Seeing a military officer cock a gun, point to your nose in the midst of a long-running, ruinous civil war is obviously not a birthday ‘present’ one would wish for but that was just one of four terrible experiences that cladded Van Vicker’s 11th birthday.
The now popular actor who “grew up partly in Monrovia, Netherlands and in Ghana” says he spent most of his adolescent years in Liberia and witnessed the civil unrest that killed up to 250,000 and injured thousands more.
“While growing up there, the war came up. I missed death four times in one day and it was on my birthday, August 1, 1991. I came as close as a gun right in my nose,” he says on ‘Restoration With Stacy’.
“The war was intense at that point. They were throwing bomb in our neighborhood from the top of the mountain and my neighborhood was on the other side… it was a residential area. We heard some rebels were in the swamp area but those who were apparently targeting weren’t sure of how to use the equipment, I think. Or it was a misjudgment of a sort. So, the grenade was dropped right next to a neighbor’s house which seemed as if it was actually in our house because everything was turned upside down. The windows were vibrating… we had to run out. That was the first incident on 1st August.”
Narrating the second incident, Van Vicker said: “We tried to seek refuge somewhere in town. When we got to a particular junction, people were told to show IDs. For whatever reason, we were somewhere at the back. We saw a jeep drive through to the very front of the line and we heard somebody on the megaphone saying everybody should disperse, go back home. People weren’t willing to leave. The next thing we heard was ‘spray them all’. Then we heard gunshots. We dispersed.”
“When we scattered, we finally got back together; my mum, my sister and myself. She usually calls us by whistling your name. We got together, on our way back, there was this solider who appeared right up to my nose with the AK47, cocked the gun and I was stunned. Then my uncle showed up; he was in the military as well so he spoke to the guy and while they were talking, we left,” he recalls the third incident, leaving the host, Stacy shocked to the marrow.
“The fourth one, after we left, we went home, we said we were going to the Ghana Embassy. On our way, we crossed the high street. Right after that, we heard someone in one of the buildings shouting ‘stand there, where are you going? Don’t move!’ They came down with guns and all and asked ‘who are you? Where’s your ID?’ My uncle knew the officer and he mentioned the officer’s name and he said ‘okay, I can see you’re legit’”.
According to Van Vicker, he survived because grace abounds. As he puts it, “I’m still here. It’s grace, destiny.”
As reported by The Guardian, the country’s civil war began in 1989, when Charles Taylor returned to Liberia from neighbouring Ivory Coast. He brought with him a force of 100 rebels – the National Patriotic Front of Liberia – seeking to oust the repressive regime of the then-president, Samuel Doe.
A rival warlord, Prince Yormie Johnson, seized, tortured and executed Doe in front of video cameras in September 1990. But the demise of Doe’s corrupt, abusive regime failed to bring about stable democratic government.
Johnson and Mr Taylor turned on each other, plunging Liberia into seven years of civil war.