The news about Mamie Manneh, the woman with the monkey/bush meat/ the woman capable of driving her car over her husband’s mistress, the mother of nine children, thirty siblings, the woman whose religion requires her to eat monkey meat for spiritual purposes, the woman who claims to be illiterate and incapable of reading the laws of this land that she has taken refuge in, and therefore takes the risk of smuggling bush/monkey meat that is worth only 780.00, the woman who should be returned to her country as many bloggers say- hey. What a story and what a woman!
I first read the story in the New York Times last year or something, and after that, many people I know forwarded the story to my e-mail. We were in the news. Liberians once more were in some important newspapers, and again, Liberians were being discussed in newspapers across the nation, and again, we were the ugly Liberians, the ones who fought and killed each other for fourteen years, the ones who produced the classic cases of Child Soldiers, the ones whose rebels claimed to have eaten each other- ah yes, here we are again.
Photo of Mamie Menneh’s family holding her photo in court: taken from cnn.com article
I have no take on this story. I am so saddened by the ugly publicity we are again experiencing because of Manneh, so I sat at my computer to wonder about Manneh. I pity her and I dislike her ability to draw this much attention to herself and to all of us who are seeking to undo some of the evils we have suffered. I am mixed in my reaction, but I decided to tackle this story finally, for my thirteen year old who came to me this early morning: her small radio station in this small Pennsylvania town had stopped its important music to talk about the Liberian woman who eats monkey meat and claims that the immigrant community she is part of needs the meat for religious purposes.
I am sorry for Manneh. Can anyone explain to me why she has not been taken to a hospital for treatment yet? I think this is a classic case not basically of cultural clash, but of many other factors. Maybe she is not too well, and after checking her out, then she can be placed under the law. But I could be wrong here. It bothers my mind that the problem Manneh’s case is posing is a larger issue in the new immigrant community of Liberians. Many were brought over to this country during the war and live in communities where they are insulated from America and the real America that is their host country. It brings up the issue of how churches, schools and social groups that serve our immigrant communities need to help our people understand the laws that make this nation such a great place to be. You cannot bribe your way out of jail where you may have been able to in Liberia, and therefore, you do not take your car and run over your husband’s woman or try to, and you do not import meat that is forbidden just because you need the meat for religious reasons without obtaining the right to do so.
But maybe this is just the legal argument. I have not learned everything there is to learn about the Liberian culture, but I do not know any religion at home where monkey meat is needed for religious purposes, but then, again, I could be wrong. I do not know everything. But can someone come up with a better argument?
Since the beginning of time, I understood that one does not bring dry meat, whether antelope, dear, elephant or whatever into this country. I was first here in the 1980s to do graduate studies and then I returned home. At JFK in 1983, I watched as a Nigerian passenger in line before me had his entire load of smoked antelope and other meats dumped in the customs dumpster next to us. He was forbidden as I had been told at the Public Health Office in Monrovia that year that it was forbidden to do so. But Manneh is not as educated as I am, and she is perfectly right about that. She therefore wants to know what the authorities want? What do they want to do with her? But why is the meat forbidden when today is the beginning of deer season here?
Well, there has been all the claims that these animals in Africa cause HIV and other serious diseases even though I never saw anyone in Liberia who contracted HIV from eating smoked bush meat. Because of other Scientific investigations, authorities have forbidden the importation of these animals. It is as simple as that, and anyone who wants to be a law-abiding citizen should understand that one cannot disobey laws that protect all of us. But the cultural clash to me is not in the fact that this woman eats or imports the meat for religious purposes. The cultural clash to me is the lack of understanding that bush meat is as dried as it is because this is the way Africans preserve their bush meat. Villagers who hunt bush meat need to keep it safe from spoiling, and therefore dry it, something that has been done for centuries. But when meat is dry, the authoritiies mark it as bad. That, to me is the cultural clash. But a clash of cultures should not exist in how we obey the law. We should obey the law.
All of the news that Manneh has generated should be able to pay her off, but it will not, I am certain. She has victimized herself and many immigrants by all of this ugly publicity. What I worry about is that the truth will not be told here, the facts will be distorted, and a woman who really needs help according to me will probably be deported. She needs help, I’d say. Who goes and has nine children and leaves them home to drive a car with the intent of running over her husband’s mistress? Who does that and still engages in such a very risky trade?
The question is not to take her to the courts and jail her. She needs help. Someone needs to find out what is going on, and help this woman so she does not lose her children. But if she is given a minor sentence, she should get some help to alleviate her mental problems. Her lawyer, Ms. Rostal says she was diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder in 2006, something that could be the cause of all of the confusion going on.
But let’s not just stop there. Manneh is just one Liberian immigrant who has broken the law in this strange new case. Hers is an unprecedented case, and therefore poses challenges for the system. And yet, in many of our communities (of course, I don’t live in one) Liberians, let me just keep my focus small- go about living as though they are in Liberia. Maybe this is a wake up call for everyone. Maybe parents will encourage their children to go to school, obey the law and stop ignoring the fact that Liberians are going to prison just as fast as they were brought here during the war. There are many communities where other Liberians are seeking and working hard to make a difference in the lives of Liberian children and families, but the mothers and fathers claim they do not know the culture of the US, and therefore do not volunteer in helping out with their own children’s outside activities.
Let’s stop claiming ignorance of a system that has kept us up for almost twenty years of a bloody civil war. Let us help with After school programs, go to PTA, help on the young football team, etc. Let’s all stop trying to be the next President of the Liberian organizations, but realize that we have opportunities here to be better.
This sort of news is the only news that gets told, therefore, let’s help one another stay outside this kind of news. We all know that Liberian men like to run around, but we cannot run over all the men who do that. The law forbids that here and the law forbids this sort of thing even in Liberia. From now on remember, we have a new identity. When we speak up at a grocery store, the new stereotype is for someone to think that we are one of those who must eat monkey meat for religious purposes, and therefore must be importing diseases to this country. But we must fight not to be classified that way just as much as we fight against other stereotypes. My thirteen year old daughter needed an explanation, so I showed her the photo of this other Liberian woman who is not much different from her educated mother of a different profession. Do not judge her for this, I said, everyone is already judging her. Let’s see how we can make a difference with this sort of publicity. Life can be ugly. But life indeed, is beautiful.
This is indeed a sad story not just for Manneh, but for all of us. We must take heed!