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, September 25, 2010

Running Around

(This post was written on Friday the 24th).

So I've spent the last three days running around and trying to get a lot of stuff together. Culmination of it all was this morning when I received my visa. Was a bit of an ordeal of course, but that was not unexpected. I got there at about 11 in the morning on Thursday. Now I will have to say that the Sierra Leone embassy is a rather informal affair – and I don't say this in any kind of negative way as I think it has this kind of endearing characteristic to it.   It is after all the third poorest country in the world and full of very enterprising and friendly people.  So – as my Germany loving brother pointed out – its not the immaculate 16 story German monstrosity in modernity. It is in an old building and is not renovated. You walk in an people are milling around and there is no specific consular section to go to.   It almost feels like walking in to a non-profit office on a busy day of work.  You just kind of wait in the lobby while people go into the depths of the building to wonder what in the world I am trying to do and why I would want a visa for Sierra Leone. It is obvious that there are not a lot of people coming in and looking to travel to Sierra Leone...

So let me tell you...
The day was also not helped by the UN general assembly meeting or Obama being in town for it. It was mostly chaos. There seemed to be a party going on for all the local people affiliated with Sierra Leone there in the embassy. Almost like we came at exactly the wrong time!! 

But you see...
Anyway, first thing was trying to get across to people what exactly I was doing and that I wasn't affiliated with any organization. As my trip is atypical, the women asked if I could write a letter explaining why I was going for visa purposes, “we can't just let anyone into the country without knowing what they are going to be doing”. They also wanted a letter of invitation.  Both of these of course are not on their website. They claim you need only a passport photo, passport, yellow fever vaccine, and the completed visa appication form. I had those, just not the things they didn't list on their site – why would I?!?! lol.  But no worries, I went and had lunch with friends and wrote up the letter. The women I spoke to said she would be there till six and to come back whenever. 

...what had happened was...
I went back a little before three with my brother and friend Lara. It seemed to be a truly amusing affair for them both. Watching my try to explain what I was doing to the next group of curious onlookers, and at the same time what other people there had been saying of me and to me. If you remember my previous visit to the embassy, Mimi was there again and far less full of sunshine!! I was definitely an annoyance, full of smiles or not. She checked with her supervisors while I ran to get a money order.  Her response was pretty much completely unsympathetic: to come back tomorrow.  There was of course no explanation of why or what problem seemed to be – which there definitely seemed to be!! The whole room was filled with skepticism and apprehension of me and my trip.  I certainly think we looked a bit out of t. he ordinary...  At one point – when I was speaking of my project and that I wanted to identify projects and then come back to the US and try to find funding – Mimi said wait, you are going to be taking money out of Sierra Leone? Lol.  It all just didn't seem to be adding up!!  I am indeed a novel concept!!  I did however made a new friend from MultiTV.SL. He had quite a few questions as to what I was up to and why in the world I had an interest in Sierra Leone. But he warmed and gave me his contact info while saying I could contact him in Sierra Leone once I was there.  People always warm up to honesty, hope, and good intentions.
Yeah, that's what it was!!

Gist of it all though, was I had to spend the night down in the city and run the risk of a parking ticket at the train station - but it would be less than another return trip ticket!!  Not a big deal to stay anyway though as I got to see some good friends, almost family really.

First thing in the morning though it was a light breakfast and a nice long walk through Central Park to the embassy (though the new Vibrams are threatening blisters on my heals).  I had no idea what to expect upon getting to the embassy.  I didn't even get in the door though before the receptionist (who was outside) spotted me and new what I was there for. About three minutes later I had my visa, signed on the dotted line, and was out the door.

Its always an adventure, but as I said to my friend this morning, you don't get anything done by just doing the same old thing as everyone else. You gotta take risks and you've gotta go out there and make things happen. That's what this trip is about, making things happen, not resting upon them...

Another Day

(This post was written on Thursday the 23rd).

Malaria in Africa
Got the rest of my vaccinations done. Second time around for Hepatitis A/B, and then Yellow Fever and Typhoid. Simple as can be, except of course again for the nurse's complete and total disbelief in my view on Malaria. Wait!! You mean drugs aren't always the greatest thing ever?!!? Nope, I am not going to knock down my immune system with chemicals and synthetics just so that I don't get a disease that the drug doesn't even really completely negate. Oh, yeah and then there's the side effects as well... Bottom line, if I don't take drugs, pills, antibiotics, or anything else of the sort because they always bother me or make me sick, then why on earth would I start doing so on this trip!?!? Logic to me, but not to a lot of western medicinal practitioners. I will be eating well, getting exercise, doing chi gung an other preventative energy/medical exercises, trying to get decent sleep, and working to minimize stresses. This is the best way of PREVENTING disease and fighting it off if it does come to you in my opinion.  I usually get sick when I start listening to what other people think is best an stop listening to my own body... Plus I have insurance for an emergency.  If I do get sick, which I figure may very well happen, then I will be covered.
Malaria in the world
Ok, so enough preaching!! Vaccinations went well, a decent amount of soreness, but otherwise all good.  Then it was on to the Gamechangers proposal and getting my visa situation set up. I also got a good “putting in my place” by my stepfather. You know one of those conversations where you've been going, going, and going, and some one just sort of verbally slaps you back to reality? I needed to hear it. I'd been trying to do way to much, and needed to let some things go and focus on the things that were directly important to what I had going on right here and now for this trip/project. Many thanks...

As for the Gamechangers proposal, I have been through a number of other proposals and have a pretty good feel for what they are trying to do. I have pulled out key points that we will need to address in our proposal and the project itself. I will send these points to Kaps for his evaluation on what they think could be done there, and how best to structure the project. Lots of work to be done, but not so much that it is insurmountable. Two weeks, and all we really need is the theoretical side of the project for the proposal. So I'll finish up a report on it with some key points worth hitting on for the proposal and we will go from there.

Time to go...

(This post was written on Wednesday the 22nd).

So I am starting to feel like I am very much mentally and emotionally ready to go. I have started to pretty much get all my gear together and have the bulk of what I'm going with. This is of course a big barrier both physically and mentally. Once you have the gear you're going with there is little left to really worry about. There are a few things that need to be done and obtained, but for the most part the main things are falling into place. I just got my Titanium cooking pot – wow, can you say light? It's literally like carrying nothing.  I cooked with it the other night as well, not bad, I think it will do just fine.  I just threw rice, greens, and some stew meat into it and let it cook.  Not bad - needed more spices, but good cooking-wise...

I also got the tiny flexible waterproof keyboard the other day. The phone should come at any time and this will tell me a lot. The keyboard is a little odd, but could certainly be gotten used to. This would seem like a coup if I could just go with the phone and the keyboard. I really would like to take the computer and would love to be able to just sit down and write as I am right now. However there is a bit of a concern for me with this. Despite being tiny, it is an emotional bulk. I would certainly have to worry about it. It is not big or heavy as computers go, but it is fragile and takes up space. Do I want to be bouncing through the jungle with it? What if I want to run and I have my pack on? Water? Security/Theft? These are all things that could become an issue. I wouldn't have to worry about these things quite the same with out it. I would feel much “lighter” I think. Be we shall see. I may not spend as much time as I thought moving around during this trip, who knows. If I am sedentary for some time then it would be a better scenario to have a computer, but I think I could get by otherwise. We'll see. I need to experiment.

I also have come to a bit of a dilemma about the shoes. I got my second pair and was feeling satisfied. But I went out for a long hour plus run on the AT Sunday and realized that that older pair is quite worn. There is a small hole starting to appear in the fabric of one of them, and the inside seems to have been worn down to the point where friction seemed to be starting to be an issue. Now I obviously will take that pair and they will be used. But the second pair I'm taking – the smartwool ones – do not seem exceptionally durable material wise. The fabric is wool and isn't woven so incredibly tight as to think that I could be off running through the woods with prickers and whatever else I might encounter not tugging or pulling at the fabric. So we will see, I guess it will depend on finances. But in an ideal world I would take a third pair (which was my original plan). I've looked into them, a little more tread and cushion would be helpful. They have trekking ones, but they are 125 dollars and made out of kangaroo leather. I would think this would be hot, the sport trekking ones are synthetic as are the running ones. Anyway, we shall see, both financially and practically.

The other thing I learned Sunday was that there really is a reason why no one uses silk for exercising and such, it does not manage moisture well, at least not the one I had on. It got soaked and then it started causing friction – I started to feel like it was going to rip my nipples off. They're still sore...

Today is Vaccination day, so that is again another big hurdle in this whole endeavor. Tomorrow Visa day, I leave in three and a half weeks, time to have everything together...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Off and Running!!!

So on Friday I got an email from Kaps in response to my questions regarding the athletics/track facility for Sierra Leone.  This is a really busy time of year for them as school is starting so it is greatly appreciated!!  They're doing good work down there...  :)

His answers really put the project into perspective and were exciting!!  They have land to build on.  They had to pay a small amount for it so the family there could live, but they have it... and they sent pictures (check them out below).  This just made it all real for me.  I must admit that through my whole upbringing and a lifetime of learning, you can't help but hear apologetic rumors of ineffectiveness in regards to Africa.  I always think of them as ways to make 'us' feel like there is little we can do - things said or read in countless academic and journalistic articles claiming Africans say and promise all sorts of things that they can't deliver..  things said that make it easier for 'us' to ignore things the less fortunate.  I try SO hard not to listen, in fact make it a point to ignore them.  But even within me there was a part deep inside of me wouldn't let go and allow myself to get too excited about the possibilities here without more concrete information.  Once I saw the pics, it became real.  I knew that not having property was an automatic disqualifier.  But we do!!  So time to get off and running!!

Just picture it.. leveled off, a smooth dirt track running around it..

So here is the information that Kaps passed on to me:
  • There are small playgrounds in the Makeni area where kids can play football/soccer, and there are three "mini-fields" for sporting events which are owned by Catholics (I am not sure the relevance of this ownership statement yet though, as nothing more was said, but it may be that it is tough for non-Catholics to use, we'll see)
  • There are Physical Education teachers with the ability to train people in athletics, but there is no encouragement, no precedence for kids to see success through, and not facilities to impress with.
  • They started a girls sport team and got many people to come out, but funding was a problem, and the government does not have much to offer in terms of support. 
  • All of the clubs are part of schools and they are not for sports, only entertainment, etc, and over once school is finishes. There are not usually costs associated with these clubs.
  • He says Child Help has the personnel to do this project but they are not really equipped to build a facility like this due to not being "financially equipped".
  • Kaps believes that they could hire the expertise for designing such a facility (this also could be assisted by Gamechangers if I have read their guidelines properly.)
  • His answer regarding the track surface was all about cost, lets do whatever we can at low cost and do the best job possible to be sustainable in inclement weather (Gamechangers may be able to help).
  • And finally, they feel they could put together this plan even given this short time frame.  
...a small set of bleachers on the far side between the trees...

Given Kaps' response, I started looking further at the Gamechangers funding guidelines and also pulled out some other proposals that had been submitted.  I haven't gotten too far into the other proposals, but I sketched in the basics for the proposal.  They ask for:
  • A Projeect Description to start with that should be 300 words or less.
  • A total project cost
  • They also allow space for a project video
  • They want to know about the organization, a description of it (Child Help SL), and their website (300 words).
  • Information about the project location right  down to latitude and longitude.
  • Contact info for the organization.
  • Project information such as the location/neighborhood and details of it (150 words)
  • They then ask three very key questions, yes or no:
    • "do facilities need to be constructed or upgraded at the project site?", if yes, then how (150 words)
    • "Does the project require further architectural/design assistance?" How? (150 words). 
    • and "Would this project benefit from the assistance of construction professionals?" How? (150 words)?
...competitors getting ready for their race...  ;)

That's all they wanted, short and to the point, with very little space for details.  This is a very good thing that lends well to our situation.  These last three questions are key, basically given that one of the two main entities sponsoring this project is Architecture for Humanity (who deal with building and design of sustainable structures) these questions could be seen as a way of asking if you need help with the design.  Given the types of organizations that are applying for these grants (they stipulate that only non-profits from within the specific country can apply - no foreign firms) they must understand that many of these organizations will not have very good access to the latest design and building practices/professionals.  This, to me, in addition to the brevity of the proposal they require means that they are not expecting completely finished project plans that are ready to be built.  It would seem that they are expecting, or at least anticipating some interest, in additional help from them to finalize a project.  This is exactly what we need.  They want a local organization to have an idea and organizational infrastructure put together so that a project like this could be done.  Then they can come in and assist in making the project happen both financially and practically.  Sounds good to me. 

There are quite a few other proposals from all over the world there though and for many different types of things.  It was always a long shot, but I will be very happy to put together a proposal for this and submit it.  At minimum it is the foundation for a project like this that could either stay as is with other funding or add additional components to garner more financial attention.  There is still a great deal of work to be done, this post just addresses Kaps' thoughts and the funding proposal guidelines.  Next time I will get into "what they are looking for" and what other proposals are trying to do to address Gamechangers' needs.  They leave you such little space though that the proposal will have to be exact and succinctly address the social wants, the competition, and our capabilities all in one little space... ;)  It is due October 6th.   



I still have a post to finish about positive developments with the Gamechangers athletics/track project, but while I am working on that I still have had a few other time sensitive things that need to be handled this week.  Wednesday is my second vaccination cycle - second round of Hep A/B and the Yellow Fever and Typhoid (both of which I have to get a prescription for).   Trying to get my self clean and healthy to make it easier to handle.  Should be interesting. 

I need to get more contact lens as well.  I have been using the same prescription and "one year supply" of contacts since 2006.  lol.  One year my butt.  ;)  But I don't have enough now to be certain if something happens while I'm there, and my glasses are from 2003/a mess.  I can't afford glasses as well, but contacts are a must.  Sadly though, in the US in order to order new ones you have to have a prescription from within one year - 2006 obviously doesn't qualify!! lol.  So working on getting something together for that. 

Still working on funding, if anyone wants to donate... now is the time!!  I leave in less than a month and am down to the bottom of my budget.  I want to say thank you to the few people that have already.  You know who you are!!


I also have started thinking more about my stove situation.  I want to use an aluminum can stove as it would be light and easy.  But I need to use denatured alcohol (methylated spirits, grain alcohol, rubbing alcohol, etc.) and I am not sure of availability over there, thus an inquiry is in order.  I found one typical backpacker stove that uses three different kinds of fuel (including gasoline) here which would have been ideally versatile - but it costs $125, so I'm gonna try the can stove first.  Maybe try to make it this afternoon...

On Thursday, right after Wednesday's vaccinations, I believe that I will be headed in to NYC to apply for my visa.  We shall see how that goes, but it is something that I am actually quite looking forward to.  Not sure why, maybe another finality thing.  I've also been trying to get some work done while in the Hammock, but not so comfortable to type in there.  It needs a pillow of some sort for sure to keep your head up.  Ok, so I need to get back to work.  Hope you are enjoying your day.