If took about fifteen years and hundreds of hours of interviews with people intimately connected to West African countries to write Iron Butterfly, my first novel. My intention was to give those who decided to read it a lesson in modern day West Africa. The message I was trying to get out was that West Africa was more complex, more culturally nuanced, more developed than one would think given the way it is presented in the U. S. media, when it is presented at all. Given this chronic oversight in the way Africa is generally presented, it is not surprising that most Americans did not know what to think when the story about the 300 Nigerian girls who were kidnapped by a radical Islamic sect, found its way to the front page of the news, and flooded the internet with the slogan, “Bring Our Girls Back” carried by placards of women all over the world. Few people know that Nigeria is nearly twice the size of California and is divided by wealth; the southern half incredibly oil rich, mostly Christian and the northern half barren, and poverty riddled, predominately Muslim. I would have been remiss if I had not described Nigerian wealth in detail and anyone who really knows West Africa would have questioned the depth of the story.
Iron Butterfly has been endorsed by the Republic of Sierra Leone. According to their Ambassador to the United States, H. E. Ambassador Stevens, Iron Butterfly is “the first of its kind,” meaning that to date no other story about West Africa and Sierra Leone in particular, has captured the culture at every strata: its politics, the intense international diplomatic involvement in that part of the world, a novel based on one of its most revered leaders, Madame Chief Honoria Bailor Caulkor. The United States embassy holds a copy of Iron Butterfly in its library, and has plans to use it for its literacy initiative in Sierra Leone, an additional testament to the story’s authenticity and place in the historical accounting of a country that is still emerging from a brutal civil war. Iron Butterfly is a template for the demise of a country; the signs of a failing infrastructure, the shenanigans of the secret police, out of control inflation and corruption, everything that makes things ripe for a military coup d’état. In Sierra Leone’s case, the catastrophic damage to the country was orchestrated by a ruthless leader in the bordering country of Liberia.
Iron Butterfly is the story of Sierra Leone and West Africa before the “Blood Diamonds” chapter in its history. It is also a story about strong, capable women and the vulnerability of women in Africa and the world. The civil war in Sierra Leone has ended. The country has been identified as one of the emerging African countries. Interest in restoring Sierra Leone to what it was before the war, as described in Iron Butterfly, is extraordinarily high. There are personal reasons that actors and actresses like Whoopie Goldberg, Jeffrey Wright, Isaiah Washington, and Eva Mendez are investing their time and energy in the development and recovery of this country. A reason that its beautiful beaches are once again populated by tourists from European countries, and why China has made incredible economic investments in rebuilding Sierra Leone. It is a mixed bag that draws people from all parts of the world to this small, mineral rich country. For some, they are there for purely humanitarian reasons, for others it is because of the opportunities Sierra Leone offers, and for others it is a mixture of both. In reading or re-reading Iron Butterfly, all of these elements become even clearer, and what is also evident is that it is a story of hope and recovery from psychological trauma. This story is ready made for educators interested in the intersection of history and today’s headline stories, stories that will continue to unfold in a global, internet accessed world.
About the Author:
Dr. Clara Whaley Perkins is a practicing psychologist with thirty years of experience in helping people recover from psychological trauma. Her novel, Iron Butterfly was the inspiration for her decision to create the Life After Trauma Organization, (LATO), a recently incorporated, non-profit organization. LATO’s mission is to increase public awareness and impact policies in order to help women who have experienced trauma as a result of human trafficking. Proceeds from the books sold at her speaking engagements are dedicated to this cause.