Saturday, September 8, 2012

This Little Hipster Went to Freetown

When I went to meet a friend who came in on the train from Portland the other day, at first he didn't recognize me. Not until I removed my newsboy's cap and giant sunglasses did he realize who I was. "Sorry," I quipped. "I'm wearing my hipster costume."

"It's very convincing," he replied.

Which made me think, I've actually been wearing this hipster costume kind of a lot lately.

There have been other somewhat suspicious developments. For example, a few months ago, I moved into a housing cooperative. I went out for ten dollar cocktails at a Capitol Hill speakeasy the other night. Though I still probably don't scream "hipster" to the innocent passerby, I've become increasingly comfortable interacting with hip stuff on a regular basis.

This isn't a bad thing, I suppose. Seattle's a hip place, and I'm starting to really feel at home here. That was my idea in moving here - to build up a home base, of sorts - so I guess that embracing some of Seattle's hipness indicates progress on that front.

Of course, the real draw of coming here was not the chance to enjoy local microbrews and curry popcorn over six dollar 70s films at indie cinemas (although, admittedly, that doesn't hurt). It was the easy access to mountains, the outdoorsy culture, the diversity, the connection to global goings-on in what often feels like a small, safe, extremely livable city. And Seattle has come through on all of these fronts. I've gotten outside quite a bit this year, participated in some pretty memorable foot races, connected with a couple of refugee families, rekindled my love of the North Cascades, built up a pretty awesome social network.

The only problem is that I don't feel particularly useful here.

It's early days yet. I only moved here eight months ago, and it's been an indisputably rough year for job seekers. I've been lucky, as these things go, having found part-time work related to my degree that's paid more or less enough to cover my bills. But that work has involved a whole lot of time alone in front of my computer, doing research and analysis that I rarely get to connect with actual people or on-the-ground realities. Coming from a series of humanitarian positions in East Africa, where it was impossible to ever escape the reality of my surroundings, no doubt has compounded my sense that my work here in Seattle is largely abstract. I've gotten increasingly frustrated as the months have passed, so much so that I recently decided to inject a bit of reality back into my life by heading back to Africa for a short gig.

And so, I'm leaving tomorrow for Sierra Leone, where I'll be conducting an assessment of poverty in the Freetown slums, in hopes that it may help humanitarian organizations better target and design livelihood-improvement projects in urban areas. It's a short-term position, and though I'm very excited about it, I'm fully intending to return to Seattle when it's finished, at the end of November, to take another stab at a career path there.

I even packed my hipster cap.

Once I settle in, I'll be blogging from Freetown. Check for posts at

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