27 August 2007


So, a number of people have asked about our itinerary. The questions have mostly been of the but-what-about-Africa? ilk.

We are going to Africa. We´re just doing a bit of travelling between now and then. I´ve changed the itinerary picture in the last post.

Meanwhile, we´ve landed in Iceland, safely. Our first day was spent on horseback and whalewatching. Unfortunately, time is running out on my internet cafe, so I´ll post pictures next time.

25 August 2007

And so it begins...

Well, we're off. The first three of our four continents in the next five months. We start the trip, appropriately, with the Lucky Star Chinatown Bus Company, to Boston.

Here's our final itinerary. The blue stuff is done by air; the red stuff by trains and buses, camels and boats. OK, maybe not camels. We promise to post pictures.

Click the picture to enlarge

21 August 2007

Tragedy on the Africa Mercy

I feel strange writing about this, maybe because it taps into the inchoate fear that colors all our excitement about Sierra Leone, Mercy Ships, and what's in store for us at the start of 2008. Even though I know none of the people involved, I want to pretend this didn't happen.

But it did, and I can't begin to imagine the feelings that have accompanied it. A crew member on the Africa Mercy died last month; he drowned while swimming in the Atlantic, off one of Liberia's many beaches. He was just shy of his twenty-second birthday. I hesitate even to publish this post, for many reasons. Foremost among those, though, is that fear—that, even though Mercy Ships is, in general, a relatively safe environment in a relatively unsafe country, the fact is, there are things we simply take for granted. Lifeguards at beaches, for example. When have you ever seen one do anything besides be eye-candy? Would things have been different if one was there?

I guess if we wanted safety, though, we wouldn't have signed up for this adventure. But something like this—something so unexpected, so final—makes the reality of the situation a little clearer than the romantic ideal.

Sure, we shouldn't be afraid. Sure, the chances are so amazingly slim. But, we are imperfect people. And, inchoate though it is, the fear is still there. As the inimitable Canadian said:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That's how the light gets in.

Meanwhile, keep Collin's family in your prayers. However you see fit.

20 August 2007

More political news

The election results are almost completely counted. As—somewhat—expected, no single party received the 55% majority needed to avoid a run-off. The current ruling party's candidate garnered 38%; he was beaten by an opposition candidate with 44%. The run-off is due on September 6. More details...

Meanwhile, Charles Taylor, Liberia's former president, has been awaiting war-crimes trial for his role in Sierra Leone's 1991-2001 civil war. The trial was set to begin soon; it has been postponed until January, 2008. This will coincide with our time in the country; it will be, if nothing else, exciting.

Raising Support

As expected, finally sending that letter was the hardest thing we'd ever done. But it's done. The letter is out, and the response has been humbling.

Absolutely humbling.

Who are we, but two random physicians who have had a desire to work overseas? We're simply pursuing a dream that we've had for years, and have asked friends to keep us in mind as we do it. But the outpouring has humbled us.

Mysterious ways...

14 August 2007

Why the rents are so militantly high

Now, I realize this post has nothing to do with Sierra Leone, poverty, healthcare in the third world, or with any of the countries we'll be visiting over the next year. And I also realize that the majority (though not all) of the people reading this will be the already-converted. But I found this fascinating.

Evidently, it pays to live in cities, New York City in particular. And not for all the reasons you might think. For example, according to this article, it's not just that we walk everywhere. It's that we walk, fast. (But, don't get me started on that). Or, it seems that people living in buildings built before 1973 are happier and therefore live longer. The article is long, and Sir Bradford-Hill's nine factors for causation aren't all met, but it's a very good read nonetheless. I won't belabor the points it makes.

The best line in the article, though—something that may seem counterintuitive to the sub- and ex-urbanites but makes perfect sense to us urban folk—is this: "When you’re jammed, sardinelike, up against your neighbors, it’s not hard to find a community of people who support you—friends or ethnic peers—and this strongly correlates with better health and a longer life."

12 August 2007

Elections and slumming it for real

The elections that were set for Saturday happened—and quite peacefully, too. Sixty percent of the entire country's population showed up to vote. And the votes are being counted in public, in front of everyone (no hanging chads here...). Results won't be available for another twelve days, and it's likely that no single presidential candidate will get the 55% needed to avoid a run-off, but it's a start, right?

Meanwhile, behold the less-beautiful parts of Freetown. This is a set of pictures off the BBC not to be missed. (Click on the picture to go to the BBC's slideshow)

05 August 2007

Tragedies, Elections, War Crimes and Football

Sierra Leone has been in the news recently. And not much of it has been good.

Back in June, a helicopter exploded as it landed in Freetown, carrying members of the Togolese soccer team. The helicopter was ferrying passengers from Lungi airport to Freetown itself, a seven-minute ride. Only the copilot survived. Airport ferries have since been done over water. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6715937.stm. This is the ferry.

And then, speaking of ferrying over water, another 65 people were killed when a boat, leaving Freetown for the north, capsized in the midst of a violent storm, just two days ago. August is the height of Sierra Leone's rainy season; these storms are evidently not so uncommon. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6929661.stm

Oh boy...

The first of Sierra Leone's war-crimes sentences have been handed out, two three leaders of the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. Alex Tamba Brima, Santigie Borbor Kanu, and Brima Kamara have been jailed for between 45 and 50 years for murder, rape, mutilation, and the recruitment of child soldiers. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/6906702.stm

What's more, the country is preparing for their first elections since the end of the civil war in 2002. The elections were supposed to be held on 28 July; they've been delayed until this coming Saturday.

Not a particularly stable time for this country, no?

Oh, yeah, and the Sierra Leonean football (er,...soccer) team was beaten by the English today. How kind.

01 August 2007

Fashion is not a luxury?

Wow. I can't say we've ever had to do something like this before. By definition—by the very fact that we're physicians—we're self-sufficient people. And now, all of a sudden, we've been told we need to ask people for support and for money. And not a small amount of money, mind you. Whopping, massive amounts of money.

(OK...not whopping and massive either. Somewhere in between Bildad and Goliath).

The support letter is drafted. I just can't get the courage up to send it, you know?

Though, I was pushed in that direction yesterday. I was waiting for a friend on the corner of 53rd and Madison, a corner flush with more money in a day than the combined annual gross domestic product of twelve African nations.

Filing past me were suits and tourists, models and actors, cell phones and ipods...the usual NYC street corner. One of the tourists was wearing a shirt that said, Fashion is not a luxury. And I thought, maybe she's right. Maybe we really don't think it is any more. After all, all of us, myself included, had spent more on what we were wearing that single day than...well, finishing that sentence is cliche.

And then I thought, OK. If this money isn't raised, then we're not headed to Sierra Leone. And if we're not headed to Sierra Leone, then work that we could do isn't going to get done. (These aren't delusions of grandeur...others could do the work just as well as we could). And if it doesn't get done, then we may well start believing fashion to be the new necessity.

Honestly...Are we going to change Sierra Leone when we're there? Are we going to change the clothing habits of our fellow gothamites?

No. To both. But we may just change the lives of a couple of people this year. Even if those couple of people are ourselves.

The letter still sits, drafted. One day—soon!—I'll send it.