The following 8 mm film was shot in 1972, and features a Halloween parade at Lamco International School, Liberia. It’s a short, beautiful film, and I loved seeing all the homemade costumes. Seeing so many in one parade is a real treat because by 1972, Ben Cooper had completely taken over the Halloween market. None of the kids in this film are wearing flame retardant smocks or plastic masks.
After seeing this film, I became curious about Lamco International School and the Western or European children dressed up for Halloween. Luckily, I found an old website, Our Liberia, which is dedicated to kids who attended the West African school in the 1970s. They were primarily the children of Swedish miners employed by Lamco, the Liberian-American-Swedish Mining Company.
The site’s webmaster is a Gen-Xer named Heidi whose parents worked for LAMCO. I don’t know when the site was first created (the custom domain was purchased in 2007), but it bears some of the hallmarks of a 1990s Internet fossil — glorious HTML 2.0, frames and gifs.
When I come across sites like this during my Internet scavenger hunts, I honestly wonder how long they’ll remain alive and functional. They represent the grand pioneering efforts of the world’s first bloggers and webmasters. Here is an introduction to the site, published in Comic Sans font. Heidi talks about her generation, her parents’ generation, and the joy of growing up in Liberia. She reflects on the ravages of Liberia’s two civil wars (1989-1997 and 1999-2003), and the loss of the communities she loved so much as a kid.
As a child I used to live in Liberia, West Africa (1971 – 1980). What a great place to grow up! My family and I lived in Yekepa, close to the border to both Ivory Coast and Guinea. My parents worked for Lamco, an American/Swedish mining company, which were operating both in Yekepa and Buchanan. They were both very small communities, everyone knew everyone, more or less.
“I attended Lamco International School, Yekepa for 9 years. In Yekepa we had a supermarket, a tennis court, a golf course, a youth club, a horse riding club and a swimming pool (of course also the community center, the police station, hospital, pubs, discos etc.). Close to the swimming pool was a water tower, approx. 50 m high. Oh, how we kids used to love to climb this tower all the way to the top at night (without our parents knowing of course). I still have nightmares about what COULD have happened. The youth club was close to the swimming pool, and we also took illegal baths in the dark of night.
“My parents used to play golf, and while they were playing we kids hung around the club house, and I can’t remember ever being bored. We climbed trees, went in to the bush looking for lost golf balls, or made small “huts” in the bush. It was a little village not far from the club house, only 5 minutes to walk down a narrow path. There we could buy sugar canes for only 10 cents. I will never forget the taste of this wonderful “fruit”. The chewing and the spitting, a feeling think I will never experience again in my life. The bush around the golf course was really dense (a typical tropical forest) and it was really close to the border to Guinea (only a few metres), and it was not allowed to cross the border, imagine the tension! How could we ever get enough of these “exploring possibilities”?
“I have the impression that we who lived in Lamco during these years feel very bound together. We experienced something special together that is very difficult for other people to understand.
“This goes to both my parents generation and mine. When it comes to my parents generation they had a lot of parties and come togethers. I am not sure if it’s because of the Swedish majority in the Lamco, and the Swedish tradition to sing “snaps visor” in parties, but I do remember the singing, and have not experienced it in the same way since leaving Liberia. I have asked Tina Bergman to write down some of the “songs” that they sang and here are the results: Snaps Visor. Sorry, they are only in Swedish. Please send me more songs if you remember any!
“The reason why I wouldn’t want to change my adolescence with any one else, is that I felt we had so much FREEDOM. This is probably because our parents were assured that there were no where we could get lost in Yekepa, to get out of there we had to take the train to Buchanan. I am still not sure how they got tickets for this train, I never felt the urge to find out… I was happy where I was.
“I wish I could go back to Liberia one day, if for nothing else just to show my children where I grew up. However Liberia have had this terrible civil war for many years. Lamco doesn’t exist anymore and the communities Yekepa and Buchanan are irrecognizable. The war is over and yet it has not even started for me, because the truth is that until I go back to Liberia I will never fully realize what has happened to my home and how much suffering the people went through – and still are going through.”
The site, which features photos and memories, is a real treat. Here is an excerpt that illustrates how much Liberia meant to the young Swedes.
“The worst thing ever in my life was moving back to Sweden, I was frozen, uncomfortable and just wanted to get back home to loop 4, house 409. My old friends in Malmoe, my hometown, had become superficial, knew nothing about the world outside and if I told anything about Liberia the comments wasn’t bright! I stopped telling about my adventure and kept the memories to myself…”
“So incredible it was to watch the sunrise from Gunnar Collianders beach house. A family that always had open arms although my grades in French was rock bottom. Nautical with the water that smelled of iron ore and it’s black sand, the raft we swam to, the sailboats we used, our own parties, movie nights with many no-no’s in the bushes, our card games, Coke and hot dogs that I signed coupons for all the time that made my father flip, when he found out on payday.
“The tennis courts where Bubben, Chester, Rudi, Risto and the other aces showed how a game should be played, trainer Deadman that had the patience of an angel with my hopeless backhand, it was more fun to be waitress at the Peppersoupnights at the Golf club when they had meetings.
“The Football Club with it’s jukebox, pool table and ping-pong table where many gallons of sweat was produced.
“And last but not least our beaches, Cason Beach with the kiosk Catacumbey that sold the worlds best Fanta, paradise Silver Beach with the reef where I snorkelled and our own palaver hut where I gladly could live forever, and our dear friends in the village.
“The parties at Pia Fundell (she had a cobra in the freezer), John-Peter Smith pop-corn with sugar all over the sofa – vexed mother) Birgitta Andersson (gin/grape & the latest Led Zeppelin), Cheryl Holmes (sleep over or did we sleep?)
“All trips to Yekepa, with and without parents, that alone is a book of memories…”