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...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


So it is slow coming, and not much to say right now.  But we are up to $255 of the $390 needed to send to Yapo to get us registered with the federal government of Sierra Leone for the grant that he thinks we have a good shot at.  I am also trying to get him all of the paper work and planning that I've done for it over the last year.  Redo what I can, etc... by the end of the day!!  Wooo... But you know what.  It's important, it has to be done.  I put too much into this, as did the other people that supported me on the journey.  Nevermind, that the people of Sierra Leone have been putting their whole lives into it.  We can't let either them or you down!  Trying....      :)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Human Priorities

As many of you may know by now, I have committed myself to Occupy Wall St. and am staying randomly in NYC and working heavily within the movement and the Think Tank working group.  I am looking for work down here and applying to Phd programs so that I can become sustainable and move forward with things both personally and within the movement.  Over the last year given un/underemployment I have not been able to save much money to continue this work in Sierra Leone I had been working on.  Anything that I did have is now going directly to surviving down here in the city given the utter chaos of what I am living in.

and we are complaining about our education system...

I had been trying to get to Sierra Leone in the spring to set up a project, but that has now probably changed for the time being.  I write you this because I got an email from my partner Yapo in Sierra Leone today who may have a very solid lead on a development grant.  We only need to establish a few things with the company itself to be eligible for this grant:  bank account, registration with a few agencies, etc.  A total of $390 is needed to allow for the opportunity of $5-10,000 (you can read the email below).

Basically, we need to get contributions  at any level that could help us toward reaching this number.  I have thrown myself into Occupy 110%.  I have made choices that have put me in a position of hardship and forced sacrifices upon myself that I must live with.  In many ways these decisions have ostracized my friends and the people who have helped me get to where I am in life - I am very sorry that this has happened and accept responsibility and the consequences for that.  But when I woke up this morning to this email, I realized that the people I met in Sierra Leone, struggling daily on every level of existence, would not, and did not, deserve to be asked to understand what I am doing here, what it could eventually mean for them, or the passion that I have for it, and didn't deserve to be asked to wait any longer for things to get better for them.  Thus, I am asking if anyone is interested in helping them.  I can be contacted through the contact page on this website, or donations can be submitted on the upper right of this page.  Please read the below email.  Thank you, and I truly wish you all the absolute best.

...and jobs...

Hi Tim,
I just want to inform you that I got a consultative meeting with the Rural and Private Sector Boss here in Makeni last Saturday with regards aibia. They are presently working on a project to develop the capacity of local organizations here in Makeni.
Their priority is to provide grants up to $5,000 - 10,000 to Local CBO's (Community Based Organizations) depending on the objectives of the project.
I have the opportunity to win this but faced with few problems as to the criteria to qualify for this.
These include the following;
- Registration with SLANGO (Sierra Leone Association of Non Governmental Organizations)
- Opening of a Bank Account
- Presentation of an Electronic and Original/Scan Copies of Certificates of Registration and Constitution and
- Registration with the Development Ministry.
I have tried my best to do a lot but can’t do all without your contribution....
After enquiries we are left to the expenditure of One Million Seven hundred and fifty thousand Leones (Le1, 750,000) which is approximately three hundred and ninety dollars ($390).The cost of Opening the account included.
You need to help with some Finance.
Note: The deadline for submission of all relevant documents is 23rd December, 2011.

Monday, July 11, 2011

What am I up to...

So I am spending my days working with people with "disabilities".  Trying to find them employment in a world and system that has ostracized them and that really has created no place for them.  It is truly sad to see.  People that just want to be accepted, loved.  That just want to feel "normal", to feel like they fit in and have a place.  Yet here they are in a society designed to work entirely against the assets they've brought to their table.  They are a true minority in the greatest sense of the word and world.  African Americans may be discriminated against where they go, women in the workplace, homosexuals in marriage, but imagine if you were discriminated against within the very socio-biological ways of society?  The way you talked, walked, looked.  The way you picked things up, the accessibility of places, people, how you physically did things.  Imagine if you couldn't hear your mothers voice, couldn't see the bus approaching to pick you up, couldn't walk in to a job interview and truly be heard, couldn't comfortably perform simple professional norms like shaking someone's hand? 

Society is set up for people that physically and mentally work in a certain way.  If you don't function in that way, you will never truly find a place.  I recognize it more and more within myself every day, and I'm simply dyslexic.  My brain processes things differently.  The conclusions I draw seem different, I don't organize information in the same way, and I see the outcomes daily as I become more aware of it.  But imagine if I had a completely different genetic makeup?  Imagine if my brain didn't just process or sort information differently, but actually worked entirely differently?  And that way of working was deemed by standard measures - such as IQ tests and such - to actually not be working?  It is a true travesty of our society that people that function differently on so may levels have no place in society, that they are not encouraged to be a part of global or national life as they are.  They are encouraged to conform, to try to become like "us".  Medicated, trained, whatever.  Where is their own personal voice?  Muted.  People that think differently are really the only people with the true capacity to think "outside the box", to work from an original canvas as they are not hindered by the mainstream.  They are different, and I truly wonder why we try to make them the same.  We need to hear them, listen to the ideas, try to hear the variance, the possible new directions.  What better way to change our society to be more inclusive than through dialog with and via the eyes of those that are actually ostracized? 

So this is what I do, I try to jam round pegs into square holes.  In my spare time I am still working on ideas with Africa.  I am saving some money for another trip and project supplies.  Things have been downsized a bit.  I am at this point simply trying to find a small fairly straight-forward and simple project that can be delivered in the next year during my spare time.  I am of course also still trying to find people to work with that will keep me going and help with the process.  No small issue...

Right now I am thinking that the internet incubator/cafe will be the easiest thing to deliver upon.  An office space for non-profits that would be funded by an internet cafe.  The proceeds cover the rent and computer upkeep while providing organizations with the space and infrastructure to do their work.  It wouldn't cost more than $10,000 to get everything set up and running and would require little oversight.

I've got some stuff I may do to help bring out the minority vote in Dutchess county where I am living right now as well.  Kind of a complicated road, but one that could be quite fulfilling.  I'm also looking into PhD programs again.  Doing a much more thorough analysis of the anthropology programs this time.  Narrowing down the ones that would be just right for my interests and theoretical vantage points.  This is the type of arena I belong in, but it is funny that the reason I am not there is because I am a round peg, I think very differently, and it caused me issues both in getting accepted and during my time in academia.

We'll see though, there is a lot of ways to get to the places I want to be.  It will take some time and a little bit of doing.  But if I can get something done in Africa, and survive my current job, it could all open a wealth of doors for the future.  Time is always an asset, and always a challenge....  

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Forever and a day....

So it actually sees like it has been about that long since the last time I posted, and it has been a tough road to get here.  I ended up taking that job, but went through a lot of unpleasantries before and throughout the transition process.  I've moved, had some family issues, got a car, took the job, spent some time living in the woods, lost a few friends, and on the whole have caved in to some of the realities of the life that one seems to have to live to exist in America.  I must say that I have found a decent amount of difficulty living here in the area that I am - I just plainly do not fit in.  It is tough to spend pretty much a third of your life (almost the whole of the adult part) abroad, living in different cultures, seeing different ways of life.  Simply changing as a person.  I seem now to be half American and half alien. 

There are so many things done well and exemplary here in America, but also so many things that I do differently from people here.  My priorities are quite different as well.  I don't just want to get a job and settle into a life here.  I want to make a difference, I want the life I settle in to too mean something outside my little sphere.  I want to make people in the far reaching corners of the world's lives more fulfilling, give them more options.  Yes, there are of course people here interested in this type of stuff, but the contextualization of it all is so different.  And I will say this as well; living in America is taking away some of my principles, waning on my idealistic motives.  You can't survive living the life of an idealist here.  People on the whole will truly respect your passion, the things you want to do in life, the changes you want to make and people you want to help, but American society is so individualized and focused on the local self that there really is little place for the idealist.  Yes, NGO's, non-profits, etc, but I'm in one now and it is so systemically neutered that there is no way to truly bring about change, and certainly not on a large scale.

American culture is to me very limited, very closed.  I suppose this is culture anywhere though, it sees through its own eyes, colored by its own past, its own social context.  But American culture places American ideals, ways of life, and standards of living as the preeminent ones in the world.  An arrogance that only seems to be found in other current or former world powers.  If we are the best, why change?  Maybe tweak things, but why truly change?  The way I live my life, the goals I aspire to, they run against American cultural streams, and change itself runs against every cultural stream.

When you tell people you want to change a world they feel comfortable with, they can easily become cross with you, especially if you are unapologetic about your views/reasons and assertive - two things I tend to be.  Not that we are all the same in America, and that everyone is included in this, but a social system is just that, a system with main streams and separate outliers.  I am an outlier.  The last several months have shown this to me in even more vibrant colors than ever before.

So now I just put my head down, do my job, and hope/work towards another day when I can do what I believe we all should be doing; working towards true systemic change.  The world is neutering me, but I will not allow it to be permanent.  I will not allow it to take away my dreams or my goals.   

Thursday, March 24, 2011


So given my last post I think it's pretty safe to say that I am coming up upon a transition point.  Two years of "little" to show for my passion, past, and hard work is tough to take, and I now may have a decision to make.  I got another call from the organization in Connecticut that I had spoken with about working for them several months ago.  They now want me to come up to their Massachusetts office for the whole of next week and feel each other out and see what kind of future could be possible there.

The previous position they had talked about was basically an entry level position with barely enough of a wage to justify moving to Connecticut, nevermind getting really excited about the immediate career option.  That position, weighed against the piecemeal system I have set up here in NY that caters toward my long term ambitions, my Africa work, and family/friends, was tough to justify moving for.  However, they are now talking about something entirely different, thus a dilemma.

The organization, New England Business Associates, is based in Springfield, Massachusetts (with several other offices in MA) and is a non-profit organization that specializes in working with people with disabilities.  They are now expanding their operations into Connecticut.  It has been three months since I originally interviewed with them (and they then unceremoniously fell out of touch with me).  However, they have now reappeared and offered me what seems to be the number two position in Connecticut, and what may be the highest permanent position there.  Their Director of Development is spearheading the expansion and overseeing everything right now.  As would be expected, she seems to be getting a bit overwhelmed as things take shape there.  Thus the need for more wo/manpower.

This type of position completely changes my evaluation of the options in front of me.  Obviously nothing can be decided until the end of next week when all the details of my options will be directly in front of me.  However, this doesn't mean I can't lay out my options here in advance and help set a foundation for a decision (and solicit advice).  So here we go, present day:
  • Living in my family's home, which they are in the process of trying to sell.  Meaning uncertainty presently, and that I would then have to either find my own apartment (which I can't afford as am), live in a car (which I have yet to attain - though am close), or move in with my grandparents (which requires a discussion within itself).
  • I am committed to working as a girl's lacrosse official which would bring in a livable income and is between 50 and 91 dollars per hour.  Good money, but only lasts through mid June.  I could get another flexible retail position, and there is a pittance from unemployment should I not make enough in a week.
  • I am volunteering with Safe Harbors in Newburgh on two events there, a community clean up day and a 5k road race.  I must admit though that it has been tough to do this given a depressed state of mind and/or trying to focus on getting myself out of this state.
  • I have a long standing network of friends here, one that since my Africa trip and malaria, seems to have become really important to me.  It's almost like since my time alone in the hospital I want nothing more than social interaction and genuine friendly compassion.
  • Family.  My grandparents are 87 years old.  They have lived a long full life and deserve to have people there for them (they live about 3 minutes drive away now).  My parents have been helping them their whole lives and are in a tough position right now in terms of housing and will be moving to Rhode Island.  My grandparents will be left alone here in the NY area.  I want to stay here for them.  It would mean so much to both of us.
  • Time to write and read.  My long term goals are about thinking, reading, writing, creating new ideas and systems.  I have time right now to spend doing all these things.  I have gotten off track a bit with the malaria, but am finding my way again.  I could try to publish some things I've been working on, and make myself more knowledgeable.  
  • My Walking Lion project, both Sierra Leone and locally.  If I took a job in Connecticut I'd have to mostly leave this behind.  I could not travel to Sierra Leone for more than a couple weeks a year and I wouldn't be living in Newburgh or even close enough to do anything there.  I put in a lot of work, said a lot of things that I want to stand behind, and made some serious sacrifices that I would hate to have go to waste.  Granted there is not much to count on (I think I'll have to write another post on that), but as I've said, the whole thing is notoriously slow.  I just spoke to Yapo and then got a follow up email from him as well.  The solar lamps aren't looking so great right now do to legal issues.  Other options are being discussed, but there are lots of uncertainties.  But I have time on the ground and a part of my heart is there, I want to do things, the things I said I would try to do.  If I take a different job, I can't do them.  I couldn't actually go there for enough time to get things done as I'd like.
  • Future PhD, I have been thinking about this for years and always come back to it.  I was thinking to take a class at CUNY in NYC (a top choice for me) in the fall to try to help them see me for what I am, rather than the poor dyslexic test scores I have.  I would then apply next winter for School in 2012.  I could then stay in NY and be around for my grandparents indefinitely and move toward my longer term goals and the future I want.  (Success with my Africa work, and time writing, would really help my application as well). 
  • Freedom.  I would be free to come and go.  Africa, Central Asia, Europe.  Wherever I could be learning and bettering myself, and writing about it.  Nomadic, poorly funded, but working towards my goals one shoe string at a time. 
  • Basically, I have established a nomadic, poorly funded, and fluid lifestyle but am working towards my goals one shoe string at a time.  But there is no stability.  There is no security.  Perhaps if I had a stable home it could be.  I have enough unemployment and part-time work to survive while I try to attain my goals.  Housing is the only real uncertainty.  Yes, it would be nice to have finances to live off and to set up other things such as Africa, but it is not life threatening with out.  This road would be much more difficult and risky than the other, but could get me where I want to be longer term sooner, and only makes sense if viewed in terms of these long term goals.
 Option two, details TBD:
  • Be an intricate part of setting up, and then running, an expansionary program for people with disabilities in Connecticut.  It sounds at this point that I would be in a key position and perhaps the regional manager in the future.  A challenge with a good level of responsibility, and satisfaction doing something I would believe in.  A very appealing option.
  • Stability.  I would have a decent salary, benefits, vacation time, etc.  I have not had this for a long time and it could open up many doors for me.
  • Moving to Connecticut.  This by itself does not present much of an issue, except for what I would be leaving behind.  I would be an hour and a half away from my grandparents.
  • I could save money, set myself up for future endeavors, donate to Africa or wherever, travel on vacations.
  • Write in my free time, which I would think I would have a decent amount of.
  • Basically, this option is the standard American option.  Same normal life that everyone here thinks of when they think of an ideal life.  A job, a home, stability, etc.  Something I need, something I would really like.  I could do this for years and find comfort in it.
  • I will not know the extent of it in terms of scope of work or pay until next week.  We shall see... 
I think the essence of all this is that it is a change of life.  I will be walking away from everything that I have been doing and working towards for the last however many years.  I will be committing to the US, to a career pathway I haven't necessarily always wanted.  I will be giving up a lot of the things that have been important to me and i have worked towards.  I always want to be abroad, seeing, learning, doing, helping.  So many friends abroad, a way of life that feels more comfortable to me.  I have sort of fallen into this sort of alter ego, "walking lion", and I like it.  I like who I am and what I am working towards.  Settling in in the middle of Connecticut, making new friends, meeting knew people.  But will they be the type of people I will really identify with, want to be around and help me move towards my longer term goals?  Will my life really be a life that I can identify with?  I feel a bit like I would be settling and giving up for a bit, swimming with the tide, becoming a part of the system, part of what the problem, the band-aid, in our world is.  But I would also be able to breath while doing something I would believe in and enjoy.  Something that could facilitate any number of things in the future.  Which is this the right thing to do?  Be a part of society to change it, or stick to its fringes?  I know everyone's advice will be to take the job, but will any of those people ever change the course of history?  Will I?

Monday, March 7, 2011

tick tock...

(jeopardy theme hums...)  So when is something going to happen?  Yes, this post is not going to be about things happening, but about if/when, and about feelings...  Yeah, I like to put forth positivity and promote all the wonderful things that are going on.  I'm an optimist.  But one of the key things that I did on my trip to Africa was to write, to write honestly, openly, and with no holds barred.  That works fine when no one you're working with reads your posts.  You can't hurt your negotiating or marketing position.  Since I've been back in the US I have realized this is tough to do.  People read this.  So I have tried to put forth the "right" face.  But I've gotten to the point where it is time to express my internal scenario here.  This site was always about the journey of trying to make this type of thing happen, and the struggle I'm facing is just as much a part of that journey as anything. 

Make no mistake, this is a solid struggle.  I am now coming up on two years back in the US, after spending most of the previous decade abroad.  I have been un/underemployed for the entire time back here.  One of the main catalysts for going to Africa was because I couldn't find a job or the money to start my own business.  I packed my bag and went to Sierra Leone because I frankly didn't have anything else to do.  It was the best way to both learn about the world and to make things happen.  But it was also about changing the course of the path I'd been on since returning from abroad.  I am now armed with so much more experience than before and even with prospective projects to put on the ground.  But still, I find myself, unemployed, on food stamps, no car, about to have no home, and stuck sitting around all day waiting for Africa... sigh..
Wake Up!!

I have put my future in the hands of African governance, African time, and in capitalism's stagnant economic realities.  And I'll tell you what, it doesn't seem like its the safest of bets!  Fact of the matter is that I want nothing more than to make this work, but as it is currently not really working, I am realizing another need: stability.  I am back in the US and Hudson Valley because of a familiar support structure.  I want to spend time with my 87 year old grandparents, I have friends here, my family.  If there was a place to call home, this would seem like the first place to start, nevermind to be able to play entrepreneur.  However, for all the things that there are here, there is nothing else.  There are no jobs (and frankly, given the economic climate we're in and the number of applications for jobs, I wouldn't interview me), there is no capital, no money.  I've been out of work now for over two years including school, and my work prior was all over the world and not easy to quantify.  Of course I can do the jobs, I can do anything, literally anything.  But this doesn't matter, it is never about what you can do, but what you appear to have done.  I've done a tremendous amount in life, but this is apparently not interesting enough.

So here I sit, languishing.  I am nothing of the man I was two years ago.  I was all over the world, using other languages, living amongst other cultures, reading, writing, working, learning.. everyday, all day.  Now, I fester away in suburbia.  I have tried to make things happen, but it becomes more and more difficult to summon up the inner fortitude to continue to try over and over again.  Websites and shoe stores?  A self funded trip to Sierra Leone?  Malaria?  My own business?  But it is just not that simple.  There is not a whole heck of a lot that you can do alone.

This business I am working to set up has some realities and parameters that are pretty concrete.  I need it to be about Africa first.  I want to do work locally in Newburgh, but there is no starting there, there just isn't the margins for success.  In Africa there are plenty of opportunities to make substantial revenue streams that can fund other projects both locally and abroad.  How much do you think I'd get in donations to start another non-profit in Newburgh?  If Africa falls through and it is just about Newburgh, it isn't viable.  So it has to be about developing economies such as Sierra Leone. 

Here in lies the problem.  I am not getting the things out of Africa that I need.  It has been over a month now with only a text message and one two minutes phone conversation.  I have not been able to get the costs and numbers I need to move forward with planning and funding the situation here in the US.  I need someone there getting things done.  Do I need to go back for a couple weeks, plan this whole project out and then come back and get the money?  Didn't I just do that?  There obviously needs to be oversight, someone there keeping things moving.  I have contacted my friend in the Peace Corps to see if they could help, and I'm now waiting for their reply. 

Fact of the matter is, this is weighing heavily on me.  I have to be able to maintain myself as a human being.  I don't need much, a room or two to call home, some food, friends...  But most importantly, I need something productive to do with myself that will then provide for the aforementioned things.  Officiating girls lacrosse isn't exactly the most fulfilling of careers.  People do it to supplement their incomes.  It is now my only job, my professional outlet.  I need to get back to interacting with people, inspiring people and being inspired, motivated.  This is not the life that I envision for myself.  I want to make a difference, I want to be thinking about grand schemes and unimaginable ideas.  I am talented and capable.  Yet instead, I am sitting in a room, writing somber blog posts, trying to get my medicaid sorted out, and wondering what is next, if anything. 

Sigh... I am capable of so much more, and I've done so much more... 

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results... then I am definitively insane...  ;) 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Solar Street Lamps

So the main project that we are focusing on right now is solar street lamps for the city of Makeni. In looking at the three projects that I came back from Sierra Leone with this one seems to be the most attainable at this point.  Granted there is an awful lot to do between now and instalation, including sorting through Sierra Leone's entire governmental apparatus.  But as it is, right now it really looks to be the most feasible.  The brick project requires a lot in terms of expertise, local business infrastructure, and time in country.  It is also a commitment for a longer term production process.  The solar street lamp project on the other hand is a one-off endeavor with a definite start, end, and result.  This I think is best for setting up this business endeavor in Sierra Leone.  Lessons will of course be learned during the process that could easily be used to set up a better production scenario in our other endeavors.  It also can be a solid revenue generator in a shorter fixed term.  Source the lamps, ship them, install them, done.  It's obviously much more complicated, but not like the brick project's open-ended scenario including local production facilities, local sales teams, local distribution networks, local management, and permanent staff.  It is a huge commitment that needs time and planning.  By focusing on the lamps, we can work through the planning of the bricks at the same time without as much risk.

The Lamps are an intricate process as well though.  We have to source the lamps and the poles and ship them to Sierra Leone, where they will have to pass through customs and the entire African shipping process.  From there we have to arrange transport to Makeni and storage for them.  Local labor and materials will be needed for the installation and setup.  The lights themselves are easy to assemble and put up, but the poles would be more difficult as getting them set permanently in the ground brings challenges in a city that still shows some of the effects of war. 

All this is coupled with the governmental aspect of the project.  This would be an open bid through the governments procurement process.  Which I would imagine is a road that will have its share of winding turns...  Also financing the project will be quite delicate.  There would be some advanced governmental payment for the contract.  This would then need to be balanced with the down payments and extensions of credit negotiated with suppliers.  We may need to stagger the delivery and installation of the lamps in order to be able to balance the whole project.  This of course is not the way we'd want to do it as it would cost more on the whole in both money and time, but if this is what allows us to get the contract done, then it would be worth it to establish the company and its credit.  If we do a good job, there will be more cities looking for lights.  Have to start somewhere.  We will see...

But on the whole it seems like a good place to start.  Straight forward, one-off, deliverable project, with a good revenue upside.  With this one done, we could fund the brick making project, an internet/office facility in Sierra Leone, and set up Newburgh so we could run the diaspora funding network from there and then some local programs as well.  Giddie up!!    

Friday, February 25, 2011

Clean Me Up!!

So the other night I spent a nice evening working with the people of Safe Harbors on the Hudson (as well as other community members) to help plan a cleanup day for Newburgh.  Obviously, as you've probably gotten from my recent posts, Newburgh has some serious issues, garbage and a general culture of disrepair being among them.  Safe Harbors has decided that on May 7th (tentatively) they will organize the local community members and organizations to spend the morning trying to change some of this.

The meeting went quite well, there were about ten people there and an infinite number of ideas.  A lot of progress was made and it felt quite good to get back involved in this type of thing.  Un/self employment (never mind malaria) can bring about a decent malaise or disconnect that stagnates you.  I still don't feel as sharp as I was, but it was great to get back involved in a planning/strategy session. 
There are countless things to do, from getting volunteers, to sponsors and partners, to dumpsters and slogans.  But the room seemed to be motivated and involved, so I don't doubt that something great will come of it.  For my part I will be working on an educational aspect to the day and also on getting local colleges and students as well as a few environmental institutions involved.  As well as myself!!  Which will be nice indeed!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011


So progress is not moving forward as I would prefer for it to.  Mostly because of the simple phrase "TIA" (This/That is Africa).  But also, because of the realities of minimal man power and finances.  I have been working of late on a business plan.  But it is slow going.  I have the concepts and the ideology written in all sorts of depth and multiple ways, but I need specifics, and these are tough to come by when you are relying on others and/or yourself to stretch your areas of experience too broadly.  I am not a lawyer, nor do I have the money to pay one (especially before I can take donations/do work), so incorporating is tough.  I need to get this organization registered asap.  For this though. I need help, and I am having trouble finding it. 

The most important thing I keep reminding myself of is that no one truly shares your own passion for the things you're focused on.  Without being able to provide incentives, things become much more difficult with other people.  Even organizations such as GET that are designed to help an organization just like mine don't really seem so interested in having to actually do work.  As a result of all this, a person in my situation has to be able to do everything.  You become the lawyer, the business man, the project designer, the anthropologist, the accountant, the negotiator, and on and on...  Yeah, Ok, Ok, I know, you say: hey that is what starting this type of thing is about.  Doing everything, being everything.  It's been so long since I did business in the US, I feel like I'm starting over!!

The issue I've been having right now though is that there are just some things I can't do without the right information, and I can't get it myself.  Working with Africa is a huge challenge.  In all these meetings I've been having in Newburgh, everyone wants to know why I am not more focused on a specific thing.  I think I am, I want to set up shop in Newburgh to do business in Sierra Leone, and then once I can, do work in Newburgh as well.  I am not tied to a specific 'type' of work - recycling, or vocational training, or whatever - thus am open to any opportunities that can generate revenue and allow for more projects/development. 

In Sierra Leone we have identified several opportunities that could both generate revenue and jobs for local people.  These projects can be far more lucrative than anything we could do in Newburgh right now.  So the company hinges on Sierra Leone.  And up until yesterday, I hadn't heard anything from Yapo (my guy in SL) for well over two weeks.  This is the tricky part of it all.  Not only are you dealing with people that have other things in life that they are/have to do, but you are dealing with the technology and infrastructure of the poorest per capita country in the world.  You can go a whole week there an have NO internet and no one even thinks twice.  Computers are down, the generator runs out of fuel, you pass a place serving palm wine, whatever.  :)  It is a very slow process.

To put together this business plan I have to have any number of things, but costings and estimates for the projects in Sierra Leone are a foundation of it.  This takes time, and doesn't help when I feel the urgency here to incorporate, tie it down, focus it.  Yet, I can't get the information - through no fault of any one person - for weeks at a time.  TIA.  

So what does all this babble mean...??  It means that this is a tough process.  No money, little support, and an unstable personal living situation make things tough.  Splitting time between reviewing girl's lacrosse rules for my spring refereeing job, incorporating in NY, importing solar street lamps into Sierra Leone, volunteer work in Newburgh, social services doing NO part of their Medicaid job, malaria's after affects, life, etc.  But hey, it is the challenges in life that provide us with the opportunity for the successes that we so cherish.  And this is what it is all about, creating this project, and making it successful...  Yes, it would be nice if I had a more stable foundation to do it from, but that just isn't the case, so be it...   

"Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever."
-Lao Zi

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Ahh...  where to begin.  I guess I can start by saying a lot of running around while struggling to find time to write it all down.  Since my last post I have done a wealth of things, including start writing several posts without finishing them up.  Thinking its better to just stick to the broader strokes. 

So I've had a number of meetings.  I won't get into them all, but Thursday I met with the Gateway to Entrepreneurial Tomorrows (GET).  GET's goal is to "help minorities and low income families in the Mid-Hudson Valley start their own businesses, thus giving impulse to the general economic growth of the region."  The meeting was both informative/helpful and also pretty annoying and frustrating.  They were very pesimistic.  I really almost got the impression that they would just simply be happy to have me not come back through their door, less work.  All they could see was what can't be done, why it wouldn't work.  And not in a constructive way, but in a nothing works way.  They also don't have the best reputation on the street...  That being said though, I started being a bit assertive about things and got past the cloudy exterior to some solid advice.

On Friday I met with the Director of Development for Putnam ARC a NGO located in Brewster, NY that works with people with disabilities.  This meeting was fabulous.  The perfect type of person to speak with, and interestingly, a Newburgh resident (Town of, not City) who had some really good thoughts everything.  She really helped formulate some solid directional ideas.

I met with some other community members, as well as government, religious, and business leaders.  There are some really great people out there, doing really great work.  There is also a lot of judgement and pessimism.  I find it very interesting to fell the differences when I - a respectably dressed white guy - walk into a room in Newburgh versus in Sierra Leone.  In Sierra Leone I stick out like the sun in a perfect blue sky, but not in a racially charged or prejudicial way, but more pragmatic.  In Newburgh, there is so much judgement.  Most everyone seems to size you up before you ever get in the door.  They seem to assume everything they need to know about you.  I mean, must come from a well to do upbringing?  I probably never struggled right?  I have no way of knowing or understanding what life is like there right? I must fit into a category no?  My how interesting it is the way people think.  But no matter... people can think what they want.  I know where I come from and what I want to do.  Some people will be supportive and others not!!

This stretch finished with going to a City Council meeting in Newburgh last night.  They are working on a new plan for real estate development.  I won't get into much now, it would deserve its own post.  The regular meeting seemed quite civil by local government standards.  The big event was the approval to auction 50 city owned properties off in April.  Very interesting to think about that on many levels.  I also met some more people there of course, and am quite happy with the network I am getting in to.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath ones feet..."     

Friday, February 11, 2011

Local Development

So on Wednesday night I met for nearly two hours with Ed Lynch the city of Newburgh's Director of Planning and Development.  It was quite a good conversation.  He is a former Peace Corps volunteer that has done a decent amount of work in South America (which immediately put us on the right page).  He most recently spent 17 years in a similar position in New Rochelle and seems to have turned that city in a positive direction in terms of crime, quality of life, and economics - this includes a 40 story Trump tower there.  When I was growing up, New Rochelle did not have a good reputation, yet it seems to now.  So if blanketed results are the measure of "success", he seems to have been successful in "New Ro".  I am not sure of the specifics of how it was done, and who flourished and/or was marginalized in the process, but he has a record of change. 

While Ed did have some very interesting thoughts and ideas regarding my work in Africa, we spent most of the time on Newburgh.  Just to put a few things out there, the city had a 25% tax increase in 2010, and will have anywhere from a 61-74% tax increase this year.  The city had to borrow millions of dollars from New York State just to pay the salaries for its workers for the end of 2010.  Also (and I heard this elsewhere), there is also discussion of dissolving the City of Newburgh entirely.  Yes, just shutting the whole thing down.  It would then have to be absorbed into the Town of Newburgh - which doesn't seem to be very interested in taking over this disaster.  There has been previous mismanagement of state and federal money's due to lack of manpower and maybe even incompetence to the point that some of this money may have to be given back.  Ten's of thousands of dollars of money being wasted on national searches for individual positions, and then local behind the scenes hirings from the old-boy network.  Corruption or the implication of it, seems to be either a common perception or an assumed undercurrent in everything.  There is no supermarket, there is no pharmacy, public transport is minuscule, the streets are dilapidated, the underground economy is rampant, yesterday saw 31 gang members indicted - including three on separate murder charges, and there is no money to do anything about any of it, never mind hope.  Suffice it to say, "Newburgh" gets worse every day...  I can't even fathom how a city like this can provide virtually no services to its citizens.  It is amazing.  

Maybe we should set up a plywood factory? :(

So what next?  The city has brought in new blood to try to right the ship.  Ed is among many new faces.  He claims that 60-70% of the department heads are new and they are trying to change both the culture of the administration and a gross history of financial mismanagement.  They mostly seem to be coming from successful areas in the lower Hudson Valley.  Ed, seems to me to be a person that has a good head on his shoulders and some quality experience to lean on.  Word on the streets about him though is quite skeptical (but then again, pretty much all the words on the street in Newburgh are skeptical).  He has been in office for seven months and it is claimed by some that the stances he seems to be taking don't necessarily back up some of my initial perceptions of him.  But everyone has a point and an agenda, and Ed's position is one of trying to balance all of these.  There are inherently going to be people that don't agree with what is done.  He is part of an institution, a bureaucratic and deeply ingrained developmental institution that resonates throughout the entire US and world socio-economic system.  I for one, as most readers here know, am interested in alternative ideas and new ways of thinking.  

As with anything, I am not going to jump in and use other's interpretations to run with. Time on the ground and local interaction is the only true to way to come to independent conclusion.  There is always a million ways to do things, and within them there is never a "right" answer.  So Newburgh, I will continue to learn all I can about you, your people, and your culture...  It is going to be a fun ride. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011


So this week has been nonstop.  Not that I would have it any other way, but it has been a lesson in self-control that's for sure.  Since Saturday I have been going every day, meetings, meetings, and meetings.  The malaria fatigue has definitely been felt, and I've had to be very cognizant of both getting to sleep at night and finding moments of relaxation and meditation during the day.  But as I said before, poverty doesn't care if I don't feel well, so I've gotta move past it... control it as best as I can.  Trying... 

I have plenty to write about and will get into it tomorrow as best I can.  I do still have another meeting tomorrow afternoon though, and I did promise my grandparents I'd bring them some fresh baked homemade cookies - yeah, don't be jealous!!  They've earned it!! 

I was hoping to have all day today to catch up on the million pieces of information I've been given this week, but ended up with several meetings and had to give blood today.  So I will have to get to it tomorrow in between cookie making!!  But quickly, I've met with the head city planner in Newburgh, a local organization that can help set up the business/look for funding, and a community activist.  I've enjoyed a nice cup of tea across from one of the oldest historic sites recognized in the US, taken in the ambiance of the city, and learned and honed in on the deal here.  Real progress is being made... 

Oh, and one thing that can't wait... I am going to be on the organizing committee for Safe Harbors 5k run/walk in May... big fun!!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Good People

One of the biggest rewards that I get for actively following this pathway here is the people that I not only meet, but will hopefully get to work with.  Gone are the days of working with aristocratic British millionaires, former military types, expropriating raw material extractors, and bottom line obsessed sales managers all bent on the best price they could get for their mothers...  Today I met with the people from Safe Harbors.  What can I say... good people... good ideas... good initiative...  Just all in all a good experience. 

We didn't get too far into the details about things as there is just so much information both from my side and theirs, but we laid the ground work for meeting again.  perhaps tomorrow.  I sent an email with some questions and a few things thy might be able to advise me on.  And this is the beauty of the non-profit world.  The people aren't solely about what benefit their is specifically in it for themselves, they just want to help.  They see a guy like me coming along and they think of ways they can help me.  It's not about extracting the maximum from me for their benefit, but seeing if there is anyway that we can work together and help each other without anyone having to lose anything.  Cooperation... perhaps a lost art in today's society... perhaps not!!

One at a time!!

I learned a couple things right away yesterday.  Firstly...

...Newburgh is an absolute mess.  Secondly, there is not going to be any quick, jump in and set up programs and make it happen type solution.  It is going to take some time to understand how things are working/not working.  The politics seem to be a mess, the municipality seems to be flat broke, and the city has absolutely no hope on its streets.  The focus of this organization is going to have to be on Sierra Leone.  The office in Newburgh is really going to have to act as simply an inexpensive location for an office and fro me personally to live ($300 each?!)  With time though, programs will present themselves.  Just as I didn't step off the plane in Sierra Leone with a solution, Newburgh is going to have to allow for things to present themselves.

Back on the ground and walking...

So I've written this once, and thanks again to blogger, lost it all.  So we'll have to write it again, and with less time for it. 

I spent the day yesterday in Newburgh.  It was so nice to get back on foot, learning at the real pace of life...  I had a meeting set up in the afternoon and sandwiched some other informal discussion and touristing around it.  I started with the library where I was hoping to find some information or statistics on local situations, economics, crime, etc.  They really don't have anything of the sort, only a local history section, and in fact the city doesn't even have anything either.  I did however get sent to talk to the library's two people that work on outreach programs.  I had a very nice informal chat with them about the city and the goings on.  They recommended a few places worth looking into that I will get into later today or tomorrow as I have meetings over there both days.  I also met another gentlemen that works with Latinos Unidos and came to visit one of the Library workers that works with them.  They rent office space for under $300 dollars a month on broadway there in Newburgh.  They said the incorporation process was long, like five years for them.  I can't see how that is, but they are all volunteer so maybe it took a while longer. 

From there I went to my meeting with Community Voices Heard.  This meeting went quite well despite the standard overworked and no time having staff that you tend to find in non-profits.  I really liked what they are doing, trying to bring the community closer together in terms of political voice.  Some of the things that they want to do in terms of material outputs and opportunities are things that I had already been thinking about.  They could certainly be someone worth communicating and cooperating with regularly.  But I will be careful not to align myself with anyone, especially in the beginning.  From all discussion thus far it seems that sides have been taken and things are quite obstinate there.  On a positive note, I also did get to speak to two of the members of Community Voices that came in during the discussion, and while the meeting did leave many of my questions unasked, I got a little more back in terms of community input than I expected.  The meeting left a lot wanting, which is a good thing...

On the way to that meeting though I had a chance to wonder the streets a bit.  I tell you what...  Newburgh is a disaster.  I would not feel it to be a stretch at all to say that  every third building is boarded up and vacant where I was.  At Community Voices they said that the city owned something like 200 vacant properties - in a city of 4 square miles!  This doesn't even include derelict privately owned buildings.  It shows.  The streets are all but vacant (at least until it got dark), and there is this air of hopelessness that wafts through the air.  There is so much to be done.

I stopped and chatted with a cop for a few minutes as well, speaking of hopelessness.  Now, I would expect a cop to be cynical, but he said flat out: "not gonna happen, never."  He'd been working for 17 years in Newburgh, and sees no hope: "They don't want to make it better, they like the lifestyle."  "They want their handouts and they will use violence to get them".  Amazing, yet unsurprising.  Can anyone find me a cop in any city in the world that is optimistic?!  They are surrounded every day by the criminals of society, so they don't see the hope.  But everyone has it somewhere.  He did say though that, within a four block radius of where we were standing that there had been 8 murders in three years.  "Blood alley" he called it.  The street we were standing on was where they FBI made most of its arrests in the 76 person gang sting last year. 

So after those and some other words of warning, I headed on my way - wondering how in the world they would ever get people or business to locate in the city with a sales pitch like that!  This was a general theme of a lot that day.

There was however one certainly amusing moment for me on my way back to the car.  I walked by a group of youngish guys in front of a store.  I of course made my friendly eye contact and a nod.  One kid then came running over with a bootleg DVD, "The Mechanic" with my brother from another mother Jason Statham in the leading role.  I laughed, and said with a smile, yeah but do you accept EBT?  He looked at me with this puzzled look of incomprehension on his face.  Food Stamps... I said, breaking him away from his puzzlement.  A startled shiver came across his face, like, wait, but this doesn't make sense, this dude's white!!  lol!!  Yes my friend, we're all poor in one way or another these days...        

Friday, February 4, 2011


So what is the plan!?  How is it that all of a sudden we can simply add a new country and a new city such as Newburgh (for a bit more perspective on Newburgh you can read this article).  I have put months of specific effort (and years of indirect effort) into the prospective work in Sierra Leone.  Things are possible there right now.  What has to be developed at this point is the holistic entity that will be not just this endeavor, but an entire organization.  I am trying to find a way to use these two locations in conjunction with both each other and with the bigger picture.

The key insight to it all is to see what the over arching goal of both this project and an organization.  Despite my passion for Sierra Leone and its people, this was never solely about this country.  It has always been about broader goals, a broader learning curve on society, and the systemic way that we order ourselves.  Poverty is a big part of this.  We live in a Capitalist society that has certain values and is achieving certain outcomes.  These outcomes show their faces in both the 'rich' and 'poor' worlds.

Could this be Newburgh?!?

What is really the difference between poverty in Sierra Leone and America/Newburgh?  Some, including myself, would argue - a great deal.  Poverty by American standards is very different from the poverty found in most of the rest of the world.  But I would also say that there are a tremendous amount of similarities, especially on a personal level.  To a person in Newburgh, when they look around the world they see, they are at the bottom of the income ladder.  They are by most social measures at the bottom of society.  The poverty of a place like Sierra Leone is so far away and out of site it may as well not even exist.  All they can see is themselves, their situation, their "poverty", their mental state.

Or maybe this is Makeni?!?

It is not much different in Sierra Leone, they know little of the Western world.  A few products, stories, and movies.  But spend a few days there and you quickly realize that they have no clue, just as we really have no clue about their lives there.  They simply do what they must each and every day to survive.  But this poverty is relative.  There are so few people with anything around them that they know little of the nothing they have.  In their head's, they may even seem better off than the poor in Newburgh.  When everyone has nothing, what is there to be make you think you have nothing? 

But either way, both groups of people are left to struggle.  This is what I find unacceptable.  As friends of mine buy new clothes, talk about summer vacations, the difficulties of their work... those without the means to eat, live, and do, simply embrace the struggle that will come from that day's effort just to survive.  This is poverty, this is evident all over the world.  It must be studied, it must be understood, and it must have a solution found for it.   

Why to expand this process rests in the delivery of these goals and services.  Sierra Leone needs money, expertise, knowledge, and effort, as does Newburgh.  In order to set up an organization to help both places, we need both the means to deliver services, and services to deliver.  By the two locations working together we can provide local comparative advantages that can be capitalized upon by both.

The key to all this is to brainstorm through a process that provides for both places.  The American operations can provide knowledge, expertise, research, and money for work done in Sierra Leone.  Projects can be planned, managed, and even in some cases executed, from America, for delivery in Sierra Leone.  Local products from Sierra Leone can be shipped to the US and administered and sold in America to supplement local projects.

This is not a novel business model.  But it does start to get interesting if being done by a revenue generating non-profit focused on "maximizing local socio-economic outcomes" rather than just maximizing profit.  This means that in Newburgh, we don't always hire the 'best, most experienced' person for the job, we hire the right person.  We hire a person that needs the opportunity and is capable of seizing it, and we make training and teaching work skills just as important a part of the projects as the jobs.  A "socially thick" development model.  Our organization will be about doing business and making money, but it is more so about emboldening local populations with usable and transferable knowledge and skill sets - hiring potential, not achievement.

So what businesses will we be getting into?  This is complicated, and a question that is yet to have an answer.  You can make money in Sierra Leone doing virtually anything.  It is an entrepreneur's heaven.  But making money in Newburgh is different.  Anywhere in the US you have to come up with an original idea or at minimum completely reinvent an old one for non-profit inner city implementation.  The US market is totally saturated, no regurgitation of proven ideas allowed.
This is a short list right now:
  • Brick making in Sierra Leone.  The money would need to come from the US, but there is then a huge opportunity for revenue generation.  The kind that could fund project upon project for the foreseeable future. This project also opens other opportunities that surround this, transportation, contracting, etc.
  • Sierra Leone Diaspora Funding Network.  This project would be managed from the US, and then implemented in Sierra Leone.  Providing for both locations.
  • Solar street lamps in Sierra Leone.  This project would be managed from NY and implemented by the operations in Sierra Leone.
  • Internet and learning facilities.  This is applicable in both Sierra Leone and the US.  It is thought to provide the front of the office space for revenue generation.  Training classes could also be added on top of this.  
  • Sale of artisan goods produced in Sierra Leone for sale in NY.  This can also be expanded to be done online, with distribution from Newburgh. 
  • Obtaining old used goods (such as welding/carpentry tools, clothes, computers, etc) and shipping them to Sierra Leone for donation/local sale.
  • Fruit processing in Sierra Leone.  In time the products could be sold within the US, again with distribution in Newburgh.  That is a long way away though.  For the time being it would be a local operation in Sierra Leone. 
  • Verma composting (with worms).  This has a tremendous upside in decreasing organic waste and is viable in both locations.  Selling the castings as fertilizer is also a revenue generator.
  • Makeni Athletics Facility.  This is strictly a charitable endeavor and thus will take time. 
This list is still missing a good deal.  Newburgh has yet to truly be explored and realized in terms of what opportunities exist there. Hopefully that will happen over the next several weeks as I get further ingrained in the city.  But time will take us there, and a bridge between two impoverished worlds will become both apparent and a reality... 

Thursday, February 3, 2011


So I've pretty much thrown myself into the exploration of Newburgh.  The work regarding foundations and feasibility with Sierra Leone is done.  I know what can be done there and really the issue is what we can get done here in terms of setting up a non-profit and getting donations/funding.  So to move forward with this agenda, I am trying to set up meetings with NGO's, local government, and other stakeholders I have found in Newburgh to see what kind of cooperation is possible.

New information on working in Connecticut has been very slow coming.  They seem to be stalling, as am I, so no rush there.  I have time to try to map a few things out and see how feasible other things could be.  Thus, I have buried myself in Newburgh's "sustainable masterplan" and am quite impressed.  It is a plan to take the city into the year 2040.  They put a lot of work into it and professional work at that.  I am seeing the city in a new light right now.  Of course this doesn't mean they can do any of it, or pay for it even if they could, but they've got some solid forward thinking people there.  The plan was also ratified by the city council which (within the friendly confines of democratic theory) says that the city is behind it.  So I will spend what time I can with local individuals and see where things go.

Regardless of what happens anywhere, to do anything in Sierra Leone I have to register a non-profit here.  This could be very easily done with the help of fiscal sponsorship and/or a possible incubator relationship with another organization.  Perhaps even an address and/or a desk to work from with someone in Newburgh.  I feel like it is very important for me to get around other people of like minds and to get "back in the game" so to speak.  I have so many ideas, but they need technical business guidance and more focus in direction.  I have it all in my head, I just need to get the concepts more precise and onto paper in a way that others could digest and think to fund.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


What to do now?  There are several possibilities.  But first, a caveat...  There are of course two aspects to this blog, the project and me the person.  I have worked hard to try to minimize myself as a person in comparison to the project and issues being faced.  This trip and its aftermath taught me though that I do have to pay some semblance of attention to my own well being and self.  Meaning that at some point I have to find some stability in terms of income, housing, etc.  As much as I'd love to function purely as a wondering anti-povertyism monk, it is not proving to be entirely feasible!

This being said, the following options may tend to be colored with a bit more of a compromising pragmatism than the blind devotion to the purely altruistic goals that I'd like to follow.

  1. Once I got out of the hospital I started looking for work.  I was applying all over the US to any non-profit job I was either qualified or over-qualified for.  I have since been tentatively offered a job in Connecticut working with individuals with disabilities.  I am hopelessly overqualified for it by their own admissions, but there is tremendous room for upward mobility, as the organization is expanding into Connecticut and will be growing and developing there quickly.  I could be a big part of spearheading that.  Granted it is not the socio-economic poverty alleviation type of work that keeps me excited and up at night, but it would be a solid job that I would believe in and enjoy.  It would also give me solid experience and something more recently American on my resume.  I would have to move to Connecticut though which is a barrier, not to mention that I would need a car - which I currently don't have.  The job is in a holding pattern right now as they do not know where or when they expect to open the office.
    1. This job would give me cash to be able to do work on the side, nights and weekends.  But there would also be location and work related learning curves.  This stuff for Sierra Leone would be slow going.
  2. Sierra Leone.  Obviously my trip had a point.  I wanted to get experience/learn and I wanted to identify possible humanitarian opportunities.  I found more than I knew what to do with, and left early to try to facilitate them.  In a malaria induced haze, I think I lost track of my real goals and sought stability and safety.  I am not longer steeped in helplessness and clutching for branches.  I want to do what I set out to do.  The issue though is that things have changed a bit.  In my two months of sickness and recovery the time frames I was working with have been obscured.  I do not as of now know exactly where we stand with the brick project, the diaspora, or the solar street lamps.  I have communicated with Yapo and he is talking about materials and importing used goods from the US, as well as working to set up an internet cafe there.  So those are more things to think about, but realistically, I have to get the non-profit here set up and functional.  Only then can I accept donations and apply for funding and grants.  So making this a priority is an option.  But it does not provide a stable income or living situation.  
  3. My whole plan from the beginning while designing business operations for Sierra Leone, was to have offices in the US and Europe for fund raising and then operational offices globally such as the one in Sierra Leone.  There is of course poverty here in the US as well, though not like in Africa, and over the last two months I have spent a lot of time in several small cities just north of New York City, and have become enamored with Newburgh, NY. 
    1. It would be a good place to settle in to both do local work and operate an office for work abroad.  There could also be some good opportunities for funding for a local city like this.  
    2. It is a small city of 29,000 people but has one of the highest per capita violent crime and murder rates in the US, and endemic poverty.  There were 11 murders last year and a 76 person FBI gang bust.  The murder rate per capita puts it on par with cities like St. Louis and Detroit.  
    3. I grew up playing football and running track against the local high school and find myself driving through the city every chance I get.  The architecture and the historical side of the city begets so many possibilities, while at the same time, the current day socio-economic situation is a catastrophe of poverty and crime.
    4. With such a small city, we could really produce visible and understandable outcomes, especially with the type of programs that we would be interested in undertaking.  
So there it is, three real options.  Two are set up in may ways, Sierra Leone and Connecticut, one of which is easy, the other not.  Then of course there is the local addition, another ambitious scenario.  Is it feasible to move to Connecticut without the resources?  How could I move away from all this work and struggle?  Is it smart to try to add something new?  I'm just a squirrel trying to get a nut... so I can give it away!!