Who Let this Pr*ck Into Sierra Leone?

It’s been a pretty exciting week here on T’ing ‘n Times. The fun began a week ago when I first wrote this post. It started out thus:

“Normally, I don’t blog about personal matters but this Canadian NGO staffer’s blog post got me so fired up I had to share! I clicked a link from Google alerts expecting to read something interesting or informative about Sierra Leone but what I found was disappointing at best. This guy, who’s in the country to “improve governance and overall quality of life for the people of Sierra Leone,” basically runs down a laundry list of things that are f*cked up about Sierra Leone, ending with this paragraph:

I’ve discovered more reasons for my friends and family to worry (hahahha): Don’t get caught in the middle of a “secret society” ceremony. They will initiate you on the spot. This may include crazy piercings and/or drinking animal fluids. What about the Kamajors? The psycho cannibal hunter tribe. Lucky for us, they sided with the peace forces during the war. They believe they possess magical powers. Bullets will pass through them causing no harm. They don’t discriminate either. You can you join the tribe if you make it through initiation, of which, the last phase includes being fired at by an old Russian semi automatic machine gun. [bold mine]

You can read the entire post, entitled Crazy Unknown African Viruses & Psycho Cannibalism here. Then please leave him a comment like I did:

Jason,

I’m Sierra Leonean and I find your attempt at humorously addressing the many challenges of life in Sierra Leone to be rather insensitive and demeaning. Not to mention ignorant. The Kamajors are not a tribe and—regardless of whether or not they practised cannibalism during the war—referring to them as “The psycho cannibal hunter tribe” is downright offensive, and it shows a stunning lack of knowledge about Sierra Leone.

I wonder if the Sierra Leoneans you encounter socially or professionally know about your attitudes. Or perhaps you only express your opinions when you and your expat do-gooder buddies get together.

Either way, I would have expected more from someone who claims to be in Sierra Leone to “improve governance and overall quality of life for the people of Sierra Leone.”

. . .

What you will read from this point on is a rewritten version of this post. I decided to change the text because I wrote the first version in a fit of anger and said many things in it that were insulting of the author, Jason Salituri, and his friends and family. In the ensuing week, I’ve had time to reflect on what I said and on the reaction it caused, and I’ve apologized personally to Jason and his family. I’m not proud of the language I used and the insinuations I made, but I won’t pretend that Jason’s post didn’t anger me or that I never wrote those words. Just to prove that I’m not trying to erase the evidence, you can read the original post as it first appeared here.

This, however, does not change the fact that Jason’s post was offensive to me. His characterization of Sierra Leone as a dirty and dangerous place populated by superstitious and cannibalistic people is offensive to me and other Sierra Leoneans, judging by some of the comments posted here, on Jason’s blog, and elsewhere on the web. So I’m going to take a second stab at addressing the post and explaining why it was so offensive.

Sierra Leone is where I was born and I still have a huge extended family there. I understand that Jason’s post was meant as an inside joke to his friends and family but the characterization was not much different from colonial-era European depictions of Africa. While the dirt and disease and cannibalism may be humorous to some, it doesn’t change the fact that Sierra Leone is home to our friends and families. The description of the Kamajors as a tribe of psycho-cannibals is offensive for obvious and aforementioned reasons so I won’t go back to that. Then there was the description of the initiation ceremonies, which are ancient and sacred rituals for a huge portion of the population—both urban and rural. One of Jason’s supporters who posted a comment under the name “newly” says s/he’s Catholic and so was offended by my mention of Catholicism in a prior post: it didn’t even take a joke about Catholic sacrament to offend him/her. Well, the initiation rites Jason makes fun of are as important to Sierra Leoneans as Catholic sacrament is to a Catholic like “newly,” so I can only hope that s/he and the other people who defended Jason on my blog can begin to understand why his post was so offensive.

I say I can only hope because the one thing that’s stood out most starkly in this whole back-and-forth is the total failure of Jason’s defenders to acknowledge that his post was indeed offensive, or to recognize that I was justified in taking offense to it. Instead, the comments focused on everything from personal attacks against me to reminders of the good work Jason is doing in Sierra Leone. Patrick Mosolf was the one commenter who came closest to acknowledging that the post was offensive, but he spends the bulk of his comment telling me how and why I overreacted. He then goes on to assure me that all White people are not racist, as if that’s what I was saying in the first place. Towards the end, he poses these questions: “Are all white people racist? Have you ever been outside of Sierra Leone and how many white people have you met? How do you know if someone is racist unless they make an overtly racist statement?” In my response to Patrick, I explained to him that I am in fact half White and I have spent over half of my life living outside Sierra Leone. So Patrick, rather than recognize my right to be offended, just assumes that my anger stems from an irrational and uninformed suspicion of all White people, thereby demonstrating that he totally missed the point of my original response to Jason’s post. And, for the record, I’m still working very hard on considering “This may include crazy piercings and/or drinking animal fluids” and “The psycho cannibal hunter tribe” as anything other than overtly racist statements.

The rest of the comments—excluding the respectful and considerate one from Jason’s dad—are even worse than Patrick’s. Kevin, who identifies himelf as Jason’s friend reminds me that Jason is doing good work in Sierra Leone and then asks me if my own “stereotypes” of do-gooders (read foreign NGO staff) doesn’t do equal harm. I fail to see how my “stereotypes” could do more to tarnish the image of NGO staff than Jason’s defenders’ inability to acknowledge that his post is offensive. Then, in a display of what I can only interpret as macho posturing, Kevin invites me to visit his blog and “give him the same treatment,” as if I’m the guy who has nothing better to do than criticize NGO staffers’ blogs. Again, no acknowledgement that the post was offensive or that my response was in any way understandable. Similarly, “newly” starts off calling me a hypocrite and then proceeds to dissect a couple of my top posts in an attempt to prove that I too am judgemental and prejudiced. But what both these commenters fail to acknowledge is that this is not a case of tit for tat. Jason’s post insulted me and I lashed out. Their retaliation to my lashing out is understandable to me—they’re his friends after all—but let’s not pretend that I had no cause to feel offended.

Through all this, one theme comes up again and again. Commenters remind me that Jason is a good guy working under difficult conditions in Sierra Leone. I don’t deny that. I know how things are in Sierra Leone and it’s not the easiest environment. Still, I don’t think that makes it OK for him to have said what he said. Certainly, freedom of speech is on his side, as it is on mine, but when offense is caused, it serves no-one to deny or ignore the fact. But that’s precisely what I got from BigJ, another defender of Jason’s who wrote, “I have spent enough time in Freetown pushing shit uphill (for which, read working to foster any level of, or even a feeling for, financial accountability in the Salone Government) to understand the man’s wish to say something. Laughing to keep from crying springs to mind.” I can understand the wish to laugh but why do so at the expense of the very people he’s trying to help? Psychiatrists help the mentally ill and special ed teachers help the learning disabled, but that doesn’t give them the right to make fun of their patients or students, does it? And if they’re caught doing so, shouldn’t we acknowledge that it’s insensitive of them to do so?

But clearly, none of the commenters who’ve posted comments supportive of Jason have admitted that his post was insensitive or shown any empathy for those of us who were offended by it. Instead, most of the posts have focused on criticizing me personally and on excusing Jason’s behavior: I’m judgemental and biased, I make stereotypes, conditions are hard in Sierra Leone, Jason’s making a great sacrifice to help Sierra Leoneans, etc. But that is not the point. Is there after all an inverse relationship between the wrongness of Jason’s post and my response to it or the difficulty of working in Sierra Leone? Does Jason’s post become less offensive because my response insulted his friends and family? I’m not proud of that fact but it doesn’t change the fact that other Sierra Leoneans who were offended by him didn’t write angry and vitriolic responses too, did they? It is certainly very telling that “newly” accuses me of insulting Jason’s friends and family but cannot recognize that Jason’s post was insulting to our friends and family in Sierra Leone. Those psycho cannibals and tribal initiators who pierce bodies and drink animal fluids are our friends and family too, and we have a right to be insulted when they are caricatured as they were in Jason’s post.

I’ve taken responsibility and apologized for offending Jason, his family, and his friends. It is, however, very telling that no-one on the other side of this issue has bothered to do the same. This fact alone says so much more than my post ever could have.

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42 thoughts on “Who Let this Pr*ck Into Sierra Leone?

  1. Jason,

    I do not consider your taking down the post to be a victory. Please don’t say I win. I don’t feel like I’ve won anything, and winning was never my goal or intent.

    As I said earlier, this thing has gotten out of hand. I’m sorry to hear you’ve decided to take down the post, and I’m even more sorry that your girlfriend feels threatened by some of the comments. I haven’t read them and I don’t know who posted them, but I seriously hope you don’t think that I had anything to do with these comments, that I know who’s posting them, or that I have the power to stop them. True to my word, I have not posted a single new comment on your blog. Furthermore, I told you I did not want you to take down either your blog or the offending post, and I’m sorry you feel you have to. But I can only speak for myself. Clearly, other people are upset by your post and they’re choosing to address the issue with insults and threats. Constructive criticism might have been been better but I can’t criticize other people for getting angry. That would make me a hypocrite.

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  2. well. i guess a lot happens when your not connected to the net over the course of a week.
    You had removed the entry trashing me before you reposted it with somewhat of an apology (thanks). When your entry was not there, i removed my posting of your comments and your original comment because the was no link. The loop was broken. I have tried to reinstate your original comment, but the site will not allow this. But as you can see i have kept the other harsh comments there (there was no loop to break there).
    Anyway, I just noticed some more comments from a MrMr and 123 (think he;s the same guy) which have some really bad language.
    I like, and fully agree with “Lost in Translation”;s remark about the risk of putting blogs out for the world to see. It is the beauty and the beast of it.
    I only wish the comments were more mature and constructive – some were. Degrading comments using bad language and name calling are now forcing me to remove the blog entry. Wouldn’t it have been more useful to the opponents of this kind of literature to have it remain on the net in all it’s controversial glory? With a load of negative comments attached to it to prove how negative these words can be?
    Lessons learned could have gone much farther with constructive criticism.
    I will remove the entry as requested by my girlfriend who is frightened by the recent comments. I really don;t want to remove it. As i explained to her, i feel like someone is driving by my house at night throwing bricks through the windows. I am not anonymous. I would have preferred to keep it on and take the wrath of constructive criticism.
    You win.
    PS. I’d be happy to repost it if you want. In other words, if you agree with my analysis of the merits of it remaining on. Actually i think the whole unfolding and end result would make a great debate. Are you happy with the end result?

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  3. Whoa!

    MyName, I appreciate your outrage but let’s try to keep the comments clean, shall we? I can understand you’re upset but it won’t do anyone any good to start resorting to cusswords.

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  4. Yeah, I saw your comment somewhere about how much the Sierra Leoneans love the white man, and that holds true in many developing nations, including mine. White people are better, what they say is better, anything foreign is better. It’s almost like we pay homage to our colonial past by holding on to it till today.

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  5. wow,

    Thanks for another great comment. I agree entirely. The word “colonialism” might be offensive to some but the more I think about this incident, the more I realize how far we haven’t come.

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  6. Well, I never had much regard for foreign white men making policies for or ‘helping’ poor developing countries – be it the World Bank, the IMF or even say Concern, just because I’ve never found them to be sensitive enough. My experience is not much to write home about, but I do have common sense. Honestly, it would take them years to understand a people, a nation and develop strategies for them in a way that they would be able to accept, understand and follow. Why are such NGOs often huge failures? It’s that cultural gap, or sensitivity that is more-or-less absent.

    In my (again limited) experience it’s those NGOs that engage the local communities that are the most successful. And those who delegate power to people like Jason who has no regard for the country in which he earns his bread, or the people he claims to be of service to, are bound to take a fall. Sooner or later.

    Not exactly prophesizing here, just making sweep generalizations that hold more truth than one would like.

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  7. So, I just noticed something interesting. Jason has deleted my original comment to his offensive post, but the post itself is still up there. Apparently he doesn’t consider his post offensive but my comment was.

    This is very interesting considering he wrote this on my blog BEFORE I had a chance to approve his friends’ comments or rewrite my post [bold text mine]:

    I don’t mind this Internet sparing match, but you are playing dirty. You are not allowing people to voice their opinions freely. I have gone as far as posting your slanderous comments on my blog to promote open dialogue. You, alternatively, are screening people’s comments that are not in line with yours. People are telling me that their comments haven’t been posted on your blog.

    I am totally OK with “losing”. This is why I was fine with you posting outrageously slanderous comments about me. I thought the free world of the web would validate or dismiss the comments and all could learn and be happy.

    But I will not participate with someone like you. Please follow some line of respectable behaviour and A) post all the comments you have blocked, and continue to allow other comments, or B) write an apology for your defamatory comments about me, or C) remove your blog entry in question; otherwise I will take action, which may include removing my blog as a result of being bullied off the Internet. Something I feel is not negotiable – please remove the address to my mother.

    It is entirely possible that you just haven’t had a chance to review and allow the publishing of peoples comments on your blog, however this action alone is irresponsible. You’ve put up a sign calling me a racist idiot and walked away. For your information I do not screen people’s comments on my blog.

    I guess I’m too used to fairness and freedom of speech that we are accustomed to in Canada. Maybe I have learned an important lesson.”

    And then, in an impressive display of Canadian respect for fairness and freedom of speech, he goes ahead and deletes my comment from his blog. 🙂

    I mean, can he be any more hypocritical? Or insensitive? Man, this experience has really taught me a lot about how some of these NGO types operate. So much for cultural sensitivity, huh? I wish I knew all the Sierra Leoneans who fawn all over him, the ones he likes to talk about in his blog. I wish I could let them know how he really feels about them.

    At the end of the day, I can sleep easy knowing that I don’t have to show a different face to different people. I guess that’s what they mean by “cultural sensitivity;” the ability to show one face to the Sierra Leoneans you claim to be helping and another when you and your friends make fun of them behind their backs.

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  8. wow,

    Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. And thanks for acknowledging that Jason’s post is offensive. You’re one of the few non–Sierra Leoneans who’s done so.

    The interesting thing about that whole exchange is how some people just tried to ignore the offensiveness of Jason’s post. Take someone like “newly” who, instead of accepting that the post was offensive, decides instead to attack me and accuse me of stereotyping too. One crucial difference is that I’m not an international NGO worker who claims to be helping people. I didn’t have to put “Cultural Sensitivity” down on my resume in order to get the job that gives me material for my blog. The fact that these guys are unable to see—or unwilling to admit—that the post was offensive makes me question their “cultural sensitivity.”

    So these people get mad when I write something disparaging about NGO staffers but then they totally prove my point in their responses.

    That says a lot indeed.

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  9. That’s all I can say: wow!

    I think it’s one of those things where someone (Jason in this case) says something without intending to be offensive and someone else (you) take offense and react. Completely justified, given that Jason’s post IS offensive. I would’ve reacted in the same way had Jason (or anyone else) attacked my country in such a way. At least you did the right thing and apologized about commenting about Jason’s parents. I’m not sure I’d have done the same.

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  10. MyName,

    Are you referring to the comment I posted on Jason’s blog in response to his offensive blog post? I had no idea. Thanks for the info. Says a lot, doesn’t it?

    I decided to rewrite the post because I do genuinely feel bad for insinuating that Jason’s parents are racist. As offensive as his original post was, I was raised to respect my elders.

    That being said, I felt the focus on the insulting nature of my first post took attention away from the point I wanted to make, which was that some NGO staffers, despite claiming publicly to be helping others in need, privately hold very negative attitudes towards the very people they say they are helping. I wanted to be able to express this without insulting anyone or opening myself up to accusations that I was insulting people, which I think distracts attention from the larger point.

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  11. newly,

    I am not asking you or anyone to apologize. I am only saying that none of you has acknowledged that Jason’s post was offensive.

    You had/have no trouble getting offended at my original post or some of my other posts yet you seem unable to understand why Jason’s post was offensive.

    You criticized me on my blog and that’s cool. I can take it as well as give it. But let’s set the record straight. Jason copied the link to my post and pasted it in his blog. That was not my doing.

    But I’ve said what I had to say. No point revisiting it.

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  12. Hi Abdul,
    Not sure why I need to apologize or why you think Jason’s friend’s and family need to apologize. We did not write the article, Jason did. And it seemed like you two worked things out… so I thought.
    You attacked us. We did not attack you. You called us racists and ignorant. We did not call you these things. You invited everyone to comment on your blog and linked it to Jason’s blog to get everyone all worked up.
    Quote “My post was meant to be vitriolic and confrontational”

    You must have known that the people you name-called, would come to make comments and defend. I don’t think anyone here thinks that you don’t have the right to be offended, same way you shouldn’t be surprised that we were offended you called us racist ignorant do-gooders.
    If you are expecting an apology from the people who have replied, shouldn’t Jason expect an apology for everyone who replied that “sided” on your behalf?
    I accepted your apology when you replied to my post – thank you. But I did not write the blog that offended you – why do you want an apology from me. My ‘criticisms of you in my reply were in fact accurate as you said yourself that you are these things.
    “I’m OK with being called a hypocrite because I don’t claim to be perfect. Do I stereotype? You bet! Am I judgemental? Absolutely! Do I speak/write before I think? Definitely!”

    So I am confused on why you are expecting an apology from me. You are upset that the replies you got are personal attacks… of course – you fired the first shot!

    I have read some of the comments you have made on the other stories in Jason’s blog –
    Quote : “Hmmm . . . a much more sensitive and nuanced post. Perhaps I was too hasty in my judgement. 😦

    This post shows your blog in a whole new light.”

    But now you are back with another post and your closing remark on this blog (that is suddenly back) is an obvious reversal on your apology.
    I’ve taken responsibility and apologized for offending Jason, his family, and his friends. It is, however, very telling that no one on the other side of this issue has bothered to do the same. This fact alone says so much more than my post ever could have.

    You are offended by Jason’s post – yet you write a blog that is meant to be vitriolic and confrontational. This is what I don’t get. You are upset at someone for doing basically the same thing you do. Many of the stories on your blog are meant to get reactions and be vitriolic. Jay’s post is a story about other people’s skewed perception of Sierra Leone – and his way of telling us how off based they are. His blog in not intended to be vitriolic and confrontational. I feel bad that his blog has offended you and others – but I do not apologize – it wasn’t my story that offended you.
    The fact you have re-opened this story and have managed to offend Jason’s “side” again, I see no reason to come back here. You are obviously looking for a reaction

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  13. Patrick,

    I’ve written a few posts about race relations and racism. If you’re interested in reading them, do a search on “Dog the Bounty Hunter” and “Dr. Watson.”

    I’ve put in links to the individual posts so you can find them easily.

    Thanks for your words of caution in your earliers posts by the way. While I was annoyed that you thought I was saying all White people are racist because I’ve never left Sierra Leone, I do appreciate your advice on being more diplomatic.

    Here are the links to the posts (I think you should read the comments too as they say more about race relations in the US than I ever could):

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/11/03/first-dr-watson-now-dog-the-bounty-hunter/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/11/04/dogs-not-only-racist-hes-also-kinda-stupid/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/11/12/dog-the-bounter-hunter-thought-he-was-black-so-it-was-ok-to-drop-the-n-bomb/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2008/02/20/dog-the-bounty-hunter-gets-his-show-back-proving-its-ok-to-be-a-racist-in-america/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/10/18/black-people-are-less-intelligent-says-dr-james-watson-nobel-prize-winner-and-dna-pioneer/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/10/23/for-dr-watson-and-other-racists-racisms-beauty-lies-in-its-simplicity/

    https://mightyminnow.wordpress.com/2007/10/23/for-dr-watson-and-other-racists-racisms-beauty-lies-in-its-simplicity-part-ii/

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  14. You can make excuses all you like. These days you put something on a public domain like the internet – you’d better be ready for a backlash if it’s considered offensive. You want to address family and friends? Send them an email. Sierra Leone has enough image issues without you adding to it. Google picks up your blog my friend… and we know very few read past the headlines. You want to help? Help us challenge the perceptions that folks have of Sierra Leone. Not just your family but the world at large.

    As far as i’m concerned, the more Abduls the better. It was a culturally insensitive post.

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  15. Look, dad and all you relatives of Jason out there. All i can see is you guys trying to make escuses for Jay when infact all that is needed is a simple apology and correction of what has been posted as fact. Clearly Sierra leoneans who have read his blog are upset.
    There is no need to try to justify his actions. You may call it freedom of expression, Joke or what ever other word you can find to discribe it but the bottom line is the people concern (Sierra leoneans) dont like it.
    Its not even a matter of political correct, its just bad taste.

    And whats with this talk of Jason leaving his confort zone to work in Sierra leone???? Give me a break already. As far as am concern, Jason has just as much to gain, if not more, from his experiences, as Sierra Leoneans have to gain from his work. So lets not even go down that route of painting him as a saviour.
    More like, lets stick with the point that he has made offensive comments about the people he claims to help.

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  16. dad,

    Thanks for your comment. And more importantly, thank you for not lashing out in anger as I did in response to Jason’s post.

    As others have pointed out, it was not diplomatic or respectful or even mature of me to write that post in the heat of the moment. My only defense is that I needed to get it off my chest and this blog is one of the avenues I use to get things off my chest. As Patrick has indicated above, the freedom to say what one pleases should be tempered with a concern for diplomacy. More importantly, where possible, that freedom should not be used to insult people. Clearly my response to Jason’s post was offensive to Jason, his friends, and his family. So while I maintain that his post was offensive to me, I recognize that I should have handled it differently. By the time you are finished reading this, the offensive response will have been deleted.

    Furthermore, I understand your concern for your son’s safety and I assure you I have no intention of causing him any harm (I actually very embarrassed that I have to assure you of this but I hate to think that my post could possibly be interpreted as a threat to Jason’s safety). My family was in Sierra Leone throughout the war and I know what it’s like to fear for the safety of loved ones who are far away. To the extent that I have contributed to your fear and anxiety for Jason’s wellbeing, I sincerely and wholeheartedly apologize.

    I do want to point out that when I wrote what I wrote, I did not expect you to read it, in much the same way I’m sure Jason didn’t expect me to see the post he had written. But as someone who’s had to see/read/hear the worst of Africa presented for the entertainment of Westerners—this tradition dates back centuries—I hope you can accept, if not understand, my reaction. The only thing I can say in addition is that I reserved my harshest criticism of Jason’s post for my personal blog, and was careful to post clean comments on his. Some of the people who’ve posted comments defending Jason on my blog haven’t been as considerate. But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I chose to offend as a reaction to having been offended.

    All I can say in my defense is that I have a right to be offended and I have a right to get angry when someone writes something that is not only inaccurate but also negative about Sierra Leone. I understand that Jason gave up a lot of his own personal comfort and safety to try to make a difference in Sierra Leone, and that is no small thing. And I understand that the crazy viruses etc. post was supposed to be an inside joke to which I was not privy and which I thus took out of context. However, I’m of the opinion that the fact that Jason is helping Sierra Leoneans does not make it OK for him to make jokes about their country when he doesn’t think they’re listening. Psychiatrists should make jokes about their patients simply because they’re helping them, nor should special education teachers make jokes about their students. And they should expect outrage if they’re discovered doing so.

    I’ve since read enough of Jason’s posts to know that the one post I read is not representative of his blog or of who he is as a person. But that doesn’t change the fact that the first post I read was offensive to me and other Sierra Leoneans who’ve read it. My response to Jason—offensive though it was—does not make his post less offensive, but it does reflect very poorly on me. I am not proud of this, and the exchanges I’ve had with you and Jason have been a learning experience for me.

    In closing, I can only once again extend my sincerest and most heartfelt apologies to you, your wife, and the rest of Jason’s friends and families whom I offended with my post. I hope we can put this unpleasant matter behind us.

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  17. When i first read you comments on my son’s blog I was outraged, angry and ready to fire back at you.However, I chose not to respond in the heat of the moment.I recognized and understood that people can take a writing out of context and acccordingly be offended by it. However, it shoud not give anyone the right to attack that person, his family and friends .

    These types of personal attacks are self serving and certainly upsetting creating divisions instead of unity for a cause that I like to believe we all desire…equality for all mankind.

    I know that Jason believes in that fundamental right for all people otherwise he would not have left the comforts of the western world and go to Sierra Leone.

    As parents it is very normal to worry,( in most cases unnecesarily) about your children especially in this case, when a son goes to a far away place that we had little if any knowledge.. that raises the concerns for your son’s well being..not in the people that reside there, but in the elements! Because you see, we, my wife and I always see good in people and found it so everywhere we have travelled throughout the world..as have my two sons! We always treat people with respect and we happen to be colour blind!

    Our ignorance ( lack of knowledge) of Sierra Leone and those of our family and friends has been enlightened through this experience of Jason and his blog has been one medium in which we have come to be much more aware of the plight of the people in Sierra Leone and have certainly become more attentative and sensitive to the overall challenges faced by the people there and in many of the African nations.

    Jason, has certainly been the educator and will be the inspiration for me and others to reach out in a tangible way
    to help those many people in need in Sierra Leone.

    One only needs to read all of Jason’s blog to see his sensitivity, understanding and respect for the people and his purpose for being in Sierra Leone.

    Many of us know that he has allready made a positive contribution…we need more people like him in this world as we strive to make it a better place for ALL.

    Iam relieved and satisfied by your latest remarks and do hope that both you and Jason will have the opportunity for one day soon to meet in Washington and over a nice cup of coffee learn from each other.

    Afterall, you both have a common goal…equality for all people in this world.

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  18. Ok, well I’m glad you clarified that. I noticed in your previous reply that you say you are living in the US. I would be curious about how much/ whether you think there is racism in the US. Maybe that would be an interesting post for your blog. Since I am not of African origin its hard for me to get an idea about that, although where I am from (Ohio), I don’t get the feeling there is a lot of racism, at least not expressed overtly. And I think a lot of African Americans assume that white people are racist, but actually they don’t know because they can’t read their minds.

    In the US I think there is a lot more of “institutional racism”.

    Interestingly, since I have spent a lot of time in Asia, I find that many Asian people are very overt in expressing racism towards people of African origin. Although I doubt they would ever say it to an African person’s face.

    I understand that you want to say whatever you please, but I also think its good to try to be diplomatic. I don’t see any good in upsetting people unnecessarily (and you see some people here are obviously upset). I think its also good to try to take an even- minded approach to things. I think there’s no point in upsetting people and creating hard feelings between people when its not necessary. This only makes the world a worse place to live in and creates more divisions between people.

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  19. Hey ease up on the Canuck!!
    I have spent enough time in Freetown pushing shit uphill (for which, read working to foster any level of, or even a feeling for, financial accountability in the Salone Government) to understand the man’s wish to say something. Laughing to keep from crying springs to mind.

    Like

  20. To everyone,

    This whole internet back-and-forth has clearly gotten out of hand. It all started because I was offended by Jason’s post and I left him a comment letting him know how I feel, and followed it up with a post on my blog. Since then, we’ve exchanged comments on each others’ blogs.

    Today, it seems things have deteriorated, if some of the comments posted here are any indication. The criticisms of me I don’t mind: I understand that when you exercise your right to say whatever you want—however harsh it is—you expose yourself to an equally harsh response. Which is fine with me.

    But it is noteworthy that the people who posted the harshest comments complained that their comments didn’t show up immediately, accusing me of censorhip and of blocking comments that were not supportive of me. To set the record straight, I live in the US so there is a time-difference issue at play here. Also, my internet access is limited to certain times of day and I only saw this morning that there were five comments awaiting approval, including an understandably irate one from Jason. Regular readers of this blog know I don’t censor or block any comments.

    As you can see, your comments are all up. They are up not because of anything anyone said, but simply because I have now logged on to my computer and approved them.

    I may not be Canadian but I do value fair play and freedom of speech.

    Like

  21. newly,

    Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. I’m OK with being called a hypocrite because I don’t claim to be perfect. Do I stereotype? You bet! Am I judgemental? Absolutely! Do I speak/write before I think? Definitely! The thing is, I acknowlege my weaknesses and shortcomings. Just because I point out other people’s shortcomings—ignorance, prejudice, etc.—does not mean I think I am flawless, without ignorance and prejudice of my own. I believe in progress, not perfection, and I’m constantly engaged in a process of self-improvement.

    As for calling people I’ve never met ignorant, perhaps my use of the word is misindurstood. I use ignorant in its literal sense to mean lack of knowledge. There are many things I’m ignorant about because I don’t know about them. Sure, ignorance can lead to other negatives but that’s not the point.

    As for racism, we may disagree on whether or not the images of a disease-ridden and deadly Africa are racist but that doesn’t change the fact that these characterizations of Africa have been an integral part of racist Europeans’ perceptions of Africa and Africans. I used the term “racist White people” to emphasize the point that Jason’s characterizations were reminiscent of racist portrayals and thus would be immediately recognizable to people who already held those views. I was not insinuating that all White people are racist.

    I could go on and on but it’s pointless since your aim is to criticize me and point out that I’m closed-minded, prejudiced, and judgemental. You see, I don’t disagree with any of that. But if you read my blog—especially the posts dealing with racism (Dr. Watson and Dog the Bounty Hunter)—you’ll see that people post all kinds of comments and I allow them. I don’t expect perfection from anyone, just engagement. Engaging with Jason via our blogs is more important to me than the manner in which we engage. His post was meant to be humorous and tongue-in-cheek yet he managed to offend me (and at least one other person who’s left a comment). My post was meant to be vitriolic and confrontational and it offended you, Jason, and others. But the offense is not important to me because I believe we can talk our way past that. What is important is that if offense can be caused even when attempts are made to avoid it, then why focus on not causing offense? Why not focus instead on saying what you have to say and getting it out there?

    What you need to understand is that I don’t think that a person’s views are necessarily a reflection of their worth as people. I’ve read most of the rest of Jason’s posts and they’re great, written with nuance and a great deal of sensitivity. I’ve let him know how I feel about them. Likewise, I have racists in my family and I engage with them nonetheless. However, I thought the crazy virus and psycho cannibals post was insensitive and racist and therefore offensive to me, and I still think it is. Do I want Jason to take it down? Absolutely not! I wouldn’t take down my blog just because people posted a harshly critical comment.

    So I haven’t changed my tune because Jason confronted me. I thought his response was polite and well-thought-out so I responded in kind. If/when we meet, I’m sure we’ll have a great conversation and hopefully we’ll learn more from/about each other.

    Like

  22. Patrick,

    Thanks for reading my blog and leaving a comment. Perhaps you are right that I have overreacted to Jason’s blog post, but my only defense is the one he used: I write my blog for a particular audience, people who know me and are accustomed to what I have to say. But I understand the consequences of saying whatever I please include having someone else say whatever s/he pleases in return. This is why I have the comments activated and why I approve all comments.

    I never said all White people are racists. I think you misunderstood my words. It sounds to me like you assumed I meant that all White people are racist, which is absolutely NOT what I meant. I meant that the characterizations of Africa in the post would be easily understood by racist White people, i.e., White people who are [also] racist.

    As for ever having been outside Africa, you should have read my “About” page. I have been living outside Africa for the past two decades. I practically grew up in the US. I got my Masters degree in London. Half of my family is White. I have a White mother and was raised with one foot in Russian culture. I speak Russian and French. I grew up with Pushkin and Dostoyevsky, Chaikovsky, Shakespeare, Dickens and Waugh. And I have met all kinds of racists. I know they come in all shades of color and from all parts of the world. Racism is an attitude, a way of seeing the world. It’s not a person.

    So please, accuse me of making generalizations if you will. I won’t deny or challenge your accusations. But don’t assume I’m just some angry guy typing away in an internet cafe somewhere in Sierra Leone who’s never been exposed to Western society. I did not know what racism was before I moved to the US.

    Like

  23. Kevin,

    I can understand you’re upset that I insulted your friend but I found your friend’s post offensive and insensitive. But that’s neither here nor there as I feel I’ve tried to work out my issues with Jason.

    Like

  24. Jason,

    I think you’re overreacting. You’re assuming malice on my part when the truth is that I simply haven’t had a chance to update my blog. Your comments appear immediately—they do not have to be “screened” because I’ve approved them in the past.

    As soon as I have a chance to approve all the comments (there were only 5, including yours) they’ll appear on my blog.

    As for the message to your mom, I meant no offense at all and sincerley apologize if I caused any. That was not my intention at all, and I will delete it immediately.

    I guess my attempt at humor went awry as well, so I’m getting a taste of my own medicine.

    Please extend my sincerest and most heartfelt apologies to your mom.

    PS. Fairness and freedom of speech are not only Canadian values. I may be Sierra Leonean but I fully understand and value fairness and freedom of speech. Read some of my other posts, especially the ones dealing with the racism of Dr. James Watson and Dog the Bounty Hunter. You’ll see that all comments are allowed.

    Like

  25. I don’t mind this Internet sparing match, but you are playing dirty. You are not allowing people to voice their opinions freely. I have gone as far as posting your slanderous comments on my blog to promote open dialogue. You, alternatively, are screening people’s comments that are not in line with yours. People are telling me that their comments haven’t been posted on your blog.

    I am totally OK with “losing”. This is why I was fine with you posting outrageously slanderous comments about me. I thought the free world of the web would validate or dismiss the comments and all could learn and be happy.

    But I will not participate with someone like you. Please follow some line of respectable behaviour and A) post all the comments you have blocked, and continue to allow other comments, or B) write an apology for your defamatory comments about me, or C) remove your blog entry in question; otherwise I will take action, which may include removing my blog as a result of being bullied off the Internet. Something I feel is not negotiable – please remove the address to my mother.

    It is entirely possible that you just haven’t had a chance to review and allow the publishing of peoples comments on your blog, however this action alone is irresponsible. You’ve put up a sign calling me a racist idiot and walked away. For your information I do not screen people’s comments on my blog.

    I guess I’m too used to fairness and freedom of speech that we are accustomed to in Canada. Maybe I have learned an important lesson.

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  26. Thanks Abdul,
    I thought I was the only Sierra leonean who read Jason’s blog. This was the most ignorant and racist portrayal of Africans I have seen lately although I must say the dude who claimed the Lebanese were Sierra Leone’s only way to economic development came real close. I have read the blogs of most of the so called “expats” that work in Sierra Leone and about 90% of them are just plain ole derogatory. If this is how the open minded, want to help poor Africans white folks think, then I dare not get into the minds of the narrow minded white folks.

    Like

  27. Much of a hypocrite? Wow, you personally attacked someone that you don’t even know, and in turn, personally attacked his family and friends. Calling them racists and ignorant.
    “Now, I’m sure this guy was writing for an audience of people just like him, so he felt it necessary to throw in the gratuitous reference to African viruses and cannibalism. After all, everyone knows Africa is full of viruses and cannibals, so why break with tradition? It’s easier to start with a common point of reference, something everyone can relate to. And by everyone, I mean racist White people.”
    I really find it interesting the different views people can walk away after reading or viewing some ones work.
    Lets take your article on teenage pregnancy as an example.
    “Having never been to Gloucester, I can only speculate, which I’m fully prepared to do since I’m also a gambling man. I wager that these girls were not raised in homes or communities in which they were taught to value themselves or to make decisions that would benefit them in the future. I wager that these girls never saw themselves as college graduates or professionals. And I would wager that these girls considered pregnancy and motherhood to be worthy accomplishments that would win them attention and admiration.”
    You speculate? You have never been to Gloucester? The way I could read this story, as you say the majority of this region is Catholic, is that you have something against Catholics. I guess you see them as people who cannot teach their children values, as you say this with no factual basis. Interesting… from someone who is only speculating. How offensive and ignorant is that? May be these young girls made a mistake and got pregnant. And as a Catholic, abortion just isn’t an option. I guess this means that you are pro-abortion. See how that works – my take on your story. Idiotic right? Not much different from your take on Jays story – though there are actual facts in Jay’s blog.
    You call Jay a pr*ck… because he misguided us ignorant and gullible readers that the Kamajors are not a tribe. But can you dispute that Bruno the chimp did in fact attack people and take their flesh? Is there no Malaria in Africa? What about starvation and malnutrition? These, in fact, are part of Sierra Leone. Do I think this IS Sierra Leone. NO… I’m not stupid. Jay’s blog shows a beautiful country filled with beautiful people. You do not have to tell me (I’m not stupid) that there is more to Sierra Leone. Jay does not see Sierra Leone as a cesspool for viruses and death. Nor do his readers – you know – the ones you refer to as ignorant racists. In fact, one of his readers has visited Sierra Leone and has only gloated about it’s beauty and splender. But you wouldn’t know that, because you only stereo type and speculate.
    You are an elegant writer – I wish I was as talented as you, but you certainly come across as a “hot head” who speaks before thinking. There is quite a different tone in your response to Jay once he confronted you. If your initial blog was written with the same tone – it would have been much less abrasive and I wouldn’t have found it offensive. You, my friend, are no different than the publisher that wouldn’t print the children’s book. You are close minded and only want to see what you want to see. I only hope you take Jay’s invitation for coffee to see how wrong you really are.

    PS – you have already called Jay’s Mother a racists, ignorant Canadian… no sense changing your opinion now. And if it bothers you that YOU THINK we see Africa in this way – again only speculation – grow up and don’t call someone a prick (forgot the asterisks) until you know the facts.

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  28. Abdul, I can understand you being upset, but I think you may have over-reacted to this post a little bit. I do agree, the last paragraph was over the top. But I think you can see from the post that it was written in a playful manner to address attitudes of his family and friends at home. Although it may upset you that his family and friends feel that way, that is the reality. I used to work in neighboring Liberia, and I can tell you that the attitudes about Liberia (not only of Americans- my home country- but of people all over the world) are that it is one of those countries which has been ravished by war… etc, etc.

    And although this post was not an attempt to educate his readers, maybe in the future he will write posts which are more educational? The tone or theme of one post should be consistent.

    “And by everyone, I mean racist White people.” Too much- aren’t you making the same kind of generalization that you accuse him of? Are all white people racist? Have you ever been outside of Sierra Leone and how many white people have you met? How do you know if someone is racist unless they make an overtly racist statement? I’m sure there is racism- I’ve seen evidence of it, but maybe not in all white people. And not only white people are racist, many Asians are also racist. In fact, all of us may be racially prejudiced in one way or another.

    But anyway, glad you’re blogging and making a contribution, or opening up some discussion.

    Like

  29. Hey! That pr*ck is my friend and a good guy who is doing good work in a difficult situation. He is not writing news or attempting to create a myopic vision of the country he’s trying to assist. He’s writing a humorous take on his experience. Get your head out of academia for a moment.

    Perhaps in your own criticisms you’re creating the same stereotypes of “do-gooders” that equally do damage to the situation. Ever think of that?

    Development and race are not as black and white as you make it sound.

    Check out my blog and give me the same treatment.

    http://www.talkaloti.blogspot.com

    Like

  30. Jason,

    For starters, lest you believe I don’t appreciate Canadian humor, I have to point out that I’ve always been a huge fan of Canadian humor and considered our northern neigbors to have buckets of the good variety: John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Jim Carey, Mike Myers—the list is endless.

    As for ignorance . . . well . . . I daresay my adopted home may have yours beat when it comes to ignorance, British educational system notwithstanding. But that’s a subjective position.

    What bothered me so much about your post was . . . a lot of things, some of the most grievous I already addressed in my original comment and in the follow-up post on my blog. It bothers me that your friends and family all hold these very negative opinions about Sierra Leone and Africa and that, instead of educating them, your posts just feed right back into their own preconceived negative impressions serving to further reinforce them.

    Yes, Sierra Leone’s dirt poor. Yes, the country’s just come out of a brutal civil war. And yes, there are many systemic, institutional, and cultural problems in the country that contribute to—and perpetuate—the current sad state of affairs. But I worry that your characterization of Sierra Leone ignores political, economic, social, and cultural factors so much so that after reading your most recent post, people will have learned nothing about them, instead coming away with an essentialized view of Sierra Leone: “this is how Sierra Leone is and we all know why.” “Why” of course being the aforementioned negative preconceived notions.

    But instead of presenting this stock-footage view of Sierra Leone to your friends and family who—judging by their warnings and your own admission—don’t know so much about Sierra Leone, you could have presented a different, more complete view. As someone who’s actually in Sierra Leone, you’re uniquely and ideally placed to witness and experience life on the ground and I find it hard to imagine that killer bugs, psycho cannibals, and a climate that conspires to turn you into a corpse form the totality of your experience. Perhaps I’m asking too much.

    But so much for that. As far as the quality of your writing, I have no quarrel with it. I think you’re a great writer, a keen observer (albeit with a predilection toward the negative), and you’re obviously a great wit. From your writing alone, I can tell you’re educated. You’re obviously well-traveled and you have a taste for the exotic. These are all great assets that should make your time in Sierra Leone an interesting and hopefully informative—and dare I say it TRANSformative?—one.

    As for polling the Sierra Leoneans in your circle, don’t forget that the color of your skin, your nationality, your job, and thus your status in the society might all result in your getting less-than-candid responses. Bear that in mind. As much as you may want to think of yourself as “one of them,” the social, economic, and political realities of your and their lives create a lot of differences.

    Does this mean that there is or can never be a middle ground? Absolutely not! Does it mean that bridges can never be built over the social, economic, and political divides between you and the majority of Sierra Leoneans? Definitely not! All I’m saying is that you ought to be mindful of the differences that divide you. Goodwill is wonderful but often, it’s not enough. It’s not enough for us to change the world we inhabit. We must also change ourselves.

    Well, enough pontificating from me. I’ve linked your blog to mine and I will return regularly to read about your experiences in Sierra Leone.

    ‘Til next time. Remember to take your anti-malarials and iron your clothes. 🙂

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  31. Dear Abdul,

    I take your comments to heart. I don’t like being described as demeaning or insensitive. But ignorant I can handle, because I believe you learn until the day you die. My attempt at humour does, unfortunately, have the effect of offending people. Call it bad Canadian humour, and blame it on our British roots.

    The interesting thing about blogs is that it is open to all (it is evidence itself that I do not hide my opinions behind the doors of an expat bar), but a good blog – in my opinion – zeros in on a subject and a specific audience. You, obviously, are not in my target audience, so I take your comments with a grain of salt.

    This blog is meant for my family, friends and like-minded westerners, to give them a glimpse into my life here, including my views. It is not a science journal. When you get and editor, researcher and write unpartisan, neutral stories for a broad audience it becomes a newspaper article. If I write to a broad audience – from wealthy westerners to the masses of West Africa – it would not connect with a sole and be devastatingly boring.

    And I must confess. I’m not a great writer. I’m used to writing manuals and policies. I’m trying my best. I thought the ridiculous title gave a good hint to the funny nature of the entry. Maybe I didn’t communicate it properly, but the entry “Crazy Unknown African Viruses & Psycho Cannibalism” was trying to poke fun at my closest friends and family, recapping the collection of worries they had before I left for Salone and offering a couple more ridiculous and stereotypical scenarios. Celebrating our ignorance – a staple in Canadian humour.

    Because of your comments, I may make some adjustments to the blog – removing any connection with organizations. But, you haven’t convinced me to change my style. If other Sierra Leoneans don’t like it, they still may find value in, what you call, “the ignorant opinion of an expat do-gooder”. I may be alone in my universe, but if I’m not, and others think like I do – you will have learned something, yes? [Although I went back to read a few entries, and I don’t agree with your negative assessment. But then again, it can be my ignorance. And then again, if others think like me, then you’ve learned something. You with me? It’s a viscous circle.]

    I plan to write an entry about my perception of the chemical balance of expats who choose to work here, including me. My opinion is that it’s not as rosy as people might think. There is nothing normal about a westerner wanting to work in a poor African country. And, ironically, after reading your blog, I believe we have more in common than you think – after my first stint in development, I am far from sold on its machine. Tune in again. I might give insight you would otherwise not find from another source. And you should read some of my other entries to get a more balanced impression of the author.

    After all this is my opinion. I can take being called ignorant from a stranger (although with internet anonymity you could be a board member for my organization, aye!? Dr Jalloh, is it you?), but I get your point about what my Salone friends and colleagues might think. I will poll them, unless you succeed to lobby for my extradition first.

    Cheers,

    Jason

    “I said maybe I love everyone.
    She said that’s the same as lovin no one.
    I said ok, I guess, whatever.”

    Dan Bern

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  32. Hi Jason,

    Glad to hear from you. And glad you love my comments. I look forward to reading your response on your blog.

    Luckily for you, Sierra Leoneans like all Westerners far too much, notwithstanding the dark history of European intervention on the continent. I imagine it must make working there easier. Pity we don’t always extend the same deference to fellow Sierra Leoneans and Africans.

    Anyhow, I live in DC so whenever you’re in town, give me a shout and we can meet up. I may be critical of the White man’s paternalism but I won’t turn down his offer of coffee. 🙂

    Are you based mainly in Freetown? How are you seeing the situation there (besides the killer bugs, apes, and cannibals)?

    Hope to continue the conversation in person soon.

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  33. Hey Abdul! It’s me, Jason. The guy you’re ripping into. Love your comments. I’m gonna post it on my blog with a response. I would love to meet you in Salone or Washington for a coffee. I go to Washington often for my job back home.
    Let me know when/where you are. I’ll buy. The conversation would be great.
    Cheers,
    J
    PS. The one good thing that could come out of this is bringing the reputation of Canadians (and Canada) down to a reasonable level. Sierra Leoneans like us way too much.

    Like

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