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, August 7, 2010


Networking is going to be the most important, yet most complicated and time consuming aspect of this planning process.  The more people we know in Sierra Leone before I go, the more depth my trip will have.  There are going to be multiple aspects to this process, but in short they will be:

  • A US based network of people, companies, and organizations 
  • Individuals and organizations located in the US but already affiliated with Sierra Leone  
  • Sierra Leone based organizations working in country
  • Globally based individuals and organizations affiliated with Sierra Leone (new) 
The tricky part of these lists is that it is a lot of flat out tedious work.  To find, to research, to contact (and usually not get contacted back).  But this is what will make this project successful, so it must be a priority.


So continuing along my list production campaign here, and given the food poisoning bout that I waged yesterday, I thought it best to think about the medical and first-aid set up.  One of the keys to the medical situation for me is that I am not a big follower of "Western" medicine.  I have just never responded well to it and have had a tremendous amount more success with "alternative", "Eastern", or homeopathic remedies.  On a daily basis I do acupressure and Chi Gung exercises to help strengthen the immune and other regulatory systems of the body.  Me getting into these practices has a lot to do with a decent amount of allergies/sensitivities that I have.  Foods, chemicals, pollutants, etc.  I am allergic to most antibiotics, and pretty much all Western medicines not only contain medicine, but are also full of chemicals and preservatives which just put more of a strain on my body than they seem to do good.

I should also say though that I never get sick in terms of the flu, colds, or things of this sort and am generally very healthy comparatively.  I had quite some time ago been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, but must admit that I feel this diagnosis is a 'Western' attempt to quantify what in the East would be classified as blockages to the bodies system of transporting energy, which in turn weakens the body and its immune system.  I find that if I exercise, do chi gung, and eat and sleep properly, that I never have any problems.  The only time issues arise is if I have put undue stress on my body, exercised too much or too hard, eaten non-'natural' foods, am mentally/psychologically stressed, or don't get much sleep.  Basically, I take care of myself and I don't have issues.  I had been working too hard over the last couple days, running a lot, swimming, splitting wood, and had some drinks.  If I do not do these things, even food poisoning wouldn't be so acute in my opinion/experience.

The dilemma here is this though: I am going to Africa, and all the 'travel specialists' are going to talk about vaccinations, malaria medicines, and the such, yet all of these things will actually hamper my immune system.  My first aid kit will consist of band-aids and such, but will also hopefully have a quick reference card for all the body's meridians (energy pathways), as well as acupressure points for specific ailments, and Traditional Chinese Medicinal (TCM) options.  This is what I have found the most success with.  I know that most people in 'the West' quickly stick up their noses at these practices, but China and Asia are the most populated areas of the world, and have been following these practices for millennia...  it can't be all that absurd then can it?


Below is my "to be considered" list:

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gear List

So as per my 'Master List' post I am going to start putting together lists of what things have/need to be done.  The best place to start right now is with hiking/living gear as I just went to REI and spent about 2 hours chatting with 'Mark', outdoor extraordinaire...  Only person that might talk as much as I do, but this is certainly a good thing given that I am trying to learn as much of the nuances as I can.  I'll try to get into list form here and update progress as time passes.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

When to start reading this blog...

So the tickets have been bought!!  I will leave October 17th at 18:35 from Newark, arrive in Brussels at 7:50 in the morning their time on the 18th, then I will leave Brussels at 11:25 and get into Freetown at 18:05 local time after a stopover in Dakar, Senegal (19.5 hours).  Coming back its the same itinerary backwards but into JFK instead of Newark, leaving on January 17th and getting in on the 18th at 12:40 in the afternoon (21.5 hours).  This is a great set up as well.  I had been budgeting $2000 for the flight and the visa, but got this flight for $1497, giddy up!!  Then on top of that, I spent $65 for $1 million worth of travel insurance - for three months in post-conflict West Africa!!!  What!?!?  Talk about a steal, I think the website's marketing strategy was figuring more like people doing one or two week european vacations rather than three months in Africa!!  But even with the insurance I'm at $1562.33.  The visa is $140, thats $1702, $300 under budget.  I can get my backpack now and even still be a bit under budget!!

The big plus for the trip as well is that there won't be any American carriers!!  Now before you start calling names...  no baggage limits and better food!!  I will be flying on Jet Airways, which is Indian, which means CURRY!! A favorite of mine... and then Air Brussels which at least means real food - not chemicals flavored to taste like food like the American carries have!!  :p

And who of course who do I have to blame for this horrible scenario!?!?  Well Mr. C. Gregory Fehrmann, travel agent extraordinaire!!  Of course  after we got past Greg's incessant desire to plan flights around getting to as many airports as humanly possible, we were fine.  He did come up with one from Westchester County, NY, to Washington D.C, to Montreal, to Munich (big plus for him), then Brussels, and then to Freetown with the stop in Dakar.  !?!?  Yeah, I didn't take that one...

But anyway, the dates are set, its time to start moving forward...  :)

Not going to be my seat...

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


So I have slowly been getting an increasing number of questions about safety and the impending 'danger' I will be facing.  I just thought I'd make a few comments on some of this.  Yes, it is West Africa.  Yes, Sierra Leone has had an absolutely brutal civil war recently.  But it is over and has been for eight years now.  The country is progressing quite well by developing country standards.  Violent crime is not a particular issue and I am not overly concerned about anything of the sort.  There is of course property crime, such as burglaries, muggings, pick-pockets, etc.  But we can find all this right here in the US.  The south Bronx?  Even right here in teh Hudson Valley, Newburgh, NY is a disaster.

However, if proof you desire, proof we have!!!  Not only did the UN greatly scale down its peacekeeping presence over the last several years, and the 2007 elections were generally viewed as fair by international observers, but we also have the Global Peace Index which tracks global safety by country.  Sierra Leone is ranked number 53 int his study, ahead of China (80), Brazil ((83), and.... yes, you guessed it... the United States at 85th!!  For the most part Sierra Leone is ranked in good standing throughout the study.  It certainly has a few laggards though.  With violent crime Sierra Leone is in the third out of five tiers, but it shares this with that "last on the list" American and German tourist destination... Italy!?!  ;)  In relation to the 'perceived' criminal threat in society it is again in the third tier, along with much of southern Europe, Spain, and Great Britain.  Of the other indicators, political instability and ease of access to small arms are the only ones really that are not in the first or second tiers.  And to put that in context, for access to small arms it is the same as the United States (though that doesn't say much).  You can download the full report here, or click here for a more fun interactive experience...

There is another indicator that bring us a bit more to some of the negative realities the country faces, but is more about possibilities than realities.  The Failed States Index for 2010 shows Sierra Leone as between the 29th and 32nd least stable country in the world.  The main issues faced are those common throughout the developing world: population pressures, economic decline, lack of public services, and uneven development.  All of these can put pressure on petty crime and property crime and should in no way be diminished by my playful tone in this post.  People in Sierra Leone are struggling, hence their Human Development Index of 180 out of 182, but in recovering from the war this has not translated directly into oppressive crime statistics like you see in many other less stable or economically depressed countries.  

Would you steal from him??
Basically, I see it as this, it is not going to be the worst or best place I've ever been, though it will certainly be the poorest.  It is most likely going to be closer to the worst though, but if you are savvy, pay attention to what you are doing and your things, there will not be a problem.  And what is the difference between having to do that there or any other place in the world?  Yes, I will be a target as a white person, but I am certainly not going to be looking like a high roller - what with my backpack, straggly clothes, Vibram 'barefoot' shoes, and general disinterest in and/or lack of the means to be the cleanest guy around.  In Freetown, in the bad sections, yeah, it wouldn't be smart to wonder around at night like I had money and no worries.  I will need to watch me things and back as I would anywhere.  But I could just as easily be an interesting novelty as I could be a target.  I straggly dirty looking white guy from New York?  These things sometimes endear people to you and their own curiosities take over.  Maybe... just maybe... I'll just be so damn friendly and interesting that everyone will want to be my friend!!!  LOL!!!!



The language situation there in Sierra Leone is going to be interesting.  The country's official language is English, but it is only spoken by a small minority of the population and mostly located in Freetown.  The lingua franca that unites all the different local and tribal languages is Krio.  Which started "as a trading language for tens of thousands of freed slaves from all over West Africa, Europeans, and other merchants."  It has elements of many languages but its most obvious roots are from Jamaican freed slaves, Nova Scotia, English, and West African languages.  For some simple phrases click here...  

There are also another 23 or so 'living languages' still spoken throughout the country. The two main ones are Mende in the south and Temne further northwest.  It will be useful to be able to greet and exchange pleasantries in these two languages, but for the most part, my focus needs to be Krio.  I have downloaded an old Peace Crops manual for learning Krio, but it is not exactly of the highest quality.  I have my work cut out for me.  Languages for me are also a bit touch and go.  I never really do well learning them from afar.  When I went to Prague I just got a book and walked around reading all the signs and interacting as best I could.  I had my little dictionary and just learned via trying and listening.  Problem now though is that I can't find a pocket english-krio dictionary, but who knows, that may change in country (though I'm not holding my breath... ;)  

Languages throughout the developing world are under a great deal of pressure from globalization as well.  I take a bit of a sense of passion with this.  As you can see from the above video many languages are slowly disappearing due to larger more 'useful' languages.  In the video, it is Krim that is disappearing in the face of Mende (both indigenous languages), but then it is (what could be considered a 'foreign' language) Krio that has overcome Mende as the country's universal language, and then English that has become the official language of the country.  You see this all over the world, the main languages - especially English - are learned everywhere and in turn local languages are threatened and lose some of their vibrance.  With this obviously a part of one culture wanes under the pressures of another.  Though I will be learning a 'new' or 'foreign' language in Krio, I still see this as a step in a more fulfilling direction.  I will not be learning French or Spanish, but learning something unique and specific.  A language spoken by only a few people (in global terms), and I find a pleasant sense of satisfaction within this.  

But I need you all to keep me going with it!!  I am not studying it enough...  ;)


Putting a Master List Together

So what needs to be done in order to make this trip happen?  I would hope that this could become an open forum from those of you reading it.  Please either just put a comment down below, or send them in, as you wish.  I think the best thing for me with it though will be to put down the broad strokes here, and then to go through each list (and its progress) separately and periodically.  I'm going to link each heading to a search for that topic (some don't have anything written yet though) so you can easily see what's been written if you'd like.
  • Gear - Backpacking/Living
    • Briefly though: hammock, backpack, sleeping bag, hydration, cooking setup, first-aid kit, clothing, footwear, tools, misc, etc.
  • Communications
    • Phone
    • Computer (possibly)
    • Keyboard (if no computer)
    • Solar Charger
  • Networking/Relationships
    • US based sponsors - I will be looking at companies such as Vibram and other similar businesses with specific interests in what i will be doing to help either with products and/or financial support.
    • US based individuals and organizations that are affiliated in some way with Sierra Leone.  
    • Sierra Leone based organizations and individuals that can help facilitate things on the ground during my trip.
  • Language
    • English is the 'official' language of the country, but Krio is the lingua franca and the one that I need to be working on.  I've been meaning to post of this for a while and will soon.  
    • There are also many other tribal languages that I will try to have pleasantries down with.  The two main one's are Mende and Temne. 
  •  Travel
    • Flight
    • Visa
    • Accommodation for when I first get in.  (am thinking to spend the first couple days in the cheapest place I can find to get past jet-lag and get acclimated.) 
    • Itinerary
  • Finances
    • Donations
    • Existing cash
    • Registry
  • Marketing
    • Email updates
    • Business Cards
    • Post Cards
    • Networking
  • Medical 
    • Yellow Fever Vaccine
    • First Aid
    • Insurance
    • Anything else I may need, but don't want!!
I find myself just assuming I've left some really important thing out - like 'breathing' or something - but this will have to be the start.  And again, by all means, add all the comments or responses you can.  I need the most exhaustive list I can!!

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    ChildHelp Sierra Leone

    So I don't know if you remember a while back when I started sending some emails of inquiry to some of the organizations that I pulled of the list of those operating in Sierra Leone.  So I have had a brief corespondence from the director of ChildHelp Sierra Leone.  They were the only organization of my first group of emails that responded.  They had had a person from Germany come last year and check things out throughout the country and were very positive about his time there in Sierra Leone.  They are also not so interested in money but of "...building greatly relationship and brotherhood in development..."

    Count me in.  I am trying to set up a time that I can have a conversation with them.  Obviously for me, developing local relationships is the best thing to do and would greatly help my trip.  So from me to ChildHelp Sierra Leone, thank you for you response, and we look forward to to the future...

    Sunday, August 1, 2010

    To Non-Profit or Not...

    So should the non-profit start before or after the trek?  I just had a long talk with my chief advisor (aka my mother) and she thinks it best to wait till after.  Obviously if you scroll down this linked list of related posts there have been other discussions about this, and it is especially an issue to undertake in Sierra Leone, but it is till an issue.

    I find myself really up against a wall with so many things to do to get it all done by myself.  Incorporating is a simple process - if its what you do for a living.  A lawyer who knows what they are doing could get into this and be done with it in hours, I am sitting here trying to read all the IRS's tax codes and New York State incorporating guidelines.  Not that I am complaining, I am doing it because this is the way I like to do things.  I want to know fully what the implications and limitations of becoming a Non-profit are and how then to construct the company.  In order to do something I think you need to do it right.

    This is my mother's point.  Focus for the time being on the trip, then do the non-profit once I'm back.  "Things will be a lot clearer then and you will have a firmer idea of exactly what you will be doing, it also might be easier to get donations."  The logic is sound.  Rather than working over the next couple months to learn all there is to know about backpacking and Sierra Leone, and setting up and running an entire non-profit company operating on multiple continents, she is saying save the company for after.  As far as mental space in the brain, this does make a good amount of sense.

    I think it has been a goal of mine to set up a non-profit though for years, and its something I really want to do - perhaps an exercise in patience is needed!!  But it also effects the concept of donations.  Would people donate to 'me' or a non-profit?  I'm not tax deductible!!  This motherly advice is as well in synch with what NYCON advised as well.  So I ask you, all 5 of my followers!!!  lol.  What do you think??  Should I put my focus into the trip, and the country, and the language, or into those things with an inherently forced lesser degree of intensity so that I can also go there as an affiliate of my own non-profit?  Hmmmm...  Comments welcomed!!