Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africas Fragile Edge

Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africas Fragile Edge

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by William D. Powers

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"A haunting account of one mans determination and the struggles of a people living in a deeply troubled country."-Booklist

When William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker in 1999, he was given the mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." It wasnt long before Powers saw how many obstacles lay in the way,


"A haunting account of one mans determination and the struggles of a people living in a deeply troubled country."-Booklist

When William Powers went to Liberia as a fresh-faced aid worker in 1999, he was given the mandate to "fight poverty and save the rainforest." It wasnt long before Powers saw how many obstacles lay in the way, discovering first-hand how Liberia has become a "black hole in the international system"-poor, environmentally looted, scarred by violence, and barely governed. Blue Clay People is an absorbing blend of humor, compassion, and rigorous moral questioning, arguing convincingly that the fate of endangered places such as Liberia must matter to all of us.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When Powers, fresh out of a Ph.D. program in international relations, arrived in Liberia in 1999, sent by an international aid agency "to fight poverty and save the rainforest," he faced a daunting task. The second-poorest country in the world, Liberia had just begun to emerge from seven years of civil war and was "environmentally looted, violence scarred, and barely governed." Even major cities lacked electricity, running water and postal service; garbage lay uncollected in the streets, schoolteachers were barely literate and the economy worked largely on bribes. The government of Charles Taylor enriched itself through illicit trade in conflict diamonds, protected timber and weapons, while terrorist militias acted at whim. "It's all just so brutal," Powers confided to his girlfriend, almost ready to quit after his first year. Yet he stayed on, and this eloquent memoir shows why he found this troubled country so difficult to leave. He writes of stunning beaches and rivers, of majestic forests-home to the largest concentration of mammals in the world-threatened by rapacious logging companies, and of resilient people who teach him that it is possible to live happily with "enough." He sketches scenes of transcendent beauty and grotesque violence, and writes with disarming honesty about his struggle to maintain his ideals when the right course of action is far from clear: is it ethical to take an African lover, when the relationship will inevitably be based on financial support? Should he buy endangered zebra duiker meat from a poor family that desperately needs the money? Does his work do good, or inadvertent harm? In the end, he decides, it may not be possible to change the world, but we must continue to act as if we can. Agent, William Clark. (Jan.) Forecast: While more limited in scope than David Rieff's A Bed for the Night, Blue Clay People makes similar points about struggles of humanitarian work and should engage readers of Rieff's volume. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Relief-worker Powers recalls trying to do good on the international aid front in Liberia. In 1999, the Catholic Relief Services sent the author to Liberia to direct their multimillion-dollar portfolio of agricultural, health, and food distribution programs. Charles Taylor had been in power for two years, and the country had made no gains: it was impoverished, politically corrupt, wildly violent, and environmentally racked. Powers had hoped to use sustainable development to confront the links between poverty and the destruction of the environment, but every way he turned, his ideals got the cold shoulder, whether from smug, elitist expatriates; incompetent, sometimes conniving aid agencies; or parasitic government officials. Painting with a fine brush, the author shows Liberia going sub-Third World: no electricity, no piped water, no mail or telephone. The country was living on its own waste while a few top government officials got rich by selling off the great trees of the rainforest, and any number of militias financed their murderous activities by trafficking in diamonds. While Powers ably points out all the obvious bad guys, he also draws a bead on the lack of horizontal relationships between aid givers and recipients. Taking a dead-end, patron-client approach, aid projects are driven simply by the need to spend funds and meet quotas without any sense of long-term economic and social development, he argues. As a local environmentalist noted, "It's the current manifestation of the colonial impulse to control and dominate." Powers gives the story a human dimension, demonstrating how some small-scale projects do work by building an infrastructure from the ground up, and he has his ownhuman-scale story, too, twined through the mayhem of everyday relief efforts. But his love story founders as open rebellion takes the country to its knees-again. A hard-bitten, unclouded, and intense portrait of a desperate place, demanding as it unfolds that readers accept some of Liberia's pain as their own. Agent: William Clark/William Clark Associates

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Bloomsbury USA
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Meet the Author

William Powers directed food distribution, agriculture, and education programs for the largest non-governmental relief group in Liberia. His commentaries on international affairs have appeared in the New York Times and on National Public Radio.

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4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Nice work! Fine piece of writing. I love memoirs set in Africa. If you like this book i recommend The Jack Bank.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey welcome to pandora.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
My wife and I visited Liberia while our son was working there. We might have been the only 'tourists' in the war- and corruption-devestated West African nation! Bill showed us much of the country, from the teeming market places of Monrovia to the lush forests and dusty towns far from the capitol. It was sad to see the poverty: delapidated housing, little food, no postal service, no electricity (other than private generators), no piped water, no sanitation system. At the same time, the scores of people we met were warm and filled with hope. This was despite the fact that they had recently undergone the trauma of a protracted and bloodly civil war and now lived under the tyranical heel of President Charles Taylor. While idealistic, Bill was also realistic. Although he saw many of his development projects fail, he adapted, tried new things, got the people involved in rebuilding their own society. Despite the overwhelming odds, he never lost hope. Blue Clay People is a look at the role of foreign aid work in Liberia, and one assumes its insights are applicable to other countries as well. Most of all, the book is the engaging memoir of a young American's two years in Africa.