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Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge
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Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  217 ratings  ·  31 reviews
"A haunting account of one man's 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 wasn't long before Powers saw how many obstacles lay in the way, discovering first-hand how Liberia has be
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 16th 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 10th 2005)
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One of those international environment and development books that makes you wince even if you're not surprised by what you see. Powers headed off to Liberia just out of his master's degree to work for Catholic Relief Services, with the grand goals of improving Liberia's health, education, and economic development prospects while stopping deforestation of the country's rainforest. Nice ideas. He arrived at what he thought was the end of a civil war. Instead, he arrived at a temporary halt in the ...more
I really enjoyed this book. Bill Powers was in Liberia starting from 1999. I had been there in 1998, so this felt like walking down memory lane. Much of what he described reminded me of my time there as well as the cadence of everyday speech. In addition, he describes his work leading a food security project, which is what I will soon be headed out to Liberia to work on. While the book will not give you much detail on the conflict Liberia suffered through, it does provide a bit of a cultural tou ...more
Linda C.
I have no idea why I have this book. When I opened it up, I found a receipt from when I attended the Willamette Writer's Conference last year. I like to buy books of the speakers I hear but I don't remember Mr. Powers. I wonder what the thinking was by the bookstore manager why he brought this book along.

In any event, Blue Clay People is a really cool title. The cover is a wonderful photograph of smiling children frolicking in the ocean. My readers know by now that those two things are surefire
Serjeant Wildgoose
As with 1 or 2 other reviewers, Bill Powers' book hauled me back to my own recent experiences in this stunning country.

Before I deployed there a colleague who had spent his childhood in Malawi told me that one way or another Africa gets to everyone; you either hate the place or it becomes a part of you. So when, towards the end of his book, Powers describes his last farewell with his Liberian friend who, grabbing his hand covers it in earth, I could smell the richness of the red dust - and knew
This is a an account of a relief worker/manager being in Liberia during the civil war, and was recommended to me because I am in Liberia doing some development work as I write. I feel a bit meh about this - while it is an easy read, and in some respects seems to capture the local scene, overall there seems to be too much of an effort to bring in a bigger, global point. The author says that he merged people and incidents, and changed names, to protect people, but the effect is that he ends up des ...more
Jen Allen
Read this after returning from 5 months volunteering in Liberia. Was still feeling heavy emotions about the experience and I was ready to be offended by this book. Unfortunately, his experience is quite valid. The inequality between foreigners and locals and the accompanying entitlement and disrespect that comes along with this. His story is not special but it is an interesting view into an aid-worker-with-a-conscience's experience working in international development.
This was a very interesting book. The author writes about spending a coupe of years in Liberia while it was still somewhat dangerous (before Taylor was overthrown) and about how it was to work for an NGO in that environment. It changed his life in many ways and he is now in Bolivia apparently, still doing similar work. So it is both a memoir of his years in Liberia and the problems in working in a failed state and still trying to keep people from becoming totally dependent on the food suppliers ...more
I found this book to be a captivating read at times, and a bit preachy and trite at others. But learning about the fascinating culture and people of Liberia keep me reading through those tougher parts. I do appreciate the honesty with which the author writes about his experiences and feelings while living in Liberia, even if it made me dislike him at some points.
Wow, I just read someone else's review of this book that said it made her NEVER want to visit Liberia. So I had to add to my review tha
The author, William Powers, directed food distribution and ecological preservation for Catholic Relief Services in Liberia after the war and under the sanctions against Charles Taylor. His is an interesting story of the challenges and disappointments of those efforts. It gives one an idea of living and working in a third world country, the desperation of the lives there, and the difficulty of choosing between survival and preservation of the forest. He is a very good storyteller and the book is ...more
Oct 06, 2007 Sally rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in Africa
One man can make a difference. William Powers takes a post with Catholic Relief Services in Liberia. He does his best to decrease dependency but can't change decades of cultural habits built on an unstable economy and despotic rulers. Graft is everywhere. Charles Taylor, the latest corrupt leader and former freedom fighter, and foreign companies steal everything they can of the country's natural resources. Powers and his friends try to bring about change but the country is not ready yet and he l ...more
Bill Powers was part of the management team of Catholic Relief Services in Liberia in the early 2000s. This exciting tale of his experience deals with the trials of living abroad, the complicated and varied interests involved in international development, and the unique history of Liberia that would grip you just by itself. It's a wonderful read for anyone interested in post-conflict areas of the world, Africa or international development. I recommend it.
This book certainly made me never want to visit Liberia, which, amongst other problems, has no electricity. Or phones. Or plumbing. Anywhere.
A terrifying science fiction story could be written about this sort of post-apocalyptic world, except that it really exists, today, and used to be a progressive and relatively successful African free state. Things went wrong after a long civil war, and our author visited with a service agency to try to pick up the pieces.
if anyone wants to know what my experience was like in Liberia (more or less), this is the book to read. though it's set before the 1994 conflict began, it's still gives the flow and feeling of Liberia: how the people speak and glimpses into those cultural "quirks" we all know exist in each and every culture. it made me feel like i was back in Liberia...despite the "difficulties" i wrote about in my mass emails, i miss it every day.
This book changed my life. It shook me to the core. It turned everything I believed on its head and the closing so brought home my own privilege that it felt like the ground I thought I knew had slid out from under me. To live in a relatively safe and secure place rather than a hell dictated by the whims of others - the impact of history, governments and the unfathomable actions of the people surrounding you... It terrified me.
This is an amazing book! It reminded me of the Old Blue Sweater book, with a similar theme. Set in Liberia during the horrific "reign" of Charles Taylor and written by William Powers, an American who worked with an NGA, it tells the sad, but important story of the downside of "civilizing" what some call "savages."

It is sad, informative, inspiring at times, and well-worth the read.
2009- Not what I was expecting, actually much better. I was thinking I was going to get an idealistic but unrealistic look of an aid worker in Liberia. Instead, I received a memoir of sorts that shows all the parts of Liberia, good and bad, but additionally shows how the land and people transform the author's life too.
Saving the world isn't all it's cracked up to be. Westerners head off with godd intentions and preconceived ideas and sometimes, somehow manage to do a little good along the way.

This book is interesting and depressing by turns. I couldn't even imagine where to start in Liberia.
a look at Liberia via an American. big deal... but, if you define your work as "service" in any way, I suggest reading this book. Or if you get off on reading about the affects of colonization, even through relocation of american slaves, it's worth the read.
Reading this book was a life changing experience that converted me from an apathetic rat racer to at least being more informed about the consequences my routine decisions have on communities worlwide. Terrific book!
it hurt a lot to read this book. i'm not really sure what i could say in the way of a review... probably a good place to start if you don't know a lot about poverty in Liberia and what's being done about it.
Sep 01, 2007 Kathleen marked it as to-read
oooh! SO excited to read this! It got really good reviews when it came out, and then i found it for a few bucks at a used bookshop in Tel Aviv. Only has a smudge of blue nailpolish on the cover! :)
This is a great introduction to international aid work and the challenges it presents. The author's a little self-indulgent about his idealism, but I was willing to give him a break.
The best book I've read since moving to Guatemala (8 months ago). It is William Powers' story of moving to Liberia. I don't want to say much more but you have to read this book!
Powers' memoir contrasts the conflict between the good intentions of development theory and the realities of practice. His easy conversational style makes this an engaging read.
Kirsten Kinnell
Aug 13, 2008 Kirsten Kinnell rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kirsten by: Emily Hartman
Very interesting book about an American aid worker in Liberia. Read for the great cultural details as well as insight into the expatriate experience in the two-thirds world.
i think i fell in love with this man while i was reading his book. this was a book i stayed up all night to finish reading. it happens rarely and is a sign of a good book!
Kara Freedman
Please see a full review on my blog, Freedman Travels:
Mel Bel
If you want to learn about Liberian culture from the expat perspective, this is dead on. It's thirteen years later and this book is still accurate.
Ritodhi Chakraborty
the end of innocence of an aid worker against the backdrop of a changing Liberia.
This is a good entree into Liberia and it's history. It's an easy read.
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William Powers hails from Long Island, NY and has worked for over a decade in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, Washington, D.C., and Native North America. From 2002 to 2004 he managed the community components of a project in the Bolivian Amazon that won a 2003 prize for environmental innovation from Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government. His essays and commentari ...more
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