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  • About Sierra Leone

    Just a brief update as I am literally kneeling in front of a trash-can which functions as a makeshift desk while I am editing images and writing this log entry. I am back in West Africa and yes, it's about Ebola again. But it's a totally different pace this time. I've spent a whole week on the road traveling rural districts and slept in bush hotels. Almost cried when I entered my room in the Hub Hotel in Freetown - amazingly clean and nice. First time in a week I had a shower without feeling unconformable stepping on the floor afterwards. After I was done working with SOS Kinderdorf I was embedded with burial teams in Zone 2 - that means Freetown and the surrounding area. What a horrible but important job theses guys are doing. They’ve been picking up dead bodies in the slums of Freetown all day - almost all of them suspected to have died of Ebola. Once their truck was packed with body bags we moved on to the cemetery - a massive graveyard especially for Ebola fatalities. What a sad place to work at. On my last day in Freetown I’ve visited the Burial Team Training and talked to some of the men who applied to become a member of these units about their motivation. “Ebola is like a war and I want to fight for my country” one 21 year old man said to me. He probably has no clue what's waiting for him out there. Waving goodbye to the team I was working with the last days I continued to meet Fonti, a 40-year old survivor of Ebola who hast lost both children and his wife to the disease. He himself survived Ebola and can’t infect himself anymore for at least a couple of months (no exact numbers at that time). He now works at a Ebola Treatment Center. Way back to the airport, Pelican ferry at 11pm. People watching Champions League (Arsenal vs. Dortmund, Arsenal won) while waiting. Still 33°C and 50% humidity. I stopped caring about sweating, got used to feeling sticky. Still no confirmation of my UNHAS flight back to Liberia. No idea how to get to the airport hotel upon arrival past midnight. The thought of arriving in a rural area after a one hour ferry ride packed with my gear - not something I looked forward to. In the end I’ve became friends with one of the luggage guys working at the ferry… after chatting about Bayern Munich and soccer they called some friends who would pick me up in Lungi where the boat arrives and take me to the airport hotel. Sounded not really trustworthy but what were my options anyway? So I went on the ferry and rushed through the bay to the Island (?) where the airport is located. 15 minutes through pitch black night with salt water spraying into the ship every now and then and occasional stops due to engine problems. TIA - This is Africa. I spent the night at the Airport Hotel in Lungi. Got my old room, met the same cockroaches I left alive last time and fell asleep - at least for a few hours until I had to get up again. Way back to Monrovia. My UN flight was supposed to fly at 9am. Usually you have to be there two hours in advance. But when I arrived at 7am I found nothing but a tumbleweed at the airport. Even the immigration desks were empty - so I was stuck there with no phone connection (as my Liberian phone stopped working) and no internet to check details. The security staff that showed up told me to wait, so I did.. for hours. 9am - still no passengers, no UN personnel. I started to get nervous. Finally I found someone to borrow their phone from so I could call the liaison officer in Kenya and guess what: The flight has been re-scheduled to 1300. The UN has sent me a mail minutes after I’ve left the hotel and therefor of course I didn’t get it. So I’ve spent 5 hours at the Airport, made new friends with the staff and killed time by watching African TV shows in Creol on flatscreens mounted to the walls turned to max. volume for no audience but me. Awesome! I’m starting to develop a little Africa fatigue. I mean I love this country for it’s “easy going” mentality but after 16 years of frequent work over here it sometimes starts killing me… boarding my flight now. Farewell, Sierra Leone!

  • Back in Monrovia

    So I’m back in Liberia after a five week break I’ve spent home in Munich (while measuring my temperature twice a day, been a guest on German television and radio), St. Petersburg, working for Kindernothilfe with mentally disabled children and in Hammelburg, where I attended a pretty rough HEAT course with the German armed forces. Being back feels great. When SOS Children’s International contacted me (thanks to Peter N. Bouckaert for the recommendation) I was just in the middle of a project in St. Petersburg which I’ve mentioned above. All I understood was “…Liberia…” - wow, I really did not expect to get back there during the recent outbreak of Ebola. I had my doubts as this was the first time I was asked to travel back to a conflict zone where I have just been. Contesting my luck a second time? I agreed and by now did not regret it. Working for NGOs is a totally different aspect and the people I have met last time all still did recognise me. When I arrived at the Royal Hotel in Monrovia, the place I stayed last time while working for BILD, the waiters came up to me and said “Oh Daniel, you are back!” - feels like coming home. Weird. The first days in Monrovia have been a little chaotic due to the usual ill communication. Of course almost nobody is working on weekends (I arrived Friday night) and of course nobody organised the working permit ahead of my arrival. So I ended up covering the situation inside the SOS Children’s Clinic in Monrovia which now also treats adults being tested negative on Ebola and released from the nearby ETU (operated by MSF). After that we’ve visited the SOS Children’s Village - a quiet and tidy oasis in the middle of the chaotic Monrovia - and a new ETU outside of town just being finished by the Ministry of Health. Since I didn’t have the permission from the Ministry I was not allowed to take pictures there and returned to the hotel. Later that evening Carl Gierstorfer called - a colleague whom I became friends with on Facebook. We’ve met in Brussels on our flight to Liberia and he introduced me to his colleagues Laura XX and Kai Kupferschmidt, also from Germany. He invited me to join them for a pool party hosted by the CDC at the Mamba Point Beach Resort - one of the best hotels in Monrovia. “A pool party with the Center of Disease Control folks?”, that sounded interesting - especially in times of Ebola. So we went and had some free beers and chatted with some experts. All in all been a fun night and what else would I have done (especially with the terrible internet connection at my hotel)? Before we split up Carl and his friends invited me to come with them on Sunday for a trip to the abandoned Hotel Africa on top of Monrovia with a stunning view on Westpoint, one of the largest slums in town, which has been hit hard by Ebola and was put under quarantine in August (which ended in riots and one little boy killed). They picked me up on Sunday in the afternoon and we drove to the location. My old friend Richard, who worked for me as a fixer last time I was in Monrovia, said it was save and we would not have any issues getting access. He was right (as most of the times). When we arrived a single guard was taking care of the huge abandoned hotel. He offered to take us to the roof for 15 US Dollars which we agreed to pay. This is Africa.. the view indeed was stunning and the black clouds over the ocean really added to the eery atmosphere of a decaying grand hotel overlooking the city currently the world capitol of Ebola. We’ve spent a few hours there and went back to the hotel where I agreed to meet Richard later that evening. It was great seeing him again and hearing his deep Manilow-like voice! Even though Monrovia was going through rough times because of Ebola he was doing fine. Thank god! I’ve introduced him to Carl and his friends and this way got him some new clients. The next two days were business as usual. I teamed up with humedica, a German NGO … Bomi.. Grand Cape Mountain.. I am writing this on a UNHAS flight from Liberia to Sierra Leone. Hassle with booking. Confirmation on a short notice. Almost missed flight. Racing to the airport.

  • What is the point in responding to a tweet by Trump?

    What would Twitter be without Trump raging about political enemies, bragging about his success or tweeting random comments while watching Fox & Friends? We all would be back to re-tweeting cat pictures. We all are going crazy when it comes to the latest Trump tweet. Some even set Twitter alerts and use pre-written responses to be among the first to reply. But where is the point in responding to his tweets? I think there are at least two groups of people replying. The first group consists of those naively thinking the president would actually dig through the flood of mentions. And we are talking about a hell of a lot of mentions! Even if there is no recent tweet from @realdonaldtrump this account receives about 60-100 replies. Per minute and around the clock! And this number easily triples the moment he dropped a tweet. Supporters, "Best President Ever"-bots (have you ever noticed that these tweets mostly come from users in foreign countries?), haters, comedians, democrats, activists, journalists - the whole internet jumps into a huge and messy discussion about impeachment, indiction and the 2020 election. His mentions have turned into an ongoing noisy chatroom with thousands of people quarreling at the same time. Assuming Donald Trump sleeps for an average of 8 hours he has around 28.800 to 48.000 mentions waiting in his Twitter account by the time he wakes up! Even if he would just fly over all of them it would roughly take him ten hours per day. I hate to break it to you, but Donald Trump will very likely never read any of your replies. And since a federal judge declared Trump's favorite strategy of blocking his critics as unconstitutional you won't even get the fame for being blocked by the President of the United States any longer (even though Stephen King still seems to remain blocked). Anyway, you will get a lot of attention of others following Trump - especially if you are among the very first people to reply to his tweet! Prepare yourself for a lot hatred from impeachment-activists or #MAGA fanatics (depending on your reply). But you will get a lot of interactions, that is for sure! And that is exactly the motivation of group number two: Getting their share of the Twitter-fame! Replying to Trump within the first few seconds gains the most attention of his followers (58 Million!) and is one of the most effective platforms for self-promotion! As The Atlantic notes, it is prime media real estate. Many people even set their Twitter App's mobile notification solely for Trump's tweets to be among the first to reply, because surfing the Trump Tweet Wave is the golden opportunity to raise your tweet's impressions and engagements to tens of thousands within the first minute! However the real intentions of those who frequently race for the first reply are highly questionable. Do they really want to argue with Trump (unlikely) or (more likely) simply take advantage of the attention? This phenomenon fuels a parasitic economy in which people compete to ride Trumps digital coattails. They obsessively re-tweet, analyze, comment and attack. This helps Trump tremendously by focusing massive attention on his agenda while this also makes him seem larger than life. This again produces a cognitive effect called the "focusing illusion" and it helps explain how Trump ascended from political clown to the presidency. It's a double-edged sword and we all should question ourselves whether we really want to change the fate of this country or put us in a spotlight out of vanity.

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