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, 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!!

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    Fast Forward

    So here we are today and things are very different from originally planned.  By this point right now I was going to have things here in the US set up, a non-profit, a source of funding, etc.  We were going to have operational plans in place for Sierra Leone, and would be waiting on the district council to get things started.  I would have been talking about when to go back and how best to handle getting things there set up and moving.

    Fast Forward... two months later...

    I got off the plane November 23rd, two months ago yesterday.  A lot has happened since then.  Malaria, gastro-intestinal infections, reactions to medicines, liver, spleen, and kidney issues, imaginary frogs... all sorts of fun stuff.  So what.  Where are we now and how close are we to getting things done.  In the last few days I have been trying to get myself back into the game.  Yeah, I'm not the strongest or sharpest I've ever been, but again... so what.  Poverty doesn't care if I'm sick. 

    So I have been trying to pull some things back together.  I have sent out some emails trying to see if I can keep everyone interested pull them back together.  I have spoken briefly with Yapo and touched base with Ikenna in Sierra Leone.  Yapo has been supportive under the circumstances, but as I said, poverty doesn't wait for anyone - least of all me - and there is always an undertone of urgency there.  He is looking into the projects that we have discussed with the district council and where things stand.  He also seems to be trying to get his head around a computer training and internet project there in addition to possible donation situations.  Our junk, is VERY usable there.  Agricultural equipment, welding, tailoring, carpentry tools are all needed in the country and are mostly free of import duties.  Obviously, our old computers - too slow 18 months later - are just fine for basic computing and internet work there.  

    So as it is, the options just continue to mount up.  It comes down to feasibility and logistics.  Are there the means and is there the will here to get things done.  This is something that we will have to explore.  Setting up a non-profit is not a simple endeavor, nor is it free.  Especially without money or a job.  Right now we/I am looking at multiple pathways both for here and Sierra Leone, for both myself personally and the goals we've been looking at.  Multiple options to diagram in another post...  But I will say this... the easy way is always easy, the hard way is always hard, which way is always more rewarding?     


    (written December 6th after first returning from the hospital)

    So, it seems that it is about that time.  The trip is now over.  I have been home for over two weeks, and though most of that was spent sick and in the hospital, it is now time to start assessing the trip itself and what came from it. 

    So my initial goal was to spend three months walking through Sierra Leone in an effort to learn a great deal more about the country, the diversity of its people, about poverty, about development, and to try to identify prospective humanitarian ventures to undertake in the future.  Ultimately my personal goals where to make myself a better, more knowledgeable person (instead of sitting around unemployed), to fill what I felt was a hole in my resume, and to perhaps either come away with a job, my own non-profit, or a good story to write.

    As the trip went, I never once did any hiking.  The most I did was walk all around the city of Makeni and its outlaying areas.  In this respect my "walking" trip never even happened, let alone could it be considered a success.  But realistically, only in this respect could the trip be considered a failure.  On every other account on my agenda the trip was a resounding success.  Granted, it was absolutely NOTHING as I anticipated or planned for it to be.  I ended up spending a more specific amount of time with a specific family and in a specific neighborhood and didn't get much diversity in.  I was inundated the society and culture there in a way that I never could have if I was hiking from village to village as planned.

    I ate nothing but local food and drank the local water, everything in fact was local.  I started to establish relationships with people and people in town started to recognize me and call my name as I passed.  It was a very good feeling.  I worked at being able to speak to them in Krio and at least address them in Temne.  As with anywhere you go, I feel a subtle show of respect like this goes a long way.

    The heart of the trip very quickly turned from exploration to more concrete discussions on specific developmental initiatives.  So much so that I have a list of projects that I've come back with and two signed Memorandum's of Understanding that I have with the local Development Council for future work.  The whole initial reason to come back early was to get started with setting these projects in motion.  The trip jumped straight into development work, no fun and games allowed!  This specifically is why it would be utterly impossible to call the trip a failure, or even not a resounding success. 

    The issue now is going to be following through with them.  I came back and have gotten very sick, and to the point where I have been recommended by my doctors here not to return to Sierra Leone.  This may prove to be nothing, but it certainly changes the game a little bit.  No matter though, I now have to sit down and assess where I am both personally and professionally with the trip and possible projects.  Is the team that I established while there ready to make things happen, and what needs to be done to do this.  The work is only just beginning!!