Friday, November 13, 2009

Theorizing and Activism

As of late, life has entailed reading, writing and more reading and writing. While I am enjoying my studies--especially being able to realize the interdisciplinary nature of so many of the nation's and world's great challenges--I am eager to begin putting into practice that which I have learned. I believe that I will never stop learning, and therefore, I see these final few months as an intense learning opportunity but certainly not the end of the road for knowledge acquisition. Every opportunity provides an opportunity to gain new insight and understanding.

Thus, as I write diligently in order to meet a self-imposed thesis deadline or explore new ideas about how to improve transparency so as to allow the market to create greater incentives for energy conservation, I am reminded that these ideas will only continue to grow following the spring semester. In searching for job opportunities following graduation in May, I hope to be guided by the idea that I must look for a position that allows my creative potential to flourish while working towards empowering people to help themselves. And, of course, I search for a job that will financially allow me to repay the growing amount of student debt that now hangs over my social security number.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Ferocity of Falsehoods

Perhaps the most disheartening phenomenon of my time in Liberia thus far has been the prevalence of dishonesty. I have come to expect that most of the stories I hear on a daily basis contain some element of half-truth. While this proves a bit annoying for me as I try to get the true story, it seems that many Liberians inhibit their own potential and the potential of their fellow citizens to be fully reached largely as a result of this seeming omnipresent societal acceptance of lies.

While this may seem an inappropriate topic to address while I attempt to advocate for Liberians, in reality this culture of half-truths has limited Liberia’s potential. I believe this culture, therefore, limits potential investments, partnerships and development as Liberians and foreigners alike become disenfranchised with the inability to trust one another. Having once been taken aback by the natural beauty and hospitality shown to me by my Liberian friends, I have now begun to question the future of development here. I assume I am not the only one.

Just the other day, my Liberian friends and I were discussing how we had to leave an event separately after we could not locate one of my Liberian friends who we came to the event with. As we reflected upon the incident, the two main actors in the story were telling two completely different versions of the night. One of them was obviously lying, but neither would admit it was him/her. While this lie did not directly harm anyone, it exemplified the stubbornness that the lying creates.

When I first arrived in Monrovia, I was told that the guesthouse where I was staying would have electricity installed the following day. Being that I arrived on a Saturday, I was skeptical of the thought that an electrician would work on a Sunday. In fact, electricity did not get installed for about another month. Again, I did not expect that the electricity would come when promised, but the fact that I was greeted by a great falsehood certainly clouded my normally optimistic attitude.

A Liberian friend claims that a lot of the lying that is done between her denizens and foreigners takes place because the Liberians are often trying to make up for what they see as shortcomings between more affluent foreigners and themselves. Having been told many lies throughout my few weeks here, it is now easier to identify when I think I am being lied to. It seems as though Liberians believe they are good at covering up the truth, but from what I have learned from other foreigners, we are all pretty keen on the lies and have come quite disheartened by their prevalence.

Of course there are exceptions and I do not intend to stereotype all Liberians as liars but the extent to which I have been lied to and have seen friends caught in a web of lies, it seems the majority of Liberians get easily caught up in the mishmash.

My hope is that this seeming normalcy of lying, between family members, among friends and in the workplace, can begin to change. Indeed, I believe that it must if Liberia is to build its capacity to develop. Hopefully at least a few Liberians can begin to think about a means of shifting the norm away from falsehoods and towards the truth, even though, at times, it may hurt a little bit.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Domestic Drama

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On this day, I learned of a disheartening situation that I became embroiled in. My female friend Karpo informed me that her friend was beaten by her husband because he believed she was cheating on him with me.

Apparently, this situation had been developing since I initially met this woman upon my arrival in Liberia. My host brother Joscee is a close friend with Karpo. Karpo is friends with this Minister’s wife—the woman who was allegedly sleeping around.

My initial meeting with this minister’s wife was quite brief. I met Karpo, her sister in-law Cynthia and this woman within my first 48 hours of being in Monrovia. I do not specifically recall our interaction but I believe it was limited to exchanging a few pleasantries and discussing briefly my purpose for being in Liberia.

Subsequent interactions with this woman resumed only last week as I was invited to a graduation party that was hosted by Karpo’s brother and sister in-law. This party was held at the minister’s house since they rent from him and he has a larger yard with which to entertain. I spent my day with Karpo, Joscee and others.

Then, this weekend, I spent an hour or two with Karpo, Cynthia and the minister’s wife. This time we were sitting outside the house chatting. I do not recall having any conversation with the minister’s wife. Anyway, she and her husband were to leave for a party later in the evening. Apparently, after they left, he accused her of cheating with me.

What is strange is that the minister never introduced himself to me and I still do not yet know his name or his wife’s. So the whole situation was perpetuated on gossip and speculation. Apparently, this may have been the very thing that caused the man to believe his concocted version of events. Being that we were never introduced and yet I continued to visit the home, often drinking with his wife and her friends, he came to believe that I must have had ill intentions and was acting on them.

Since this time, I have come to learn that people in the neighborhood are skeptical of spending too much time around this man’s house for the fear of being seen as interested in his wife or being assumed of wanting to take advantage of him/his family. I can only conclude that there are existing problems within the marriage and a foreigner’s presence has provided an impetus for a conflict.

I think the most important lesson I have learned from this drama is that skin color is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used to one’s benefit or demise, even without much force or intent. Here, white skin seems to immediately purport power, money and control. It has become clear that being white can be a security concern in and of itself.

It is disheartening that this jealousy has caused such disrespect. The benefits that we could achieve by working together and building a mutual understanding have been lost before they were ever built.

In addition to the personal discomfort and anger this has caused, it also exemplifies the challenge domestic rights still face in Liberia. When a minister’s wife is hit for allegedly cheating on her husband despite no real evidence to support the claim, and no one is concerned about him having hit her, it is clear that there are some cultural values that are astray. I can only hope that President Sirleaf’s attempts to address these issues are embraced.

And today, as I rode in a taxi to work, I saw a sticker that sums it all up: “Real Men Don’t Abuse Women.”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Musings from Liberia

Random musings which I find interesting (you may disagree)

Mice. While I realize they are probably just as scared of me as I of them, nonetheless, whenever I see one, I nearly scream. Their presence in my Liberian bedroom was initially apparent as I saw their droppings all over the room. Now, they have either multiplied quickly or have become much more brave as they scurry about in the evening as I write and reflect. If only a cat could be found. But that might open a whole other box of worms, almost quite literally, or fleas or other insects that I do not need crawling around in my bed with me at night.

500 ml bags of water. I have never been a big fan of plastic. This aversion stems in large part to the core material in plastics—that of petroleum. I prefer to avoid plastic jugs instead opting for the glass alternative. Taking my own bags to the supermarket is as much anenvironmental statement for me as it is a fight against big oil. Anyway, it seems I will have a difficult time escaping the material here in Liberia as my source of life is packaged in it. It appears West African countries have become big fans of 500ml plastic bags of water which can be easily opened with your teeth in order to allow for a quick quenching of your thirst. I have enjoyed a great many of these bags and have now resigned myself to buying large sacks of them to keep a constant supply of potable water available which seems better than using waterpurification tablets on a continuous basis.

Water leaks. Yes, while plastic bags can be great, as is witnessed when plastic bags have too much weight or get caught on anything sharp, they rip. I am not sure how the bag sprung a leak (though the first paragraph may signal a culprit) but I awoke one morning this week to find a water trail on the floor and my backpack drenched. My original idea of prepping my bag for work the evening before by placing two bags of water on the side seems to be misguided. While my computer survived the inundation (thanks in no small part to the carrying case Jay lent me) my papers had to be air dried at work in order to avoid taking on the mildewy odor that is quite common in this humid climate.

White man. I find it quite obvious that my skin color is white and in fact have never really questioned it. Lest I be in need of reassurance of my skin color, I find that anytime I am out in public, children and adults alike enjoy calling out “White man”, as if it were my name. While I became accustomed to “aramuie” in Morocco—which literally means Roman—I did not usually find children chanting to the extent that they do here. When I first encountered this phenomenon—largely when I was in Lofa County—I smiled and waved to the adoring fans. Now, as this has become more common and a bit annoying at the same time, I have come to ignore the heckles. It seems as though the chanting has grown more intense as I ignore it. Just this morning, a couple children chanted “White man, white man, white man”, for several minutes while I walked down the street. These children were out of eyesight but still seemed to enjoy their moment of viewing a foreigner.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

This year

This year, I will:
-fly my kite, in the company of friends, more often
-star gaze more often
-wake up early, more often, to feel the warmth of the sun rise
-pause, more often, to find solace in the setting of the sun
-slow down to catch more snow flakes on my tongue
-relieve my stress, more often, by baking cake from scratch
-eat more in tune with the seasons
-plant more trees
-further reduce my carbon footprint
-blow more bubbles
-enjoy the serenity of candle light, more often

Friday, August 8, 2008


Today, as I washed my pants I thought about the meaning in them. The clothes I wear here in Morocco will most likely stay here after I leave, given to friends or family as a gift, being that clothes are a luxury that many cannot afford to purchase new in this subsistence-level community. I brought clothes with which I was willing to part, knowing that I could only bring a limited supply and would not spend much of my modest monthly Peace Corps living allowance on them.

My cargo pants, that I was hand washing in a small basin in my red rock, Berber-built house, have now become a pair I wear almost exclusively here in the village. I leave my blue jeans, which were purchased here in Morocco, for use when I am in Ouarzazate and cities beyond. My clothes, in a way, have become a means to mentally place myself in my environment. When in the village I dress and act conservatively, attempting to play my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer. When out and about in a larger city for work or travel, I often wear my cleaner, newer clothes when I can act more western and try to blend in with the tourists.

These olive-oil-stained pair of pants are beginning to thin from the frequent hand washing. But it is this that reminds me of my home here, the frequent sugary-mint tea breaks served with homemade bread and olive oil, the daily hard labor of men and particularly, women--washing, cleaning, preparing the fields, collecting wood for cooking and fodder for livestock, taking care of children, and the list goes on.

These pants, fraying at the ends, remind me that I do still seperate myself when in a larger city, avoiding the instantaneous judgement if I were to wear my worn-out, stained pair of pants. What would I be viewed as? It is crazy to think that after almost two years here I still think in terms of my outer appearance. I have gained a greater love for the inner, but my western influence is so ingrained, 21 years of it, that I still resort back to the superficial. But, I can see that a difference or change has allowed me to recognize more readily that outside appearance is such a small part of a person. I have come to realize that what we carry inside is what will connect me to my hopeful love, one day.

These pants, with buttons that have been sewed back on several times, also help me to remember how much I do enjoy being able to wear clean clothes and experience a little western culture from time to time, something that is a large part of who I am. I enjoy being able to look and feel beautiful.

Additionally, these pants remind me of the book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and how I read it--a book genearlly intended for young girls. A thought that reminds me that as a Volunteer I have had much time to read and reflect. This has lead the way to a library list that I may not normally acquire back home.

Most importantly, these pants, with a zipper that no longer fully zips, help me remember how grateful I am for this experience, for all that I have at home and here in my second home, and for family and friends.

It seems as though daily routines often prove to be great chances for reflection and I am grateful for this life in order to help me to be more understanding, sensitive, caring, and honest. It amazes me that this pair of pants opens up such a torrent of words, but it is a mere reflection of the thoughts gained in the last 20 months.

November 6, 2006

Friday, June 20, 2008

Environmental reading

If you are interested in learning more about the importance of wetlands (as recent flood events can attest to), or learning why local and state policy can be instrumental in stimulating national and international environmental policy, visit, to find out more.

Search for:

Valuable Wasteland


Laboratories of Environmentalism

These are just two of several articles related to current environmental issues we face as a human population. Solutions are sought.