Friday, September 12, 2008

even paranoids have real enemies

Due to war, secret societies and painful life lessons, many Liberians have learned to be efficient in their privacy and rarely reveal their true selves to others. This way of being is tied to the a few humorous yet ever so slightly accurate statements about paranoids. The first is that even paranoids have real enemies; the second is that a paranoid is frequently someone with all the facts. Maybe in a land recovering from a long and bitter civil war, these are the only truths.

It’s strange but the individuals I trust most here often talk in the vaguest of ways and stress that they do this so they can avoid becoming the object of someone else’s vengeance. May it be about money or success or happiness, they highlight examples of people falling victim to other people’s jealousies and I tend to believe them. At the end of the day the ones I respect most are rarely found taking an outward stance about critical issues and frequently fade into the background when you would expect them to be animated. But, what comes of a society that forces its brightest and most trustworthy into the shadows?

Although we don’t like to admit it most laws are uncertain and fear is everywhere. I was recently reminded of this fact when I discovered the newly elected executive director of the local NGO I returned to support had become corrupt and deceitful in the few short months I was away. I literally shuttered in disbelief when I was briefed on the developments. From what I understand it happened quickly and on the heels of solidifying their very first funded project. This newly elected leader, a fellow Liberian who had managed to earn a masters degree in Marriage and Family therapy while in refuge, simply accessed the bank account and used the money from their very first grant as if it were his own. After that it turned into a long and drawn out game of cat and mouse. He not only lied, manipulated and stole money; he also failed to hold true to his promises. This information made my heart sink. I too trusted and liked this guy and felt as if the local group of counselors that were hoping to become a functional NGO before CVT departed had picked the right man to lead them into independence. The plan was to have their NGO up and running by the time CVT finished their last grant and pulled out of the country.

A few days ago this man called me, was near tears while pleading his side and claiming everything I was hearing was a conspiracy against him. He wove a detailed and exhaustive story. After attempting to listen to both sides and sort out some sort of objective truth, I realized that truth can bounce between gossip and vengeance and objectivity is fleeting. Rumors about why he did it slip into side conversations I hear in hallways and offices and I once again find myself feeling skeptical about everything. Maybe I too am on my way to becoming a full blown paranoid. Sadly enough, maybe this is not a bad idea in this world of ours. Maybe most of the time, truth is just an opinion.

In my years abroad I have courted foreignness and have been at ease whether in the woods of Wisconsin, on the 1/9 subway line heading towards the Bronx or in a hut in Yelwa. In some ways I feel as if I completed myself abroad and am now able to slip back and forth between my two lives with much more ease and grace than I was able to muster a few years back. But trust is a slippery topic. On the one had I have been forced to blindly trust strangers either due to language or cultural barriers or because I found myself in a vulnerable position. Fortunately for me nothing bad has happened yet and I have been incredibly moved by a stranger’s willingness to help another stranger. And yet, with each road I have explored, I have learned that many roads are not clearly marked and some have a tendency to change direction. At first I thought my lost feelings were simply due to my bad sense of direction but with time and experience I have come to accept the fact that my paths in life may be bumpy, circular or even end up at a dead end. My only hope is that I learn from each journey, irregardless of the final destination.

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