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"Seebo"

This is Seebo. He was my friend.


Seebo was also many other things. I met him one day in my house in Liberia. He just walked right in and made himself at home. Sans the pointy hat.


Liberians did that. Just walked right in. The courtesy of an invitation or a door knock not part of their visitor protocol. Somewhat difficult to accept at first, but like all things bush, you eventually didn’t care except I began to wear pants around the house.


Seebo stopped by to check out the new Peace Corps man. I’d arrived three or four months earlier and I guess he felt it was time for a visit. I introduced myself, as did he. He wanted to know if I was the new English teacher. I was not. I was here to grow fish.


Grow fish? Here? In the bush? Seebo was not convinced. He demanded visual proof of concept.


About a year later, we had our first fish harvest event from Rev. Charlie’s fishpond. Fish were everywhere. Seebo was impressed.


“Damn it. That Peace Corps man know all!”


Seebo became a believer. He was also many other things.


He was the local cane juice distiller and distributer. A very important job to be sure. The cane juice, that elixir of the bush elite, was sometimes hard to find. He took me to his distillery one day.


We sauntered down a rain-eroded path deep into the bush until we came upon a small shed strategically erected next to a shallow swamp. The shed housed a diesel engine powering a belt-driven sugar cane wringer. Think great-grandmother’s laundry room, without the swamp.


The engine was long dead, so Seebo’s younger distillery staff were hand-cranking the wringer. The wrung plant juice drained into a dented oil drum and was then scooped and poured into a machete-hewn, hollowed-out 15-foot log. Once the log was full, they covered the lengthwise opening with banana leaves and there it fermented until Seebo said so.


Once the juice fermented, it was scooped again and allotted carefully into a distillery pot mounted above an open wood fire. Think The Beverly Hillbillies. Welded atop the pot was a copper tube that coiled down and disappeared into the swamp, reappearing on the other side and positioned to drip, drip, drip into jars, ready for sale to anxious consumers. Ghastly potent it was, and with the quality control of smuggled kerosene, Seebo’s cane juice was renowned throughout the land as the final cure for all that ailed you. Or for embalming fluid.


Seebo was a bootlegger. He was also many other things.


He was the tribal clan’s Country Devil. I wasn’t supposed to know that, but one fine evening while consuming the latest batch of Seebo Fuel on my front steps, Seebo leaked this top-secret information. He was the Country Devil.


Think witch doctor, medicine man, voodoo king, necromancer prince, Darth Vader. Also know, Seebo was no joke.


For the most part, I'm a non-believer. I do believe that some things are unexplained, such as when the Forty-Niners lose, but I mostly go with science and I'm good. Despite that, I did witness an energy that unadulterated belief can have on people. That energy, that belief, was the Country Devil's work, good or bad. He showed me this good energy one night.


He invited me to a country healing and said I could take photos. The patient was a very sick woman, pretty much dead, and the clan chiefs called upon the Country Devil. Before the ceremony, Seebo took me to the healing house and I climbed up into the tree-branch rafters above the ceremony altar. There I waited until the healing began.


I was in the rafters for hours, just watching the dancing, singing, clapping and drumming as the sickly patient lay there with not much to say about the whole thing. At some moment, I did take a photo. But it was scary dark and with no flash, I just opened the f-stop and shutter speed, set the focus on infinity and held my breath. Didn't really work, but here it is.



It is a shimmer moment of the drummer, pounding away as Seebo did his thing.


I slithered away early in the morning and went home exhausted. Next day, Seebo stopped by to critique the photo. I had to explain that photos didn't work that way, It was 1984.


I asked if he was successful. Did the woman feel better? Apparently, she walked away from the healing house at dawn and all was good.


I confirmed this result with several trusted town folk later that day. well done, Seebo! I became a Seebo believer that day.


Seebo was the Country Devil. He was also many other things.


He was also a promising actor. I learned this while explaining why he could not see instant photos from a Nikon SLR. I explained how the camera worked, how film captures light, how photos are developed.


Seebo sat and patiently listened to my teachings. He pondered. I was astonished that he seemingly understood my teachings while he handled the camera and looked through the viewfinder.


After several minutes of pondering, he posed the obvious question.


“Can you take a picture of a man and woman…doing da ting?”


“Ting” is the word, “thing,” and that word, like many words in Liberian English, is completely contextual. “Ting” can mean “anyting,” depending on context.


“Do what ting?” I cautiously asked.


He repeated, “You know…da ting? He then made the unmistakable, globally renowned configuration and movement with his hands.


“Oh,” I feigned surprise. “Dat ting.”


An important moment. This was the clan’s Country Devil, cane juice magnate, and believer in fishponds.


He nodded and held a Country Devilish grin a mile wide.


I could not tell a lie.


“Yes, Seebo, you can take a picture of people doing “da ting.” (Long pause.)


 “But I can’t… no flash.”


“Hmmm. Okay. Cane juice?”


“Lego!”


Yes, Seebo was many things. Mainly, he was my friend.

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