Tuesday, June 15, 2010


I know Peter hasn't posted his Sierra Leone pictures yet. He has started the post, but I don't know if he ever finished it which is why I haven't posted it myself.

However, I did want to introduce everyone to Callie! She is our new dog that we adopted from the Humane Society about a week ago. She's a chihuahua mix, but we don't know with what, and she's bigger than chihuahuas are. She's 8 months old, housetrained, rarely barks, and pretty mellow as long as she goes for a walk in the morning. We love having her!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Chimps and a trip to Kenema

I am really sorry to all of you that have been waiting for pictures. I promise to upload more pictures from my trip to Sierra Leone soon.

One of the few tourist areas that have survived the civil war is Tacugama Chimpanzee Reserve. Here chimps that were formally pets are taken care of. There are hundreds here that were once adorable little pets that eventually grew to be too big for humans to safely care for. The reserve all but collapsed during the war as rebels constantly were attacking it and taking its supplies. The guy who started it risked his life multiple times to bring the chimps needed medicine and food during the war. Today the reserve boasts over 100 chimps and is part of the Disney Wildlife Sanctuary program.
We had a lot of fun watching the chimps play in the four different arenas. The first was for young or new chimps where they were weaned and nourished back to health. They then travel to the area in shown in the pictures where they are integrated into chimpanzee social structures. From there they move to a relatively open area with more room to roam but where they are fed regularly and finally to a very open area where they are expected to gather most of their own food in preparation to be put back out into the wild. The chimpanzees were a lot of fun to watch as they walked on the rope tightrope style or swung from tree to tree. One of the chimps even grabbed a few rocks and threw them at us (fortunately our guide new what was coming and motioned us behind a net for safety).

Tacugama is located in the mountainous forests as you leave Freetown and we passed it as we headed off toward Bo and Kenema, the second and third largest growing cities respectively. The old government built that awesome road that extends from Freetown to Kenema. Although it made for a much more pleasant trip, the road unfortunately did not save the previous government as the competing party gained power just a couple years ago. The new party brought more reliable power to the city of Freetown through the building of the dam.
Here is one of the small villages we passed on our way. I thought it was interesting that they build square huts here instead of round ones like in Ghana. As you can see its very green here making it both beautiful and very humid. Unfortunately, the AC went out about 20 minutes into our 4-5 hour trip.
This is the clock tower in the center of Bo. We didn't really stop in Bo, except to exchange some cash with one of the boys on the street. Here the going rate is 395,000 for $100. Interestingly enough, the rate is the same or better the farther from Freetown you get.
I'm not really sure what this building is, though it appears to be the clock tower of Kenema. I enjoyed my time in Kenema as it reminded me a lot of Tamale, Ghana. It is a small city with just one main drag.
This is a picture of the local fish market. I'm not sure where all the fish comes in from, but I can't imagine that its that fresh given that Kenema is a good 5-6 hours from the coast by car. Anyways, this market is about a football field in size and given that its pretty hot in there, you can imagine how it smelled. All of the fish here is gutted, smoked and then sold in the streets and taken to be sold in the villages.

Part of our reason for traveling to Kenema was to analyze differences in the market there as compared to Freetown to see what changes would be needed to the business plans. The International Rescue Committee (IRC) had launched a few microfranchise businesses there and we met with a small focus group as well as these two boys. These kids were selling bread from their bikes that had been provided by the IRC. Each boy wakes up at 5AM to pick up bread and then travels 10+ miles every day to deliver bread to people throughout the city and out in the neighboring villages. They typically work until 7 or 8PM and earn roughly L 5,000 per day or about $1.25. However, they were ecstatic about selling bread. They talked about how they felt more self-reliant because they could buy their own soap and weren't as big of a burden on their family. Almost all the youth we talked to cited how much more respected they were in their families and communities. Many were brought into the decision making processes as they were contributing money to the family. All were very happy and had bigger dreams that they were now pursuing. This is huge for the youth of this country. Disenchanted youth were a main source for the rebel armies and helped launch and fuel the war. By helping them get jobs and become more integrated into society, the country stands a much better chance of avoiding the perils of the past.

Here is the view from my desk in Kenema at the IRC office there. Though it may be poor, Sierra Leone is a beautiful country.

In Kenema, there are hundreds of these diamond brokers. Kenema is where the diamond region begins, though it is mostly concentrated in Kono. Here people that find diamonds can trade them in for around $50-100 per carat. Sometimes they get even less. By the time they leave the country they are being sold for only $1-200 per carat as they make their way up to Antwerp where they are cut and polished and then sold to developed countries for $1-2000+ per carat. Unfortunately diamonds have been more of a burden than a blessing to this country as they were the main source of funding for the war and really the main reason behind it.

On our way out of Bo we stopped and grabbed lunch at a small restaurant. Above is the fish and chips I ordered. It was less than excellent, but okay.
This is a picture of a group of women on their way to the clinic in the next town where they were going to have their babies vaccinated. The government had just passed a law giving children under 5 and pregnant women free medical care in an attempt to reduce its infant mortality ratings which are among the highest in the world. They were a happy bunch and let us snap a photo of them on their 5+ miles walk.