Daily Archives: August 18, 2010

Learning about Africa: Anthony Bourdain visits Liberia

I enjoy food critic Anthony Bourdain’s television show No Reservations and was eager to see the Liberian episode as it is a country that borders Sierra Leone (where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer) and so they have a lot in common. I was not surprised that the visit for Bourdain was very disturbing, this is, after all, a  very poor country recovering — like its neighbor Sierra Leone  — from a brutal prolonged conflict.

Well intentioned as it was meant to be I was most bothered by their visit to a remote village.  Not for the reasons that Bourdain was bothered as what clearly unnerved him looked so familiar to me — when I lived in Sierra Leone that is how most people upcountry lived. The women cooking, children teasing, and men drinking palm wine all brought back memories to me, I can tell you.  But he looked beyond shocked; I have to wonder who exactly prepared them for that village visit.  I mean, this is what rural life was like in Sierra Leone in the 70s when I lived there; I have to assume that was what it was like in Liberia too.  Bourdain had clearly no context for what he saw and I completely understand that — the reason Peace Corps required us to serve two years is that it took us a year just to be able to be comfortable living in Sierra Leone as it was so different from what any of us could possibly know. So how could Bourdain, without the training we received, be able to make sense of all that he saw?  I’m dubious.   In particular when he attempted to explain the devil that visited the village while he was there.  His explanation is not the way I understood animism in Sierra Leone.  Not going to get into it now, but have to say that what he said was very, very, very muddled.

Tricky stuff and trickier still when it isn’t exactly right.I do wish they’d at least have provided a bit more information on the website; even a few links to worthwhile sites would be helpful.


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Filed under Africa, Learning About Africa