Tamba Hali is a spontaneous man, one who has become quite fond of traveling around the world in recent years during his time away from the football field.
A year ago, for instance, he visited Dubai and Tokyo. And this year, another thought popped into his head:
Maybe I’ll go back home.
“I’m very sporadic,” Hali said. “Sometimes I just get up and do things.”
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For the first 10 years of his life, Hali, 32, grew up in Liberia, a war-torn country he fled in 1992 for the Ivory Coast. In 1994, he arrived in America and grew into a first-round NFL draft pick and one of the most beloved Chiefs of his era.
Yet, he decided it had been too long since he’d been back to where it all started. Given how wonderfully his career and life has panned out, Hali occasionally allows himself to think about how different things could have turned out.
“I always remember, I always wanted to join the fighting, because I was a child and everyone was doing it,” Hali said. “My brother wouldn’t let me. He did it for a little bit ... but I may be dead. I don’t think I’d be living. I don’t really see how life would be if I would have stayed and fought because all the people I knew as friends, they’re dead.”
So he decided to visit his homeland for the first time in 24 years during April 9-13.
“I called my dad one day and asked him if he wanted to go,” Hali said. “Dad said yes, because he had the whole week off from school. Then I called my brother, and he agreed.”
But since crime remains high in Liberia — the civil war there has been over since 2003 but people are still struggling, and stories of kidnapping and disease are real — Hali did take some precautions, like reaching out to the secret service and making sure security would go with him wherever he went while he was there.
Those measures, he said, helped quell the concerns of his agents and others who care about him.
“For me, I was more interested in going,” Hali said. “I’m like well, if I’m going to go back home and this is where I die, that will be a great story. I wasn’t as worried as they were.”
That’s not to say the reports Hali ready about the country were not harrowing; they were.
“When you read what the secret service people sent, you kind of become wary and (think) well, maybe I shouldn’t go, this is not wise,” Hali said. “And your agents keep telling you, you’ve got two kids, you don’t want to do this, you’ve got a family now.
“(But) I said no, I can’t be afraid to go back home — that’s where I’m from. I just went.”
Hali, who has been back for nearly a week, is glad he did. He got to meet the president of the country and see cousins and aunts he hadn’t seen in years. He also got to go swimming at the beach and see his childhood home, which was standing after all these years.
“With all the war and everything that’s happened, it’s still there,” Hali said. “I remember where I used to take my bath on the side of the house and where I was when the fighting starting. I was reminiscing … it felt good, especially having people related to me there to be able to remember what I remember. It felt good.”
Hali said he received a warm welcome from family members, though the concept of American football was still foreign to many people there.
“It was almost like restoring your faith, because we haven’t had any contact with one another and they tell other people ‘Oh, that’s our nephew, that’s our cousin,’ and they say ‘If that’s your cousin or nephew, how come you’re living in these conditions?’ People didn’t believe them.
“(For me to) just to pop up on them the way I did, they were rejoicing and thanking God.”
The trip was also largely drama-free, with the exception of one anxious moment one night, when he exited a building after a three-hour radio interview lasted much longer than he anticipated and saw people standing outside as he prepared to leave.
“That was the only time I felt a little wary,” Hali said. “There were people claiming they were family and they were outside ... but the security I had with me did a great job. We got in the car and we were gone.”
The trip went well enough that Hali made it clear he’d like to go back, perhaps again before the season starts.
“I’m not in a rush, but I will be going back next year for sure,” Hali said. “I want to bring awareness to the country … I don’t formally have a foundation, and everything I do in terms of giving, I just do.”
For instance, in 2014, Hali lent his public support to help Heart to Heart International, a humanitarian group dedicated to expanding global access to health care, to fight the Ebola virus in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the potentially fatal virus.
And while Hali did not explicitly state an exact cause he’ll be targeting, he made it clear he hopes to bring attention to the other issues in his homeland, and continue to use his star power for good.
“The country I’m from, there’s needs,” Hali said. “And I think people can help, but if people don’t know they just can’t do it. I can be a great ambassador for our country.”