From my initial posts, you would get the impression that Liberia is a paradise and that every Liberian is an angel. Off course, that is never the case with any country or its people and the reality is always a little bit more nuanced.
In Liberia, everyone is advised not to go out after dark. Apparently, there are a lot of uneducated, unemployable people and former combatants around who prey on Liberians and Non-Liberians alike once the darkness falls. The general lack of street lighting also aids them in their nefarious endeavors. Similarly, there are areas which you are advised not to venture into without an escort. Many of the beaches are occupied by squatters, and thus have become no-go areas.
Last week, Emmanuel got mugged. He told me that it was around 9 p.m. and he was going home. He was waiting for a shared taxi at one of the busier intersections in the city. He was standing a little further away from other people and was in somewhat of a dark area. A group of 3-4 rogues came and caught him and pinned him to the wall. They brandished some sort of weapon and took everything he had in his pockets. He was overpowered and intimidated and could not do much about it. He lost his day’s earnings, his phone and some cheap watches that he sells. All in all, he lost around $150. He later told me that he thought that some of the people who robbed him were the able-bodied beggars whom he had refused to give money earlier.
That brings me to the people begging on the street and my attitude towards them. Initially, I was undecided about what to do about them. However, when I saw many of the handicapped war victims and the mentally sick on the street, my heart melted. I reasoned, what kind of work would these handicaps find in a poor country like Liberia. Since then, I have generally given something or other to almost everyone who has begged me.
Couple of evenings ago, I was buying some fruits from Elizabeth and Emmanuel was also standing nearby. An able-bodied beggar (i.e. he had all his limbs and wits) approached me. He said that he was a refugee from Congo and needed money for getting passport photos made so that he could go back. After some back and forth, I gave him some money. Later, Emmanuel told me that I had given him too much money and that this will make him bring his friends as well. And, that is what happened.
Over the weekend, I was out on the street, buying and drinking coconut water from a street vendor. An able-bodied beggar (who I believe was a friend of the previous night’s beggar) approached me and begged me for money. This time I refused. He grumbled for a while and then went away. A few minutes later, he came back and begged again. I refused again. He persisted and I kept refusing. By this time, I had finished my coconut and started walking away. He came along with me, still begging. Then he said, ‘You go running. What if 2-3 people held you and took everything from your pocket? What would you do? What would you do?’ You can bet that I was all ears and thinking to myself that this is not going well. So I asked him,’Are you threatening me?’ He said,’No, No. I am your friend. If someone did that, I would tell them don’t do that.’ I said, ‘Ok’, but still refused to give him any money. He kept on grumbling for a while and then finally went away. I too went my way, finished my shopping and got back home. But, along with the grocery, I brought home a more nuanced understanding of the phrase ‘I am your friend’.