Hi. Today I will explain a bit about my understanding of some common paradigms that exist in Liberia that are not as common in the US. These have for sure taken some getting used to, and I want to share them with you. I see these different paradigms as manners, in a way. General rules of politeness or understanding that is agreed on without words, but is differentiated from place to place, country to country. Paradigm number one is:
Sharing. In Liberia, I’ve learned, sharing is WAY different. For example, if someone offers something to you (usually food) it’s rude to refuse. I’ve unintentionally offended quite a few people this way, because I am accustomed to turning down spontaneous offers of food in order to be polite and not burden someone or cause inconvenience. This was according to how I was raised, being taught the manners of many in the United States. That being said, another rule of thumb in Liberia is you should ALWAYS share (or at least offer) if you have something and somebody else doesn’t. If you have food and someone else doesn’t, it is safe to assume they’re hungry. As a side note on this, I just want to mention that today we had a guest coming with us to church that my dad invited, our friend Joe Bishop. Twenty-two years old and investigating the Mormon church, I couldn’t help but notice that he wasn’t his happy, brotherly annoying self. After a bit of an interrogation, I discovered that he hadn’t eaten for almost 24 hours. I could have guessed. Anytime you see someone sleeping in the daytime, looking dejected or listless, chances are they’re literally in the earliest stages of starving for lack of food (aka hunger). Anyway, side note over, it’s even rude to eat alone because there’s someone close by who could use some nourishment. This is always difficult for me, because there are so many neighbors who are hungry, and even though I have access to food, I don’t have enough to feed them all. The sensitive part of my heart grieves every day to see this. Sharing is always a good thing, and don’t take for granted anything that you have, even basic nessessities like enough food, clean water, adequate shelter, and parents. I look back with disgust at the Ruby Jones who lived on Cavallo Dr. who had the audacity to complain, despite having all her needs met and then some. I apologize to all who knew me. Okay I’m talking about paradigmes here, and the next one is:
The Acceptance of Abuse of Authority. For some jacked up reason, everyone here sort of just deals with the fact that teachers/educators, use corporal punishment to their own advantage of proving power and dominance. The teachers of Kpekor Public School will use a thin stick to hit a 5 year old (or younger. or older. or whatever they feel like) for being late, when they themselves will consistently be late for school, generally by a lot more time than the child they’re punishing. I’m not saying that every citizen of Liberia agrees and approves of this, not at all. But nobody is protesting, and it seems like it’s accepted, to say the least. Let me tell you a story. (haha when someone wants to tell a story here, they say “story story” and their audience says “story” and they begin.)
So the story goes like this. My dad and I had gone on a motorbike to Faith Clinic at about 7:15am to get my ankle stitches out. I was dressed in my school uniform and was planning on being dropped off at school on the way home. When we got to the school, I decided to just go all the way home because my foot was paining me. On the dirt road home, we discover my brother, Leo, and a few of his friends walking home. We stop to ask why they’re going home only 30 minutes after school was supposed to start. They tell us that they were sent home because their hair was too “bushy.” (too long) So we make space for Leo on the bike and he, my dad, and myself go back to Kpekor. My dad asks Leo if he is willing to stand up for himself and say “It is my right to be in school”. He says yes. So my dad takes Leo straight to the principal’s office where they protest the expulsion, proclaiming that every child has the basic human right to be in school, and that they are abusing their authority sending students home, and that they don’t have the right to deny a child her basic human right, etc. etc.. While they were benevolently fighting for justice (making a big stink) I was waiting just off campus with the motorbike, where my friends Chris and Jerry and a few little girls were loitering. They were between 5 and 8 years old, and the boys told me that he was put out because of his hair being too long, and the girls because they didn’t have socks. I sent them to where my dad was, and he was able to at least sort of make the principal see reason and let the children back in class.
Gender roles. Here in Liberia I’ve observed quite a difference in men and women’s roles than I’ve seen. For one, it’s a bit more common for boys to know a bit about cooking. The teenage boys inside the fence cook a breakfast meal for the home a few times a week, and sometimes lunch. Males also are pros at washing clothes. However, I’ve seen little to none interaction between older boys or fathers with small children. Women do washing, cooking, looking after, bathing and essentially raising the little ones. Lots of women are capable of doing “man” work as well. All the time I see women out in the bushy parts near their house with a hoe or a cutlass, brushing. I personally like this mix of roles. The men are able to do some of what would be considered a womans responsibility, and vice versa.
Dress and appearance. Obviously, it’s extremely hot and humid in Liberia. I know that some people think that Liberians are so used to being cooked by the sun that they don’t think it’s hot. This assumption is dead wrong. Of course they would notice that it’s so hot that it looks like someone wasted water on them. Since the heat is so brutal, it’s perfectly common to see people, mostly women, wearing less clothes than would be acceptable in the States. Something I’ve discovered that I love about Liberians is everyone is so comfortable in their body. Any overweight person would have nothing against lifting up their shirt when they’re hot. People here seem less ashamed of their body. In the United States, in the culture I was used to,it’s normal to always cover up, all the time in public, use something to cover up when breast-feeding, and seem ashamed that, yes, they have a body. But, this isn’t always true just because of the climate. For instance, I can differentiate between whether a young girl has her shirt up, bearing her midriff, because she wants a breeze because it’s hot, or because she’s being intentionally immodest. Personally, I like the comfort that people feel in their body. Unlike how I felt in Utah, here I rarely feel self conscious about the way I look, or if I’m gaining or losing weight or stuff like that. Lifestyle here for me is an active one: walking to school, playing outside the fence, kickball, jumprope, hopscotch, lapa, (a fun outside game I’ve learned) heck, even doing chores is exercise. You try pumping water for a bathroom barrel! It’s quite a workout.
Okay I’m tired I’m done writing. My gmail is ruby.jonesforever@….. I’ll write again when the periodic times when I want to write and I have time to write overlap. Goodbye.