Ask the guy who lived in Liberia.

In this thread, I mentioned having lived in Liberia for a couple of years when I was in high school, and Onomatopoeia suggested starting a thread about it, saying he had some questions, so here it is. I don’t know how much interest anyone would have in this, but ask away.

To provide a baseline, I lived there from 1982-1984 when my father, who was in the State Department, was a doing a tour at the US Embassy in Monrovia.

Ask away.

What is your perspective on the Mau Mau rebellion? :slight_smile:

I’m interested, but can’t think of intelligent-type questions. But to start us off:

Once you left Liberia, what did you miss?

Was Tommy Two-Tone big in Liberia?

Liberia… Isn’t that where Doctor Doom lives? Wait! Are you Doctor Doom?!

It’s all starting to make sense :smiley:


Really cheap weed. We’re talking $5 an ounce.

No. Reggae was big (especially Bob Marley), and Michael Jackson was big.

Was it dangerous? Was the government stable? What kind of work could you do there?

It could be, depending on where you went. Americans were often targets for robberies. For the most part I roamed the city without much hassle, though.

Sort of. I was there between coups. At the time I was there, the country was basically being run by a military junta which staged a coup a year or so before, established a “People’s Redemption Council,” led by a former Staff Sgt. named Samuel Doe, who had led the coup, and they were supposedly writing a new Constitution pending a free election. Doe eventually became crazy and despotic and was deposed by another coup, but during the time I was there, things were fairly stable and quiet.

I was a lifeguard at the Embassy compound swimming pool. Americans didn’t really try to get jobs outside the Embassy (or some of the american companies that other Americans worked for, like Firestone). You weren’t supposed to take jobs away from the locals. That said, there wasn’t much a job market anyway. If you were going to make any money, it would be by owning an indepndent business. One particularly entrepeneurial friend of mine (who was about a year older than me), made money by buying and selling poached ivory.

Hey, thanks Dio!

What years were you there? Was it before or during Charles Taylor’s regime?

What brought you to Liberia in the first place?

Did you interact with the locals very much, and was English widely spoken and understood?

Did anyone you came into contact with talk about ancestors from America?

What does, or did, the average Liberian think about America?

What were your living accommodations like?

Was it complete lawlessness? I know you said you were able to roam freely, but did you have to be armed?

Did Liberians feel superior to Ivorians?



My father was in the State Department and doing a tour at the US Embassy there.

All the time, every day.

English was the national language, and everybody spoke it, though it was a heavily accented dialect called “liberian English” that was a little hard to understand at first. Somewhat comparable to Jamaican English in how it sounded, with a lot of ts own little idioms. You had to get used to it. Most locals also knew tribal languages.

Not really. The vast majority of Liberians are not actually descended from the original freed slaves who founded the country, but from the tribes who were already there. The descendants of the original settlers had actually become an aristocratic ruling class, where a few families had all the money and power. That was a big part of the reason for the coup that happened under Doe. Ostensibly he was going to restore power to the tribal people, the common people.

They had very idealized notions about it. They thought that all Americans were rich, that “you can find money on the street,” and other such things. Their perceptions were positive to an exaggerated degree.

Pretty good since my dad was a US diplomat. We had a large, basically modern apartment with all the normal appliances, air conditioning and the like. We had occasional problems with the power going out, but it wasn’t to bad, especially compared to the way a lot of locals lived. We lived close to shantytowns that were basically tin roofs on sticks with no walls, and with hundreds of people crammed into them.

We also had a sort of closed circuit TV system on the Embassy compound, on which we got video tapes of movies and television shows from the States. We’d see a lot of American TV shows, but see them a couple of weeks later than they aired in the states.

No, it wasn’t like that. You were more likely to get hustled by grifters or street vendors than really assaulted. I did have a couple of incidents where guys tried to mug me, but they didn’t have weapons themselves, just bravado. I told them to fuck off and they left me alone. Another time a guy grabbed my wallet out of my pocket on the street and took off running. I chased him down and tackled him and got it back. I’m not a badass or anything, it’s just that those guys were mostly pretty small and skinny. They were not well fed or muscled up, so they usually weren’t very intimidating, and most of the time I was with my friends, so I mostly got left alone.

That’s not to say there was no danger at all. One teenage girl from the Embassy was raped and stabbed out on the beach. It was NOT a safe place for girls to go out by themselves.

Not that I ever saw. From what I remeber, the Ivory Coast was seen as slightly better than Liberia and Sierre Leone as about the same.

I’ve heard that there is some segregation between people who are the descendants of Americans and those who aren’t in Liberia. Did you experience that at all?

Yes, I mentioned that above. The descendants of the original settlers were the rich families. I knew some of them at the private American school I went to. The vast majority of Liberians were tribal. I didn’t really see open tensions, but I was aware of them, and I knew a coup had just gone down over that very issue.

Was this true for local women and girls as well or were foreigners targeted?

It sounds like you lived in an Embassy compound. What was that like - the general size, set up, and security measures?

It was true for all women and girls.

It was kind of like a military base, but on a smaller scale. It was fenced in and guarded by Marines. It wasn’t huge, maybe a square mile in area, with the Embassy building itself, several other buildings with various purposes, and residential buildings. There was also a little bar and grill type place, which was a major social hangout, library, a swimming pool (where I worked as a lifeguard), and a “teen club,” which had a pool table, video games (we’re talking the Donkey Kong and Pac Man era), a sound system and a littlekitchen type area where you could buy sodas and snacks. There were maybe a few dozen families who lived on the compound, maybe a couple of hundred people altogether, counting the Marine Guard (who had their own barracks). It wasn’t a lot.

Security was very good, even though it wasn’t a very significant country. It was only a couple of years after the takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran, and the Marine Guard wasn’t fucking around. They wanted somebody to try to attack the Embassy. They also had no sense of humor about it. One time I had to go into the Embassy for some reason. In order to get into the builing, you had to buzz a speaker on the outside and say who you were. Just messing around, one of my idiot frienmds and I pushed the button and when the marine on duty answered, we said something like, “open up, were seizing this embassy.” A few sconds later, the door opened and we were looking down the barrel of his M16. We threw our hands up and were all like “whoa, chill out Neil, it’s just us” (we knew all the Marine guards by name. They weren’t much older than us, and were universally cool guys), and he said, “don’t ever fucking do that again, this sin’t a fucking game. If you say shit like that, I have to take it seriously.” We never did that again. He knew who we were all along, of course, he just wanted to teach us a lesson.

Did you ever encounter any cannibalism?

Have you ever watched the Vice TV “Guide To Liberia”?

No, but I saw a lot of monkey meat. Women would walk aound with baskets on their heads selling fruit or meat, and monkey meat was one of the things they sold. I never tried any, but my brother (who posts here as Cricetus) tried it once. My brother’s latest novel is actually loosely based on our experiences there

No, but I don’t need to. I could be a tour guide for vice in Liberia (at least I could have in the 80’s).