Friday, October 30, 2009


I'll be headed back to Jordan and Palestine tomorrow for a quick week of consultations related to the potential launch of a Connecting Classrooms initiative in the Middle East. Hopefully, there will soon be at least three independent versions of this program providing us with invaluable comparative data about the effectiveness of different program models and coordination protocols.

It's tough to keep people motivated to participate in something that is extra-curricular, technically complicated and thematically challenging; so I'm excited to have a few different program configurations and priorities in the mix.

This last month or so has been full of strategizing around various medium and long-term goals. Unfortunately, for this blog, I can't get into detail about any of the impending projects until some paperwork is in order and everything's locked down. It will be nice to have the freedom to talk about my day-to-day in another couple weeks.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Mamba Point, a while ago

Two photos of me taken by blogger, Myles Estey, for an article he wrote about surfing in Liberia for the Global Post. These shots give a sense of the notoriously filthy point break that is, perhaps, half a mile away. Feels like it hasn't broken in ages.

Back to Robertsport tomorrow, after an uncharachteristically long absence. Should be fun to reconnect with the surfers, the sewing cooperative, the campsite and the community.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to get your employers lemongrass in ten minutes . . .

"Just google image it." Of course, how else can we explain to our assistant what Lemon Grass is? "I know it! We call it tea leaf." Liberian's have a very straightforward way of naming things; but I didn't think you could get more descriptive than "Lemon Grass." You can though, if you name it for its use.

That's also how you can return to the house, ten minutes after you left, bearing an uprooted tuft of lemongrass: plead for medicine to combat your malaria. I had no idea that our shy and scrupulous assistant had so much guile. He was beaming with pride as he reported telling his cousin something like, "I'm feeling too bad. The malaria is troubling me. I need this tea leaf fast."

The tea leaf is now replanted in a small hand-made clay pot. If our assistant actually does contract Malaria (for the umpteenth time this calendar year), we'll make sure that he takes something with a better track record than lemongrass tea.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Local Considerations

1) I have never before given myself a painful and comprehensive upperbody sunburn by sitting in the shade. Somehow, yesterday, the shade under my poolside umbrella was just cooking with UV rays and I feel like I just stepped off the plane. Even now when I walked onto the balcony to procrastinate, I realized how businesslike the sun has become without the rainy season humidity to buffer its impact.

2) Every Liberian high school student who I know--which is all of the good surfers in this country and my personal assistant--paints a dismal picture of the education available to low-rollers. Yes, of course, this is to be expected; but what surprises me is how little school one's school fees actually purchase. At least once a week school seems to be out of session for some lazy reason or other. Teachers are writing tests. Students are reviewing for tests. It is the first week of school. It is raining very hard. Your backpack is the wrong color. You are not wearing the new school badge, which will not be available for a week. Your teacher says so.

Even when school does take place it is typically for four and a half hours. So, if you are 25 and in eleventh grade, instead of finding that your country will help you to use your maturity and age to get through perhaps two grades at once, you end up taking about 40% of a standard school year.

It's hard to push a "Stay at School" agenda in these circumstances--even though this has been a large part of the philosophy underpinning my recent online work. I'm getting very near the point of offering legitimate service industry jobs to high school students because I believe that they'll learn more and benefit more by accepting them--in place of their "studies."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Water shots

Water shots are pretty exciting. I have to admit that I nearly shot my board into the videographer's face on a wave that I completely misread. Of course, they duck under water and probably, usually, escape that sort of contact; but it can be intimidating to dodge these tiny smiling heads and their metal boxes.

For pretty much seven days of two different swells, I kept chasing this little barrel and its cousin on the inside. For this effort I was punished. There is so much more to learn.

Thanks again to Sean Brody for all the photographs. Fun to see a cameraman so stoked about his job!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My First Beach Cleanup

Somehow, I reached the overcooked age of thirty without ever having cleaned a beach--unless, at some point, in grade school on a compulsory school trip I was prodded along the sand by a fascist, which is possible. But, I don't think that happened. I think, at the precise moment that I turned thirty, it could be said that I had left more trash on beaches, however accidentally (things blow away so quickly!), than I had removed from them.

In one painfully sunny stretch of mid afternoon--captured for posterity by a film crew and a photographer--I completely reversed this statistic and discovered that cleaning beaches is not a burdensome, back-pain inducing chore that robs one of the opportunity to surf empty waves (see photo below of RCW sponsored surfers suffering the distracting spectacle of shipwrecks reeling by unmolested). Instead, on every walk back from a surf session since the beach cleanup, I have gathered as much as I can carry and "chunked it"--to use the Liberian English term.

It's incredible and worrying how quickly trash re-accumulates. The bag I am holding below probably weighs fifty or sixty pounds. In the three weeks between the last cleanup and the one depicted here, well over fifteen bags of this garbage washed up on a stretch of beach that is less than a kilometer long. If we had been patient enough to pick through all the shredded, soft plastic that results from the pinches of oil, kerosene, salt, and everything else that are sold to inhabitants of the poverty line for a few pennies, we could have filled another fifteen--and if we rounded the corner towards town and the armada of fishing boats, ugh, I can't even estimate.

Even the day after the cleanup, a bag or more worth of new large filth pieces was on our small stretch of stewarded beach. Thinking about those giant swirling masses of ocean waste is super depressing. How many bags would that be and then where would we put them?

All photographs courtesy of Sean Brody.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Return of the Image:

Here are a few shots of me surfing Cotton Trees two weeks ago. All photographs are courtesy of Sean Brody.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Aside from its impact on my blogging . . .

The last two weeks were an excellent experiment in combining most of the things that I need and enjoy into an optimized, customized lifestyle and it turns out that I can easily accomplish my computer-based work while surfing great waves for several hours a day and advancing the projects of Robertsport Community Works. Granted, living in a large, stilted, well-furnished safari tent, perched with a commanding view of Liberia's marquis point break will probably not be a constant option; but, it may be a possibility for a few more months--especially since Elie has been making herself so welcome in the hotel's kitchen.

We'd love for this arrangement to continue; but there are management issues and politics to negotiate and everyone at the table has strong feelings; so it's a bit of a longshot. Regardless, it's now apparent that we should be living in Roberstport, that living in Robertsport doesn't detract from my professional life and that we have a lot to offer the tourist industry there.

Whenever there are legitimate photographers around, I don't take photographs. So, my camera has been bagged for a couple of weeks; but, supposedly, I'll soon be in possession of hundreds of high quality, professionally shot images of Roberstport, which I hope to share, if I'm given permission.