Archive for January, 2010

Building assistance camps

Posted on: January 28th, 2010 | No Comments

p10405461Estimates are that at least a million people have lost their homes. As many as 500 camps (“spontaneous settlements”) have sprung up around Port-au-Prince. Some are small, with a few dozen families occupying empty lots; others sprawl across golf courses and other areas of vacant land, where 15,000 people or more have formed ad hoc cities within the city. It’s daunting when looked at on the whole.

We start with a rapid assessment of a few sites and then begin distributing relief items such as water containers, blankets and plastic sheeting, which is used mainly for shade and protection from rain. Arrangements are made for a team of medical doctors to come in, and for children’s activities to start.

We need to keep the sense of urgency. On a macro-level, this sense of urgency isn’t always there. Transport of goods is delayed by poor infrastructure, vital money from donor organizations is slowed by paperwork, and in the meantime the rains approach while people sleep in the open air with little food to aid healing from their injuries … and fewer jobs.

First days in Port-au-Prince

Posted on: January 16th, 2010 | No Comments

At night the streets fill with people fearing aftershocks, or that their houses may collapse. Throughout Port-au-Prince, hundreds of thousands of people have formed their own camps in parks, parking lots and empty land. The conditions are terrible. The destruction is such that some buildings are fine and others are outright flattened. Some notable buildings were claimed, along with the hundreds of people inside them, including the Kinam Hotel, part of the UN headquarters and the Presidential Palace.

Most residents sleep outside at night after they dig people out from among the dead. People find solace in songs and searching for friends and loved ones. Economic life has come to a standstill. Schools are closed, and social services such as health facilities continue to be overwhelmed.

To get things started, we are staying at the UN base located at the end of the runway of the international airport. Sleeping in tents on gravel, I regret making the mistake of not bringing a sleeping pad. C-17 military cargo planes and other aircraft scream overhead throughout the night and early morning, reducing the sleeping hours to a few. The days are cloudless and hot. It’s easy to become dehydrated or sick.

For those of us working here, the sense of purpose and the focused intensity drive us to work 18 hours day after day. It’s essentials only: Life is stripped bare. No time for extras like showers or three meals a day. But we have teamwork and the ability to mobilize resources, so we think we can reach people. The point is to direct assistance and get things moving. It’s not easy, with delays at the airport, bureaucracy, poor infrastructure and the necessity not to overlap with the efforts of others.

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Responding to Haiti

Posted on: January 14th, 2010 | No Comments

The evening of January 12, was like any other winter night except that in Haiti there was an earthquake. This triggered a flurry of phone calls and quick decisions by a non-profit I have connections with, Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee. That evening it was decided to wait until the morning to hear more about the level of destruction.

By morning, it was clear the capital had been devastated and at least a hundred thousand people had been killed. A friend of mine does public lectures where people often ask him: “Why do you go responding to such disasters?” In other words, why leave stability and perceived safety and comfort? My friend has the best answer I’ve heard so far: “How could you not do anything?” Giving back is vital. I’m going to help. I pack warm-weather clothes, along with my Essential Journeys Kit and On-the-Go items.

Traveling with SIM cards

Posted on: January 4th, 2010 | No Comments

Let’s face it, cell phone roaming charges can be outrageous. And traveling, even extreme travel in far-off places, is no longer an acceptable excuse to be disconnected. Although not extensively used in the U.S., most of world relies on the GSM (global system for mobile communications). These phones use tiny SIM (subscriber identity module) cards that contain the telephone number and account details. The beauty of SIM cards is that, in most countries, they are inexpensive (as low as $5), easily obtained and provide a local number. This means you can instantly have a local number and local costs for reaching friends, making appointments, reserving hotel rooms and everything else.   

On a recent flight to Kabul, for example, I passed through London and Dubai, and in each place I popped in a local SIM obtained on previous trips. This keeps costs low and makes it easy for local friends and contacts to reach me. It’s the way savvy travelers operate. The challenge is keeping the tiny SIM cards organized and in one place. Neverest provides the solution with our SIM card holder, a credit card-sized travel organizer that fits in a pocket and holds up to five SIM cards ready for your global adventures. Very inexpensive and very worthwhile. 

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Being a good traveler and outdoor companion in 2010

Posted on: January 1st, 2010 | No Comments

Sometimes old advice is the best advice. Here are what were considered to be the Top 10 qualities needed by a traveler by the travel writer Freya Stark. Something good to aspire to in 2010. 

1.     A temper as serene at the end of the day as at the beginning

2.     The capacity to accept other people’s standards

3.     Rapid judgment of character

4.     A love of nature including human nature

5.     The capacity to disassociate oneself from bodily sensations

6.     A knowledge of local history and language

7.     A leisurely and uncensorious mind

8.     A tolerable constitution

9.     The ability to eat and sleep at any moment

10.  A ready quickness in repartee