Wednesday, January 25, 2012

season 2, episode 1

today was my first day at my new job.  it is just a temporary post at the moment as the details of contracts and salaries and technicalities are sorted out, but it didn't stop me from being nervous.

in the end, there was no reason to worry and it was difficult to slip back into the system that i left a few years ago.  the workload will be heavy and the obstacles in front of the team, rather substantial.  but if i am up for a challenge, it is there for the taking.

i can tell that the challenges will include: desks not lined up in any logical order in the office (yes, i am serious), a coworker who likes to listen to music at just audible levels, and utter lack of infrastructure in what is colloquially referred to as a 'resource poor' working environment.

in many ways, it is a great opportunity and a position that i can shape into my own and define as i go.  but it will also involve a lot of ambiguity and a certain degree of risk.  a bit like being the underdog and it could go either way, really.

i am happy for the chance to get involved in some potentially interesting project development and the flexibility that comes when you do not have a long term contract, which means i can still take my upcoming birthday trip to ghana, head home for a visit in march, and decide my own working hours.

maybe my independent spirit and no-nonsense manner of thinking about the development game will be pleased with this arrangement.  or maybe my love for organisation, planning, and preparations will be driven mad with the lack of clarity or clearly defined boundaries and roles.

only time will tell in this instance.  like many before and certainly many more to come.

Monday, January 23, 2012

eat what you kill

i know i am going to sound like i’m whining, but getting up at 6am with an alarm clock on a monday morning is tough!  and driving (well, being a passenger) for 6 hours of rural roads in liberia is also a challenge.  and i am going to blame the latter on my nap takeover when i finally got home this evening...

the purpose for the early start and travelling was that i had a job interview to work in a company’s corporate social responsibility/community investment department.  well, to essentially BE the csr department.  while there were moments where i was tempted, i know the role is not for me.

after discussions today, i confirmed what i already suspected – that i didn’t move all the way to liberia to work 10 hours a day 6 days a week while living away from my boyfriend (i still think that ‘partner’ sounds so lame).  although the worksite is not geographically that far away from monrovia, the road conditions make it a bit of a trek and the company’s rather restrictive policies would make it difficult to get back to the capital city with any regularity.

but it was still so interesting to see a new part of the country with the driver they sent to collect me and to see how a foreign company operates and attempts to have a lasting positive impact on the communities where they operate.  there were a few red flags in their programming (they directly support local orphanages), but it seemed like it would be a challenging and rewarding position, but it just won’t be the one for me.

which is ok as i have another job lined up as of last week and it will allow me to ease back into the world of international development with the organisation i used to work for in kenya.  and with the mentality of ‘eat what you kill’ in fund raising and project development, it might also be challenging and rewarding, but for very different reasons.

i have committed to something of a trial period and i am banking on previous healthy working relationships and familiarity with the organisation and the content to lend itself to success.  i am not so sure that i am ready to give up my weekday workouts, leisurely morning coffees, and flexible schedule.  but it could all be worthwhile simply to have regular fast internet at the office!

above all, in the big, bad world of international development, having work experience to show for my time in liberia will be beneficial and it will aid in making the big life decisions that are on the horizon.  but if we decide to stay in monrovia, i am getting a kitten!  and he is orange!  and he was just a week old when i met him and hadn't yet opened his eyes!

Friday, January 20, 2012


(january 13, 2012)

i am openly critical of people who visit a country on holiday and return home needing to do something about the poverty that they likely witnessed from their safari mobile or while on their wander through a capital city or rural area.

i don’t doubt people’s motives or believe that they don’t mean well in deciding to take up donations of used clothing to ship overseas or want to start their own foundation to put girls through school, but the reality is that what is witnessed on a two week vacation is not going to be easily fixed by starting a new ngo or from someone naively adopting a community or individual as their personal cause.

however, these same values have been challenged recently.  first, when i was put on the spot to explain why stopping our safari mobile on the side of the road in rural tanzania to give away our football to a stranger was a bad idea hidden by the good hearts and intentions of family members.  trying to explain that by picking out a child from the side of the road to give away a prized football could cause them and others to expect or hope that future vehicles travelling by with foreign faces will also deposit footballs.  and the last thing that is needed is more children hanging around roads waiting for gifts to come.  it would also make more sense to have the football donated to a school that could ensure it was available to more children to play with.  and to give the ball to the teacher in front of the students to prevent it from going missing or being taken out of the school.

luckily, we came up with a creative solution that didn’t make me look like a total asshole and included giving the ball away to a local tourism company that we were travelling with that has developed a sport and education programme in a village near their safari lodge that we had recently stayed at.  but it was interesting to see that as soon as there was effort involved in finding the office, a shop that sold a pump and other items to include with the ball, and dropping it all off, the interest in ‘doing good’ decreased, probably because the ‘problem’ was now no longer in front of our eyes.

another challenge has come whenever i walk out of my house to head into town.  my street is optimistically called 3rd street, but it is really a dirt alleyway without a street sign and you wouldn’t be blamed if you drove right by it on the main street (which happens rather regularly with delivery drivers…).  on the same street where i live in relative luxury is a house that was clearly bombed and/or burned during the civil wars.  and now a few families are living as squatters in the property without electricity or running water.

on the other side of my house is a similar beachfront lot with a house that was once undoubtedly a gem on the coastline, but now is a skeleton of what it once was.  and again, it is occupied by a family with a newborn that sometimes wakes me up in the early morning hours, our houses are so close to one another. 

and i can appreciate how those same people who come to a place like liberia and are overcome with the poverty and want to do something to remedy such an ethical wrong would also look at the disparity that exists right on my street.  and part of me just wants to give the kids that i see, having their daily baths or playing in their backyard that is cordoned off with pieces of scrap metal, whatever change i have in my pocket because i know a few liberian dollars will go much further for them than for me.

but, i also realize that just as giving away a football on the side of the road, my few liberian dollars are not going to overcome the systemic challenges facing a country and its people still rebuilding after devastating civil wars.  and because someone before me has clearly given something away on my street, i am regularly asked for ‘a chocolate’ or ‘a dollar’ or ‘a pen’ by the kids.

instead, i do what i can and purchase local produce and support the small enterprises in my neighbourhood and the greater city of monrovia.  in fact, i am now looking for a good tailor to make something out of all the fabric i have collected!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

would like to go home now

yesterday, i had one of those days where i wanted to have my own car, the yellowpages to find someone to repair my leaking cooking gas hose, and a taste of winter to cool me down from the tropical heat.

the key to getting over that hump of what i suppose could be described by some as culture shock, was to have a serious in-the-bed nap and go for a run once the heat of the day had passed.

part of my frustration comes from the fact that although i have a few small projects that i am working on (including writing up a research report that is taking me far too long, but i am enjoying), i am beginning to get slightly stir crazy and need to have something that is mine, that i can accomplish, and that will show that i did something during my time in liberia.  it is a bit of a challenge in a city like monrovia, where you often have to do a little digging to figure out how to do more than go to the regular expat haunts and hang out by the pool or beach and the easiest way to go about this would be to find a short term consultancy so that i can have evidence of living in liberia on my cv (because we all know a person's value is based entirely on their cv in some circles...).

but then i am reminded that soon enough, i will have a job and i will too busy to sip my coffee into the morning hours while watching episodes of tv shows i usually don't have time for or reading book after book sitting poolside.  ups and downs, pros and cons, are always there, their content just shifts with time and location.