Today I moved out of my NGOish hotel situated too far away from real life and into a hotel in the midst of the downtown bustle, just around the corner from where I lived in 1997-98. During fieldwork back then this hotel was really rundown, but now it has had a good brush-up. This is the same hotel where Ryszard Kapuscinski stayed when he visited Liberia in the very beginning of the war. In a chapter of The Shadow of the Sun he in detail describes the swarms of prostitutes in the hotel restaurant and the enormous size of the cockroaches in his room. The chapter is certainly not one of his better texts. It is not an analysis of the situation on the ground at the very important time of his visit but most of the chapter is a rather shallow historical writing of the conflict. I have come to view the descriptions of this hotel as an outcome of the fear that he experienced in Monrovia during those few days he was here. Fear is no longer in the air and Liberians are now going on with their lives.
Back in 97-98 it happened that I popped by the dark dingy restaurant at this hotel. I in particular remember my first visit. Standing at the counter I was approached by a rather shabby man in his early sixties. He asked me if I could buy him a beer. I agreed. Liberians would certainly call this white man: “po white man”. He told me he came from Greece, but had spent most of his life in Africa, mainly in Burundi. He asked me what I was doing here and I told him that I was a PhD student in social anthropology. He asked me what anthropologists were doing and I gave him a somewhat vague answer about trying to understand social structures. He then looked at me and said with great certainty “there are no social structures in Africa, take that from a man that has killed more Africans than you can ever imagine”. I was shocked, couldn’t respond in any way, but in dismay left the bar. Later on I saw him with some people working for the European Union, I guess they had bought him a beer too, but judged him differently, as he within soon had a company up and running doing road reconstruction for sweet EU money.
On the airplane down here I read a Norwegian book about two Norwegian mercenaries (or adventurers as some would have it) that were caught in Eastern DRC after allegedly murdering their driver. They have been sentenced to death, but are still imprisoned in Kisangani. Norwegian media and public have been obsessed with the case, and created a virtual mill of speculations of the events around this – speculating whether they are guilty or not and also airing an obvious critique of the legal system in DRC. I bought Morten Strøksnes book Ett mord i Kongo (A murder in the Congo) with the hope of learning something more about it. The author spent a lot of time in Kisangani and surroundings, had long discussions with the two Norwegians in prison, ran into a lot of problems with authorities himself, exposes quite some prejudice of his own, but sadly enough does not give any good answers to what really happened. The picture shown in international media of one of them cleaning off the driver’s blood from the front seat of their jeep posing with a big smile is still very shocking to me. Unfortunately after reading the book I know little more than before, but can only conclude that no matter Norwegian or Greek there are just too many depraved white people in Africa.