Friday, April 27, 2012

When I Became a White Citizen of Liberia

According to the Liberian Constitution a white guy like me is not allowed to become a citizen of Liberia.  Only someone of ‘Negro descent” (not my words!) is considered qualified for citizenship. There is a whole lot more to share about that later, but for now let’s just say it is an attempt to protect the culture and values of the Liberian people (as most immigration laws are).  While that may be what is written on paper I have found the Liberian people themselves very willing to accept others into their society based on more than skin color.  Case in point… Zondo bestowing this less tan man with the honor of a community bowl and spoon.

Posing with the Bowl and Spoon after the ceremony -
to my left is the honorable Arthur Crusoe

What is so great about getting a bowl and spoon as a gift?  The symbolism, that’s what!  The spoon was historically a utensil owned only by a chief or some other big man in the community.  In fact, sometimes a spoon would have its own special bag that was carried around by one of the chief’s aides and brought out for him during meal time.  Everyone else ate with their fingers. To be given a spoon means you are respected by the community.

Me and the Paramount Chief of the Region
who witnessed the ceremony
What about the bowl?  Traditionally a bowl is shared by a family with every member of the family digging into that same bowl with their fingers to scoop up food to eat.  There is a deep sense of camaraderie developed among those who share food in such an intimate manner.  When the Zondo community presented me with the bowl they were in essence saying, “You are one of us, free to share a bowl with us like family.  You are a citizen of Zondo!” 

Needless to say, I was deeply honored and humbled by both the privilege and the responsibility of being a member of the Zondo community.  These are now my people and their joy is my joy, their suffering my suffering.  While I may not have a citizenship in Zondo that is formally recognized by the US or the Republic of Liberia I consider it real nonetheless and I am honored and willing to be known as one of them, white skin and all! 

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