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...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Appalachian Trail II

So... as I sit here icing my feet, which is %@%$@ cold by the way, I can't help but think that 16 miles first day out in Vibrams was a bit ambitious.  Maybe a month or so ago when I was out and about everyday wearing them it would have been fine.  But as it is my feet just aren't in shape to have a weighted down backpack on and go that far on that kind of terrain.  I definitely have some work to do to get my feet in shape to use the vibrams and do the milage I want to in Sierra Leone.  I probably should have just gone about ten miles today, I would have been fine.  I started feeling a bit sore at about 6 miles in but I was only two miles from the shelter and really wanted to gage my time over a specific distance (plus I always er on the side of ambition!!)  I rested my feet for over and hour though, and thought it would be ok.  I however exacerbated the scenario when I started having other issues and got ambitious again.

I didn't have any chaffing on the way out, but immediately upon starting back I could feel it, I had changed shorts so stopped and changed back to a similar thing like what I had originally had on.  It didn't matter though, and the worst thing about it all is that I specifically stopped at a bike shop in Pawling, to see if they had any body glide.  That was my third time in there - and frankly, they suck.  All three times I've gone in no one has said hello to me, they have a customer yet don't even acknowledge your presence.  the one time I waited and initiated an interaction.  I looked around, as if trying to find something specific (which I was - body glide and a compass).  I looked under this and under that, not a word.  I left, nothing.  I've worked in that kind of job, it doesn't take much to simply say hello and say they'll be with you in a minute.  Maybe I don't look like I'd be interested in some horrible thing like a sport - especially an endurance one!!  lol.

Anyway, sorry for the tirade...  back to the AT.  So the chaffing was an issue.  I also had trouble with my water set up.  Granted it was really pretty much there for weight anyway.  I had two poland spring 3L jugs (you've seen them if you've been ear me of late), I had them in my bag toward the bottom, but there were books in there and clothes and towels and whatever else I could find to weigh it down.  One jug and then the next got a little hole in it.  Must of been from the bouncing.  I was all but done with the one when it got a hole, but the second was leaking in the bag and on to me.  I ended up having to carry it in my hand for miles, it was mostly full.  So with about three or four miles to go I chugged a bunch of water, emptied the rest, crushed both bottles, tightened up the bag and decided it was time to run.  It seemed like good logic.  Get their faster, be uncomfortable for less time, but it was a chaffing disaster.  My inner thighs and up are raw, red, and painful.  Maybe that is a case in point why most people don't bother with logic!!  

In the last couple miles there was the longest hill of the jaunt, I was spent and it hurt to stretch my feet on the up hills so I had to change my form.  Even with running maybe a mile and a half or two on the way back I still made it back five minutes slower than going out.  I was 2:42 for the first eight miles out and 2:47 back, with about an hour and fifteen minute break for lunch and conversation.

I met some good people, I should have little cards with the website on it, these are the type of people that were interested in what I'm trying to do there.  Anyway, as it is, the icing is done - thankfully - and I need to eat something substantial.  I'll write a bit more on lessons learned and things needed in a bit - invaluable day...

Appalachian Trail

So I'm getting geared up to head out on the Appalachian Trail for what looks like a 16 mile saunter.  Going to go from Route 20 in Pawling to the "Wiley" shelter which is right before the connecticut border.  It'll be an 8 mile out and again back.  Given my experience with hiking like this though I have a sneaky suspicion I won't be able to walk the whole way.  Out and backs just kill me and I usually end up just running back.  When I went to Greece and hiked from see level up a 1500m (4500ft) mountain, and then ran the whole way back down and was back by 1pm.  I think I am just so used to running that walking feels so slow and my mind just gets itchy!!  But I'll be packing up not just a regular backpack.  I'm gonna take the pack that I would take to Sierra Leone and pack it full of stuff to weigh it down.

Just finished a big old american breakfast (yes, I'm cheating - first experiment and all), and am packing up kind of a grazing scenario for eating.  I've got some nuts and dried fruits, left over grilled chicken, some raw broccoli, and blueberries, but I'm out of rice cakes and raw bars.  My local Stop and Shop here doesn't carry either routinely.  Poor planning, but I'll survive.  Gonna take 6 liters of water with me, A, just in case, and B, it will weigh the backpack down!!

I'm going to send messages to the Facebook/Twitter scenario which will feed onto the Walking Lion site.  So anyone with nothing better to do on a saturday (or probably just my mother) can check it.  But anyway, its 10am, and getting to be time to be moving.  I do want to be out there for the hottest part of the day which should be about 3pm.  Actually, I shouldn't be in much of a rush, I must admit I don't 'wander' very well on hikes.  Usually just get after it, A to B.  I used to have a great hiking companion that would pretty much race up mountains with me!!  No more...  Now not sure how it will all work out...  Giddie Up!!

Friday, July 16, 2010

More Communications

So I spent a moment yesterday in 'The Mall" (Poughkeepsie Galleria), no not reliving junior high glory days, but looking into some communication options.  I went to the AT&T booth and hung out with Jesse and Kevin (hoping I got the names right - not my strength!).  They were great, and with lots of good information and interest in my trek.  I went to AT&T because that's who I use right now and also because they use sim cards/the types of phones I could use abroad.

Their solution - which seemed pretty ideal - was the i phone.  I can basically do everything I want to do with it from wireless keyboard to messaging to email and blog posting, pictures, video, etc.  All seems quite simple.  And I could get the old one for $99 or the new one for $199, if I go onto my parents plan (I'm currently on the pay as you go/highway robbery plan).  I would have to change my current number though, but wouldn't pay anything more than I am now to be on their plan, and my communications issue would be solved for about $130 plus tax (keyboard and phone), or $230.  the newer phone has a better camera and a flash, unfortunately possibly both needed and worth the extra layout.   I had been budgeting about 200 each for phone and netbook (at a possible family discount), and was pretty aware that was an incredibly optimistic estimate.

So it seems ideal, BUT, can the i phone work in Sierra Leone?  They were saying that it requires a data package, but what is the service there like?  The country has plenty of mobile phone service, but how advanced is that specific service?  Would an i phone work on it and to what extent of coverage?  The one company Zain offers Blackberry Enterprise services, but I didn't see anything about an i phone.  Another service, Africell has a pretty poor web page and I didn't get far.  Comium markets mobile internet (using GPRS), but still no word on the i phone.  I'll have to contact them and see where that gets me.  But it still is encouraging that I should be able to get the keyboard and simply use the internet over the phone for all my needs.  It may have to be with a blackberry though or something like that, but we shall see.  What I had hear about blackberries was that they were not great for international stuff.  Maybe I was wrong...  ;)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Big Picture

Given a comment that I received on one post it seems that I should bump up in order of importance a post about what the ultimate goal of this whole scenario is in terms of meaning and methods.  Some of this was touched upon in 'Why Sierra Leone?'.  But to elaborate, the ultimate goal with this project is not just about Sierra Leone, it is not about child soldiers, or human trafficking, or any other specific micro issue that one might put their finger on.  The issue here is humanity.  Take a step back and look at the world in broad terms.  Less than one billion people live in 'the West', yet this area dominates the world and its socio-economic directions.  The rest of humanity has been forced/enticed into following our ways based on the material outcomes of our society.  The problem with all of this is that in order to maintain our level of dominance we in the West have had to expropriate numerous resources - both raw, manufactured, and human - from less 'developed' areas of the world.  We are doing this at great cost to the local populations and society at large.  We need to rethink our way of living together and the way we produce and reproduce things.

This project in Sierra Leone is not just a hiking project, it is not just a non-profit project for Sierra Leone, it is the foundational element in working towards finding an alternative way of doing things.  One that finds a balance between the individual and the community.  Communism focused on the community, and it failed for a myriad of different reasons.  Capitalism may have 'out produced' communism, and all other systems for that matter, but when I look at the world right now I do not see a blissfully utopian scenario.  I see a place where, according to the HIIK Conflict Barometer (for interactive map click here) for 2009, 365 countries maintained active conflicts: 108 latent conflicts, 114 manifest conflicts, 112 crisis, 24 severe crisis, and 7 wars.  Where the world has billions of people in need of clean food and water and estimates at the percentage of people living in 'poverty' usually starts at 25% (thats over 1.5 billion people or 5 United States - picture the entire country in poverty, x 5 !!).  The rich areas of the world and countries push around those with less and they do this by militaristic and economic bullying.  

It is very difficult to look at the world as a whole and say that it is a good place and that the Capitalist direction - based on supremacy of the individual - is going to make things better for more than a few.  We don't do much for other places or communities, because our system does not directly reward it for ourselves or our communities.  This is specifically the longer term goals of this project, to work towards finding a way for society to develop and excel in a way that favors a balance between both the individual and the community and creates a motivational and reward system from within the localized system.  When an individual does something to benefit themselves the system should also provide rewards for it to benefit the community, and vice versa.  A symbiotic relationship.

We plan to do this in practice by creating a business structure that will work to balance these rewards and motivations.  The initial entity of ownership in a business/production scenario will be the non-profit (later to be named).  This separate business entity will then grant ownership and/or controlling rights to its workers (as part of their pay or a similar scenario) and also to the local community via buy in.  Non-profit "x" would maintain a stake for a time as well and act as an incubator of sorts.  But not solely as a business incubator, but as a structural incubator designed to initiate and then maintain this symbiotic balance between company, individual, and community.  

It is an elaborate concept, that I won't get wholly into yet here.  But the outcome should be a company that is   controlled in equal aspects by the community, its workers, and the 'investor'/'incubator' (though not permanently).  The company itself would function in a manner similar to a non-profit in that profits would not go to enrich the individual stakeholders.  All proceeds would be reinvested into either the company or the community.  The stakeholders benefit is more in regards to an aspect of control than financial gain.

The principle is to create a non-governmental organization based in a specific locality that would work as an engine for the local community.  The business itself would function as any 'typical' business, working to maximize efficiency and incentivize employees in a way to be competitive in the marketplace, but its 'shareholders' (though there would be definite restrictions on transferability, etc) would not be motivated by individual profit seeking, but in terms of individual professional and subsequent local community gains.  The profits would go to provide many things considered today to be public works or 'state' provisions - sewage, roads, security, parks, clean water, etc.  The community will have a huge stake in what the company does as it is their ticket to better public works, yet it is a private entity run locally by the workers, community and external and/or local investors investors.  The business will be set up to sustain business operations, employ local people, and to facilitate local infrastructure and socio-economic development on all levels from roads to parks.  A symbiotic relationship between the business, the community, and the individual.

I am not sure that this makes a great deal of sense as I have only brushed the surface of it and there is still a great deal of work to be done on this concept.  But I believe it is a positive pathway to continue down and one that perhaps in time could eventually work as a starting point or even societal model for sustainable and productive socio-economic development.

Facebook and Twitter

So among other things I have spent much of the morning setting up a facebook page for walking lion and a twitter account @lionwalking ("walkinglion" was taken).  Feel free to befriend, like, or whatever else it is that one does on these sites.  I am not sure how this will all work, but it seems that I am set up so that if a post is made on facebook it will show up on twitter, and my 'tweets' are linked in to show up on the left column of the walking lion website.  I can 'tweet' and post on facebook via my mobile phone as well.  I also set it up so that a post on walking lion goes straight to facebook and then the chain continues.  This will allow me to do quick updates from my mobile phone while moving, or write a full post and both will show up throughout.

I am still having a problem with the emailing from walking lion though to people, on facebook it only shows up as the title and there is no link and people still aren't brought to the page.  So It seems that I am right back to the start, I must figure out a way to be able to post on the website and have it automatically send and link the post to followers and the other media sources.  We'll see, still work to be done...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Testing what happens when you sign up as a 'follower' of the site... Thinking maybe you get an automatic email for new posts?  Down right hand column if you are so inclined...  ;)

Connectivity Revisited

So the clock is ticking on getting things moving towards leaving to go to Sierra Leone.  I need to start accumulating some of the things that I will need to take.  I woke up this morning after just charging my phone yesterday and its already down to two bars.  The battery's going, so why not get start thinking about a new one?  And the computer as well.  Why not get used to using it here and now?  I'm thinking of doing a 20 mile day-trip on the Appalachian Trail this weekend, I need to be able to pack as close to what I'd be taking at least weight wise.

Phones, phones, phones.  I need something as inexpensive as possible with as much as possible...  hmmm...  sounds like everyone!!  lol.  But more importantly, I need an unlocked phone that uses a sim card.  I need it to be quad band, 3G capable, connectible to a computer, and internet ready.  It would also be outstanding if I could get a fabulous camera function so I can combine the weight and not care two things.  I also need to contact the companies in Sierra Leone and see what kind of internet connectivity and fees they will have.  I was hoping to get a friend involved that works in the phone industry and would be able to provide expert advice, she's been non-responsive though.  :-/  Tough with voluntary stuff...

So It looks like I might have to do something on my own.  I haven't gotten a phone in a long time and there is a lot of a process to go through to make sure it will all function there "in country."  The thought crosses my mind whether I should just get something there.  But in general things are so much more expensive in that setting.  The other issue is that in looking at phones these companies all have country specific marketing and availability.  Actually, I should say that they pull out the US from it all.  If I was buying a phone in Europe it would be simple, they are compatible and flexible there with global communications.  The US...  not so much.  Anyway, for example, I want to buy a phone, but I can't just see a list of a manufacturers phones.  They all have which carrier they use.  I don't want one for a specific carrier.  Just a phone.

Or is it just a phone...  This post is now fluid...  All of these phones can do absolutely everything I want to do on my trip; from pictures, to messaging, to the internet, but there is just no typing solution other than to type with your thumbs...  Why carry an entire netbook if you could just take a phone and a little keyboard?  Ooo...  previously all the flexible keyboards looked big, but I just searched: 'mini' flexible keyboard and got some interesting results.  It would be ideal if they made a flexible (rollable) keyboard the size of a laptop keyboard.

Just got off the phone with the manufacturers of a mini flexible keyboard (pictured) made by Genica and sold by their sales subsidiery geeks.com.  But the salesperson spoke of PDA keyboards for phones.  He said they are tiny, but for full two hand typing.  Couldn't be much smaller than a netbook...  My big question was operating systems and plug in.  These normal keyboards are USB and seem to all be for Windows.  Phones don't usually have either, so maybe pda is the way to go.

Well, it certainly helps to just speak to people.  It is amazing at how simple it is to get answers with human to human contact.  People are really the best source of knowledge, not the internet..  But the best pathway forward right now seems to be to look at phones and to see what phones have compatible keyboards.  I must admit that I really liked the idea of water resistant and flexible given Sierra Leone's climate, and most pda keyboards are solid, but there may be a few options given what it looks like online.

Ooo...  There looks to possibly be flexible mini keyboards with bluetooth and pc/mac/pda/smartphone compatibility.  That would be ideal, getting closer... if I can just find one that's just right...  I"ve found all that but big and pink!!  Ok, time for Chi Gung, a run, and lunch though...

Done reading that one...

So I finished a long way gone last night at about 3 am.  Any book that can keep me up at night has to be pretty profound!!  lol.  I thought it was a great book, and my only thought of critique was really as with my second post on it about the clarity of such a horrific time.  The drugs, the killing, the life he was living, he talks of it as such a fog, yet remembers and describes it so vividly.  But that may just be the critical analyst/theorist in me.  I would think that I would remember much of it all and probably be able to write about it as well (but I'm not 15), and of course the writing about it would bring a lot of it back.  Otherwise, It might have ended a bit abruptly, as if a time line had been met when the book had to be done.  It also probably isn't a great introduction into Sierra Leone either, not because of anything in it, but that it does not have any context about what is going on within the country and the war.  That was my mother's observation, as it was her 'first introduction' to the country.  

As for the end of the book there were two parts that I wanted to mention.  I thought it was a truly profound and illuminating statement when he writes of returning to Sierra Leone after a short trip to NY.  He says:
"My sixteenth birthday was eight days away, and throughout the flight back home I still felt as if I was dreaming, a dream that I didn't want to wake up from.  I was sad to leave, but I was also pleased to have met people outside of Sierra Leone.  Because if I was to get killed upon my return, I knew that a memory of my existence was alive somewhere in the world."
The sad thing about this statement, is that conflict after conflict, "the world" is still forgetting millions of people just like Ishmael every day.  We know what is going on in these countries, but we let it happen and condone it by our policies, business practices, and general disinterest.  Yes there are a few people he had met that would have known of his existence, but everyone else has forgotten all the other people of both Ishmael's and other war torn countries.

The final passage of the story is one that is so truly important I can't even put words to it and is a viewpoint that I have had a great deal of trouble in life for having.  Ishmael discusses a story that he had heard numerous times when he was younger.
"There was a hunter who went into the bush to kill a monkey.  He had looked for only a few minutes when he saw a monkey sitting comfortably on the branch of low a tree.  The monkey didn't pay him any attention, not even when his footsteps on the dried leaves rose and fell as he neared.  When he was close enough and behind a tree where he could clearly see the monkey, he raised his rifle and aimed.  Just when he was about to pull the trigger, the monkey spoke: 'If you shoot me, your mother will die, and if you don't, your father will die.'  The monkey resumed his position, chewing his food, and every so often scratched its head or the side of its belly...  What would you do if you were the hunter?"
Every year they told this story, with parents and children present, and the children were supposed to answer the question.  Ishmael said no one ever did, but that the children later spent hours trying to figure out how it could be resolved.  Hunting other things, whatever.  But Ishmael had a thought that he kept to himself until now, and it underscores both why I think he went through the pain of writing this book, and more importantly, what the world really needs.  He says:
"When I was seven I had an answer to this question that made sense to me.  I never discussed it with anyone, though, for fear of how my mother would feel.  I concluded to myself that if I were the hunter, I would shoot the monkey so that it would no longer have the chance to put other hunters in the same predicament."
That is what the world needs.  A view that is not all about he self, but that is in fact selfless.  If my death or my mother's death means the lives of a thousand people, is there even a decision to be made?  A thousand people can do so much more than one person.  The sad thing is that there a billions of people in the world, we just can't seem to find a way to focus them and/or for them to work together as a team.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Still Reading...

As I continue through a long way gone I can't help but think about where he (Ishmael Beah) was mentally when he wrote it.  I am just about half way through the book and the whole thing up to this point is him running/hiding and expressing his fear and humanity, showing compassion, and the holistic struggle of war that a person goes through within.  The thing that resonates with me is the clarity, and the verbiage that he writes with.  It is an incredibly well written book, but I have a thought - which I am unsure if it is necessarily true.  It is that he is almost overcompensating in showing this sensitive "caring" and "human" side as a way to offset the horrors that he eventually undertakes.  I do not want to belittle the words and feelings he is expressing, it is exactly what one would probably expect from such a situation, it just is an awful lot, and not balanced very much by thoughts of malice, revenge, or anything else of a more negative sort - especially from someone that was self-professed to be 'troublesome'.  There are passing mentions of his crew of boys stealing a pot of food, or something of the sort.  But then there were also these rumors that ran through villages about boys there age doing bad things, and these rumors preceded them to villages and put them in some contentious situations.  It jsut seems to me that there might be parts of the story that are possibly glossed over thus far.

On a psychological level this would make complete sense, I don't want to judge this as a negative thing, but more as a cathartic process.  If you were forced to do horrible things, I would think that you would wholly focus on the most humane and compassionate things that you had done and felt in life just so that you could simply live with yourself.  I do not mean to imply that he is consciously trying to show how nice he was, and then to show how bad he was made to be, and it wasn't his doing, but just that this is perhaps a natural coping mechanism that we as humans may - whether consciously or subconsciously - do just to remain sane.

I could never imagine the horrors that Ishmael and the people of Sierra Leone went through at that time.  Thus far it just strikes me as very telling of the human psyche that in his writing, his remembrance, and his story telling that he is so thorough in illuminating the good in him - which I don't doubt he was/is.  I feel as though in reading this book, less through his specific words, but through the whole picture he is presenting, that I am learning about humans.  About humanity and that by the simple way a person remembers and/or choses to tell their story about such a horrible thing as the brutalities of war, that we all make a bit more sense.  My heart goes out to you Ishmael, and all those who's struggles mirror yours...


So over the last few days I have been experimenting with a system that automatically sends emails to people when a post is published on the website.  I know that some of these people have read the posts, yet it does not appear that this automatic feed is showing up as visits to the website.  Via google analytics I can see what the traffic to the site is, where it comes from, and a host of other things.  But my traffic has plummeted from almost nothing to nothing but me!!  LOL.  As most all of the people that might read my posts are on that email list, it would seem that it does not bring people to the site but rather just emails them the post.  Of course a main goal is to get people to read the posts, but it is also to get traffic to the site.  If I can't generate traffic to the site I will not raise up the search engines and get others that i don't know to see the site.

Sigh...  So I guess that I will have to find another way to keep people informed of new posts that will also generate quantifiable traffic numbers for the site.  Ideally there would be an email with a teaser and link.  Say the first paragraph of the post and a link for "more" if they want to read on.  This would allow for notification to go to those interested with a brief intro.  People would then have a choice as to whether they want to read further and it would generate traffic for the site if they did open the link.  Now where to find this...  Tricky business this website stuff...  ;)