Monday, 10 February 2014

My Morning of Discontent

Rick and the Reverend
Al William Green
With apologies to Shakespeare and Steinbeck, 5 February 2014 was my morning of discontent, made glorious by the Reverend Al Green.

Late on the evening of 4 February I had an email and a call from one of my seminary colleagues. He wanted me to know that some LBTS Alumni were meeting in Monrovia on the next day; they had invited me to join them to meet and greet and receive encouragement. I said I would come, but knew that we could not meet at the seminary because we are under temporary court order not to be open (long story).

The Reverend Al William Green is a Liberian pastor. He was at Ricks for a rural pastors’ conference (Green is the pastor of the founding church of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention [1880] at Edina in Grand Bassa County; it certainly meets the descriptor “rural.”) Al offered to ride along with me. Thank God.

We made our way toward Monrovia in “my” diesel-powered Pajero, taking the shortcut through Logantown to avoid the congestion in Duala (see the post from 14 January, “The Economy at Work”). The ten minutes were better than the 40 or more it takes to get through Duala.

As we arrived in Monrovia and turned left at Broad Street it was about 10:30a. An officer waved us to the side and the discontent began to unfold. I made two errors that I regret and will not make again.

The usual banter began: “May I see your vehicle registration?” I produced it. May I see your driver’s license?” MISTAKE! I handed it to him, knowing better. THE DIE WAS CAST!!

The paper work was in order, but the insurance sticker was not on the windshield. Hint, hint. The officer was looking for a bribe. My seatbelt was not fastened. Hint, hint. I requested my license. The officer put it in his pocket and walked away.

Al Green got out of the car and began the arguments. Yes, a crowd began to form. The officer said there would be a ticket. I said, “Fine. Write it, give me my license, and I will go.”

Green went with the officer to the podium and then down the street for a conversation with the police commander of the district. I wanted to see what I could, so I made my second MISTAKE. I took my camera and used the telephoto lens to see better. Uh-oh!

The commander assumed I had taken his photo and became enraged. He stormed down the street shouting, “He took my photo! He took my photo!” with a small crowd following him. He tried to reach into the car and take my camera, but I avoided him.

Now there were three or four officers and a crowd behind the car. A large citizen intervened and tried to calm down the officer. I got out of the car—with my camera—and showed the large man that there was no photo. I showed him how I had used the telephoto to get a better view of the conversation. He declared, “There is no photo.” The first officer verified that there was no photo.

But, the die was cast. I had missed my several opportunities to bribe the “servant of the people” and now I would have to pay. Two hundred Liberia dollars would have ended the drama, but I wouldn’t pay (less than $3 US).

the bank receipt
the release document
the court document
For the next four hours (!!) Green led me through the mazes of Liberian bureaucracy. I counted nine steps: (a) to the Minister of Finance to register to pay the $20 US ticket; (b) to a business center to get a photocopy of the ticket; (c) back to MoF to receive a deposit slip for the bank; (d) to the bank to pay the fee and get a receipt; (e) to traffic court to receive judgment; [lunch break]; (f) back to traffic court to receive paper work; back to the podium on Broad Street to retrieve my license; (g) to police headquarters to get a “release” notification; (h) back to Broad Street to haggle, again, with the police to get the license and to refuse to pay the bribe; (i) received my license.

Al Green at Mary's
I never made it the meeting (probably should not have agreed to go, anyway). I had a great Liberian lunch of dumboy.

Dumboy is common Liberian meal (please read common two ways). It is a thick clump of pounded cassava root, mixed with water, and allowed to proof. Fu-fu, too, is pounded cassava root, but it is less thick. Both are served with some kind of soup and spices. I enjoy it; it is exotic (see the fish head and chicken foot) and quite tasty. Liberians are generally amazed that I eat it.

I got to spend time with Al Green and listen to his rants about “the criminals” in the blue uniforms who were trying to “make some morning money” by stopping “the white man.” Facts are facts. My offense was being a white American. I know that. See right: "American" and "White." And, so I am.

What did I learn? I will avoid the podium at Broad Street in the mornings. I will not use my camera carelessly. The police are greedy, but harmless. Many Liberians on the street are ashamed of the way the police act. Dumboy is quite tasty (I’ve had it several times, but the ambiance of the cook shop was great).

The Reverend Al Green is a good friend and companion. It was he who made my morning of discontent glorious.

Don't misunderstand me. I am not complaining about being a white American. What I know is that the years of colonial rule in Africa contributes to the challenges we all face in Liberia. I will write about that another time.


  1. If you keep this up, Mrs. Wilson will never come visit you! -Hannah McAnespie