Monday, April 25, 2016

JEFF'S STORY

(Jeff's Story is my attempt at writing a biography. It is taking shape and is coming along fine. The following is merely its introductory chapters.)


“A great read (as ever). Fascinatingly educational on a country about which I had known nothing… I wish you all the best with this work with its three strands – the personal, the national and the spiritual. Love it!” William Scobie a.k.a., Alexander Tait, (author of Whisky In the Jar; Upon This Rock; The Cup; Mightier Than the Sword).
 
JEFF’S STORY

Introduction

Jefferson Kollie has a story to tell, a true story, a harrowing story. To meet Jefferson is to like him. His smile is warm and his eyes are bright. His manner is friendly and his voice is quiet. Who could guess the hurt this man carries in his heart or the hellfire he’s passed through? His broad shoulders appear capable of carrying the weight of the world. Let us begin by introducing this remarkable man.

I heard about Jeff from one of his workmates. “This man has an amazing story! Someone should write a book,” he said. I was intrigued. I had bumped into Jeff when I was “scouting” for the work’s soccer team. After a hiatus of many years I had rediscovered and had somewhat recaptured the glory of my youth (at age 59) while playing indoor soccer, which is fast and furious, energetic and frenetic when compared to the outdoor version of the game. Anyway, Jeff expressed super-keenness about becoming involved. Of course, and as these things go, because of busyness at work any participation in “the beautiful game” has yet to happen! “O well then Jeff, in the meantime we can always try to write down your story.

A Bit of Background   

I met with Jeff formally and began scribbling down a pile of notes as we chatted. In soft-spoken tones he began telling me his story. I would interrupt and get him to elaborate on certain points. Upon hearing it from the horse’s mouth I became even more intrigued by Jeff’s story (and also the country of Liberia) as I began piecing it all together.

Jefferson has enjoyed breathing the fresh air of freedom since touching down on the red earth of Australia in 2010. He came as a refugee from his native Africa. Drawing his first breath in 1985 in the West African country of Liberia, both whose flag (which was modelled after The Star-spangled Banner) and his name betray Liberia’s connection with the United States of America. “Jefferson” is a tipping-of-the-hat to one of the founding fathers of America and principle author of the Declaration of Independence, viz., Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). Indeed, as per the line in the American National Anthem, “Liberia” means “Land of the Free” in Latin.

“So you’re named after one of the presidents of the United States of America? I love Thomas Jefferson and all that Declaration of Independence stuff!” “So do I,” Jeff replied. I had noticed that his workmates call him by his last name, Kollie. “Which do you prefer,” I enquired, “Kollie or Jefferson?” “Call me Jeff,” he smiled. After Jeff had left I just had to learn more about Liberia.

Let’s paint a bit more background on the canvas of Jeff’s story. The Republic of Liberia declared its independence from American colonisation on 26 July, 1847. However, it was not until during the America Civil War, (on 5 February 1862), that the United States recognised Liberian independence. From 1822 onwards, and particularly from the time of the War Between the States, Jefferson’s old country began to receive an influx of over fifteen thousand freeborn Black Americans and over three thousand Afro-Caribbeans[1], and also freed slaves. Thus the American influences on Liberia, which included Republicanism and the freedom ideal.

In a letter to James Monroe (1758-1831) Jefferson’s namesake once said,

But it proves more forcibly the necessity of obliging every citizen to be a soldier; this was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state. Where there is no oppressor there will be no pauper hirelings[2]

It seems as if Jefferson has acted upon this free advice of the third President of the United States of America to her fifth president, becoming a private in the Australian Army in February 2015. Jefferson wears his uniform proudly. I saw him marching through Brisbane with his battalion on ANZAC Day.

Annual Patriotism

There is one day of each year when Australians become ultra-patriotic flag-wavers, i.e., ANZAC Day. Apart from that one special day, as a general rule, Aussies tend be somewhat more reserved than, say, the Americans when it comes to visibly expressing love for country.

In some ways migrants, such as Jefferson, can become more patriotic than native born Australians. No doubt this may be because most native born Australians know nothing other than the peace and freedom Australia has afforded them. This creates a tendency to take these things for granted. Whereas the migrant, knowing what he or she has given up and left behind, fully embraces and appreciates the protection and freedom Australia affords them. This in turn gives an added incentive for them to thrive and to prosper as they forge a new life in their new country. But, Jefferson is not just any-old migrant. He is a refugee. He fled to Australia for safety from murderous pursuers…

Fighting For What?

I used to cynically believe that many Australian soldiers fight for the two Ms, viz., money and medals. It seems I need to add a third and more important M to my list, viz., mates. It seems to me that mates are more worthy of fighting for than money and medals.

Jefferson has become a soldier in an army that fights for peace, viz., the Australian Army. One Australian Army General (ret.) wrote a book in which he relates his war experiences and his own subsequent suffering of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Major General John Cantwell stated therein that,

Australian soldiers do not fight for lofty ideals of democracy or freedom. Australian soldiers, it has been said many times and with great truth, fight for their mates.[3]

Though Jefferson no doubt loves his mates, and would zealously fight for them, to the contrary, Jefferson Kollie wanted to sign-up with the Australian Army primarily to fight for the lofty ideals of democracy and freedom. He originally wanted to join as an Infantryman but colour-blindness precluded his fulfilling this ambition. He signed-up on 10 February, 2015. This young man who speaks English with an African accent Рand, while living in Ghana, learnt to speak Ga, Twi and Hausa, and also who understands Kru, Ewé and Fante Рis currently employed as a Storeman, and drives forklifts both great and small.

Thank you for bearing with Jeff’s story thus far. We were about to part company when, thinking of the trauma he must have gone through, I asked him how all of his past had affected him. There was pain etched on windows of his soul. But as a small cloud blows past the face of the sun so his eyes brightened and a wide smile lit up the room. “I’m fine!”

Resilience

Before we enter with him into the valley of the shadow of death Jeff would like you to know (“spoiler alert!”) that his story has a happy ending of sorts – lest he leave you traumatised!

First off, you need to know that Jefferson is unashamedly Christian, (as is his biographer). Indeed, like every good fairytale, Jefferson is now as it were living happily ever after with beautiful wife, and their three lovely children. His wife is originally from Liberia too, but they met in the humble circumstances of living in a refugee camp in Ghana where they subsequently got married. However, just as every good fairytale contains its share of make-believe evil witches and malevolent goblins, so Jefferson’s story describes battles against the evil forces of darkness, only, unlike fairytales, this is in the real world. As Scripture says,

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.[4]

 

Jeff and his family currently attend a church in Brisbane.

During the day sometimes Jefferson is attacked in a surprise ambush by the odd flashback of past traumatic events, and, in bed the occasional nightmare gallops roughshod echoing through the dark alleys of his mind. There is always something panting behind Jefferson, something that darts off into the shadows whenever he turns around to confront it. For one who has experienced trauma stacked upon trauma Jefferson has been remarkably resilient, (a quality the Australian Army craves). When it comes to resilience Jefferson, by the grace of God, is one of the fortunate ones, as General Cantwell writes,

Not everyone who experiences the traumas of war will develop PTSD, but in some people, especially if the trauma is intense, the horror and fear can become imprinted in the memory. This is a natural process; it’s okay not to feel okay.[5]

Thank God Jefferson is safe now and he is feeling okay.


[1] “African-Caribbean” is a term used in Britain.
[2] Thomas Jefferson, in an 1813 letter to James Monroe
[3] Major General John Cantwell, Exit Wounds: One Man’s War of Terror, Melbourne University Publishing, Kindle version 2013.
[4] The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians 6:12 (KJV).
[5] Major General John Cantwell, Exit Wounds: One Man’s War of Terror, Melbourne University Publishing, Kindle version, 2013.
 

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