What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Monday, December 6, 2010


So obviously its been a long time since my last post.  I stepped off the plane and pretty much disappeared it would seem.  I wish I was just catching my breath.  I unfortunately got sick that night that I came home, and though it leveled off a bit over the few days that followed, by Friday I was in the hospital and in a pretty solid amount of pain.  I was incredibly dehydrated after vomiting and diarrhea that covered several days.  A couple IV bags of fluid though and they sent me home.  I felt horrible, but malaria had come back negative.  So with just 'flu-like' symptoms, no big deal right?  Well by Sunday morning I was in an ambulance, and by Sunday night I was in the Critical Care Unit at the hospital.  Honestly, I don't really remember much of Sunday.  It's all pretty hazy.  They started me on antibiotics for a possible intestinal infection and then a late malaria test by the special blood doctor came back positive.  Of course I'm allergic to most chemicals, antibiotics, and medicines.  Bottom line is that the next couple days were horrible.  Lots of pain, high fevers, delirium, hallucinations, I even heard a frog that no one else seemed to hear!!  Anyway, we talked them into cutting off some of the antibiotics and other craziness they were pouring into me and things started to clear up.

There were some other serious issues though.  I was dangerously close to needing a blood transfusion as my blood platelet count was extremely low.  But started to be able to keep food down and the blood count started to come up.  The malaria medicine - despite the violent reactions I had to them - was working, the parasites in my blood cleared out.  The hospital kept me going, kept me alive really.

So home I came.  I've been here for a couple days now.  I couldn't really walk or stand up for a few days there.  Very dizzy and week, but I'm fnctional now.  All told, I lost 15 pounds and a lot of strength.  It's going to be a long road back.  Amazing that in two weeks you can lose so much.  My body seems to have been cut in half.  Incredible.  But the most important thing to take from it all came in a frank conversation with the infectious disease doctor.  Basically, giving my sensitivities/allergies and general health concerns, with the issues I had, the probable intestinal infection and malaria, if I had not gotten out of Sierra Leone when I did I probably would not have survived this.  Pretty powerful thing to hear.  I was incredibly close to needing blood, and with all the other fluids and medicine I needed and was given, I would not have been able to get it in Sierra Leone.  Tough to swallow.  Guess I'm not Superman...  :-/           

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


So the flight went well. I didn't feel the full on relief I thought I would once we took off. Just seemed to revert to the old flight mode. But getting in to Brussels felt good. I went to the spiritual center and did some chi gung, was nice. I grabbed some cheese and such and took a little nap.

Getting on the flight to New York was more of the same. But I specifically picked Jet Airways because I, A, love Indian food, and B, because they have a great entertainment set up. I knew I'd be drained after the time and really wanted to just have some good food and relax. :p I love it when a plan comes together!! When they delivered my food and took my first bight was when I finally said, ok, now I feel good.

The plane was only half full and I got to lay across the four middle seats and watch 3 1/2 movies. The attendants were great, they gave me extra food and water and just generally were were too nice. So much so that as we were getting ready to arrive they brought me to the back and gave me a bottle of wine and a couple beers!! Funny that I always make friends like that. And you all poke fun at me because I'm too friendly and talk too much!! Lol!! That's the way the world should be!!

The evening was not quite so nice though. The second meal I ate on the plane didn't sit well with me. And once I got home, it all came right back up. I spent the evening vomiting. Not fun. I still feel pretty much like rubbish here at 3am, but a bit better. Worst little bout of that I've had in a long time. My mother thinks its nerves and my body finally letting go of all its been through. My bro was saying the change of food. Three continents worth of airline food!! Who knows, whatever it was, I'd rather not go through it again!! Lol.

But I'm home, never really hit me much, but I also didn't have the chance to take it all in (as it was all trying to get out!!) but we'll see today. Gonna go watch the Giants game from Sunday...

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Alive and waiting

So I'm through immigration, just waiting for the plane. Not much of interest today. Had lunch with Hawa and her family. I talked them into cooking with no MSG and I tell you what, it was soooo much better!!

Otherwise, got an email from Kaps. Crazy!! Will have to write it out in a full post, but was basically that I made it all up against him so I could claim money from insurance, except that I never filed anything against him!! I just told people what I think happened. Oh, and he never finished paying me for the hard drives. So what does that tell you?? Bottom line, what do I really have to gain by paying $1500 to fly all the way to Sierra Leone to file for a few hundred dollars with insurance, but then not do it? Lol, wow!! Anyway, so much more to it!! Will explain latter...

Otherwise, just chilling, ready to go... ;) lots of airport pics for you Greg!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An adventure but not comparatively

So I made it to a guest house right across from the airport. It's a dive, but it's got power and a lock on the door!! I could never have found it without my next beautifully white knight: "Hawa".

I had a lead from a friend of someone here to help me find a place. The bike taxi driver took me to the wrong place (first time being on abike seemed dangerous..lol), and then helper guy went a bit crazy, so I went out searching on my own. Some people tried to help me, but then it turned out they actually were trying to overcharge the "Opotu"

But then in steps a group of nice people trying to help. When people here see a white person they charge them a little more and they think you want nice expensive accomodation and canned meat. But the minute you tell them you are in need, that someone in Sierra Leone stole your money, they seem ashamed. And they go out of their way to help you. Time and time again this past week. Hawa took it upon herself to physically take me to several places until we found this one. She knew the owner and helped me negotiate something I could afford.

Then we went out and got some street food. Actually me, she didn't eat much. It's the same here, they may not have eaten all day, but they will make sure you've eaten first, and pretend they're not hungry and have eaten. It was really nice, she's the first women here that within the first 10 minutes isn't say "I love you" or "I want to marry you". We talked for a good hour, set up my mosquito net, etc.

She is originally from Guinea, and just came here a little bit ago when her father passed. She is saving money to go to nursing school. Two years, for $750 total. Wants to start in January. This part is specifically for my grandmother and grandfather. She is ethnically Fula, a nomadic cattle raising tribe of West Africa. And at one point she said, we Fula are all over the world, we are travelers... "so when I see another traveler in need, I must come to their aid!" with a non chalant smile. It is just like Gianlucca in Poughkeepsie!! How the world comes around!!. ;)

So I'm almost there, I'll be in the air in less than 24 hours and can see the airport and hear the planes. Talk to you all soon...

Off to Freetown

...not yet anyway, but seem to have sorted out a ride with an ex pat here from Manchester, UK. I was all geared up and headed out this morning. Just so happened that this guy saw me and offered a ride. But he had to take care of some other things this morning and thought we could leave at about 12. Two and a half hours in the car then and I'm at the ferry. I'm just hoping things won't come through as they have the rest of this past week.

The ferry leaves at 12, 2, & 5 apparently. Wanted to be on the 2pm one, but a free ride will help, so would wait for the 5. Don't have any place to stay near the airport yet, but what good would the end of an adventure be without some adventure? I really want some security with it all. But I'm sure the only time I'll have that is once I am sitting in my seat on the plane...

I just got a bit of a lead on some help... We'll see.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

What was that for exactly?

So I have been running around today, this and that. Got the two MOU's together and signed. I'm coming back with two pieces of paper to show donors that we've got partnerships to work with. I went to negotiate with the money changers, shady characters... Then on to the police. I of course need to get a copy of the police report. They have been telling me to come back everyday since Tuesday, but there are no more days now. I leave tomorrow for Freetown.

Of course this doesn't necessarily matter as they have no power so they have to go to a private party to type the report. I told them I could do it. They said they need to follow protocal and I can't type it. But it would help if I paid to get it typed, 5-10,000 Le. I gave him 5, and he said come back in two hours. Hmmm...

So what are the odds that I just paid a filing fee for a typed report (non-standard here), or that I just paid a bribe?? They really have no computers, and an hour at the internet costs 6,000Le. No matter, in my heart it felt more like it coulda been a facilitation fee at the time, but as I write this, it certainly feels more like a bribe now... We'll see in a few minutes when I go back to pick it up!!


Bribe. So I got back there and he was gone and had just handwriten what he wanted me to type. I stood in front of him with 23,000 Le and told him I had this much to get to Freetown and Lungi and eat. So he took 5 in stead of 10. Coward.

So from there I had to go to the chairman's house, get the generator turned on, type what the policmen wrote and then take it back to him. He wasn't there, and then there was an issue with the name I was given as signatur. So I had to run back to Eric's, a kilometer maybe, and change the name, then run back to the police station with the new print outs. Of course he was still not there. But the other people (less power, much nicer) where there to help. They know my sob story, and when I told them about the 5000 he wanted,they were genuinely concerned about me getting to the airport safely.

They kept working for me though, and got the document in front of the actual head of the Makeni Police. He of course said the other one was absolute crap and he'd redo it. I of course then had to type it. So I had to run back to the chairman's house, fire-up the old generator, and... Whoops... No fuel. So they send a little kid to get some more. Once it's running it his not running smoothly, every hickup turns the computer off!! (insert four letter words of your choice) Eventually I get it typed and printed, and get to running back to the police station... The locals must have thought I was nuts by then, running back and forth!! But this time was it, the supervisor had waited just for me. He read it and signed!! Yes!! Until I get out the door and realize, he didn't stamp it!! Back in, get it stamped... Sigh... Long day...

From there off to Apex to meet with my expat crew. Dave and Gary, and now Ray again. He's been recovering from malaria and typhoid, so not much around. Also my new white knight Kate. When I was a mess yesterday watching bad movies at Wusum she sat down and helped me out, bought me dinner, and was really just there. Thanks!!

But the day wasn't over. Off to meet Yapo!! No money and no hardrive from Kaps. He is just playing me. That 450,000 Le was just blood money to keep his ass out of jail. I'm fuming at this point. He won't answer the phone and isn't gonna pay me for bringing the drives, never mind the stolen money. Fine, get up early, go to police. Enough. But... Of course I talk further to Yapo (the chairman is away). He says, Tim, there are other ways. We don't have to deal with the police, but we can just make it difficult for him. All his projects go through the council. Nothing needs to come of him and his kids, but he has to work with us...

And all I keep coming back to is, Eric learned his politics in Moscow... So it is on this note I head to bed... Up and outta Makeni in the morning!! Be on a plane in less than 48 hours. Gonna miss a lot of things here, but not more than I want to be home right now!!

An uneventful day

Bucking the trend of sudden plot twists, today was a completely uneventful day (comparatively). The police still don't have my report typed up, no surprises there. There was no more money from Kaps, no surprises there. So I went to Wusum and sat on a couch and watched football (soccer), old movies, and wrote. This was of course until a really nice South African women (Kate) I'd met previously stopped to say hello and was horrified by my week. She sat down and saw to it that this day would be better - watched a little TV, bought us something to eat, and basically just provided some quality company/conversation.

She works for Adax. They are an agricultural operation with ~90,000 hectars of land to grow sugar cane to make ethanol and also to generate their own power/put some back into the system. Sounds like a very good operation, worth learning more about...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Spam and coffee

So given that I am now staying with an important "big man", out come the big gestures!! Last night's dinner was a special affair of course and fabulous. Breakfast was no different, out came the spam and the coffee!!

Now everyone that know's me knows I've got food allergies, spam is about as bad as it gets for me. Preservatives galore!! It was a nice scrambled eggs, onions, and spam breakfast with some bread on the side. And then to top off the allergy mountain, not hot cocoa, but a little instant coffee!! I'm of course terrified at this point that I'll actually have to drink it!! But I was eating by myself and they left it up to me to make it. I assure you I will do EVERYTHING I can to not drink coffee!! The smell alone turns my stomach. So I mixed up some hot water with a sugar cube and some condensed milk and drank it. When I got to the very bottom I dropped in a couple coffee granules and feigned it!! Lol. Gonna have to try to keep that up for two more days!! Please please please... No coffee!! Lol!!

The chairman

So despite all the days fireworks, last night brought some semblance of normalcy. I went to the police station to pick up my pick pocket police report, it however has still not been typed yet. I offered to type it for them!! They may actually be ok with that, lol. So I still have to wait on that one. Then I walked over to Apex (the expat place) with a friend I've made from one of the street stalls. He is an aspiring musician and going to give me his CD. I can't go anywhere without people calling my name now. Whether it is motorcycle taxi drivers or random people on the street. It is not a big city. I am a friendly white guy that talks to everyone. I don't know why, but I keep having the words from a song by Nas pop into my head: "In the streets I'm well known like the numbers man!". It is refreshing, and it makes me feel good.

Anyway, Wusum(Apex) was good. The staff knows me, and we get on well. It is the only place I know with consistent power to charge my phone. I went to charge and write. Then the Hispec guys, Gary and Dave, came in. Gary was at the expat evening that that other post was about, he was congratulating me for standing up to them that night. Thought I was spot on and that the others were rude and ignorant. This made me feel much better about that evening... These two are really good guys.

From there I headed home for a feast with the chairman. No rice and plasas here. Three full grilled fish, homemade french fries, etc. We sat and talked for two hours. This is a man that I truly respect. He went to University in Moscow in the mid to late 80's and then stayed on to work at the Sierra Leoneon embassy there till 1996. He was there through the collapse of the Soviet Union. He is well travelled and extremely well educated. Talking to him about development is a true learning experience for anyone. Not to mention that we have a lot of similar view points. Especially on letting Africa develop in an African way.

He had one good story of an NGO in Kamakwie. 700,000 euro budget, 6 expat staff, four land rovers. They are there to build wells and do agricultural work. But what do they need so many land rovers for? Get rid of two and you've got maybe 10 more wells or more. And what about six salaries for westerners?

Another story of the World Bank looking into city water in Makeni. They spend 2.5 million US dollars on feasibility studies and then to try to run water from 23 miles away. All the villages in between want it as well, pipes are tapped into, whole thing falls through as not feasible. As the chairman says, this is not what people here want, build wells for everyone from the source to Makeni with some of this money and use the rest on schools and such. Not engineers and WB executives.

And he's upset because what the West then concludes is its "corruption". The money went in but nothing came out. But they were bad projects that someone in the West thought people here needed. And the money was not spent in an efficient way. It also was not what people here wanted/needed. Life here is lived differently, they are Africans, not Europeans or Americans.

I like this man. Yeah, there's probably a skeleton or two in his closet like most everyone, but he has some good ideas, and I believe the absolute best of intentions. I just hope that we can now get these projects together and funded. Going back to the US not only with no money to incorporate but now in debt from the flight change does not help. But we will persevere... ;)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Well, now we know

WHAT A DAY!! Actually tops the rest!! If you can believe it!! So I woke up today, did my thing, chi gung, little reading, nap/more energy/chi work. Body's been feeling run down, so focusing a bit on taking it easy, health work.

Got to be 12, the time I gave to Kaps to have some money for me. I started getting ready to go to the police station and then it dawned on me, I don't think I can turn in family. I don't think I can do that to the whole family. 9 kids, Moma, Kaps. If Kaps goes to jail, his whole family suffers, all the kids. A quick consultation with my mom... Maybe the best thing to do is just to report it, and not name a suspect (which is a big thing here).

But here's the sudden twist in the plot... I get a text from Lindsay, and she says, "hey, what's happening? Gotta go to Freetown tonight, you sort out the rest of the week? I'm gonna need my key!" Huh? Plan for the week? When the rest of my money was stolen you told me I could stay there till I left for the plane Sunday or Monday and I could even get a ride half way Monday morning with you... Yeah, apparently not.

So she gets home and says, yeah, I need to take my key so can you find somewhere else to go? What!?! Are you serious!?!? I have literally no money and everyone I know is implicit in this thievery scenario!! And now she walks in and gives me about three hours to get out. 15 minutes of explaining my options, trying to find a solution - of which there were several - but nope, nothing was acceptable. I don't have words to describe my feelings and towards her at that moment. My knight in shinning armor has just stabed me and thrown me off the white horse.

The issue stated was there's only one key to the front door of the two bedroom apartment. We had just been leaving it with the director JMK or Papi (the do everything trusted guy who just brought $1000 back from Freetown on a bus in a bag). But she is all of a sudden not comfortable with this. Not acceptable. I'd be there till Sunday, she's back then or Monday. Nope, not acceptable. Then there is a key for the room doors. She lost the other keys though and had to break in one night. So she can't lock her door. Why not switch rooms? Naa... Not really what she wants to do. I mean not to absurd things, she was leaving with the key, she wanted me out.

I am pretty emotional at this point, not to tears, but a few chokes. How does someone do this? This was the last thing I expected, and the last thing I ever expected a Westerner to do. Shameful. She did seem concerned as to where I'd go though. The chairman was the only option I could think of. She was concerned whether he was trustworthy. I don't know, I thought I could trust her, I thought I could trust Kaps.

Anyway, so I head to the chairman's and sit out front and chat with him for a bit. Good conversation, he says you are staying with me. Yapo shows up and says of course to wait on the police. I go back to Lindsay's, pack my bag, and for the first real time in the trip, I've got my pack on and I'm walking!! Amazing scenario.

I got back to the chairman's and dropped my bag off. I was about to go to the police, but Yapo said, they've got some money for you. Kevin's on his way, shows with 450,000 Leones, just over $100. They owe me $500. But this is a step. This is for the hard drives, almost 2/3 of it. So I tell Kevin, fair enough, I will go to the police and report it, but not give a suspect. He seems happy with this. Kevin is a decent person.

But, I thought, why not get the chairman's advice. He smirks, "if you don't give a suspect, they'll go arrest everyone in the house." What?!? No investigation it seems at first, just arrest them and ask questions later!! Dilemma. The chairman's view is that he's coming up with the money, give him another day... So I am.

But think about all this. After yesterday's post about Africa and the Africans versus whitey and the whiteys. Where are we now? The Brit tosses another volunteer aid worker out on the street with no cash, and the African chairman rescues him. On top of that, the accused African criminal gives some of the money back...

Ahhh... How the world turns....

What's worse?

So much is written about Africa and Africans. So many people, news organizations, governmental organizations, etc, talk down upon Africa saying the problem with Africa, is it's full of Africans. But it is also full of Westerners. I spent the evening with a group of them last night. I am not sure what is more a hinderance to 'development' here, the "Africans" they speak of, or some of the 'whites' that are here trying to 'develop' 'them'.

The group that I was sitting with was in no way a holistic group with one view. But the discussion put together a solidly "what Africa is not" argument rather than seeing Africa for "what it is". They have mostly been here two to three months, are in the medical field, and for the most part VSO (British volunteer org)workers and were from the UK (plus less vocal ones from Holland, the Philipines, and Canada).

They have some valid points, and I would never say their experiences aren't accurate, things here can be tough. But everything they were saying was completely ethnocentric and sounded to me to be colored by an almost imperialistic colonialesque arrogance. Now this is not to say everyone was directly engaged in this conversation, some just listened. But everything was about how the West did it, and how 'they' don't do it like that here. NOT about how 'they' do it here and how you as a 'helper' can assimilate your ways and teachings into another's way of life - without just bludgeoning them to death with Western principles while looking down upon them for showing some cultural resistance.

We talked about Africans mostly, but I realized that it wasn't actually about Africa doing it "wrong" (though that word was used), when they lambasted me for not being on anti-malarials. I am from the West, and I follow Eastern medicinal principles for the most part. So when the stuff hit the fan over my decision not to take them, I realized that it was not about Africa, but "their" way, the British way. They didn't want to listen and question to clarify, they simply heard and judged via their vantage point. No real questions or intrigue in an alternative medical approach, but even anger. They didn't even have an ear for the concept of integrative medicine. They didn't want to hear ANYTHING that was not what they thought was the right way to do things.

This is a huge hinderance in Africa. Western pessimism and negative judgment on the 'African' way of life. The world is full of variance, divergence, and assimilation. They were literally spouting colonial rhetoric about bringing civilization to Africa. Like Africa was all just barbarians with no reason for existance unless they could be taught how to "do it right".

They come here to help, which must be commended, but can't come here expecting home or expecting people to be like or become like them. Don't even expect them to want to. Even if 'they' may want some Western things, that doesn't mean 'they' want to be Western. They want to be AFRICAN. And to come in from the outside and think otherwise is not to be here for "development", but as an imperialist and/or colonialist...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Empty pockets

So as I was walking the streets of Makeni yesterday I came to a name for this book some day. "Empty Pockets" their's, mine, and really the whole development communities'!!

Today has been interesting. The support from the rest of the community has been amazing. Not just the people that I know, but the people that I talk to on the street. They are upset, even the beggars that ask me for money are upset. Once I tell them why I am here, what I am trying to do for their community, everyone is angry. People with really no money offering to give me money. It is amazing.

I called Kaps first, and he had no answer. He said hard drives by tonight, no money for them though. I had given him till today at midday. That is when we spoke. It was the same words I heard yesterday. Which obviously looks to me, that as he knew I was to leave yesterday and he still doesn't have the money; did he ever intend to pay me? And then money goes missing at the same time? Yeah...

So from there I met Yapo and we went to the chairman's house. He was very sympathetic. He has offered to try to get me to the airport and a hotel room near the airport for Sunday night. He said he would do whatever he could to help me out. He also advised me to give Kaps one more day and that it would be sorted out. I don't know how, but I would imagine he has a strong voice.

The last thing they want is for me to go home with negative thoughts. They see me as a guest here, and not a guest just 'here', but a guest trying to help them. They SEE this. Everyone here sees a person here to help; and they appreciate that. Yes, there are a lot who are here to work, only some to help. They want both, but they really like the latter. Good thing I'm the later!!

Going to dinner at some friends house tonight. Will be nice distraction, counting the days...

New home

So it's 6:13 and I've been up for a bit, but it is much quieter here than at the old place. No mosque call to prayer, no 6am family prayer session, no rooster in the house, no one cleaning the house by 6:30. Much calmer here.

I am stayng at the Hanci Sierra Leone/Street Child compound. It is actually a much better set up than where I was. It is basically a two bedroom apartment (no kitchen) with a nice little living area with soft couches!! (Haven't sat on something soft in a while). Lindsay has been staying here in one room with the other room spare for other volunteers (or stranded crazy Americans!!). There has apparently been a mouse/ rat problem, but I saw/heard nothing last night.

Their operation here takes children that, for whatever reason have been living on the street, and tries to reunite them with family. They also put them through a support program that includes psychological counseling, mentorship programs, job training, and will actually give micro-finance support to the families the kids are reintegrated with. They are run here by a local man "JMK". These are the people I went on the trip to Tambaka with.

There is a big difference between this NGO and Kap's. This one is UK funded and partnered with several organizations at different levels. They have a consistent funding source, well defined project/aims and seem to be doing very good work. They also fund schools in rural areas (the place we were the 1st white people). They have almost doubled enrollment in some of these schools.

But anyway, this is my new home for a couple days (which I am counting down). I can't express how grateful I am to them. This obviously has been a hard couple days for me and Lindsay (who is a volunteer assessing current and prospective projects for them), JMK (John), and the rest of the people here have been very accomodating and friendly.

As for the other side of my affairs. I will not be climbing Mount Bintumani now and am VERY disappointed about this. I went to the police yesterday to file a report on the pickpocket stuff and will have to go back today to (I think) pickup the paperwork. I also told them about the other scenario at Kaps' house, but that I was giving time for possible resolution. I am however not holding out much hope right now on that. It is just sad given what that money was earmarked for. I will now get off the plane literally without a dollar in my pocket. Not the best way to get a business started.

But all told, I said that if I got on the plane January 17th with nothing but the shirt on my back the trip would have been a success. Yeah, it'll be a few weeks earlier, and its sad to have money disappear without material benefit, but the value of that money's disappearance is actually much more valuable than the money itself was. I will be coming back with two Memorandums of Understanding to do work with the local development council and have another possible project to bring solar street lamps to the city I've been in, Makeni.

I've had a crash course in Sierra Leone that I never got in all the academic work I did on the country. It has been tremendously educational and tremendously motivating, but I am ready to get back to the US. Of course though, I still have to get to the airport and don't have but 100Le ($25) to last the week on - food and then get to the Freetown, stay the night, and get to the airport!! But hey, what good would an adventure be without the adventure!?! Lol!!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why keeping money at home is desirable

Oh wait... Almost forgot about yesterdays incident!! Almost topped by today's. I got up and moved myself out of Kap's house. I packed up my big old bag and headed out. I got on the back of a bike with way to much weight on my back, unsteady holding on for dear life. Made a quick stop for bread and eggs for my new roommate Lindsay and I, and then got to her compound. Now of course it should be said that whenever a white person stops on a bike looking for something they are swarmed. Bread, eggs, sweets, money changing, whatever. From there Lindsay and I headed to Wusum hotel for some power (where I wrote this mornings post). I stopped to change some money on the way there as all my Leones had been stolen, swarmed again!! From Wusum we went for lunch back in the center. As we sat down, I realized the pocket I was carrying the rest of my money in was open and the money was gone. $220. @?&$%

Are you kidding me!? I never get anything stolen, and here I am twice in 24 hours. $560, gone. Plus the portable hard drives that I haven't been paid for yet. Amazing. But you know what, it makes me want it even more - to find success here. I have given up every financial thing I have, comfort, etc. All I have left is my heart, and that can never be taken from me!!

Gone stolen

So the next day comes, and the only change is the story. Yesterday there was an implication of theft for the rent. Today there was talk of him being upset that I implicated him and of tracking down and finding the culprit!?!? The gist of today though is that yesterday I felt that money had gone missing, today I feel that somone has stolen from me.

I am of course hurt by this. I have made sacrifices to be here, and as most everyone knows, I basically have no possessions or money of my own. I have sacraficed my well being to come here for other people and to work to make their lives better.

This is of course my motivation. The motivation of people here is to survive that specific day. To provide for their family. I must admit, I would do nothing different, I believe in trusting, and this family has been very good to me. They have fed me, housed me, even called me at night and gotten worried about me being out too late. They are my family.

I decided after speaking to Kaps this morning that I would leave their house though. I don't feel comfortable there. I packed my things and left. But good bye was horrendous. Kaps berated them about this is what happens when someone steals, when a thief is about. He then left and went inside. I said goodbye to the kids. They were all crying. Even Moses. I really feel for him. We really bonded. We ran together ever other day, he took care of me. He is my brother. He cried. I was truly moved, I just held him.

His father had said I was leaving because of this theft, but I was going to leave today anyway. I told Moses this and his eyes brightened a bit. I would do whatever I could for him, and all these kids. It was a sad moment.

As it is though, Yapo says that the money will come back, and I need to trust him on this. As I haven't received the $175 for the two portable hard drives yet either, the total now has another $340 on top. They owe me $500 now. Even if they wanted to pay, that is 2/3 of their yearly rent check. How do they come up with such money? If Kaps took it, the money is gone/spent. If someone else took it, what are the chances it wasn't spent yet? And what are the chances they'd give it back. This is a big test for a culture. I don't like generalizing like that, but imagine if they did get or give it back? That would be amazing.

That money as well was to directly benefit them. $75 would've stayed with Yapo for business expenses, $375 for my flight change, and the rest towards incorporating the US non-profit company - which is needed to get donations for our projects here, that would directly benefit them!!

But so now what?! I would imagine most people would tell me don't trust them. You can't do business with people like that they'd say. But think about it. If it was Kaps, or anyone else in the house, they know me. They see me daily, we laugh, we joke. And this culture is not like ours in the US. There is a very community based feel here. It is not like there is a whole mass produced culture of violence beamed to everyone electronically. There is only daily survival, and their cultutral norms which are incredibly friendly and hospitable, and even disciplined. The balance between these things basically makes up the security apparatus of society. Most things are self policed, and there is little need for "security" measures, except when it concerns "need". My experience is that people here would only steal if they had to. Not for want but for need. It is not a desired or glorified profession like in the US. You take away need and you can minimize crime even beyond where it is now.

This what I've learned. That there is even more need for work here. If your family can steal from you. If need can push someone to that level, then it is through desperation.

I also think that no one would ever admit to taking this money. It would always be denial, even as they handed you money. And this is what I will wait for, money in my hand. I told Kaps if I don't have either the hard drives and the money, or the money for both by tomorrow mid-day then I will report it to the police and the chief as well. If he shows progress I may wait till Thursday, but I am now leaving Monday. Thursday and Friday are the last days to report things. Then I'm off to Freetown somehow and a flight home.

Which, yes, I'm looking forward to now. Ready to get home, regroup, catch breath, and then get after it, or at least that's the hope. I mean lost in all of this shuffle are yesterday's meetings. They were great. I will be coming home with two MOU's and a great lead on solar street lamps for Makeni.

Uhhhh... crazy 24 hours. Sigh...

Gone missing

So the day started out tremendously. Met with bankers here, got their terms of service ("bastards no matter where they are" I quote Dave the self proclaimed capitalist here). But decided not to open a bank account as we needed to supply our constitution and meeting minutes. Which we don't have and formalizing them means formalizing our board - which I was not ready to do. As I said to Yapo, I do not trust Kaps and am not prepared to put him on the board. I said, in two or three months, time will show where he stands, and I think it will not be on the board. Turns out it was only 2 to 3 hours.

But anyway, back to chronology. We headed to the mayor's office, met with the city development guy as the mayor was out. Good conversation. Then out front we saw Eric (the chairman) right as we were trying to call and find him. Perfect!! Went over to his house and talked solar, diaspora funding, and MIT. He loved it all. Best meeting we've had. So we ran straight out and wrote up a memorandum of understanding for the diaspora funding and managment program. Great!! Two MOU's and a whole lot of excitement.

From there I was supposed to stop at Lindsay's and get my shirt back she used in the first white people villages, she wasn't home so I headed back home to start thinking of packing and check on a flight change. Got in, did some things, talked to my mother about the flight, then gave a call to Cheap-o-air!! Sorted, headed back in two weeks time. They had a flight for TODAY, next monday, and two monday's, took the 29th. (still feel like I'm cheating... Even though it is the best business decision).

Anyway, packed my day stuff (always take journal, charger, etc.) and headed to Lindsay's... Wait, outta credits after calling the US twice and sitting on hold. Let me grab some cash... Ummmm... Feels a bit light.about $300 plus dollars too light. Someone stole some of my money. The money to pay for the ticket change. But then they left some as well, huh?!?

My money is in a money belt which was tucked/zippered deep into a pocket in my bag. You'd only find it if you were searching for it. I got upset, I left the house, saying money was missing to Mama on the way out.

I went to Yapo's and told him. He was upset. We then saw Kaps, I told him. He looked down and seemed very concerned about it. We went back to the house. I was angry. Kevin was there then, he and Yapo were trying to figure it out, be consoling. But I knew. I knew exactly where it went.

I went out to Kaps and told him: "I have no reason to suspect anyone but you Kaps". But then asked him to look me in my eyes, and I said, Kaps, but I understand why someone would take it, need it. I understand conditions and things here. I told him about Jean Valjean and Les Miserables, stealing bread to feed his family. I told him I don't see much of a problem with it under such circumstances. Desperate times call for desperate measures. To which he responded: no Tim, stealing is never ok, I disageed, but agreed that it was not right.

I wanted him to know that I didn't blame him. Just as you can't blame the capitalist business manager for laying off workers (its his job and family on the line if he doesn't), you can't blame a poor person for doing what they must to survive and look after his or her family. We all do what it is that we must to advance and/or survive in the world's we live in.

So I said to him, Kaps, I just want it back. That is the money to change my ticket so I can go back to the US and get us all money and jobs. Then he said, Tim, the land lord came today, he is raising the rent. We can't afford it. He never admitted guilt, but what else could it mean? He had just come from meeting with the landlord though, so where do you think that money had gone and now was? Kaps knows me well enough to know what I am here for. I am here to try to help, to try to help everyone, including him. I love his family, they have treated me like gold. What a shame.

I told him, I am leaving to go to Lindsay's. I will be back later and I don't care how money gets in my pouch or who puts it there. I will ask no questions and we can go ahead exactly as planned. I understand, it is ok.

I would respect him SO much for taking ownership of it. Accepting responsibilty and giving it back. It takes a far stronger person to admit to a lie than it does to even be honest. But that was not where we were when I walked in tonight. Nothing. I must say though, I doubt he has it. He also owes me $175 for two hard drives still. $500.

The biggest thing with all this as well is that I was aware of all this and of all the naysayers that told me not to trust people. But I made a conscious decision. I am living here, they are feeding me, I can't carry my money belt everywhere, I will trust them.

"if you don't trust the people, you make them untrustworthy" -Lao Zi.

It seems from either side the old man could be right. I lost trust in Kaps, and where are we now? Or was it that I never should have trusted him? I chose to trust, that is the world that I want to live in, therefore that is the way I will live my life. As it is, for right now, this way of life has left me with less money, but an opportunity for something more. Yapo thinks the money will be returned, he thinks it is probably Kaps that has done this. He is sick, this is not what he wants me to think of Sierra Leone. But it is where we are. Tomorrow morning is different. I still hold hope in a lesson learned, in an understanding given, and better people emerging on the other side. As I said to Eric about our plans today, "It is a dream, but it is a nice dream!" Shall we live it? I would hope so.

Needless to say though, I am a bit sick with it. I need to catch up mentally and emotionally, and I am very low on money. So I changed my flight to next Monday. It wasn't too late, costs the same as in two weeks. I still want to climb the mountain, maybe I will. But I don't think I'll be into it. Won't be able to just let go and enjoy. We'll see. But I'll be home Tuesday. So soon...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Bits and Pieces

So I finally realized what it is that has been subtly bothering my digestive scenario since day one here. They have this spice called "magi" here. They use it in everything. It finally dawned on me the other day that "magi" sounds an awful lot like MSG... Turns out because THATS WHAT IT IS!! The horrors. I thought it was the water, the oil, the casava leaf, whatever, but its just some imported flavor enhancer pushed upon them with out care for effects beyond a profit...

Did you know that most of the eggs sold in towns here (usually individually at street stands) come from India?? They sell one boiled egg for 600Le (less than a dollar for six). Apparently it is cheaper to ship and import eggs from abroad because they just can't sell local eggs at a competitive price. The chickens need a good protein rich diet which is expensive and hard to get here, medicines are tough to come by (and cost if you can find them). Not to mention infrastructure, etc. WOW!! How is that possible?! Can we make some local chickens and eggs!?!

I forgot the other one... Exhausted... Good night.


So it is always amazing how a nights sleep so easily sets things down in such an easier manner. I have purposely made this scenario of the last few days very public here on this blog. I have come upon something within me that I see as weakness, and perhaps most people wouldn't expose. But I expect more of myself than what I have come to here in the last several days. I feel I can do anything, but I have wavered in this scenario. But the true test of a situation is not always just via your own heart and/or eye, but through the eyes of others - Friends, family, etc. And you all have been great, I asked for advice, and got it from every corner, and it was so helpful to hear that people are happy for me to be me, as I am, and happy with me. That it is not failure to leave early just a reaction to simple change. "You are NOT a failure if you never take out your stove or hammock or even do any walking!! The goal you went with was to help people in need, that you are succeeding at with flying colors." This message was throughout and means a lot to me. People who's opinions matter. This is what makes us all stronger - supporting each other, loving each other. By sharing the load, I have been able to shoulder the burden.
The essence of the dilemma as it seems, is that I have read and read, learned and learned, theory after theory, yet even as I "knew" things, seeing and being them is still different.

"With much learning comes little wisdom"
-Lao Zi

This trip has forced me to reassess my ideas on life and development. Ideals change with the introduction of new ones. This trip has taken a lot out of me, but it has added a lot as well. The final decision making on leaving early is that I think I need to sit down at a table, when 80% of my energy isn't spent on daily survival, and reform my strategic plan of action for making a difference. The concept I came with needs to be changed. Then I can come back and make things happen, working from a better gameplan with a more stable foundation.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The thought of leaving early

I think that the key to this whole situation is that I am staying with a family and trying to do business, and it is not working for me right now. I came here to learn, and while I am learning, I am not learning a diverse amount about the whole country. It is all about a few people in one place. Before I make any decisions about when to leave I need to get out into the original plan at least for a day or two and see if two months of walking is worth more than getting back to the States and getting to work there. I would have to leave here December 6th for it to be cost effective. That would give me 3 more weeks to walk.

Please, advice from anyone on this scenario regarding the last few posts would be greatly appreciated. One more month would be ideal, but that is not the case... I just hate the idea of leaving early, a part of me feels like It would be giving up...

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Heart of the Dilemma

I guess what it really all comes down to is that I am up against a seious dilemma. I came here to spend three months walking through the country learning, and looking for opportunities to help facilitate what people here want. I also wanted to raise awareness of life here in Sierra Leone and Africa in general. The last part I feel I have completely done at least for the people reading this.

As for the first part, I havn't walked anywhere. I havn't even taken my hammock out or set up my stove yet. This was going to be my way of meeting people and learning. If I don't get some of this in I will feel as though I would be coming home defeated, or somehow having not having fulfilled my purpose. As for the identifying opportunities, I have identified more than could possibly be feasible to work on now. So in this sense the trip is a smashing success.

The issue that makes all this a dilemma is that I have realized that there is little I can do from here under these current conditions. I have no funding, I have no resources to pull from, I do not have an established team here, and I do not have functional connectivity here to the information that could help me circumvent most of these issues. I am prepared to walk, not to make a business run and excel. My partners here think I should go back to the US early and set things up there, including funding. I see exactly where they are coming from. I have wanted to stay here and get things here set up. But realistically this could take months of unpredictabilty that I am both not prepared for and not so certain I would last through. The machines "should" come in January, right when I should leave.

So what do I do? The cost of an early trip home is a lot, hundreds of dollars that I would have to put on a credit card. And I still want to get some hiking in. I have to at least get up Mount Bintumani - the tallest mountain in West Africa. I also have the possibility of a grad student from UCONN that has been contemplating coming in mid December to join me on the hike - which at this point would be a very welcomed scenario. I am realizing that this would be a better excursoon with a partner to hike with. But the social scientist in me just liked the methodology of the single hiker walking into a village!! Reality.

So again, what do I do? If I leave early I will feel like I've cut myself and my trip short in some way. Almost like I've given up. But at the other end, I've learned so much, and actually can probably do more in the long run if I head back to the states and make some things happen there that will benefit things here. There also is the frustration deep down inside that I feel this was getting the best of me. Logic can make you feel like you're making a good decision, but the heart and the soul don't lie. What if I'm just trying to find a way out of this scenario right now?

I feel that I have made such a sacrafice to come here, even to the point of accepting in the back of my head that I may not come back. I have given a piece of me to be here to try to help people that say they want help and opportunities. But at the same time they do not seem willing to make simple changes or alterations, nevermind sacrifices, in their daily lives. I don't mean to sound like a martyr, but as David (a Brit expat that works here in a cushy position) came out of nowhere and said to Lindsay and I yesterday that he would NEVER do what we were doing here. Wouldn't even think about it for a second, NOT ONE (his emphasis). Yet I am here doing it, on my own, with just some cash in my pocket. Most people wouldn't do this, and I'm not doing it for myself, but for other people. I guess I'm just frustrated that these "other people" don't seem to appreciate it. I know, different cultures. But don't tell me you want help if you're not willing to partake.

Case in point: I said to myself this morning, I will ask them to get prices on the other bricks in the market and what we could charge for our bricks. I was very adament about the need for this and about the urgency I thought it had. I made a mental note, if they come back they are serious, if they don't then I should start thinking in different directions. It is 9 o'clock at night here, Kaps just got in. I asked him how his day was. He answered about random other things. Then I asked what he'd heard about brick prices. He gave me some blah blah story that didn't add up and kept changing. He'd talked to someone, but then was on the internet. He said something about talking to the machine company. No then it was the brick company he talked to, but he would find out more tomorrow. Oh, so you spoke with someone? So how much did they sell bricks for? Oh, well I blah blah blah... He didn't REALLY call anyone. And Yapo said he would call me later and let me know. I spoke to him at 12, and nothing since. Their entire tone and demeanor has changed since yesterday. Like they realized this was going to be hard. Why should I spend my day fighting with a computer virus, and all the other things life here is for an opotu, when the people here are not willing to change their daily agenda enough to help their helper? If I do all the work, how am I "helping". And if I'm not helping, what am I doing but telling?

So do I stay and see unpredictable projects through? Do I leave and go on my hike? Do I get an earlier flight and hit Mount Bintumani while I wait? No matter what happens I'll feel defeated unless I stay the whole time I'm supposed to. But sometimes it is in defeat that we find our path to victory...

"Rather than advance an inch it is better to retreat a yard... ...when to great forces oppose each other, the victory will go to the one that knows how to yield." - Lao Zi


So yeah, it's amazing at how quickly things can turn. How just a few hours can be so completely educational and change the context and perception of things so quickly. The last two days have done that. I find myself right now asking the question: in a place where - to their credit - people can find happiness and contentment in any situation, is it really worth working to help them redefine their happiness? And ESPECIALLY if you're making sacrifices that they seem unwilling to make? Unmotivated to make? Or if you seem to be working harder for them than they are for themselves?

I so truly admire people here for their culture, they live a lifestyle I could only dream of living. The ease with which they go through their days, their perseverance in the face of conditions that we in the West have no concept of or interest in learning. They are good people with broad smiles and a friendliness that I have never seen. Why is it that I want to change that? What is it that I want to develop within them? I come here, I try to get them to work a certain way, I try to set things up in a way that may be more efficient to us, but that they are not comfortable with. Yes, it makes sense to me/us, but at what cost, and why? They want education, but - and forgive me for saying this - but is it just that they want education so that (in addition to feeding an unquenchable thirst for knowledge) they can get paid more for doing little? I guess I shouldn't apologize for saying that, because I admire a culture that truly appreciates a simpler life. We work so hard in the West, in fact putting it before living. They want nice things, and material items, but society goes deeper than that, it seems to value status more than these "things".

To come here as a business man is difficult. To come here as an aid worker I think must be easier on the head. I want to find a way to make people happier, but what if they already are? Building that track is really the one thing here that is deeply in my heart. Education is important, and I want to work on it and jobs, but only if people want it. The day that those 15 kids came to my house here and said hello, expressing their gratitude for my interest in building a track, was a day I'll never forget. So much hope mixed with so much humility. They just want to run, they want to enjoy it. I picture myself in the Garrison Union Free School gym in second grade, I couldn't read, but I could run around more cones than anyone. All the kids in my 1st and 2nd grade class could read. But not me. I could have shrunk into a corner, but I was the fastest kid in class. I gained my self worth from my ability as an athlete. It can never be substituted, not by a good grade, not even if I ever get a PhD. I learned to read on Spiderman comic books, and I learned the value of self through my legs. These kids, what else do they have?

When I first got here I was on a mission, asking everyone what they and people here wanted as they saw it. Jobs, and education. This is what they need as we see it. But the only reason they need those things is so that they can become more like us, and less like themselves. This desire is something that we have exported to them and which they would never know to even want, if we hadn't made them think it was all there was to live for. I wish I could live a simpler life like their's. One without having to know about computers, TV remotes, cars, and planes. One where I didn't have to spend decades in school just to hope to be competitive in a job search. There is no rat race here. The culture is completely different. No one will step all over everyone to get things. They will do what they need to to survive, they will do as little as they need to to have a higher status, they will thirst for knowledge and learning like nowhere else. It is so complicated and of no logical sense to our way of thinking. It could never possibly be summed up here. But it is a way of life that I COMPLETELY envy and would love to have, but one that given the life that I come from, I have no hope of ever having and can't ever really even hope to assimilate into...

Different world

So I wanted to touch on a few things from yesterday's meeting that illuminate business here. Obviously it was difficult to carry on a meeting with one person, and the oldest most senior one, sleeping. More important though were the differences in his business ideology and that of the others as well.

Firstly, there was a lot of respect for the laborers - hard work. Obviously in Western business culture education, experience, and management are valued more wage wise. Kevin showed a lot of respect for diggers, and brick carriers, and Kaps didn't think a supervisor should be paid more than the machine operator. This is refreshing to see as we in the West seem to have lost sight of the value of manual labor in our lives. Kaps actually didn't even really see the value of a supervisor. "Why should you pay someone to just stand around and watch everyone?" There is a logical sense to that statement. But it was as if the concept of a site supervisor made no sense. I had to spend a good 10 minutes explaining why a supervisor would be needed. There would be 17 workers to supervise on site with only one machine running, and this would increase with more machines. Digging, sieving, mixing, moving, operating the machine, dealing with supplies, curing bricks, loading/unloading, shipping, a cook for lunch, etc. It is not a simple process, and someone needs to know how to do it all, they need to know all about bricks, they need to be able to organize it all in their head, and to motivate people to work at a high level. Every minute we would not be producing is 4 bricks missed. A lag here, a lag there, mixed soil isn't ready, whatever, and production would be way down. It all has to run fluidly. But having a person to make all this function smoothly didn't make a whole lot of sense to him.

He also wanted to cut out workers. The company that makes these machines has a specific tried and tested method for producing the maximum number of bricks. They work in over 50 countries, and have a brand to uphold. They WANT anyone producing there products to be giving them a good name. Kaps had little interest in their well tested staffing, he wanted to just cut down workers. Hire less pay more. I started to get feelings of hierarchical thinking, jealousy perhaps at the wages. There are no salaries yet for board members, only workers... He just didn't seem to like anything he was hearing. He thought we were going to pay to much. He wanted to pay 5000 Leone a day - $1.25. According to Yapo, minimum wage is 15000. Now I know everyone isn't paying that, and there does seem to be a lot of variance in "minimum wage" concepts here, but I want to do things legally. I also wanted to pay taxes, and into workers social security funds, etc. This saw apprehension from him for the most part.

He also struggled with the concept and way of running a business. He wanted to be able to give away, or sell bricks below cost. I said, we can't do that, we can only give from excess revenues (profits). We can use our donations in terms of bricks if we wish, but we can't be a brick charity. It was as if the entire concept of running a business to make more than we spend - and to do it meticulously - was a completely foreign concept.

This is going to be a tricky situation, we have to be able to be sustainable. And our costs after this exercise may not even make the project feasible. I will have to crunch the numbers today if a computer is functional. But Kaps didn't think we could charge for each brick what we would need to cover our costs of production. That is partially because he seemed to value these specialty bricks little more than hand made clay bricks. Yapo saw it completely differently and thought we could charge a premium. But it is a struggle amongst them.

The result today though is that we will have to stall signing any kind of agreement and look much more directly into the numbers and what the market will bear. I knew it!! But I just couldn't get them all to see the value of making a list and sitting down and going through every number. For two and a half weeks I have been trying to get the list I gave them filled out with costs, and to all sit down, but nothing. In today's meeting, we started to talk about the equipment and still had no figures. Yapo made one call, left for maybe 15-20 minutes, and came back with a list!?!? Over two weeks of telling me it was done, was being done, some things weren't here in Makeni, blah, blah, blah, and then in 20 minutes they get one done. This is the way it is here, this is what we're up against... :-/


What a day. So after two weeks of trying (and the day before we should go back to the council and probably sign the MOU) we finally all got together for a costing meeting. Not what I had hoped for. 9am start was 10, not a problem at all... But the palm wine came out right away and Kaps was head down asleep by 10:45. I was very disappointed.

We have an opportunity here for a serious endeavor to help a lot of people and it just flat out didn't seem to be of much interest to him. Fair enough if it was at 2pm but barely 45 minutes into it?! And not just that part, he was in and out in general, there was a disconnect there.

I of course want/need to take a step back and think culturally about how it was handled and how I lead it all. I went into business manager mode and was trying to hash out decisions - but decisions amongst us all, not by me but them telling me the best way forward. I felt like the disconnect was more between old school Kaps and new school Yapo, who I tended to side with.

I've made mistakes with cultural scenarios before. I know what they look like. But there were four people there, Yapo was completely game, and Kevin soldiered on giving good input. Kaps just didn't seem to like where it was going, or maybe that he was not the man in charge. Even if he didn't like where it was, he was asleep at the table before we got anywhere. And even once we did, he was half obstructionist, half confrontational, half in and out of sleep. I know things are different here, life functions differently, and I like that part of it all. But you could see desire in the others.

After about two and a half hours they were all lower in their chairs, tired of talking about the cost of a trowel and a laborer's wage. This seemed more than what they are used to, a full on planning meeting of this type, 100% on, no long introductions, no real pleasantries in the beginning, just down to work, 100% focused. Like I said though Yapo and Kevin managed, Kaps... not so much.

The meeting itself was very helpful though. All along they have been costing in their heads and telling me about it, and despite knowing better, I listened to it. But with it on paper there is no faking it. A wise man I know regularly says: liars figure, but figures never lie!! And our figures are not ideal at this point. I have to recheck the concrete needed, but the cost of it as we have it written now, may be debilitating. We would have to charge a lot for these bricks.

You know, I knew better than to go along with it all, especially when the chairman said he couldn't get for profit companies to come in and do it. I knew right then... Why not? Why wouldn't they do it? But I listened and I figured it all in. Maybe it can work, but not as they've been telling me.

There was more to it all, more on a cultural level with the meeting, but enough for now. Gonna close the chapter on the day. Start again tomorrow... Disappointed that Africa makes more sense to me now...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Biking Lion

So yesterday I got another lesson in African "communication". We were supposed to all meet to do costings for the brick project. Kaps left at 10 just as Yapo was supposed to show up. Kaps said, "oh, I just have to go get a battery, A go com", "I'm gonna come right back" in krio. I told him we were gonna do this costing, sure, sure, "A go com".

So he comes back over three hours later with a group of seven cyclists from the US. Ummm... Yeah, he knew they were coming, he'd been working with them for two days about this, and stayed with them in Lunsar the night before on his way back from Freetown. But of course I knew nothing about it. That is the way things are here. Except with Yapo!! He is better about it.

Anyway, so there is this company ibike.org that takes educational bike tours in Africa. This group yesterday was doing two weeks through Sierra Leone. They set up stops at schools, orphanages, mines, etc. It actually sounds like a great program to me. Not sure how much it costs though. They had done 38 miles yesterday and were exhausted. They wern't professional bikers, just weekend warrior types looking to see the world. Three from Canada, three from the States, and one from Switzerland. Good people.

So we gave them some lunch, showed them the school, and then met them later for a drink. I didn't go to the school, but sounded like the ChildHelp crew and the kids teamed up to shamelessly ask for donations. They need money, everyone here does, and most everyone has no shame in asking an "opotu" for money.

As it was though, we got no costing done. So we set it up for 10am this morning, with Yapo coming at 9 to get started. Of course as I write this he just showed up at 7:30. Time here has no place!! Lol!!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Maybe. I feel like I got a lot done today. The chairman liked the agreement we wrote, just has to be ok'd by the rest of council then we're off!! We also agreed on a 50/50 split. It's so much easier to negotiate when both sides objectives are NOT solely for themselves or their company, but for the greater good. As Eric said, what does the percentage matter, all 100% will go to development!! Some in community projects, some to generate jobs. Both are needed.

Why must the world be so selfish?? If this project means anything, I think that is it... a model that shows two business people putting others in front of themselves and making deals - COOPERATION!! Everyone wins... We will show them that this can be done!! Show the world!!

I also finally got some pictures up on the website here, on picassa, and a link on facebook to them. Somehow seems like the most fulfilling thing I've done yet since being here. Sad that it would seem so, but a connection to home keeps me moving. I am doing this as much for everyone there as for me. And words only go so far... Did you see those rural schools? Benchs under a tree?! Wow!! I'll work at taking more pictures now that I can get them up. That is one drawback of the phone/camera as one though. It's perfect, except the battery lasts only about half a day!! Lol!! Stupidest "smart" phone ever!!

Pause... Big occurrence here, they turned on the generator and then PUT A LIGHT BULB IN MY ROOM!! We've got light!! Seems like such a pleasant thing right now, like a huge weight just got removed from me, from the perma-squint on my forehead. Usually home is a sanctuary from the craziness of a day. Here it is the opposite. Lots of people, someone else's house, culture, holed up under the mosquito net once darkness comes. Light just seems to bring freedom to my head, eyes and mind. I can see what's around me, relax. Odd how such a simple thing for us in the west is such a luxury here. Light!!

I also keep teaching the kids hello and goodbye in other languages. It seems so fascinating to them. They're so interested, yet so sheltered. I have never seen children so keen to learn. We take it for granted in the west because we always have it, and we can always find a way to survive, a school to get into, a second chance. Here, education is a very scarce commodity and is sought be everyone...

So I'll take my leave as I listen to them try to pronounce "arivadercci", and "ni hau"!! I obviously can't spell them, but isn't that all the fun of it!? ;)

good day...

Two stories

So I have one person's story to tell, and another observable instance.

The first story comes from a person here that I really like. Mak, the head of track & field for the Northern province and the head coach of the under 13 national rugby team that just won a big international tournament (against the likes of England).

Mak's sister is 48 years old. She has cancer. If I remember it all correctly, in 1988 she was found to have some issues with her womb and had surgery. She was still having discomfort and issues, but then came the war. Finally in 1999 she had another surgery where I believe he said they removed her "rotten" womb. But there were still issues. She more recently went back for work and they found that she had cancer "in her stomach". She has been in Freetown in a hospital there, but they don't have anymore medicine for her, and they say she needs another operation. The closest place that can do the operation is in Ghana!! Several countries east and would cost $5000. The average salary per person here is under $500 per year. Mak has no access to money like that. He has brought her home to Makeni. He won't say "why", but we both knew what he meant. It just pains him too much to say it. No more medication, no more hospital, just friends and family. Better than in a strange bed...

I wanted to cry, I almost did as he turned the conversation to building a track facility. I stopped him, some things are more important, but what could I say? I just put my hand on his shoulder and said I was sorry...

In my time here I hear or see these kinds of things every day it seems... But for the people here, they LIVE these things their entire lives.

Makes the other story seem insignificant... A group of kids saving their money to get fuel for the generator so they will have some light to study by at night. They want to learn. Imagine kids from 10-16years old in the US saving money so they could study...

Back to Work - Africa style

So today got a late start due to rain, seems they use it a bit like a snow delay in the US (or so the fable goes). It certainly seemed to work today. I've been trying to get some concrete answers. Actually, I'm trying to get some concrete output. That's where Africa style is still waiting to meet up with me. I keep hearing wonderful things, but I need results. The chairman (Eric) is having us write the memorandum of understanding (mou), which is great. We define the written agreement.

There seem to be structural issues with the productivity of the council though. Eric is an elected official and in charge, but the administrators and the head admin are employees who apparently have no thoughts of either working or being let go. They are rarely at the office, nevermind working. The head admin has been suspended once already. Not that the top helps; to meet with Eric himself today we had to go to his house after waiting an hour at the office (12:30-1:30).

This is not to take anything away from Eric, he is very much in tune with things and has a very good mind for development. One of my favorite quotations though is "it is not the consciousness of men that creates their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness." How can one function outside of the only world they know? My pathway must lie in trying to navigate both his and my worlds...

We talked about some other very good ideas. And my crew here came up with some other one's following the meeting. More on that in time. But the goal is to get the MOU and copies of the proposals for the the brick machines and diaspora donation network asap. From there we can take these documents to possible donors here and in the US. We are looking to approach other NGOs and the Ministry of Finance here for support. It would be great to get the bricks up and running on funds from here. We will see.

I want to give this process two weeks. Then I aim to get out onto the trails, delegate the ground work to the team here, and get back to learning. I'll always be within just a few hours of Makeni if need be, and I need to get the trip back to where it intended to be. The more I see, the more ideas we'll all have to work with!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Case in Point

So here is a micro case study of issues in Africa/Sierra Leone. We are sitting outside chatting, dusk turns to dark. I get up to walk Yapo out of the compound. It's dark, I don't have the "cat's eyes" people here seem to develop. Someone called my name, I turn and step towards them and smack!! My foot goes straight into a big rock, I stumble over it, down to my knee and my hand. It's dark I can't see anything. I pick myself up, brush off, start walking... Ow!! I've cut up my toe, of course I don't know this yet, there is no light. It is nothing big but several spots, its bleeding, not just a scratch.

I only know this once I pull out my mobile phone and use its light to see. How else do you see it, there are no street lights, no house lights, nothing. I go inside to dress it. But what about clean water? What about first aid? They recommend salt. I have my stuff, but what would they use? And how do you dress it in the dark? By flashlight...? I sit down in the shower floor, head lamp putting a little light on the situation. But sitting there next to me is the inch and a half cockroach that's been there on its back all day. The floor is grimmy dirty, the water is from the well and been sitting in a bucket all day, but there is the roach "helping" me. At least I have my first aid stuff. They would have just salt - which is not bad.

Point is, we wonder why life here doesn't statistically add up to the West. There is no light so easier accidents. There are only the most basic first aid methods. There is no light to dress a wound by, and there are unsanitary environmental conditions. Power, clean water, medical supplies... all tied up into one stubbed toe. Welcome to Africa... I'll be fine, but what if it was more? And how many people didn't get better? Time to get to work!! :-/

Making a list and checking it twice

So this past week I have been working to set up a basic costing sheet for this brick making endeavor. This is coupled with the one for the track that I asked for two weeks ago. Nothing is materializing.

Business is done here in one's head. They aren't using excel or computer based programs to calculate things. There are no physical lists. Paper is a luxury of sorts, and the concept of planning past today seems a foreign concept. Most people simply live day to day. Sustenance, something to do, etc, and it seems business is; build it and figure out what else you need while you build it. And this works for them, they know how to build the typical things here that they need and use without much planning.

I was trying to explain the concept of a business protocol. A systemic way to plan and cost out a possible or existing project. Maybe just a sheet that had to be filled in for each plan or month of work. It seemed tough to grasp in that conversation. I have three people that should have filled in the list I gave them. And I received nothing from them.

It seems that this is going to have to be a point of emphasis here, to teach basic business practices. There is so much to be done here. So much training that is needed. Add general business practices training to the list!! "How to organize, plan, and carryout a business project."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

To teach of not

So while taking a moment off today I went to the expat hotel and chilled by the pool and chatted it up with some peace corps volunteers. Took it easy, but easy for me still means chatting it up with the locals and asking questions!! So I'm just going to pass this story along.

Mohammed is a poolside bar tender at the Wusum hotel. It is an $87-107 a night hotel in a place where the average wage is about $1.25 per day. He comes at about 3pm and does evenings I guess (i don't stay late). He is trained as a teacher in health education though. He has passed his college course and started working in a local school.

He had to get registered to be officially a teacher, but could teach during that waiting time. Unregistered he makes about $25 per month to teach, not a living wage. Registered he could make $250+ per month. Really good money here. He tried to register, but the process dragged on. According to him it goes to the Ministry of Education and gets lost. It can apparently be "expedited" with the right connections. But can take 2-3 years otherwise. Frustrated with the process and low pay, he left teaching and is now a bartender.

Basically he can make more money as a bartender under the current system. He'd rather be a teacher, but if he can't get a living wage, he has to do what he can. Which is to tend bar...

Weight on my shoulders

So despite all the progress that I am making here, it is pretty tough. I am not prepared for this type of working. I came to hike through the country, I came to learn things at a strolling pace, write down ideas, and collate and prioritize them upon returning. I knew it would be tough, I figured I'd lose some weight, I'd be alone and struggle to find people to talk to, I'd be out in the jungle all on my own with unknown animals, insects, and the such around... But, I have done none of this that I prepared for.

I am now here as a business man, yet I did not bring anything a business man needs. No company, no computer, I have but two shirts I can wear for that, there is no electricity, there is sparse internet, and up until just recently I was trying to do business on both continents by my self (more on that in another post). On top of all this, I am staying with a family with 9 kids. They are great kids, but there is no space, and there is really no one to share any of it with that understands me or the world I come from. There also are the cultural scenarios that dictate what you do and the deference you take into every situation. It always must be "on" as well, at home, in public, wherever. There is no rest, always on.

I have also put a great deal of weight on myself through my own ambition. I am trying to do things here that have not really been done much. The way I am trying to structure a non-profit revenue generating development company, and to do business here in Africa is different and difficult. Not untenable by any means, but I have just jumped into the rapids and am trying to swim. I know it will be more rewarding when I get through it, but it is tough now. I know nothing of making bricks, and my drive and incessant eye for what things could be and what projects could be done, makes life completely about things that aren't here and now. Things that the future may hold, but that the present does not.

I came to learn in an academic way, but circumstances changed things, opportunities presented themselves and at those times we have to change things. But this has put a lot of pressure on me. I am feeling the weight of both my lofty expectations of my self, and of the difficulties of the business and living environment here. I have to push through... But it is a trying time... I just wish I had more space to breath!!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Newburgh 6th graders

I want to say hi to Mrs. Degiacomo's 6th grade class in Newburgh, NY. I'd love to hear your questions. Send them to walkinglion.org@gmail.com. Hope you are all doing well and learning about how wonderfully different the world can be!!


I find it amazing here how tolerant people are of others. I'm sure the majority of the world doesn't think they can learn much from Africa, but I tell you one thing they can definitely learn from Sierra Leone: how to get along with other religions. I don't have a full grasp of it all yet as language and an overly protectively family keep a bit of a shelter over me. But to see Muslims and Christians living in such harmony is amazing. America and its ground zero debate should pay attention.

There is no animosity between them, they exist together, happily. Christian kids go to Islamic funded schools and vice versa. They all follow state curriculum which gives the basics, but then allows for one religious studies class. This takes many forms. But you can have schools with Arabic, and Islamic based religious studies, just as Christian ones, and ones that take a more middle ground. I've been told by more than one person of a family member changing religion, and there is no animosity, parents bless it - sighting individual choice.

And it is not like religion is not big here. It is EVERYTHING!! The mosque calls to prayer every morning at 5. The whole household here is up at 6 reciting prayers together. They do this every night before going to sleep as well. I am a bit disappointed that I haven't spent as much time with an Islamic family, but then again everything is open and not really labeled, I talk to Muslims everyday. It is a nice feeling to see two groups of people with such a larger history of hate and contention not only getting along, but being best friends, family members, whatever.

I wish more people would come and see it. Where are my academic friends?! Send your research assistants!! Have them learn how to teach us in the West and the Middle East what tolerance is!!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Watch out for the duck!

So much less productive day in terms of school visits, but productive in life learning!! So up and out, on the bikes, but almost to first school... Flat tire. Got to there and then Lindsay and the local coordinator left and headed to the next school (where she was again the first white person). JMK, the director went to go fix the tire, and I sat there - random white guy sitting on a wooden chair in front of the school with class and lunch breaks going on around. I sat there writing in my journal about feeling like an exhibit at the museum...

Tire haunted us as we tried to move on, but ended up back in Samaya and spent two hours as the whole village fixed the flat. It was so sureal. There sit Lindsay and I, with women and children all around, half watching us and half watching the group of men/boys working on the tire. They wouldn't let us help, so we sat... half there, half untouchable. Seemed quite odd indeed. Ended up it took too long to change, so we aborted the school hopping and headed back to Makeni with a brief stop back in Kamakwie for a few things. The few things of course were about 250 pounds of rice, a couple chairs, a table, some wood, three goats just stuffed in the back, and four chickens with their legs all tied together... Both Lindsay and I were terrified at the animal scenario. But animals here are not treated with a great deal of compassion, different world...

Then on the way back we hit a goat... and I learned it is all far more complex than that!! The goat was already hurt, broken leg of some sort. So as the other's moved it didn't. We tried to stop but got it somewhere - I couldn't tell how, but it was still alive. JMK and the owner exchanged contact info and on we went.

So here is the system: if you hit and kill a goat it is 100,000 Le for the driver to pay ($25). That is a lot of money here - 20 days pay for the average worker. The driver is always seen as at fault rather than the animal. But there are of course different values for different animals. The hurt goat would be about 70k. A sheep is more than the goat as it has better meat and some intriguing superstitious value . A chicken is worth about 50. A dog is worth nothing, nor is a cat - no food value. But the most important one of all not to hit is a duck! Yes, I've been wondering why Kap's family has a duck in the back yard (with no water), and that I see ducks all over here.  Intriguing!! Lol.  The duck as the most sacred animal....

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

First White Men Ever...

Four people, two motorcycles, four chickens, a goat, 6 schools (if they could qualify as that), over twenty villages, and a whole lot of smiles...

So we started the day in Kamakwie. Its the second largest city/town in Bombali District. I am tagging along with the aid group Street child/hanci. This part of their program is to bring proper schools to the remotest of remotest places in Sierra Leone. And when I say remote, I mean remote. Firstly, we made the 55 mile journey from Makeni in 3 hours yesterday by 4x4. Today we got up and out at 8.30. We jumped on a couple of Honda enduro motorcycles and got after it. Probably 45 minutes later we came to a river with no bridge, and the ferry was out. So we put the two bikes and the four of us in a wooden canoe (plus an oarsmen) and went on upsteam and then across and back down. Yes, not the safest or sturdiest way to cross a river.

Then we proceeded to get back on the bikes and spent the next 6 hours driving through villages and stopping at schools. Of course, a school in these areas is nothing of the sort. An open thatched hut with benches (if they're lucky) and a blackboard. Actually, one school was just benches under a tree.

It was really sad to see. The kids want to learn, the teachers volunteer time in exchange for food, and there are no books or supplies, but they show up and they try to learn things. But then what?? The secondary school is ten miles away via mere paths through the woods. No one has transportation, no one has a job. How do they enter into modern society with no money? How do they get money living in an unconnected society where the only profession is subsistence farming? There is then no education really, and no way to make money to get out even if they wanted to. I was at a loss. I have no logical/practical solution, or possibility.

It was an incredible day though. In two villages Lindsay (the Scottish aid worker I'm tagging along with) and I were the FIRST white people to be in that village, EVER!!! Possibly other villages as well, but those told us that we were. We were in and around Samaya, isolated... It is also custom here to give a gift of appreciation when strangers or important people come to the village. Of the six schools we visited we were given four chickens and A GOAT!! Imagine the look of intrigued surprise that developed on my face when the head master sent all the boys running. My first thought was of the track and that a couple had good form!! Then I realized they were all chasing a goat, and I knew it right then they were going to give it to us. Amazing. Luckily we didn't have to get it back on our bikes. I can't say the same for the chickens. They tied the legs together and just hung them upside down - alive - on the handle bars... and off we went!!

So hear I am, on the back of an enduro motorcycle, flying down an overgrown path in the ruralist of ruralist areas of Africa with a chicken on the side of each handle bar!! Lol. Priceless.

Anyway, very educational day, but also VERY tiring. Problem is that one day is now going to be two as we're headed back out tomorrow. Yapo has set up a meeting with the regional people from the Ministry of Finance for Saturday about funding our little venture here. Huge deal, and we need to have literature for them. I NEED Friday to put it together, but if we now come back Friday morning... :-/ Could be tough...

Anyway, rewarding day... Again tomorrow!!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Culture Clash

So picture this.. Me.. Eating canned celery salad with pasta and drinking orange soda!! So this is part of what I had for dinner tonight. Not everyone, just myself and the other opotu (whitey). You see in Sierra Leone, eating local foods cooked in local ways is not putting out your best. Where we put out our finest china and cook something nice, they break out the canned goods. After all, they are much more difficult to get than rice and cassava. They are imported, they cost more, and you must have more money or a higher status to have them. And of course it is rude not to eat and drink it. So here I am - allergy boy - trying to stave of malaria and other tropical beasts through eastern medicinal meditation, exercise, a healthy fresh diet, and strengthening my immune system eating away!! Fanta and canned food, because that's how we do!! Lol.

I just find it amusing how things go as they do. Rituals and customs make both sides do things they may not want to do, and without ever even asking about whether it is desired. Culture!! Oh, and they put on the generator as well.. In all seriousness, we humans are all they same. We all want to show ourselves in a good light and deep down inside we all want to be nice to people, to make them happy and feel welcome... Thanks, it worked tonight!!

Ok, one other tid bit... We spent three hours to drive 55 miles this afternoon. That is less distance than driving from suburbia Poughkeepsie to NYC. Imagine if that commute to work took 3 hours bouncing around in a 4x4. And this road is THE MAIN ROAD from Makeni north to Guinei. An international road!! 87 miles from Makeni to Guinei takes 6 hours. !?!? How does an economy flourish if people can't sell their goods 30 miles away and companies can't export with ease? Somehow... we've gotta get a real road built here... ;-/