Book review: a scholar, activist and adventurer

Charla M. Burnett

By Nvasekie N. Konneh

To write a memoir is a brave act. It simply means to bare your soul to the world. To lay it all out there about you, your family and friends, some of your inner most secrets. If you decide to write a memoir, you will be confronted with question as which part of your life experiences to be exposed in a book or which part to leave out. Are you only going to focus on the bright spot that will make everyone to be proud of you or will you include parts of your life experiences that you are not so proud of but you have to include as a matter of honesty and full disclosure?  Will that not make some to look at you some kind of ways? Whatever you decide to do, you may want to keep it 100% honest but the downside to that could be you will expose yourself to people’s judgment. Well, I guess the feeling will be that if you were brave enough to include it in the book you are simply telling the world that you are ready for whatever, good or bad judgment. In that regard you may say, “If you are a family member, colleague, mentor or a friend, you might want to turn back now. This is not going to be easy to read. You might never look at me the same way again.”

With that said, meet Charla Burnett, a young woman from the Midwest. Coming from what she calls “trailer pack” in Michigan where young women and young men don’t dream big because of grinding poverty which leads to chronic drinking problems and prostitution, one may consider her as a success story from such an environment. She is one of those who, despite the rough terrain of their upbringing, is very determined to be successful in a place where success stories may not be in abundance. Just like Malcolm X said that education is our passport to the future, Charla might have set her goal as such as she pursues her goal of academic and professional success and accomplishment. 

Charla is a survival of traumatic life experiences which have made her to be in sympathy with people everywhere who are at the bottom of societies. Call her an activist, call her a scholar, or call her an adventurer who has traveled to some of the world’s glamorous places as well as some of the less glamorous places which include my own country, Liberia. In her travels, she saw and experienced a lot of things and she decided to put her experience into a book titled, “A Memoirs of a Venture Novelist.” with the sub title, “One Woman’s Guide to Travel, Sex, and Culture.” Even if she is not a well-known celebrity we all know about, she is fighting a battle of righteousness in her own little ways or as we will say in Liberia, in her own little corner. Perhaps, for people who don’t know her, they will discover her strength and determination through the pages of this book. While I will recommend it for people everywhere in the world, I will especially recommend it for my fellow Liberians and the people of Palestine,  Israel, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Barbuda in the Caribbean. Whether we are big name celebrities or ordinary people who are only known by our friends, families and coworkers, travels give us the ability to be able to bring our own unique understanding to places we travel to for any number of reasons, some of which could be for work, scholarly research or simply an adventurous pleasure seeking trip such as vacations to places far and near. 

For those of us who have lived through the wars in war-torn countries, we have had many NGOs with both their expatriates and local employees. Those from Europe or America, especially when they are whites, we assume they all come from paradise where there is no human suffering. Reading Charla’s book will make you understand the experience and stories of some of those who come to help us through the nonprofit organizations. Whether they spend a month or three or the whole year, they will leave with their own impression of the places they went to and the people they interacted with. If you ever wonder what impression they leave with about our country and it’s myriads of issues, then indeed it must be interesting to know. Some of these expatriate employees may write about their experiences as report to the organizations they work for and some like Charla Burnett may write the memoirs of their experiences in those places. 

Charla’s journey took her first to the City of Light, Paris, France on student exchange program. That was her first trip outside of the US. Then to Liberia as research intern, and then to Israel and Palestine and the Caribbean Island of Antigua and Barbuda. While all these may be research related in pursue of academic and professional career, the trip to Southeast Asia was for personal fulfillment she made to herself. That trip should have been a honeymoon if one of her relationships had matured into holy matrimony. With the prosper of marriage not in sight, she went on a solo trip which she still calls a “honeymoon.”

She considers herself a “small town girl.” Accordingly, for people living in small towns, whether in the US or elsewhere in the world, you often hear people describing such experience as having “nothing to do but sex and drugs.” Many of us who have experienced life in small towns can relate to that aspect of small town living minus the drug use or drug abuse.  

Of the relationship between her mother and father in the small town of Charlotte, Michigan, she said, “when they were 16 and 17, they decided that they had nothing better to do than have baby.” As such, they went on their romantic journey and the result is the baby who has grown up as a woman, whose book I am now reading and you may be interested in reading as well. All this goes to say, as glamorous as life seems to be in the world’s greatest country, the USA, in the rural towns there are limited opportunities and many are not born with silver spoons in their mouths.  She was born in a broken home but that has not stopped Charla from perusing her dream as a scholar, activist and adventurer. To see her where she is today is simply an indication that she has covered many miles that has taken her to so many places. So this book represents her pain and triumph over the difficulty she has experienced to arrive at where she is today.  This book can only be attributed to the strength of her mind and character to reach further in life. A determined mind can never fail, no matter how long the journey may take.

In Paris, as she engaged in conversation with people about the world, especially the role the US is playing as a global super power.  She found herself challenged by some of those people who seemed to know more about her country than her. That may be a cultural shock to many Americans, to see that there are people living in other parts of the world who religiously follow everything happening in America. For those who are in the know, America being the global super power, what happens here is not only followed by people living here but by people everywhere in the world. While many are fascinated by its great economic and cultural success that attracts people everywhere, there are some who hold abhorrent views of the US foreign policy. Indeed, American pop culture and its economic success stories are attractive to people everywhere in the world but their many who are very critical of its foreign policy.

While in Paris on the student exchange program, she had an encounter with an Ivorian immigrant in a strip club. Through their conversation, she got to know her as a stripper who had to strip for men and women to support herself and her family in the Ivory Coast. The source of her money may not be morally right to some people on moral or religious grounds but who cares if that is the only way she is able to earn money to support herself and her family in Ivory Coast, her family which depends on her for its sustenance? Regardless of how she gets her money, it means good for her and the family which depends on her. There is a saying that you can’t and should not judge people until you walk in their shoes.

As part of her internship program, she had to weight the option of going to Cameroon in West Africa or Macedonia in the Balkan but she ended up with the option of studying “post conflict development in Liberia.” She was encouraged to choose Liberia among these options by some Liberians who she knew through college. While in Liberia in 2014, she found the non-profit sector to be “notoriously corrupt.”  As for the Liberian government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, she said, “The Ministry of Finance provides no transparency or accountability. Billions of dollars come through their door, but I see very little going to the average Liberians.” She thinks whoever the “current minister of finance should be held accountable” but she expressed her skepticism as to whether the donor community really cares about what was going on with the money given to countries recovering from war to peace. She talks about our streets being plied by expensive cars while the people live in abject poverty, going hungry on the constant basis.  

Despite all the post conflict hardship in the country, she found Liberians to be “very friendly people.” While in Liberia, she did not only confine herself in Monrovia, she ventured outside the capitol and visited the Ivorian refugee camps around the Guinean and Ivorian borders. With that, she was able to have both the urban and rural experiences in Liberia in furtherance of her research project on post conflict development and progress.

After returning to the states, her next journey took her to another global hot spot, Israel and Palestine as program support assistance with the UN Relief and Work Program (URWA). On the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, she finds it “so complex” to the point where she “felt powerless to help anyone.” Reflecting further on the conflict, she said, “conflict cannot be solved with good intention; that violence does not end and that anger bigots more anger and as such, one has to focus on what he or she can manage.”

About the author: Nvasekie Konneh is a nine year veteran of the US Navy. He’s a Liberian writer and author of the collections of poetry, “Going to War for America,” The Love of Liberty Brought Us Together, and “The Land of My Father’s Birth,.” the memoir of the Liberian civil war. He can be reached at, or 267-826-3952.