Thursday, February 24, 2011

On computer viruses

I was up-country in a rural Liberian computer lab last week, assisting Nate while he trained a classroom of secondary students and their teachers on how to use the online platform for our program. These schools usually have donated desktop computers but no regular power, so it's not unusual to hear about students taking up a small collection to buy fuel so they can use their school's computer lab. To them, learning to use computers is worth the investment and it's way cheaper than an Internet cafe, assuming there's one in town.

We make a preliminary assessment of each participating school's computer lab before we arrive, taking time to ascertain how many of their Ministry of Education-donated computers are functional. Usually, it's just a fraction of the total.

At the beginning of our trainings, when the team is busy connecting the working computers to the Internet, I notice as the virus-riddled machines sit there in silence. They may as well be rocks, for all the use are to their students.

Last week, one school we trained had such a myriad of malicious code that it took us 45 minutes to do what normally takes five. The modems picked up viruses and their connections got flaky, the computers had to be restarted every few minutes, and even the digital camera managed to crash a few times.

Still, nothing could daunt the excited of students being connected to the Internet for a first time. One group stayed past 5:00, until their computer teacher sent them home, threatening that the generator was going to run out of fuel.

I wonder if the hackers who write computer viruses know that this is where their code ends up, in a simple African classroom, keeping children whose families live on a dollar a day off the World Wide Web.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Goodbye, Tides: The gratitude list

When things go sour, as they did with Tides, it helps to keep perspective. It helps to not feed the anger, betrayal and disappointment. It helps to remind myself why my fiance and I invested in a business in Liberia in the first place. It helps to remember what we did.

So, for all of you who have sent me lovely notes full of gratitude for the spot we created together, here is my own gratitude list for Tides.

1. We created and managed a successful business.

For all the fun I had, this has to top the list. Nate and I aren't business people by background or academic training, but we do have a lot of common sense, value fairness and try our best to treat people well. Tides was successful, and we worked hard to make it that way. I'm really proud of that.

2. We made good food with local ingredients.

I cannot tell you how many times businessmen would approach Nate or me in the lead-up to opening, offering to bring us this or that on their airline or shipping container. "What about frozen french fries?" one would suggest. "Thank you," we'd reply politely, shaking our heads, "but we want to promote all the great local produce Liberia has to offer." From sauteed potato greens with ginger and roasted pumpkin seeds to barracuda ceviche, we did it. And it tasted good.

4. We created some tasty cocktails.

This is one of the things I miss the most, as there are few places in Monrovia that make the effort to serve fresh juice, let alone add fresh juice or infusions to their cocktails. It's not even that hard, and it's far cheaper--and tastier, not to mention healthier--than buying imported boxed or bottled juices. The infused vodkas were great fun to play with. Enough said.

5. We brought people together.

From late-nights with a handful of friends inventing cocktails at the bar to our 100+ person Thanksgiving pot-luck, Tides brought people together. You could chill with your date on the balcony and watch the stars, you could bring your boss for after-work drinks, or you could just rock up on your own and see who you'd meet. Monrovia, with all it's short-termers and turnover, needed a place like that.

6. We contributed to making Liberia a cool place.

It has been a privilege and an honor to start and run a business in Liberia. I'm writing lots more about all the fun stuff, so stay tuned to see what comes of that.

7. We had fun.

Period.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Goodbye to Tides

We want to inform our friends and customers that we are no longer involved in Tides in any way. After appropriating our ideas, our management practices and our investment capital, our partner expelled us from our home and the business.

We greatly enjoyed hosting you and getting to know you at Tides and we appreciated your business and friendship alike. We are surprised and disappointed at what has happened, but are deeply appreciative of the friends (and customers) who have helped us through this transition.

We look forward to seeing you at other bars and restaurants and perhaps at a new establishment of our own soon ; )

It was fun while it lasted!

-The Tides team