Real News for Real People

Finding a current issue of any magazine never was easy during my years in Liberia. In the 1970s, finding even an aging copy of The New Yorker was nearly impossible.

Living in the interior, I did my shopping  in open air markets and Lebanese stores that specialized in canned mackerel, Russian toilet paper, the occasional Heineken, and Chinese tomato paste. In those places, browsing the newsstand wasn’t an option.

Occasionally, I cadged a copy from expatriates with connections to the embassies or international agencies in Monrovia. Now and then, a Peace Corps volunteer would  have an issue to share, and there always was the possibility someone would step off PanAm 1 onto the Roberts Field tarmac with a copy tucked under one arm.

A friend from the States once mailed two issues of the magazine to me. They arrived three months after publication, but it hardly mattered. A story is a story, after all, and even essays and columns can develop a strange, timeless quality when read so utterly out of context.

As the magazines were passed from hand to hand, everyone found something to enjoy, even as they rolled their eyes over what passed for pressing issues in America. 

The cartoons were favorites, of course.  A running joke among our group was that, when we no longer understood New Yorker cartoons, it was time to head home to re-acquaint ourselves with American culture. Broad Street, Monrovia, was our world, but it wasn’t Main Street, USA, and an occasional nudge from The New Yorker served as a useful reminder of the world to which we would return.

The New Yorker is available to me now in a variety of formats. Still, there are days when it seems less a familiar magazine than a postcard from a very strange country. Occasionally, I look at a cover or cartoon and think, “What?”  When that happens, I clip the cartoon or tear off the cover and tuck it away, just to see what a few months in the files will do for it.

In 2009, it puzzled me that a Halloween theme had been chosen for an early November cover, since the day for ghosts and goblins had passed. Then, I got the joke. The focus wasn’t so much on the trick-or-treating kids at the opened door as it was on their parents, half-hidden in darkness, their faces glowing in the spooky, artificial light of their e-readers.

“Unmasked” ~ by Chris Ware

Today, I probably would associate the glow with iPads as much as with Kindles, given that the variety of iGadgets available to us has multiplied at a dizzying rate and patterns of usage have changed.

Each new arrival is accompanied by a marketing campaign designed to convince us that the product is critical to full participation in our brave new world. Without this newer phone, they tell us — without greater connectivity, or flashier apps — we’re lost: doomed, condemned to wander forever through the unutterable monotony and boredom of a less-than-fully-connected life.

For good or for ill, we seem to have reversed the old phrase about necessity being the mother of invention, preferring to believe that invention has become the mother of necessity. In that respect, the gadget-makers have our number. They invent, and we accede to the necessity of their invention. Dollars in hand, we invest not only those dollars, but also ourselves in the newest, transformative technology.

And yet, a certain ambiguity persists. While the upraised faces of the children on The New Yorker cover reflect light from the opened doors of welcoming  strangers, their multi-tasking parents are absorbed not in the pleasure and enjoyment of their children”s experience, but in the pursuit of their own goals.

Like a restaurant table filled with people intent on texting, emailing and browsing rather than engaging in conversation, the parents are both “there” and “not there.” Physically present, yet strangely absent, they represent what may be one of the greatest failures of technology. Marketed as a means for bringing people together, it too often creates an eerie and unnerving isolation among people who would, in fact, prefer to be left to their own devices.


Certainly, smart phones aren’t evil. Enjoying the convenience of a Kindle isn’t immoral, and texting isn’t a tool of the devil.  Technology is as much a blessing as a curse, and it enables us to achieve what would have been unimaginable even a decade ago. I suspect few would choose to go back.

On the other hand, it’s worth considering that all of our gadgets, all our fancy programs and synched-up devices, are nothing more than tools. Since the first days of homo habilis, the tool-user has had to learn and re-learn a critical lesson: we are the ones in control.  We determine how tools will be used, and we determine their value for our lives.

Necessity and remarkable creativity have bred wonderful inventions, to be sure.  But not every invention is wonderful, and even the most wonderful among them may not be adequate for the achievement of certain goals.

Back in Monrovia, Alfred Sirleaf has been proving that point for years. He’s often been called an analog blogger, but he is, in fact, a one-man newsroom: writer, editor, publisher, and promoter, all rolled into one.

After learning to read and write in an up-country mission school run by Americans, Liberia’s first civil war sent him back to Monrovia in 1990. Eventually, he returned to school and graduated with a high school diploma in 2000. He was 27 years old.

At the time, Sirleaf had no particular resources, but he grew tired of sitting around, and wanted to help his country, still embroiled in conflict. He decided to commit himself to providing information to a city plagued by the consequences of war: high prices, displaced refugees, no dependable power grid, and low literacy rates.

In a fit of good sense, he chose sticks of chalk and a public blackboard as the tools of his trade.

Each day he searched through a half-dozen newspapers, made a few calls from his cell phone, and fired up a generator for television access if fuel was available. Selecting what he judged to be the most important stories of the day, he posted the news at his kiosk, combining words for the literate and symbols for those unable to read. (President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, widely known as “The Iron Lady,” is represented by a chrome hubcap.)

For those who can read, Mr. Sirleaf writes up his news reports with care, always thinking of his audience.

Inside his tiny newsroom he composes the day’s headlines on his blackboard, a meticulous process that can take a couple of hours. He carefully draws lines on the board with light-colored chalk to ensure that the words are written in a straight line. He uses a musty, tattered dictionary to check his spelling. In place of photographs he uses old campaign posters and other free handouts.
“I try to write it really clear and simple so people can read it far away, even if they are driving by.  I like to write the way people talk so they can understand it well. You got to reach the common man.”

Over the years, news stories about petrol prices, updates on UN peacekeeping forces, and pleas to the government for responsibility and promise-keeping all have appeared on his blackboard in crisp, readable text. At one point, the forces of Charles Taylor destroyed his kiosk, but Sirleaf was undeterred. Referring to nearly everyone in his battered city, he said,

“Those who don’t have opportunity to buy newspaper, go on the Internet, who can’t afford to buy generator to buy TV – I do all the dirty work for them, and I just give them exactly what they want.”
The “Daily Talk” News Center ~ Click to enlarge and read the rest of the front page, including the kola nut caution.

After the second civil war ended, his display included a “scorecard” showing the number of kerosene “jack-o-lanterns” still in use in the country relative to the number of electric lights promised by the government.  Today, Sirleaf is keeping score in a new war, as Ebola terrifies the country. He’s also educating his fellow citizens, and raising up memories for me with this short reminder:

Bitter kola not a cure for Ebola virus, says Health Minister

I remember the astringent taste of the kola nut, and I certainly remember the Minister of Health, Dr. Walter Gwenigale. He happened to be Medical Director of Phebe Hospital when I worked there, and he was one of the few doctors who remained in Liberia during the worst of the civil war, helping to keep the hospital open. I can’t think of anyone better suited to guide the country through an Ebola crisis. [Note: After more reading tonight, I’m a little concerned about decisions being made by the Liberian Ministry of Health. It’s also interesting to see the mixed reaction from African leaders about the decision to go ahead with the African Summit in Washington.]

It’s a strange thing, this world we live in. While I sit here in comfort, reading reports on the death of Patrick Sawyer, the panic in Lofa County, and rumors sweeping the Liberian health care community, I’m better informed than many people walking the streets of Monrovia. In this world, Alfred Sirleaf’s importance is immeasurable. An observation he made some years ago, shortly after the end of the wars, still holds true today.

 “Daily Talk’s objective is that everybody should absorb the news. Because when a few people out there make decisions on behalf of the masses that do not go down with them, we are all going to be victims.”

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86 thoughts on “Real News for Real People

    1. I very much enjoyed my time in Liberia, Ruth. I worked there prior to the coup that put Samuel Doe in power, Then, I slipped back for a six week visit just before the first civil war began. The commitment of so many Liberians and expats through such terrible trials has been something to behold.


  1. Two short comments:

    1. I agree with the statement, “invention has become the mother of necessity”. In a consumer society corporations plan for their products to become obsolete as soon as they hit the shelves. There are new products in the pipeline to sell, and we “feel” that we “need” to buy those new products. Buy, buy, buy and buy some more. “Buy till you drop” goes the saying.

    I still use an HP desktop computer with an XP operating system and my desktop is ten years old. It works fine, and I can care less what the marketing guys in Madison Avenue are saying about new computers. As long as it works, I’ll use it.

    2. In our country a large percentage of people will not read to learn about what is going on. They just sit in front of the “stupid box” at the end of the day and believe everything the anchor is saying. Newspapers, books, magazine articles are left practically untouched. If and when we buy them is to learn who won the boxing match last night, or soccer match, or the photograph of a hot naked woman on the first or last page.

    Technology doesn’t guarantee that we will have a literate society hungry to learn. TV has made life too easy for us, therefore we are losing out thinking skills and habits.

    A gorgeous Miss Panama was once asked during a Miss Universe Pageant who was Confucius. (This is a true story). She answered matter-of-factly: “Confucius is the man who invented confusion.” And that was that, while the live audience roared in laughter.

    1. Omar, your last little story made me laugh. It happens everywhere. A local radio host sometimes has his producer go to a local mall and ask questions about the issue of the day.They play it straight, and don’t try to make fools of the people, but the level of confusion and/or ignorance can be breathtaking.

      Of course, we have a local Congressional representative who can be fairly breathtaking in her ignorance, so there’s that.

      I remember a time when “watching the news” was a highlight of the day. There still is news available, but it does require some effort — not only to take time to listen, but also to know the source. And our local tv and radio “news” has been reduced to a formula that some people laughingly describe as, “Two murders, one corrupt official, and a drug bust.” When ratings week rolls around, you can count on a few prostitutes thrown in, for good measure.

      Just as an aside, I’m not sure tv is whollly to blame for a loss of critical thinking skills, at least in this country. There are indications the educational system itself prefers good test-takers to thinkers.

      As for planned obsolescence — it’s taken over everywhere. When I was a kid, it seemed to be most noticeable in fashion and cars. Everyone was anxious to see what the new season would bring. Today, I suppose it’s most obvious in technology, where the gap between what we need and what the developers tell us we need can be a wide one.

      I have a phone that does A and B perfectly well. A friend got a new phone that also does C, D, E, F, and G — if only she could figure out how to make it do G. She says, “You gotta get one!” I say, if I ever need a phone for C, D, E, and F (or even G), I’ll think about it.


  2. Pan Am … How I remember those days. While in elementary school growing up in HK, the Pan Am tote bag is our choice of school bags. For some reasons, that’s the cool school bags I’d so longed for. But just a few years down the road, the airline was no more. That’s why your photo brings back some fond childhood memories to me. I like your own reminiscence too. That must be quite an experience, Linda, your time living in Africa.

    Now to another issue, just to let you know, I’m typing my comment on my iPad Mini right now, which has become my favourite reading ‘device’ nowadays. It’s the perfect size, lightweight, and with the matte film I’d put on the screen, non-glare reading. I admit, this has become my newspad too instead of newspaper. And where do I get my news stories? Twitter. I follow several major newspapers, TV stations, mags, yes, including The New Yorker. Yes, the times they are a-changing.

    1. I think it’s hard for people to understand the aura of romance that once surrounded PanAm, Arti. Some of their amenities, like upper-deck dining, were as far from today’s realities as can be. Their “WorldPort” at JFK was fabulous, and they offered nonstop service from JFK to Monrovia when I first went there. By the time I went back for a visit, I ended up choosing other carriers, and came back through London.

      The weekly Friday flight into Monrovia was surrounded by gossip an legend, that’s for sure. That was the flight that brought the champagne and strawberries for the embassy’s weekend parties. Oh, the stories that I heard! Most never were verified, but that didn’t make them any less entertaining.

      As you know, I’m happy for all the choices we have today in terms of technology. My biggest issue is that too many people don’t stop to think about the larger implications of their use of the devices and services. It wasn’t appropriate to include here, but I did think about Sherry Turkle and her book, “Alone Together”, while I was writing this. I never did read the book itself, only excerpts, but I think I’m going to put it on my list.

      One thing did occur to me, which made me smile. You know what the biggest difference between Twitter and Alfred Sirleaf is? Alfred gets to use more than 140 characters!


      1. You see, the news I got on Twitter usually are links leading me to the actual articles. So 140 is only a bait to tens of thousands more. I found myself reading more and jumping to more varied ideas and topics than just holding my local newspaper in my hands. I think that’s the benefit of online reading.

        1. Oh, I never expected you would have stopped with just tweets. And you’re right – the timeline there is a good way to keep up with news that otherwise wouldn’t be available. That certainly has been true with the Ebola outbreak.

          I did happen today to see this piece on James Cameron and his view of social media. It’s interesting, to say the least.

  3. Linda, I enjoyed reading about your life experiences. Fascinating as you recall all that you have seen and done.

    I think the man that is putting the news on the chalkboard is someone to be admired and complimented.

    The scare of ebola is frightening. I pray that the virus is contained in Africa and that scientists are working on a vaccine and better treatment methods that saves lives.

    Very nice post and thought provoking as well. I’m afraid that all the new fangled technology has become too much. I’m like one of the commenters above who is still using an older computer. I too have an old HP vista and hope I can add more g- bytes as I’ve already done in the past.

    I don’t have an iphone or ipad. But my phone works just fine and I can send texts to my kiddos as that seems to be their preferred mode of communication. :-)


    1. Ebola’s been around for a while, Yvonne, although this is the worst outbreak we know of. It’s not the only hemorrhagic fever that’s endemic in West Africa. Just months before I arrived in Liberia, a well-known nurse named Esther Bacon died of Lassa fever. The book that’s been written about her may overdo it a bit when it comes to saintliness. On the other hand, everyone who knew her agreed that she was, as we like to say today, “something else.” This much is true — anyone who transformed medicine as she did, and stayed thirty years in the Liberian bush, deserves recognition.

      It did give me pause when I learned that fruit bats are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus. Fruit bats are an example of what’s known as “bush meat,” and I’ve eaten them at least twice that I know of. As so often happens, social and cultural factors (including burial practices) are going to be a critical part of stopping the spread of disease.

      I’m with you re: the older computer and phone. Mine do everything I ask them to. They don’t malfunction (well, except for that one hard drive crash) and I’m used to them. I can’t figure out why I should buy something new that has capability I don’t need. I guess that’s why I ended up with well over 350,000 miles on my last Toyota. I’ll probably drive this computer and my phone until the wheels fall off them, too.


    1. I think it’s around, montucky, but it takes some digging. Clearly, the mainstream media, the alternative media, the way-out-there-on-the-fringe media, and the advertising-disguised-as-news media all have their biases and their agendae. Our job’s to be smart enough to separate the news from the pandering.

      I did have to laugh when Houston’s “premiere news station” began advertising itself with a new tagline: “The home of breaking information…”

      It’s hard to believe, but it’s real.


  4. A very timely post for me because I have had it on my mind to ask you about Liberia and its current crisis. It’s good to know you have confidence in the Minister of Health.

    Your post is also timely because I have been debating (with myself) about whether I should buy a Kindle. It would make my e-reading a little easier, but is not strictly necessary. I do try not to rush into the newest and latest…just because it’s there. I have a more Alfred Sirleaf approach to life; making do with what’s available.

    1. The one thing I fear, Gallivanta, is that politics will infect the decision-making processes surrounding this epidemic. It’s a particular danger in this country. There always are turf wars. There are grants to be gotten, funding to be fought over, and, always, the question of who gets to be in charge.

      In Liberia, politics plays a role as well, but there are other impediments to containment: suspicion of Western medicine, traditional burial practices, belief in witchcraft as a cause of disease, and so on. I’ve seen it suggested there are sensitivities about the involvement of international agencies — even of the U.S. — because of events connected to the civil war.

      Even worse is this report in the Liberian Observer. Maybe Dr. Gweniale doesn’t have as firm a hand on the controls as I’d imagined. Hard to say.

      I have heard from some of my friends that a Kindle is especially appealing when the weight of a book, or smaller font, becomes an issue. With a Kindle, you can enlarge the font — good for older eyes! And some books are just awkward to hold. For airline passengers, I suspect they’re a godsend, since you can load them up and not have to carry a bag filled with paperbacks.

      I easily can imagine there being value in having both.But my favorite books always will be lined up on my shelf, ready at hand.


  5. What a remarkable person. It takes an enormous amount of work and dedication to put the DTalk up. Good for him.

    I also remember looking forward to the daily news at 5:30. They were respected and didn’t sensationalize anything. Today, the news is not something reported. It is a product. The 24/7 networks are in business to fashion stories so they sell. Marketing them is critical to their success. When I find sources that report news well, they are refreshing.

    You mentioned phones. We still have a land line. We also have two very basic and cheap cell phones that do texts and voice only. Not smart. Lately, the land line calls are >95% junk from recorded messages. “This is Rachel from card services…..” etc. We seldom even answer. The display tells us it is not anyone we know as evidenced by the area codes.

    The Rachel calls in particular morphed into area codes closer to home. A few weeks ago I noticed the call was from a number almost identical to our home number. It was off by 4 on the final digit. Last week it rang. I looked to see my name and our correct home number on the display. It was as if I was calling myself. I wondered what the heck. What do I want? I answered. It was Rachel again using my own number to call me. That was truly spooky.

    We are getting rid of the land line and going to a basic smart cell phone. It will allow us travel conveniences of checking weather and hotel, etc. Maybe Rachel will have trouble finding us.

    1. You’re right about work and dedication. Apart from having his Daily Talk kiosk torn apart by Charles Taylor’s forces and landing in jail for a time, there’s that two hours a day, every day, spent printing out the news on his chalkboard. That’s no air conditioned office he’s working in.

      It would be fascinating to look over his shoulder for a few days, watching the editorial process. I suspect his choice of stories has as much to do with the talk on the street and the suggestions in his little white box as any kind of “objective” criteria. Clearly, he knows his readers.

      And what you say about news-as-product is exactly right. I’ve been reading a lot of the Ebola stories, comparing their headlines with the content of the articles. Most of them are what’s called “click-bait.” They’re meant to pull readers in by playing on their fears. It’s the last thing that’s needed in a situation like this.

      Rachel calls you, too? My goodness. That woman does get around. I finally got rid of my land line. As far as I could tell, it was good for only two things. After a hurricane, I could call my own phone, and if the answering machine picked up, I knew the electricity was on. Beyond that, it was a terrific way to find my cell phone when I misplaced it. Dial the number, trace the ring. If I didn’t hear it ring, I’d know it was in the car or on a boat.

      Now, I just have to hunt.


  6. My favorite phrase in this post is “left to their own devices.” When that phrase first came into being, there were no portable, hand-held devices like iPhones and iPads. But how apt that phrase is now.

    I am just now reading The End of Absence, which is about how we fill our “absence” time with endless skimming and searching on the internet and social media. How we so rarely open up to void times, pauses in our days. The author points out that some of us older folks are in a unique place in history — the generation who knows first-hand what life was like without the internet and with it. Soon the world will be populated only with people born into an internet-crazed world.

    1. Rosemary, I’d never thought of the new double meaning of “left to their own devices” until I was writing this. It’s always such fun to slip something like that in. I’m glad you liked it.

      I was pleased to learn of Harris’s book, too. It’s another that’s been placed on my to-be-read list. From the reviews I’ve seen, we’re in great agreement on a number of things. It will be interesting to explore his thoughts in more depth.

      As for that movement toward a world populated only by the internet-crazed and massively connected, I’m not so sure. It’s true that when Facebook went down last Friday there were people calling 911 in desperation, and the last time Twitter went down, Facebookers were up in arms over the dislocation it caused.

      But, life being what it is, there’s no assurance that our little digital sandbox will remain undisturbed. Anything from steep taxation to censorship to cyber-wars to the Mother of All EMPs is possible.

      Do I expect it tomorrow? Not really. But I’m making hard copies of my favorite recipes and keeping my favorite books close at hand. Now and then, I think about that tower that rose up in a place called Babel, and remember Ozymandias, too. Who knows what absences we may face in the future?


  7. “Now and then, a Peace Corps volunteer would have an issue to share…” In the 1970s no one would have mistaken the meaning of that statement, but many people today would think the Peace Corps volunteers you mentioned were telling you their problems.

    1. That didn’t even cross my mind, Steve. It’s another great example of the way language changes. On the other hand, I did a little snooping around, exploring the issue of “issues.” and discovered an interesting magazine shop in the Oakland area. It’s name? “Issues.”

      Speaking of issues to share, I had an amusing experience while responding to Yvonne’s comment, above. I mentioned Lassa, another of the hemorrhagic fevers. How did I first spell it in my response? Why, “hemmorhagic,” of course. But I gave myself a gold star for spotting that “double trouble”!


  8. By the way, have you ever written a post about the history of Liberia? I’ll bet many of your readers would be interested to learn why the country is named Liberia, and why its capital is Monrovia.

    1. I’ve written very little about Liberia, and nothing at all about its history as a nation. I might back into some of that through personal stories, since textbook versions of the nation’s founding don’t begin to capture the complexities of the country’s history, or the mutual opportunism that marked the US/Liberian relationship.

      It’s possible I never would have returned to Liberia on my own a second time, after Samuel K. Doe’s coup, had I known beforehand what I learned once I got into the country. A crash course that might have been titled, “How to Retrieve Your Passport Through Effective Bribes” saved me a couple of times. The details might be worth the telling.

  9. Only the inbox is loading, but I look forward to reading this when I am in town.

    the ebola headlines are frightening, and I think of you and the time you spent there.

    I’d best send this (via email inbox) before the computer balks, rolls over and plays burro!


    1. When I think of the easy time I had in Liberia, it amazes me, Z. I arrived just after Lassa fever had done serious damage, but before a coup. Then, I returned after the coup, in the simmering but relatively peaceful period before the first civil war. Now, with a second civil war ended, there is Ebola.

      There are many, many Liberians in the US with family still living in Monrovia, or other areas of the country. It surely must be frightening for them. The disease can be controlled, but the amount of education that needs to be done, and done quickly, is astounding. That’s why people like Mr. Sirleaf are so important.


      1. Not being online much, I am unable to do much reading or research, but this ebola could escalate into something very scary.

        I remember reading the hot zone when it first came out, and wow, what an eye opener.

        Goodness I miss not knowing what’s happening. Hopefully the atlantic will not be breeding monster hurricanes in the next few months.


        1. The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston has a Level Four biocontainment lab. Every now and then I think about it and get nervous, but that’s probably because I read a book by a doctor who works there, called “The Blood Notes of Peter Mallow.” Anyone who combines a hurricane, a deadly virus and a crazy dude, and does it well, has a pretty good story on his hands.

          What’s funny is that the author, Paul Boor, is as mild-mannered as you ever will meet. I just hope his tale doesn’t come true.

          Things still are quiet on the storm front. “They” say it’s going to be a quiet year, but we’ll see. No monsters are prowling right now. Stay well, and enjoy your “cyber-quiet”!


  10. What a great experience you had in Liberia, and I’m sure a wonderful relationship with so many people there. It takes real dedication to immerse oneself in another culture and become part of it. I did the same with the Native American culture in the Southwest. It is enriching to say the least.

    I don’t have the newest in tech gadgets either. A couple of computers, a phone that does A to B. The writer William Zinsser at the age of 90 said he didn’t need those things either, and it was good enough for me.

    My late son-in-law was a tech guy as are a couple members of my family and can’t wait to get whatever is new. He used to call me at the first sign of a new invention and say “Kate, you’ve gotta get this one, it’s great!. I did that for years until they all became too complicated. A Kindle will never take the place of a paper book.

    1. I don’t know how you found it, Kayti, but it seems to me that learning how to move into another culture is just that — a skill that has to be learned. It’s one reason I’m glad I returned to Liberia for that six-week visit. The years I spent there were productive, but I didn’t begin to truly appreciate the country until it was time to leave.
      Sometimes, I think I’d like to go back and work there again. But this isn’t the time.

      William Zinsser is one of my all-time favorites. I don’t read many books about “how to write,” but I have three of his, including the estimable “On Writing Well.” I’ve never tired of it, after many, many readings.

      You’ll have to ask your techies if they’ve gotten a pair of the latest in computer-aided navigation: shoes that tell you how to get to your destination. I’m not sure I like the idea for myself any more than I like the thought of being in a place filled with Google-glass wearers, but even knowing about such things makes me feel incredibly geeky.


    1. I’m not quite sure what you mean, Bob, but I’m greatly in favor of informed and courageous decision-making. Better a bad decision than constant dithering. If a decision turns out to be wrong? Re-decide.

  11. The New Yorker. Sometimes I go to my doctor’s office with the sole purpose to catch up on the New Yorkers on the waiting room tables.The appointment is secondary. I tried to subscribe on my Kindle, but the experience is not at all the same. Too much searching for the cartoons. I would read the articles, but the randomness of the humor just wasn’t as appealing.

    Like Yvonne, I do enjoy your posts for their worldliness and erudition. I couldn’t string together that many words in 20 posts. :-)

    1. You know, Steve, there’s a tiny thread of a “connection” between you and Alfred Sirleaf. Charles Taylor, the despicable dictator who tore down the Daily Talk and threw Sirleaf into jail received his degree in economics from Bentley College in Waltham, Massachusetts, in 1977. If you’ve never seen the documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” it’s worth a look, just to get a sense of Taylor. You can see an extended trailer here.

      I wonder if anyone’s ever done a study of waiting room reading material? It would be interesting. You could control for geographical location, medical specialty (do orthopedists slant more heavily toward skiing and golf magazines? pediatricians toward “The Weekly Reader”?), and average income. I know this — I’d be glad to find The New Yorker in a waiting room. Most of the time, I land in places that provide some old “Car & Driver” and the occasional “People Magazine.”

      Sometimes I worry that I’m stringing too many words together. I try to keep myself under control, and use just enough to keep things interesting. In any event, I’m glad you enjoy the posts!


      1. I think whatever length you go to is fine with me. That would be an interesting study. I am not sure who brings the magazines to the office. They usually have the address labels removed, so there is no telling the source of donation, but probably not the doctors as the address for them is well-known.

  12. I’ve been wondering if you were going to write about Liberia, now that it’s been in the news on a regular basis. You did, and well!

    Kudos to Mr. Sirleaf for spotting a need and filling it. Such were the diehard journalists of yesteryear. Today, sadly, most “news” that we receive is ground up, strained, seasoned, and massaged so it will make the news-doers look good and be palatable for the masses, who have become accustomed to *not* thinking but blindly swallowing. Do I sound like a jaded former journalist?!?

    And since I’m in the tech field now, I can vouch for what you speak — that the industry is expanding by leaps and bounds every millisecond, while Madison Avenue relentlessly seeks to convince consumers they MUST have the latest and greatest doo-dad. Perhaps we all need to back away from the treadmill every so often, just to show ’em who’s boss!

    1. Debbie, I like your description of the news as “ground up, strained, it will be palatable.” But there are worse things going on all the time, especially so with Ebola.

      Here’s an example. Yesterday, the “Mirror” led with this headline: “Ebola Terror at Gatwick as Passenger Collapses and Dies Getting Off Sierra Leone Flight.” Of course the immediate assumption is going to be that the passenger was in the throes of the disease, and everyone around was in danger.

      Not so. As the article makes clear, no tests had been carried out to confirm the presence of Ebola. The article was using a string of loosely connected facts — and a lot of lurid diagrams — to say nothing more than, “A woman from Sierra Leone flew into London, got sick and died, and they’re running some tests to be sure she doesn’t have Ebola.”

      Today, there was an update. This time, the headline was, “Ebola scare at Gatwick: 39 hours of panic after passenger collapses and dies getting off Sierra Leone flight.

      They printed the same danged story, with this inserted toward the end: “Around 11pm on Sunday, the Department of Health said that tests for the deadly Ebola virus on the woman who died at Gatwick had proved negative.”

      This sort of thing infuriates me. It’s fear-mongering of the worst sort, and, at least in my book, journalistic malpractice. But that’s the way it goes. Put the lie/untruth/shaded truth in the headline, and the retraction on page 16.


  13. I like the way you pulled together your experiences in the 1970s in Liberia with current events there. My favorite part of the post is the part about Mr. Sirleaf and his blackboard with the news. To be a successful writer it’s vital to consider your audience–and he’s obviously found an excellent way to meet this audience’s needs.

    1. Sheryl, it occurred to me during the past week that one big difference between the U.S. and Liberia is that the rate of change in our two counties is vastly different.

      When I look at the changes in my own life over the past decade because of technology, it’s a little breathtaking. On the other hand, many of the problems they’re having in Liberia as they try to confront this latest Ebola outbreak are the same problems health workers faced forty years ago: low literacy, traditional beliefs, suspicion of foreigners, and so on.

      Beyond that, since most of the country isn’t checking their Tiwtter feed or Facebook page every ten minutes, most of the education about how to deal with Ebola is going to have to be done person-to-person. That’s tough, when people are afraid of one another as potential carriers of a deadly disease.

      I have a suspicion that, for many people, just seeing Mr. Sirleaf at the Daily Talk, going about his business, is as reassuring as anything he puts on his blackboard.


  14. Neither of the linked videos allowed sound for me but I get the idea.
    I remember folks in Bong County paying close attention to small transistor radios for any information. At that time the only broadcast would have been from NPFL but the locals informed me about Canadian soldiers in Beledweyne messing up – I thought my country was squeaky clean and all our overseas personnel had some special attitude and I argued with the guys that insisted I was guilty of such behaviour as well.
    These many years later I still wonder.
    Best of luck to both Sirleafs!

    1. Pure motives and perfect actions are pretty rare, Ken — maybe even impossible. Even in the best of circumstances, there can be a lot to sort out, and Liberia never offered the best of circumstances, especially during the civil wars.

      Of course, there’s always that nagging question: is anyone listening? In the middle of an article about Samuel Doe’s coup, I was faintly amused to be reminded just how surprised our Embassy was by those events. There were about 500 people on the Embassy staff at the time. Presumably, a good number of them were intelligence specialists of one sort or another. Too bad they didn’t have an Alfred Sirleaf to give them the news — or at least a few people willing to travel father than Tubman farm and ask a few questions.

      There’s a great interview with Julius Walker here. The section on Liberia begins on page 65. It’s interesting stuff. I had forgotten a story I heard while I was there, and that Walker repeats in the interview. You might have heard it, too.

      “I asked an indigenous Liberian friend why Tubman’s memory was bright in people’s minds and Tolbert’s so dark…Tolbert had just been assassinated. He said, “Well, Julius, I’ll explain it this way. Liberians feel that out of every dollar Tubman stole he kept a dime and gave 90 cents back. But of every dollar Tolbert stole, he kept 90 cents and gave a dime back.”


      1. Thanks for the link. It is quite a read.
        I have tried to figure out what I saw and did there and the best summation might be a frequent Liberian response to the greeting: “How are you doing today?”
        “I’m tryin’.”
        Walker was trying too.
        I assume you have read Anthony Daniels’ “Monrovia Mon Amour
        – A Visit To Liberia”.
        Maybe I can now read that book again.

        1. I always thought “I’m trying” was pure genius. Apart from a general greeting, it functioned well as a response to a request for this or that. Six hours or six months later, you always could say, “I tried.”

          I have read Daniels’ book, and I’ve found a good bit more online than there used to be. I recently discovered that a mysterious “something” I brought home with me is a Kru or Grebo ritual object. It makes a great doorstop, since it’s quite heavy. I’m glad now that I brought back as much as I did. A good bit has gone to museums already, and the rest will once I’m no longer around.

  15. Fascinating. Amazing dedication. I’m curious how Sirleaf survives. Charles Taylor’s soldiers could just have easily shot him. And how does me make a living?

    I love my iPhone, and loved my mac book until I poured water on the keyboard. I’m limping along…and what I need for now still works. But sometimes I’d like to move to the mountains where there is no cell coverage…but we were on top of a 6,000 foot mountain this weekend…and we had cell coverage. Go figure.

    1. The details about Sirleaf during the war are pretty sketchy. He was jailed after being critical of Taylor. Then, somehow, he was released, and I’ve read that he went into exile for a time. He came back and rebuilt Daily Talk just before the 2005 election of Ellen Sirleaf Johnson as President (no relation). Now, he keeps it going with occasional gifts of cash and pre-paid cell cards. I suspect he keeps himself going the same way.

      I’m sorry about that water on the keyboard business. It seems to be a fairly common occurence. i’ve often got a cup of coffee sitting around when I’m working, but I try to keep it as far away as possible.

      If you want a spot with no cell coverage, there are a few places I can recommend out in west Texas. Sometimes I create a cell free zone for myself right here at home, by turning it off. :-)


  16. How extraordinary you are.

    This piece is wonderful, seemingly traveling from subject to subject, yet still connected with underlying meanings that never stray. The beginning and end dovetail beautifully, with a world of adventure and teaching in between!

    I do have an iPhone. It is necessary for work, and it is nice to text my brother in Alabama, while on the bus, during lunch at work, etc. I use my computer to blog, to write, to photoshop any smudges, etc. from my drawings.

    Oh, and the iPhone is nice to take to the county fair so videos can be taken of the pig races!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the piece, aubrey. I think Mr. Sirleaf’s the extraodinary one here, but thank you for the compliment. Wouldn’t it be great to interview him in person? His own history is interesting enough, but I’d love to hear his observations about what’s happening in the country now, as well as how things have developed since the end of the war.

      I’d say you’re an example of a wise use of technology. There’s a great difference between people who use their phones, computers, and so on for specific purposes, and those who purchase the latest simply because it’s new, and they don’t want to be judged uncool because they don’t have the latest OS or gadget. One day, I may very well go to a smart phone or a Kindle, and if I do, I’ll ‘fess up, right here.

      Pig races at the county fair seems a perfectly reasonable use of an iPhone. I do believe I remember that fair!


  17. Thanks for this, and the great clip. I had not heard of Monocle, but I will need to check them out! Our Liberian students just left to return home, and it was nice to hear the accents again.

    I was impressed by the commitment to the people’s language. I wonder how many people would follow the news in North America if it was “translated” into language more accessible to the average person? It is easy to turn off the news and follow the reality show when one understand’s the latter and not the former. But then again, there is always the matter of the lowest common denominator. More to think about…

    1. I hadn’t come across Monocle, either. It’s amazing how many excellent resources are available online.

      I didn’t realize the Liberian students you mentioned weren’t permanent residents. Did they graduate? Were they from a particular school in Liberia? I hope all goes well for them once they return.

      The question of language and the news is a complicated one. In Liberia, many of the news articles, commentaries, and letters to the editor in the newspapers are difficult to read, even for me. Its a combination of poorly-chosen words, incorrect usage, and a florid vocabulary. I’m not saying the people writing in this way are poorly educated or poorly-trained writers (although they may be), but there’s just something about the style that’s recognizable a mile away.

      Have you ever been to a wedding where the cake is bland, but so highly decorated with frosting roses and garlands you hardly can choke it down? That’s the kind of writing it is.

      I was going to show you an example I read the other day in “The Liberian Observer,” but that will have to wait. I just went to their website and discovered a note that “this site has been suspended.” They’re still on Twitter and Facebook, and say they’ll be back, so it’s a temporary glitch. Funny, in a way. I’ll bet Alfred’s news still is posted.

      Anyway — to my point. Simplification is the answer in Liberia. But here in the U.S? The thought of simplifyng our language even further makes me quiver. Our language has been so debased we need to go the other direction. In short, we need better schools, better teachers, and a willingness to return to the basics. A course in critical thinking wouldn’t be so bad, either.

      A teacher for a private academy in Utah was recently fired for using the word “homophone” in his classroom. You know about those terrible homophones, of course — those words that sound alike, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Be and bee. Two, to, and too. Meet and meat. Maybe the guy’s boss was homophonebic.

      The story’s almost as tragic and comical as the one several years ago about the fellow who was fired for his use of the word “niggardly.” The Mayor of Washington, D.C. thought he was insulting black people.

      I’m not always the brightest bulb in the pack, but some of our own leaders are flickering pretty badly.


      1. No, they were not permanent students, but there is a group of psychotherapists in Toronto who do PTSD work and help train folk who work with former child solders. They arranged to have these two come to Canada for three months. They are are field workers who came to get some extra training for the work they do.

        Funny, but sad, that bit about homophone. Yikes, it is a crazy world out there. I think you are right that dumbing down in our context will not help. But it is a bit of an exercise in walking up a down escalator!

  18. “…we seem to have reversed the old phrase about necessity being the mother of invention, preferring to believe that invention has become the mother of necessity.”

    I believe that just as there are “guy directions” and “girl directions,” there are “guy inventions” and “girl inventions.” “Girls” invent things they need in order to deal with daily life (pockets, shoes, pottery, etc.) which is why necessity is the “Mother” of invention. “Guy inventions” are mostly based on ways to avoid work — “There’s got to be an easier way to do this.” The “i” things were mostly invented by men. Doesn’t mean they’re not great inventions. They have their uses, but at the same time, they are self perpetuating distractions and attention hogs. One thinks of the cartoon of the man sitting in a park surrounded by all sorts of wild life watching nature films on his tablet. (I often wonder what his cartoons would look like if Charles Addams were alive today.)

    1. What a neat take on the invention business, WOL. I’m not sure “there has to be an easier way to do this” always arises from a desire to get out of work — in some cases, inventions allowed more work to be done, albeit more easily. But I take your point.

      One of my aunts used to say, “Women solve problems. Men tinker.” Again, I wouldn’t say that’s a hard-and-fast rule, but it certainly has enough truth to it to justify saying it, just for grins if nothing else. There certainly was a lot of tinkering that went on around our place while the women were busy solving problems like what to put on the table for supper.

      I’ve seen one of those “looking at a squirrel on a screen while surrounded by squirrels” cartoons. They’re so true, and so funny because of their truth. Just one thing — if we can get Carles Addams back, can we get Walt Kelley, too? I love his, “We are confronted with insurmountable opportunities.”


      1. Oh, yes! Can we have both Addams and Kelly back, please! Another pithy Kellyism is, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Do you have “Ten Ever-lovin’ Blue-eyed Years With Pogo?” (mine was given to me by my ever-lovin’ brown-eyed dad. . .) — if so, then you are aware of the sequence with the bear, Beauregarde, a ladder, and a prop door (there may also be a rabbit involved — there often is!). If you don’t, I’ll scan it for you. I think that’s one of the most hysterical sequences of his, ever — sheer graphic slapstick. That, and the one about Albert and the octopus that devolves into a discussion about grammar. I just fall out every time I read that one. Kelly honed his drawing chops as an animator for Walt Disney. He worked on Dumbo. I think the only modern cartoonist who can hold a candle to him in terms of capturing facial expressions is Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) who sites Kelly as one of his “gods.” Kelly’s political satire is like the original version of the prickly pear cactus.

        1. Oh, perfect! ~ your comparison of Kelly’s satire to the prickly pear. I don’t have that book, but our library does. (How did that happen, I wonder?) In any event, I’ve got a hold on it, so I can enjoy a bit of the good old days and some terrific humor. Once I’ve looked it over, I may even buy a copy. They’re all over, at really decent prices. I’m not fussy about thumbed pages, as long as I’m told about it — especially if the price is really, really good.

          Calvin and Hobbes was my mom’s favorite. Thanks to her demand that we present her with every new book, I not have a fine collection on my shelf.

  19. What a fascinating post. I find folks like Albert to be so inspiring, people who are dedicated to bringing the news to others. What a great idea he developed. Your telling of it, along with a look at today’s gadgetry, is, as always, superlative.

    1. I’ve been thinking about the parallels between Albert and people like you, Teresa Evangeline. What you said about your intentions when you got your bit of land up there in Minnesota could so easily be applied to him. He has quite a different sort of plot, but he’s caring for it in the same way.

      “Think globally, act locally” makes a great bumper sticker, and I’ve seen the slogan used as an excuse for inaction. But when we see it taken seriously, its possibilities become clear. “Daily Talk” certainly is a fine example. He is inspiring, in a number of ways.


  20. What a fascinating story and intriguing man you report here driven by purpose. I was taken by the reader of the DT who looks forward to reading Sirleaf’s blackboard every day. Sirleaf knows his people to be able to set up his kiosk and attract a following that I suspect values the judgment of an even-tempered man. It must be difficult to find equanimity in the face of such obstacles that abound in Monrovia and Liberia now.

    His work reminds me of the Mexican muralists who brought history, biography, geography, political thought to the Mexican “pueblo.”

    I appreciate your finding stories that mine the “truth”, the truth of Sirleaf and the truth of Yoani Sáchez’s Generación Y.

    I remember arriving in Amsterdam where my father’s Dutch cousin met me at the airport. I told her I had arrived with nothing to read whereupon she had her daughter, a few years older than me, take me to find “Penguins.” This sentence of yours resonates with me (as do others): “A story is a story, after all, and even essays and columns can develop a strange, timeless quality when read so utterly out of context.” I remember choosing Norman Mailer’s Miami and the Siege of Chicago. After having lived the 60’s no less turbulent at the end of the decade or in 1970 when I was in Holland and France, this book called out to me. I wanted to read about the latest presidential conventions of the summer of ’68 hoping to find clarity and explanations of very complicated times. I ran across the book again in our move. I have not tossed it out because in my view, for me it is timeless especially read out of context. It stands out like the times we lived.

    1. Georgette, the more I read in the American and British press about the Ebola outbreak, the more clear it becomes that the “tabloidization” of the news is continuing apace. Fear-mongering is running amok.

      Beyond that, there’s been an absence of reporting in our press about cultural factors that are contributing to the spread of the disease, or the ineptness of the government. There’s quite a revealing story about that here.

      Equanimity’s the perfect word. In Sirleaf’s situation, it’s probably as important as objectivity when it comes to getting out the news. But it’s a quality I often saw when I was working in Liberia, especially in the medical personnel. Once they were clear on their basic commitment, and their motivations, they were free to go ahead and do their work without undue concern for the conditions around them.

      I smiled at your mention of Penguins. I recently ordered a copy of Graham Greene’s “Our Man in Havana,” and when it arrived it was a Penguin edition. And I understand that timelessness of certain books. It’s not that they’re necessarily “classics,” in the sense of Shakespeare or Eliot, but they capture a time, and re-reading them brings those days back: often, with more clarity. One of those for me is Tom Wolfe’s “Mau-mauing the Flak-Catchers.” I lived it in Oakland, and I see the same dynamic taking place around the country today. At a certain distance, the politics of grievance can be hysterically funny, particularly when someone like Wolfe has the courage and the ability to write it as it is.


  21. old Mr. York was using his pocket knife to whittle a piece of soft white pine (wood). When I asked, “What are you making?” he replied “A whimmy-diddle to grind smoke with.”

  22. What a wonderfully rich post, Linda. I’m just back from holiday and catching up – thanks to all the gadgets ( invention is the mother of contemporary necessity, how right you are!!) , there is plenty of catching-up to do! – and will re-visit it for a more leisurely read later.

  23. The chosen details in line after line of this post are so rich, starting from the first paragraphs. I can just picture those “Lebanese stores that specialized in canned mackerel, Russian toilet paper, the occasional Heineken, and Chinese tomato paste.” Priceless. This, particularly, made me laugh out loud: “A running joke among our group was that, when we no longer understood New Yorker cartoons, it was time to head home to re-acquaint ourselves with American culture,” for growing up in the Midwest, I could not understand three quarters of those cartoons! But thanks most of all for bringing Mr. Sirleaf to our attention and his marvelous “fits of good sense.” (Great phrase that.)

    1. Susan, I meant to add the detail that the Russian toilet paper was waxed, and then forgot to go back and do it. Life in Liberia was filled with such delights. I’m glad you enjoyed the list — it certainly was fun walking back into that store in memory.

      About three years ago, I realized that I was understanding very few “New Yorker” cartoons — far fewer than I understood when I was in Liberia. It’s a delicious irony and a bit of connundrum. Then, being away from home led to the lack of understanding. Now, I’m home, but I still don’t understand the cartoons. Ah, life.

      I still think it’s amazing that he came to his chalk and blackboard idea. On this side of the decision, it does make good sense. But first, he had to come up with the idea. I can’t help wondering if his experience in school didn’t influence the shaping of his kiosk. He’s been called an analog blogger, and a newsman, but when you just look at the photos of him in front of the kiosk, there’s no escaping it: he’s clearly a teacher, as well.


  24. Linda, the things you uncover in your travels… Alfred Sirleaf and his unflagging efforts to keep his people informed. The information age seems rather selective. With Liberia so much in the news, you have been on my mind a lot.

    1. We call it the information age, but sometimes the amount of information in the ceaseless stream of postings, tweets, status updates and reports is remarkably low. Learning how to find the news in the midst of it all can be time-consuming for those of us with “total access”, and finding any of it can be hard for those without money or electricity. Monrovia’s lucky to have Mr. Sirleaf — and the others whose names we don’t know.


      1. Yes, the stream of “information” can feel like a deluge of flotsam. I keep myself in somewhat of a media blackout to avoid that flood. But I also meant the access to information and connecting with people farther away than an afternoon’s walk. The Mr Sirleafs of the world amaze me by being that conduit to real information.

  25. What a great essay on the intrepid entrepreneur, Alfred Sirleaf. Simple technology coupled with a desire to be of service has saved the day for so many seeking information in Liberia. Yes, where there’s a will there’s always a way.

    1. The other thing that strikes me about Alfred Sirleaf is that he’s a trusted source. There’s a lot of cynicism about the media and the government in this country, and the same seems to be true in Liberia. It’s critical to have trustworthy sources of information when dealing with something like an epidemic, not to mention people who can provide simple, practical advice and “rumor abatement.” It seems he’s doing the job well.


  26. Linda,
    Alfred Sirleaf’s public blackboard reminds me of the days when we had 30 minutes of news on three stations. Everyone waited for the evening news. There were no DVRs, VCRs, etc. to record it if you missed it. Now we have cable, and you have to sift through all the mess to find the bit of real news mixed in among the anchor’s opinions.

    The cell phones drive me crazy. I will never like them, but everyone wants me to have one. So I have one, and I never have it with me. I can’t seem to keep up with it. They (family) are always annoyed with me because I don’t answer the minute they call. I’m a dinosaur.

    1. You’re right, Bella Rum. In our house, the evening news was must-see tv. And there was no turning it on in the background while we ate dinner. We’d watch the news first, then sit down to eat. Our routine may have been unbearably Ozzie-and-Harriet, but we were better informed than many people are today.

      I try to remember to keep my cell phone with me, in case of an accident while driving or some such. While Mom was alive, I was very good about keeping it handy, in case she needed something. Now, I often forget it, and come home at the end of the day to find it sitting on my desk. (If I’m lucky. Sometimes it takes a while to find it.)

      I don’t text, myself, but some people will text to me. You think your family’s impatient? I’ve had someone call me and say, “I sent you a text! Did you get it? You didn’t respond!” When I asked when the text was sent, it turned out it was — five minutes earlier.

      Dinosaur’s good.


  27. I am also a dinosaur, like Bella Rum. My cell phone is in my handbag but on “silent”. It is useful though in case of emergency or real necessity to contact someone. Travelling often by train, I realized people no longer talk to one another nor look at the countryside. So many tools keep them busy.

    There are many interesting issues in your post, Linda, as always. Information, its overpowering presence; a kind of communication that leaves out talking to people right beside you (some in great need of contact); the so-called need of buying more and more tools. And yet, some inventions are good : how could we have known each other without internet ? Not all inventions are bad !

    I like your pictures of Libéria. Thank you.

    1. I’m smiling, Isa. Like you, I tend to carry my phone with me for use in emergencies, although, as I said to Bella, when I still was caring for my mother, I had it with me almost at all times: “just in case,” as we say.

      There are other times when the phone is useful, of course. Recently I smiled to hear a perplexed fellow in a grocery store explaining to someone that he’d forgotten which spice he was supposed to bring home. That’s a good use of technology! And as you say, the very fact that we’re able to enjoy one another’s worlds and thoughts is due to these wonderful inventions.

      But just as sugar sweetens life in moderation and causes problems with over-use, the same technologies that sweeten life can cause problems when people obsess over them. We just need to remember that we’re in control of our tools, and make wise use of them.


  28. Linda,

    I am happy to go about with volition and to be aware of my surroundings. I am comfortable with the notion that my $1 telephone choice (that replaced the one that died) has a few more bells and whistles than my last ‘dumbphone’. I could care less that they are there because I know I won’t use them. Why do I need to stay connected via text and the internet? If the dumbphone rings and I recognize the caller, I answer it and we have a meaningful conversation. I don’t get a lot of calls, and any *texts I receive I know to be junk! I don’t own an Ipad, or an Ipod and I am content.

    It is strange when I go out to be one of the few people I see about me who is not staring with blank expression and interacting with a handheld device. The silence is deafening.

    The art of spontaneous conversation is dead. I love to talk to folks I meet, but most often these days I get an irritated look from the strangers I try to engage (I never interrupt a blank faced handheld user; it would be futile to do so.)

    I love that Liberia has Alfred Sirleaf to send out the daily news to the people. But in an age when the newspapers and news magazines are drying up, when all you can get is a watered down and slanted version of ‘news-lite’ and/or happy talk on the television, I wonder who will do Alfred’s job for us. Or for that matter, who will notice or even care?

    *I did in fact receive one text message from Lori at Day by Day the Farmgirl Way, when we were huddled in our storm shelter this past spring. It was the timing of the text that made me look. I then called her right back to let her know we were OK.

    1. You know, Lynda, I suspect you’ve done the cost/benefit analysis when it comes to these gadgets the same way I have. I don’t have a lick of disposal income — at least, not the kind that I want to be spending every month on an iSomething I don’t utilize. Poor Verizon tries their best, but they just can’t get me to bite. They’ve offered me every free phone possible, including some top of the line — but who cares about that? It’s unnecessary monthly charges I don’t want to take on.

      As for those spontaneous conversations, I love them too. There are places around here where you can count on them: the post office, the grocery store checkout line, among the dog-walkers on the esplanade. Otherwise? Not so much. There are a lot of people absorbed in a lot of devices.

      That’s an interesting question you raise when you ask “Who will do Alfred’s job for us?” Maybe the time has come for us to stop waiting for someone to do his job for us, and just do it ourselves. There’s a lot happening in the world, and much of the news about it is being buried, twisted or hyped. It’s far better to dig up our sources, and do some of our own thinking.


  29. What to do with the avalanche of technology, and what to let it to us, is the subject of the latest issue of Geez magazine, which I was reading through last night. This bit struck me: It is not easy to navigate the distance between machines as slaves and machines as monsters. They have, admittedly, become our friends. In my mind, however, they are untrustworthy. Hence our need to be deliberate in our pace and self-conscious of our habits. Easier said than done.

    They’re trying to stay print-oriented, while acknowledging the contradictions inherent in creating a magazine on a computer that can’t be read on a computer.

    I don’t know how to post an image here, but I recommend you google “Banksy hugging couple” if you haven’t seen it.

    Thanks for sharing another excellent essay with us.

    1. I don’t think it’s possible to post images in the comments section of — just links. But I love Banksy’s work, so I went right over to Google to find the image. There wasn’t any question I’d found the right one! Awful, and humorous, all at the same time.

      On the other hand, it’s very close to a modern adaptation of long-established cocktail party/office party/conference behavior. I suspect all of us have had the experience of trying to carry on a conversation with someone who’s scanning the room over our shoulder, to see what more important person might have arrived.

      I was going to say I don’t see machines as slaves, masters, or friends. Then, I remembered my car is named “Princess.” So much for that. But the broader point being made, that we need to be more intentional in all our interactions with the technology around us, is exactly right.

      And thanks for the introduction to the magazine. I’m puzzled why they should see “contradictions” in using a computer to publish a print magazine, but that’s just me. I don’t spend nearly as much time analyzing everything as I used to. ;-)


  30. Such a meaty piece of writing and so timely. The discussion(s) that follow in the comments are heartening as they reveal true connections are desired and not ‘dead’ in this 21st Century.

    But what most took my breath away was/is this man, this solitary man, doing his (he)art with such dedication & integrity.

    Mr. Sirleaf, what an honor to have met you if only via an article published on this blog.


    1. The comments are heartening, aren’t they? So often, our media attempt to set us against one another, separate us from one another. It’s good to have ways to “go around them” from time to time, and find out what real people truly are thinking and feeling.

      And you’re right about Alfred Sirleaf’s dedication and integrity. He’s such a good example of the influence that one person can have. May his number increase!

      Thank you for stopping by, and for your comment. Who knows? In this world we live in, it’s entirely possible Mr. Sirleaf will see your comment one day.


  31. Alfred Sirleaf’s blackboard is just perfect. He hits the high spots and tells the public what they need to know about what’s going on locally and in the world.

    I sure wish I had an Alfred Sirleaf here.

    Frankly, I’m about ready to toss our subscription to the local paper. It has degenerated into nothing more than entertainment news, an extended police blotter or one story that they beat to death for weeks on end, from every angle they can possibly think of, ad nauseum. National and international news has been relegated to short blurbs buried in the back pages.

    About the only things I’d miss would be Dear Abby, my comics and the obituary. (I need to check those obits each morning to be sure I’m not listed. If I’m not, I’ll get up. If I am, I’ll go back to bed.) It is a sad state of affairs when those items are the highlight of the daily paper.

    My local TV news is just as bad. I avoid all three local newscasts like the plague.

    1. Gué, I know exactly what you mean about the papers. Houston used to have two. Now we have one, and its quality is deteriorating. I let my subscription lapse after Mom died. She liked to look at it every day, but even she would sort through it and set aside all but two or three sections. She once said, “Honey, if you’d just buy me a crossword puzzle book and a tv guide, I wouldn’t need this paper for anything.” But she liked the opinion section, and the ads on the weekend.

      I don’t pay that much attention to the business end of things, but I’ve increasingly come to believe that struggling newspapers are very much like our struggling post office. They responded late and poorly to changes coming down the pike, and now they’re trying to make up for it by turning themselves into their competition. I came across this article about the newspaper business that you might find interesting.

      Beyond all that, “Get it first! Who cares if it’s right?” is creating all sorts of havoc. We had a story here in Houston a couple of weeks ago that went through about four versions, each filled with inaccuracies, before the reporters and editors finally got it right. Who even needs to listen to a broadcast, if your confidence level in its accuracy is about a 1.5 out of 10?


  32. The opening photo brings back so many memories, Linda. I must have walked up and down Gbarnga’s main street a hundred times, if not twice that many. I watched the mosque on the left being built, and attended its grand opening— the only non-African there. They gave me a seat of honor. And then my little brown dog invaded the ceremony, searching for me, with three tall Mandingo men hot on her tail…

    Wellington Sirleaf, the Peace Corps driver, brought us our mail once a week. It was our primary contact with the outside world. It wasn’t the New Yorker, but I consumed Time Magazine, every word of it.

    As you know, electronics have invaded Liberia like they have everywhere. When my friend Kylkon was working at Phebe Hospital, he would call me on his cell phone once a month. The Peace Corps Volunteers you and I followed until they were pulled out of Liberia in August, blogged frequently on WordPress.

    As for Ebola, I can only wonder how much more the country can take of tragedy piled on top of tragedy.


    1. I remember you mentioning the dedication of the mosque on your blog, Curt — and the invasion by your pup. Which reminds me of your book. How are things going? Have I missed an announcement about its publication? Or are you still in process?

      It’s stunning to think of the differences in communication now. From the days of HAM operators and radio patches to cell phones and computers. It still astonishes me that I can read “The Liberian Observer” every day — I’m so pleased that they have a Twitter account, too, for us non-Facebookers.

      I’ve been following the big palaver swirling around Dr. Gwenigale. As so often happens, it’s hard to sort out exactly what the issues are, but from the sounds of things, he’s either a corrupt, greedy, malingering bureaucrat, or the only one who can straighten out the Ministry of Health. Opinions vary.


      1. I’ll have to get up to speed on the Dr. Gwenigale controversy. As for the book, I have finished the line editing. I was ready to send it off for publishing but decided I had to do a postscript on Ebola. I intend to donate half of whatever I earn to Friend of Liberia’s Ebola fund. The book, at least the digital version, should be out in December. –Curt

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