Liberian Letters 5

By Merran Fraenkel

19th September 1958.

I can’t teach Social Anthropology to students who can’t spell, can’t write communicable sentences, can’t read maps.  There are two who really think that Canada and the USA are in Africa. How the hell do such children get to be university seniors?

(Merran had got a part-time job teaching Social Anthropology at the University of Liberia).

In the previous house they had two burglaries in the few weeks before I moved in. Maybe the burglars – in local terms, ‘the rogues’ – take pity on a solitary female?

Talking about rogues. Apparently there is a school of burglary which teaches the fine art of escape: they strip naked, completely, and oil themselves, so if anyone wakes up it is virtually impossible to catch them because there is nothing to hold on to. They slip away….. I’m so glad I know. If this happened to me, all kinds of primeval fears would arise.

(Date missing).

The students have discovered my house and often drop in about their study of associations.

I amuse myself making maps for them for the anthropology/geography course…. They have no atlases. The maps look quite impressive. There would be a market for an atlas for African schools….

It makes me mad the way all histories of African countries start with the arrival of one or other European power. Students have never heard of things like the Male and Songhai empires.  What do you think of this as a possible occupation for a housewife in the future? [Curiously this is precisely what our friend Margaret Sharman undertook in later years].

28th August 1958.

John, the Grantham’s Bassa steward turned up to work this morning.  He looked at the photos [a 48 snap ‘polyphoto’ of Peter] After some ooh-ing and aah-ing he said “Missi, which one you marry?”  He truly did think I had been sent 48 men to choose from!

I didn’t tell you about my smart piece of work Friday evening. I was feeling weepy and miserable as hell so I decided to go out for a good meal. I went to the Mesurado and while having a pre-dinner beer picked up an American who is constructing the new harbour at Cap Palmas who paid for my meal. I reminded him, he said, of his niece (an old one, this).  He wondered how anyone as beautiful as me could manage without getting into trouble in Liberia. He considered I could have all the worlds at my feet if I wished… and he thought my husband must be either a fool or a very fine man. (I had assured him I was a respectable married woman and that I was going home straight after dinner.) I munched away at my roast veal, chips and peas and was at home in bed by 9 p.m.!….

I had a fine set-to with your Mr Kidi yesterday.  Just as I was starting lunch, he appeared on the veranda. Good morning, what can I do for you, I said.  I’m going to lie in your hammock, he answered. And there he lay, atoning aloud bits of a book on prayer healing while I ate. When I’d finished I went out and asked again whether he wanted to talk to me.  No, he said, you go away.  This seemed a bit thick and anyway I didn’t want to create a precedent so far as his right to rest in the hammock – awkward when I want to talk to other people. So I said well, the doctor says I must rest after lunch and I would like to rest in the hammock. Go and rest in your bed, he said.  No, I said firmly, I want to rest here.  All this time he is lying curled up in the hammock and I am looking firmly down on him like a Gbaunyeno. [her nickname ‘warrior woman]  So at last he wriggled out and I got firmly in. So then he goes to the other end of the veranda and continued to read aloud, coming over occasionally to ask me to read words he can’t, like “irregularly” and “confession”. So in the end I say, Mr. Kidi, when you want to talk to me you come and see me, but if you want to read, you go home and read your book and let me stay here and read mine. Whew! Anyway, he appeared again in the evening, and we are still good friends!