the verandas. Two males battle for territory in the awesome display of nature's rule - survival of the fittest. The roosters begin their last attack for the day to seed all the eggs laid in the morrow. Naked bodies of little boys run back and forth at top speed shifting their voices from low to high like a motor car changes from low to high gear. In and out of view come the older boys with hoops and sticks. Traveling at lightening speeds they never loose control of their wheel. They too sound like motor cars on a speedway. (Little girls don't play. They are helping get the rice and plasas (African sauce) cooked for the night meal.) Men are seen lying in hammocks or sitting on their haunches discussing the day's affairs or listening to the Voice of America for news on Africa in a language they do not understand.

I've been given the Mende name of Beti Kebbie. The tribes try to get foreigners to take a Sierra Leone name. Beti (Beh- tii) is the Mende version of Elizabeth - the people here could not say the word Liz, and being a former British Colony they knew the name of the Queen who they did call Beti. Kebbie is the paramount chief's surname.

I saw my first case of neonatal tetanus. The baby was four days old. It is caused by improper care of the umbilical cord. Really sad, lockjaw had set in. Fatal and a very painful illness on newborns. It brought me back to the reality of why I came. It is easy to get caught up in the cultural differences and to forget the cultural problems. It certainly brings out more compassion in me for the many small boys who drive me crazy with their noisy games, when I realize most of them will not make adulthood and none of them will make old age.

Yes, now I remember why I came! I have been in my village for three weeks - I think I am slowly adapting to Sierra Leone's way of life.

By Anonymous ( - on Monday, January 14, 2008 - 2:58 am: Edit Post

kult! Dette var intresant!! Du gidder ikke sende meg og min kamerat et norsk foredrag om Sierra Leone?? Det hadde vært fett!!

Ps: og en diamant hadde vært fett!

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