Posted by: sean | July 31, 2008

On the Subject of UN Peacekeepers and Talents Discovered

One of the things that I’ve been struck by in Liberia is the overt nationalism of the UN Peacekeepers. I used to think that once a soldier put on a blue UN Peacekeeper helmet the transformation would be akin to that of Bob, the hapless deli employee who at night dons makeup, becomes the uninhibited Chiquita, and serenades drunk business men at the bar – in other words, complete and utter. No longer would the soldiers be tools of the nation state, but rather faceless cogs of the UN, ready to go anywhere and stay just long enough to be fired upon before being withdrawn. Sadly, I was wrong. Turns out that giving a person a blue helmet just amplifies their nationalism.

  • In Voinjama, the Pakistani battalion have erected a statue to Ali Jinnah.
  • In Zwedru, the Chinese have decked out the entrance to their barracks to resemble the Chinese countryside.
  • In Harper, the Bangladeshis have leveled and flooded entire parts of town to remind them of the flat, typhoon-ravaged landscape of their beloved homeland.


So maybe the last one isn’t true, but still, parts of the country do feel like they have been invaded by nations hidden poorly under blue helmets. When UNMIL (The United Nations Mission in Liberia) withdraws in a few years, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Pakistanis, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Ethiopians, Indians, and Senegalese will launch Operation Helmet Hair, whipping off their blue helmets to reveal their true nationalistic intentions…and, quite possibly, their mullets. The country will be partitioned among the various occupying forces. Perhaps the Chinese will build a wall.

However, Operation Helmet Hair is some time off, so for now I just enjoy the various cultural insights afforded by the nationalistic UN enclaves.

Sometimes this leads to discovering painful self-truths. In Voinjama, or Little Pakistan, I played badminton with the officers on a makeshift court. I learned that no matter how much I try, I will never be as good as a chubby Pakistani officer.

What my badminton match with an average Pakistani officer might very well have looked like

What my badminton match with an average Pakistani officer might very well have looked like

Sometimes this leads to discovering hidden talents. In Grand Gedeh, or Little Ethiopia, I discovered that the nature of my dance moves, for years described variously as ‘pathetic’ and ‘very pathetic’, actually qualifies me for on-the-spot Ethiopian citizenship. I dance the stuff of Ethiopian gold. Gold! You see, Ethiopians (and yes, I’m ready to pass judgment on their nation’s entire dancing ability based on one encounter with a bunch of drunk Ethiopian officers) are horrible dancers.

Want to learn how to dance Ethiopian? Ok, go grab a full-body mirror; this will better help you appreciate the dashing figure you are about to cut. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t perfect these moves, lord knows that it’s taken me a lifetime of horrible dancing to get this good. Alright. Now, spread your feet about three feet apart, bend the knees slightly. Good. Take your arms and hold them straight out, like a zombie. Now shake your arms up and down slightly, yet quickly (about 4-5 inches movement) so that it looks like your arms are spasming. Excellent! Now hop towards the mirror keeping your legs rigid and your feet apart. And there you are! You, my friend, are dancing Ethiopian. Feel free to jump and spin in the air to change direction, but make sure that you are always hopping around, arms spasming.

Needless to say, I love Ethiopian dancing. At one point an officer yelled in my ear, “Dancing is universal, my friend!” With moves like that, I couldn’t agree more.

When Operation Helmet Hair commences and the Chinese erect their wall, I hope to be stuck in the Ethiopian sector instead of the Pakistani sector. Better to be Lord of the Dance than putting the ‘bad’ in badminton.


  1. Hell, I could have told you that you stink at Badminton! Maybe the key to success is playing Badminton while dancing ‘Ethiopian’….it couldn’t be any worse and maybe your opponent will have some sympathy for you or lose his concentration while he is laughing. 😉

  2. It sounds like the Ethiopians might enjoy Los Locos.

  3. Ethiopian dancing sounds remarkably like a dance I invented in high school: spastic dancing. Wait. Did we have a conversation about that before? When I didn’t realize that the word ‘spastic’ referred to “a person suffering from spastic paralysis”? I believe so.

  4. Spasming, you say? Are you too cool to do your Ethiopian dance at the Monrovia parties?

    I wish I had found this before… it’s much more funny and less nerdy that I had expected :).

  5. Wait a minute, you’re telling me a whole country has copied my lifelong dancing moves and I am getting paid no royalties. Call in the lawyers, somebody must pay!!!!!!!

  6. Chiquita is a MAN!???

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