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Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa's Fragile Edge

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  249 Ratings  ·  38 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 bec
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 16th 2006 by Bloomsbury USA (first published January 10th 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 562)
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Nov 04, 2011 Michael rated it really liked it
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
Jul 27, 2015 Ellen rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, development
Through much of this book I couldn't escape what a douchebag this guy came off as. He repeats the mantra, "It's not sustainable. It creates dependancy." even regarding gifting a beanie baby, thinks of his servant as his slave, tries to introduce guine apigs as a source of meat, and wonders he just can't accept the Liberian way of being non-monogamous. He gives his shoes to the chief! His shoes! Why? But maybe that's his way of showing growth. Because he doesn't seem quite so terrible at the end. ...more
Nov 11, 2011 LDB rated it really liked it
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
Luis Rivera
Jan 27, 2016 Luis Rivera rated it it was amazing
Blue Clay People
By: William Powers

My experience with this book was very fascinating. This book is classified as a non-fiction as relates the experience of a man who ventures into unknown territory. The author of the book and main character, William Powers took a trip to Liberia and what he encountered and how he dealt with the different situations is what makes the book interesting. His experiences carried over to the rest of this life. He went to this new country as an aid and health worker but
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
Mar 23, 2013 Mary rated it liked it
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
Nov 05, 2014 Jen Allen rated it really liked it
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.
Elaine Thompson
If ever anyone wanted to know why Aid does not work, this is the book to begin with. Seldom has cultural misunderstanding been more clearly documented.

Condescending and horrifying in turns ( the passage with the toe nail paring is truly horrible), Mr. Powers certainly was writing this book with only an American audience in mind.

Apr 21, 2016 Lara rated it did not like it
Terrible. He was horrible throughout, and I couldn't stand it every time he talked about begging. He wanted to cultivate a culture of non-begging? Breeding pigs? A whole list of nonsense for someone who had no sense of self awareness. GIVE ME A BREAK.
Sep 05, 2015 Jake rated it really liked it
At its best, painting a beautiful west african picture of both the country and the feeling of an outsider trying to take it all in. At its worst, preachy and lazy, letting words bluntly explain rather than characters and events. Made me miss west africa.
Mar 07, 2010 Pat rated it really liked it
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
Oct 07, 2009 Sarah rated it liked it
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
May 02, 2010 Doris rated it liked it
Shelves: africa, memoir
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 really liked it
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
May 27, 2012 Robert rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-during-pc
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.
May 14, 2009 Kara rated it liked 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.
Nov 30, 2009 A M rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 26, 2011 Cathy rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 25, 2011 Tori rated it liked it
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.
May 08, 2013 Roberta rated it liked it
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.
Feb 09, 2009 Cherish rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 19, 2007 ducky rated it it was amazing
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!
Jun 07, 2007 Stacey rated it really liked it
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! :)
May 20, 2008 Julie rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 31, 2009 Ruth rated it it was amazing
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!
Jul 29, 2011 Linda rated it it was amazing
Shelves: global-issues
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 really liked it
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.
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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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