Book Recommendation: “Trials Elsewhere” by R. Matthias

Steve Jobs once said, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” The author of today’s book recommendation is one of those people.

I don’t normally read non-fiction, but a while back I saw a blog post about R. Matthias’s book, Trials Elsewhere: Stories of Life and Development in West Africa, and I thought it sounded interesting. And when I actually sat down to read the book, I was not disappointed.

The author of Trials Elsewhere is a Canadian IT specialist who travels to the Gambia in West Africa to make the world a better place. The book offers an up-close look into his life in a place that is vastly different from the West.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part is about the author’s life as an NGO (non-governmental organization) volunteer in West Africa. After his stint at the NGO, Matthias takes a job with an internet service provider (ISP) and the second part of the book shares the story of his experiences as a manager in the ISP office.

Matthias’s path from idealistic fresh-faced volunteer to jaded office manager is strewn with stories ranging from burglaries to a run-in with the secret police, to a jungle trial, to corrupt officials to a tyrannical boss and his subversive secretarial sidekick, to his invitation to a local wedding as the “expert” photographer.

What impressed me the most about Matthias’s tales was the insight he gains from the time he spent in the Gambia. He understands why he becomes bitter and frustrated and more importantly, why the people of the Gambia don’t share his initial enthusiasm about bringing change to West Africa. He understands that Western ways are not always understood or welcomed in the Gambia, and he changes his managerial methods to dovetail with the attitudes toward work shown by his employees and colleagues. He presents his ideas clearly and concisely, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

There is quite a bit of technical jargon in the book, and I had to skim through some of it because I simply don’t understand it. That being said, I think such sections would be very intriguing to someone with an IT or other technical background.

Thanks to R. Matthias for this glimpse into a world I have never seen!

Until next week,