Monday, 22 December 2014

Relationships with people and countries

I found myself acting like a bit of a relationship counselor recently.

In the first instance, a sticking point was Liberia. One party wanted the other one to get the heck out of Liberia so they could create a new life elsewhere. Much of this person's frustrations seems to be focused into this country. At first I obliged by telling my friend that I understand how much Liberia frustrates him/her. But then as this person ranted and, laid bare her/his thinly veiled racism, I allowed myself to feel offended but to also think about why people either hate or love Liberia. 

I also thought about my tricky relationship with my home for more than ten years now and, how far I've come and how far I still need to go.  My non-Liberian friends, over the years, many of them who came and went, have informed and shaped my view of Liberia. Unfortunately, I have mostly socialised with outsiders, many of them in the aid industry. Whether Liberia was experienced with an open mind or with the most biased point of view, our understanding (or lack of) of Liberia ricochets off of our collective and usually very shallow mind set. Many of us pretend to be pseudo intellectuals, have read academic texts about Liberia and civil war in West Africa, and, work very hard to have sympathetic and compassionate appreciation of a poor country without falling into any dangerous expatriate traps. Some of us whisper quietly how corrupt and lazy Liberians actually are and how badly we need a vacation just to be able to keep our sanity. Many business owners, who actually should be considered Liberians but are categorized as outsiders, that I met since I forayed into the private sector, have passionately explained how you can't actually trust Liberians and, who cares about quality or good business practices. 

But what I stumbled upon recently in my conversation with my friend who hates Liberia is the realisation that most people project their neuroses, their issues, their prejudices onto Liberia. And, I am no exception. In my early years, I started loathing Liberia too. I couldn't stand anything: the power outages, my landlord, a stifling social scene frequented by career ladder climbing hyper international development youngsters out to save the world, a very limited interaction with Liberians, and the shabbiness. I saw Liberia and Liberians as one-dimensional. Even  my reading of its history was judgmental: but of course a civil war was going to erupt, what have you guys accomplished anyway? I have a very poorly-written essay stashed away in my books that talked about my experience of Liberia as an adventure in a primordial jungle. Ha ha! If that is not racist, I don't know what is. 

It is racist because non-African interaction with Africa has been defined by a general view that this continent is a-historical, tribal, dark and basically a steamy, dense jungle. To say it is a primordial jungle means it is uncivilised.

My friend moans about how much he/she hates life here, that nothing is normal, that people are lazy and corrupt, and that he/she misses the luxuries back home. If you constantly compare Liberia to your country, you are never going to have an open mind and experience Liberia and its folks without prejudice. If you are convinced that Liberians are corrupt and lazy while you are the Country Manager of a company or an international NGO, enjoying fantastic monetary and other perks, and live in the best spots in Monrovia, you are judging an entire country by your limited experience. Yes, Liberia suffers from corruption but corruption exists everywhere. Moreover, the dynamics of corruption in a poor country are completely different from that in a richer one. One could even argue that corruption exists because the system is set up that way. Just because Liberia doesn't have Starbucks, does not mean it is not a livable place.

The way one moans about a place tells you a lot about how subjective their experience is. It also tells you how much they project themselves.

I have met folks who absolutely love Liberia, too. Their experiences are much more rich. They clearly interact with Liberians socially and, do not seem to be so annoyingly patronising. They don't seem to be judging Liberia all the time.

I tried very hard to convince my friend that he/she needs to give Liberia another chance and, it is very possible to build a good life here. It really depends on you.

My other experience as a relationship counselor involved a younger friend. My friend found out the man she was faithfully in love with for the past half a decade or more was cheating on her. When she confronted the boy, he lashed out violently, called her degrading names and threatened to expose her. I haven't met my friend during this ordeal and only interacted with her on phone and Whatsapp but I could tell she was in deep shock. She couldn't believe this other side of her boyfriend. It was like she saw his other face. She was quite numb for a while and, it seems like she was able to get over this incident without too much damage to her ego.

Lucky for this boy, if I had been in the same town, I would have done something awful to him.

Apparently, he wept afterwards and begged her to take him back. But she stood her ground.

She seemed to have had a hint of something not right for a while. It really goes to show that if something does not feel right, it is not.

My friend is young and, I am glad she found out she was with the wrong guy. I hope my friend is able to find a man with whom she can have a wonderful, exciting relationship with. And, if that doesn't work, out she should be able to continue looking for the right guy or stop if she wants to. I hope conservative societies eventually give up their control of personal lives and, let us be free to find what we need to find, on our own terms, to be fulfilled.

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