Ricochet Member Recommended FeedRecommended by R> Members

Africa Journal: Freedom of Speech

 

Initial Installment of Africa Journal here. This installment is circa 1982, in front of the Executive Mansion, Monrovia, Liberia.

I had decided to go into the military. Probably the Army, because I wanted to be a Green Beret. I was friendly with most of the members of the Embassy’s Marine Security Guard Detachment, and they were eager to train (i.e., smoke the bejeezus out of) a young teen that wanted to go military. I worked out when they worked out. They coached and taught me about physical training. Maybe they showed off a little, too. Hey, they were Devil Dogs working with a wannabe. A Marine mentioned that I should take up running. It was a necessary capability.

So, I started running. No one bothered to tell me, “hey, bro, we’re in Africa, so run before the sun comes up, or after it goes down.” I used to run 3-4 miles starting at 3:00 in the afternoon. In Africa. I’d never heard the phrases heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat stroke. Probably why I didn’t die. My usual route was to run from the Embassy at Mamba Point to my best friend’s house on 10th Street, a little over three miles. We’d goof off, go to the beach, then I’d run back.

My route took me in front of Master Sergeant Doe’s Executive Mansion. I knew from experience one does not run in front of the Executive Mansion. One also does not walk on the same side of the street as the Executive Mansion. As I had a few dozen times before, I slowed to a walk, tried to catch my breath, and took my shirt off to wring it out and let it air out a little before I resumed my run on the far side of the mansion. All of a sudden (“aul ub a sudd-eh’ ” in Liberian English) there were whistles and a big bell ringing and a bunch of soldiers running and yelling and gesticulating.

Ruh-roh. Somebody is in trouble. I looked around for whatever rabble-rouser had set the soldiers off. You know that old saw about if you’re sitting at a poker table and you can’t spot the mark? Yeah, like that.

I was quickly surrounded and the ostensible leader (the soldiers were wearing a mish-mash of uniforms, and I don’t remember seeing any rank displayed by anyone) lit into me right away.

“Ai-yah, my man. You can do this in your country? You can be walking in front ub de White House neh-ked, an show such disrespe’t-O?”

“Yeah, that’s called freedom.”

Here’s a pro tip: When living in or traveling through an authoritarian, militaristic country run by a violent despot and his thuggish minions, do not mouth off to the guys with the guns.

The beat down commenced immediately.

I got pushed and shoved and punched every which way. I covered up, trying to protect my head and face. My bell got rung really well, despite covering, at the same time I took a wicked kick to the shin and I went down. Boots and butt-strokes replaced slaps and punches. I remember having the distant thought “I hope none of this damage is permanent.”

Pro tip: When forced to take a beat down from a group, the fetal position really is the best way to try to minimize the damage. Counter-instinctively, try to keep your palms facing out; less chance of bone bruising or breakage (I didn’t know about the palms at the time, I learned this in a SERE school class called “How to Take a Beat Down”).

A long “eventually” later, they stood me up and shackled–with literal shackles, not handcuffs–my hands behind my back. The leader told me they were going to take me to the jail (de jell) and that my young posterior was going to be violated by “aul de bad men dare”. Well, that statement certainly eliminated the wooziness from a couple of head shots. They began hustling me toward their little guard shack, and I began looking for an opportunity to bolt. I wanted to find another group of soldiers to run toward. Sure, I was going to get shot multiple times, but if there was a cross-fire, maybe some of these goons would get shot, too. Not a good plan, but not a good situation.

Once at the shack, they sent a runner to get the officer in charge who would, they gleefully explained “Tek you to de jell, where aul de bad men dare will be humbugging you wit’ everyt’ing, my man.” Awesome. A short time later, the officer in charge showed up, and I began to foster a faint glimmer of hope.

The night before, I had been carousing on Gurley Street, Monrovia’s red light/bar district. In one of the bars, the El Meson, I’d met a young Liberian army officer. I’d bought him more than a couple of beers and drunkenly strategerized with him on how to get to America to go to university. Honestly, I didn’t even remember his name. I remembered his face, though. He looked as young as I was. That’s the guy who walked through the door.

He grinned at me. “Ai-yah, my man. Wot hap-een?” Then the grin went away and he began dressing down the soldiers. They were sullen rather than abashed. I was definitely going to have to get a new run route. The shackles came off, he walked me outside, and waved a cab down for me. He also staked me the 40 cents fare to get back to the Embassy. I told him I’d pay him back in beers at the El Meson that night.

“Ai, my man, you not be going to bars tonight. You busted-O.”

I learned that day a lesson that I later heard best codified in SERE school: Respect costs you nothing.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s growing community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

Members have made 33 comments.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  1. Profile photo of Trink Reagan

    Boss Mongo: “I hope none of this damage is permanent.”

    I’m on my fainting couch, but cognizant enough to give thanks that there are fellas like you out there defending us from tyrants, despots and their henchman. Thank you for your service.

    • #1
    • March 18, 2017 at 11:03 am
  2. Profile photo of Nymeria Member

    Great post! Something to always keep in mind, when out in a foreign land buying drinks to local officers is a good idea. 😉

    • #2
    • March 18, 2017 at 11:16 am
  3. Profile photo of John H. Member

    It may have been in Monrovia Mon Amour that I read, with regard to a multinational but all-African peacekeeping force in Liberia, that the situation must be very unpleasant if people are actually glad to see Nigerians with guns.

    My only contact with African soldiery was with the Mozambicans in some kind of uniform handling customs & immigration on the Swaziland border. I had some bubblegum; this drew inquiries. The only Portuguese word I knew for chewing gum was chiclete, but this was Bazooka Joe, not Chiclets. Anyway my answer proved satisfactory and my passport was promptly stamped.

    From a Santomean official’s hands I once yanked my passport, this after he requested $50 for a visa I had already got. I’d told him that. He leafed ineffectively through my booklet. At last I decided I needed to show him exactly where the stamp was. This was extremely impertinent of me but there were no repercussions. I think foreigners are actually amazed when you bark at them in their own language.

    • #3
    • March 18, 2017 at 11:19 am
  4. Profile photo of Nymeria Member

    @johnh I agree that foreigners are amazed when you bark back with sufficient fluency. When I visit relatives in Mexico my fluency is always admired. Once at a hotel in Guadalajara I was sharing a room with a female family friend who is unaccustomed to assertiveness. The hotel staff initially denied her request for a second hotel key. I immediately went to the front desk where I diplomatically and assertively requested another key that was immediately granted.

    • #4
    • March 18, 2017 at 11:30 am
  5. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Trink (View Comment):
    I’m on my fainting couch, but cognizant enough to give thanks that there are fellas like you out there defending us from tyrants, despots and their henchman.

    Thanks, Trink. I wasn’t defending much of anything on this day, to include me. I got better at it, though.

    • #5
    • March 18, 2017 at 11:40 am
  6. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    John H. (View Comment):
    It may have been in Monrovia Mon Amour that I read, with regard to a multinational but all-African peacekeeping force in Liberia, that the situation must be very unpleasant if people are actually glad to see Nigerians with guns.

    Yes, training up African soldiers to participate in the African Peacekeeping Initiative was a mission that I worked very hard to stay away from. I knew what the answer would be if I asked “Do we really want to do something, or do we just want to be able to say ‘we’re doing something.'” Big difference.

    • #6
    • March 18, 2017 at 12:05 pm
  7. Profile photo of goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    Boss Mongo: So, I started running. No one bothered to tell me, “hey, bro, we’re in Africa, so run before the sun comes up, or after it goes down.” I used to run 3-4 miles starting at 3:00 in the afternoon.

    I see two egregious faults made by your commanding officer: 1- You should have been given info about the weather and its effects; 2-All the young guys should have been aware of protocols about shirt removal on public streets, etc. It’s plain stupid to turn young guys loose in a foreign country without explaining local customs and dangers. Hopefully, today’s soldiers are briefed thoroughly.

    • #7
    • March 18, 2017 at 12:10 pm
  8. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    John H. (View Comment):
    My only contact with African soldiery was with the Mozambicans in some kind of uniform handling customs & immigration on the Swaziland border.

    Only thing I really know about Mozambique is that is the shooting technique of “two to the chest, one to the head.” The purpose is in case the opponent is wearing plates. It’s been glamorized a bit in popular culture (and slowed down, the tempo should be presspresspausepress).

    Strangely, I hear in Mozambique this technique is called “an Americano.”

    • #8
    • March 18, 2017 at 12:15 pm
  9. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    goldwaterwoman (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo: So, I started running. No one bothered to tell me, “hey, bro, we’re in Africa, so run before the sun comes up, or after it goes down.” I used to run 3-4 miles starting at 3:00 in the afternoon.

    I see two egregious faults made by your commanding officer: 1- You should have been given info about the weather and its effects; 2-All the young guys should have been aware of protocols about shirt removal on public streets, etc. It’s plain stupid to turn young guys loose in a foreign country without explaining local customs and dangers. Hopefully, today’s soldiers are briefed thoroughly.

    Ma’am, at this particular time I was a sophomore in high school, so no CO to give me the gouge. Also, the Regional Security Officers briefs all the Embassy staff dependents on cultural do’s and don’ts. I blew off most of the information (the author of this post at the time this happened was a pretty egregious punk). Too, there’s no taboo about nudity in Liberia.

    These guys just wanted to strut, to employ the power they had over others. If I’d kept my mouth shut–except to issue a seemingly heartfelt apology–I’d’ve probably just gotten scuffed up a little. But noooo, I had to shoot off my mouth.

    Lesson learned.

    • #9
    • March 18, 2017 at 12:24 pm
  10. Profile photo of Trink Reagan

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    (the author of this post at the time this happened was a pretty egregious punk). Too, there’s no taboo about nudity in Liberia.

    These guys just wanted to strut, to employ the power they had over others. If I’d kept my mouth shut–except to issue a seemingly heartfelt apology–I’d’ve probably just gotten scuffed up a little

    Which is why you became the warrior that you are. Wouldn’t have changed a hair on your pugnacious head. Huh-uh. We need intrepid men.

    • #10
    • March 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm
  11. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Trink (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    (the author of this post at the time this happened was a pretty egregious punk). Too, there’s no taboo about nudity in Liberia.

    These guys just wanted to strut, to employ the power they had over others. If I’d kept my mouth shut–except to issue a seemingly heartfelt apology–I’d’ve probably just gotten scuffed up a little

    Which is why you became the warrior that you are. Wouldn’t have changed a hair on your pugnacious head. Huh-uh. We need intrepid men.

    Thank you. It took me a while to become an authentic human being. Still working on becoming a good human being.

    • #11
    • March 18, 2017 at 9:05 pm
  12. Profile photo of Susan Quinn Contributor

    You must have been a cat in your last life, Boss. Geez, you’re lucky to be alive! Outstanding writing–I went back and forth between cringing and laughing!

    • #12
    • March 19, 2017 at 7:57 am
  13. Profile photo of Mike LaRoche Thatcher

    Incredible. If this was just the beginning, you must have had quite a life.

    • #13
    • March 19, 2017 at 2:06 pm
  14. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Mike LaRoche (View Comment):
    Incredible. If this was just the beginning, you must have had quite a life.

    I have no complaints whatsoever, Mike. ‘Course, both ankles are shot, both knees are damaged, one enough so that sometimes I have to do that weird hop/skip/jump thing going down stairs with the leg out to the side. One shoulder’s just a mess (“Raise both arms above your head.” “No can do, Doc”). About every tooth in my head is either cracked, chipped, or split.

    Wouldn’t change a thing. Wouldn’t get rid of all that if it meant going back to being the punk kid that thought sassing Doe’s thugs was a good idea.

    • #14
    • March 19, 2017 at 2:13 pm
  15. Profile photo of Front Seat Cat Member

    Trink (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo: “I hope none of this damage is permanent.”

    I’m on my fainting couch, but cognizant enough to give thanks that there are fellas like you out there defending us from tyrants, despots and their henchman. Thank you for your service.

    I need a fainting couch – why were our troops in Liberia with a thug government? Have things changed there? I am deeply sorry you suffered there – I hope the military (if you are still in) is treating you well, if out – the Vets support. This is crazy!! And I hate to hear it. You are protecting our country from what there? I gather you are in FL. I hope well and your family too. – too many thugs in the world running countries – I have a feeling Trump will be challenged soon – that buffoon from N. Korea as an example……

    • #15
    • March 19, 2017 at 3:35 pm
  16. Profile photo of Steve C. Member

    Once upon a time, I was at the school house and a board of officers wanted to know if my desk mate, who happened to be an allied officer from an African country, should be awarded a graduation certificate. In spite of his poor performance. In my opinion, the guy was on vacation the whole time and could have done better if he had applied himself.

    My recommendation was to pass him. It wouldn’t really cost anything and besides, some day in the future he might be the chief of their army or even the president of the country.

    • #16
    • March 19, 2017 at 4:10 pm
  17. Profile photo of Mole-eye Member

    Boss, your catalog of injuries reminds me of the C&W song that has the refrain, “but there ain’t nothin’ wrong with the radio!” I admire your nonchalant acceptance and thank you for every creak or groan you acquired serving our country.

    God, Africa. What a mess.

    • #17
    • March 19, 2017 at 4:47 pm
  18. Profile photo of Seawriter Member

    goldwaterwoman (View Comment):
    I see two egregious faults made by your commanding officer: 1- You should have been given info about the weather and its effects; 2-All the young guys should have been aware of protocols about shirt removal on public streets, etc. It’s plain stupid to turn young guys loose in a foreign country without explaining local customs and dangers. Hopefully, today’s soldiers are briefed thoroughly.

    He was his commanding officer at the time. At the time he was a young teen who wanted to go into the military, not a young teen in the military. He had not even gotten to the stage where “the young recruit is haughty” or he was “the ‘arf-made recruity.”

    At that point he was a wannabe. The difference between Boss Mongo and me is he became what he wanted to be, while I contented myself to write about it.

    Seawriter

    • #18
    • March 19, 2017 at 5:11 pm
  19. Profile photo of Richard Easton Member

    Boss man, you should write a book about your adventures. You’re a great writer.

    • #19
    • March 19, 2017 at 6:01 pm
  20. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Richard Easton (View Comment):
    Boss man, you should write a book about your adventures. You’re a great writer.

    Thanks, Richard.

    • #20
    • March 19, 2017 at 6:15 pm
  21. Profile photo of OmegaPaladin Coolidge

    We need to get you some cyborg / $6 Million Man stuff, Boss Mongo. They don’t make enough of you to spare!

    • #21
    • March 19, 2017 at 6:35 pm
  22. Profile photo of Pugshot Member

    Great second installment – fascinating! Keep ’em coming’! Your stories are a strong reminder of what a sedate life I’ve lived – and I’m pretty happy it’s been that way!

    • #22
    • March 19, 2017 at 7:10 pm
  23. Profile photo of Nanda Panjandrum Thatcher

    Whoa, Boss! TBTG you’re still here! (I won’t brag about my Ford-Dole battery-case sticker getting egged on college campus anymore – not audacious at all!) PROPS!

    • #23
    • March 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm
  24. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):
    I need a fainting couch – why were our troops in Liberia with a thug government? Have things changed there? I am deeply sorry you suffered there – I hope the military (if you are still in) is treating you well, if out – the Vets support. This is crazy!! And I hate to hear it. You are protecting our country from what there? I gather you are in FL. I hope well and your family too. – too many thugs in the world running countries –

    Dearest FSC,

    I wasn’t in the military, or in the foreign service when this episode occurred. I was just a school kid, gladly diving into shenanigans, as they occurred.

    • #24
    • March 19, 2017 at 7:16 pm
  25. Profile photo of drlorentz Member

    John H. (View Comment):

    I think foreigners are actually amazed when you bark at them in their own language.

    Definitely. I was taking a taxi back to the hotel after a night of heavy moderate drinking on the Gran Canaria. The driver wanted to charge me considerably more than the meter showed. I told him, in Spanish, that if he felt that way he could drive to the police station and sort it out. Instead, he decided the meter was correct after all. Coincidentally, that we about the same time (plus or minus a day) that saw the worst air disaster ever on the neighboring island of Tenerife. Good times.

    • #25
    • March 19, 2017 at 9:05 pm
  26. Profile photo of JLock Member

    Ugh, all this stuff is too damn good. Since you get mad at my effusive praise — I’ll show my approval with booing.

    BOOOOOOO!!!

    • #26
    • March 19, 2017 at 9:19 pm
  27. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    JLock (View Comment):
    Ugh, all this stuff is too damn good. Since you get mad at my effusive praise — I’ll show my approval with booing.

    BOOOOOOO!!!

    J-Lo, you care <sniffle> you really care…

    • #27
    • March 19, 2017 at 10:51 pm
  28. Profile photo of ST Coolidge
    ST

    Good story and well written. Reminds me of the time…

    • #28
    • March 20, 2017 at 6:40 am
  29. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    ST (View Comment):
    Good story and well written. Reminds me of the time…

    There I was, no schnitt…

    • #29
    • March 20, 2017 at 8:34 am
  30. Profile photo of Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo Post author

    Steve C. (View Comment):
    Once upon a time, I was at the school house and a board of officers wanted to know if my desk mate, who happened to be an allied officer from an African country, should be awarded a graduation certificate. In spite of his poor performance. In my opinion, the guy was on vacation the whole time and could have done better if he had applied himself.

    My recommendation was to pass him. It wouldn’t really cost anything and besides, some day in the future he might be the chief of their army or even the president of the country.

    Steve, also, a lot of foreign officers will face harsh sanctions–up to and including execution–if they don’t pass the course.

    • #30
    • March 20, 2017 at 8:36 am
  1. 1
  2. 2