Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

I Married a Liberian

In the 1960s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor, who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In the course of our 41-year marriage, we made numerous trips to Liberia, including visits to his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County.  On one of our summer visits, I learned that in order to get anything done in Liberia, you had to dash or give a bribe.  Below is an excerpt from Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief, which I wrote to cope with my grief after my husband died in 2009. In my words:

The Liberian Government was Based on CorruptionBeyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis

During the 1970s, people said, “Come on, man. You mean he’s been in government four years and hasn’t built a house?”  Our Americo-Liberian hostess complained about the high prices in the Lebanese stores in Monrovia, saying, “You have to come back, B.G. and help us. Our own people are killin’ us. All of these foreigners, the Lebanese, the Indians, even the Nigerians and Ghanaians, and all the white people as well, are paying bribes to stay in business. The government’s getting’ money for nothin’.

“You know Abijoudi? He’s payin’. The only ones who aren’t payin’ are the country people, the market women and those who sell tie-dye. You can’t stay in business here without bribing.”

dashGovernment Workers Lived on Bribes

African-Liberian government clerks lived on bribes because their salaries were abysmally low. You had to grease the palm of someone’s hand to get anything done. Otherwise it was “Go, come.”  You could wait all day in a government office only to be told that the minister didn’t have time to see you.

Anita and I met frustration wherever we went when we wanted to ship some African artifacts and country cloth back to Michigan. At one office, we needed a stamp. At another, we needed a letter. At another, we needed a form filled out. Nothing could be done on the spot. It was always, “Go, come.”  Later that afternoon, I told an African-Liberian friend about our plight. He told me, “Doc, you gotta dash (bribe). Have you forgotten?”

We went back to each office that same afternoon. Everything changed the minute I slipped some money into the clerk’s hand. Then it was, “Yes, Sir!” We finished everything within an hour.

For many other stories on Liberia, read Beyond Myself.