A new Liberian police officer

We (that is photographer Martin Waalboer http://www.martinwaalboer.nl) and me had found a new Monrovia taxi driver. Nicolas. Tall-ish figure, forever clad in simple jeans and t-shirt. Exuberant character – if he agreed with what you said he’d show you a broad and slightly mischievous grin, and shout from behind the wheel: ‘I love this man!!!’ If confronted with a problem, he’d be on his feet and swaying about, like a merry-go-round slightly out of kilter, looking askance at the person or the thing that has caused him this problem. An extremely likeable loose canon – that’s the best way to describe him.

Nicolas was swaying about when confronted by a police officer. We had just been to the Freeport of Monrovia and were coming from the northern part of Monrovia into the centre. The two are separated by the Montserrado River and the bridge that spans this river has been immortalised by the late Chris Hondros’ picture of the fighter jumping up as he made his way across.

So, coming off that bridge, we were stopped. Traffic police. Would Nicolas be able to produce his driver’s and taxi license, the latter as proof that he had paid his taxes? Pay! Your! Taxes! It is the main mantra of this government. Help Mama Liberia develop and Pay! Your! Taxes!

Nicolas could not provide his papers. ‘Park the car,’ he was ordered. Now ordinarily, Liberian police officers bark orders and expect to be bribed. But this was a new officer. He came to us and apologized for the inconvenience ‘on behalf of the Liberian government’ but the rules said that if someone was driving around without papers, he was in breach of the law. Fair enough.

By now, a small crowd had gathered around the problem. Nicolas was by now awkwardly swivelling on his feet, pleading with the officer, who was not to be persuaded. Then another fellow marched into the scene and demanded to know what was happening. He would then inform his superiors, whoever they were. When told about Nicolas’ problem, he volunteered to take Nic’s car and drive us to our destination. ‘That would be ethically wrong,’ said the officer. We were beginning to like this man.

The to-ing and fro-ing went on for a while and by then we had decided that we would walk the short distance to our resting place and pay Nicolas when he’d solved his problem. The car would stay here, that much was sure and no matter how much we liked our increasingly agitated loose canon, we had other things to do than listening to an argument that was going nowhere. Mr Volunteer Driver then offered to take us in another car but since he had been disruptive and had not bothered to show an ID, we politely declined.

So on our way we went, leaving Nicolas to argue his case and the officer to stand his ground. No sooner had we turned the first corner or there they were. One grinning driver and the same earnest officer sitting next to him. ‘He has just shown me his papers,’ he said. ‘The man is a credible citizen of Liberia.’ We thanked him profusely, for his service but of course basically for his impeccable conduct. Liberia needs loads of people like him.

Into the car. Nicolas cannot stop grinning. ‘They were in my dashboard! I forgot!!!’ Christ, man, you put us through all this because your left hand has no idea about what your right hand is doing? ‘Yeah, man, they were there all the time! I forgot!’ Fine, Nic, just make sure you remember were you out your papers next time you take us on a ride. ‘So you have another job for me?’ Maybe, you loveable idiot, you, but not just now.

He took us to our destination and drove into the court. Reversed, and went out and only then did we see the slogan on the back of his car. Every car has one.

‘No food for lazy man.’

Or

‘Allah is the greatest.’

Or

‘Stomach takes no holiday.’

This one had us rolling about laughing because it summed Nicolas up better than this entire story. On the back of his car was written, in big red letters: God Knows Why.

photo: Martin Waalboer

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2 Responses to “A new Liberian police officer”

  1. Chris Says:

    My first visit to your blog. The first story I read. I like it! Hope to be able to visit “your” exciting part of the world again one day.

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