Tag Archives: Susan Braun


Mother of three boys and cook for Tribewanted, Yenken works from sunup to late in the evening. She’s a single mom and not by choice.  Over a year ago when she was pregnant with Mohammed, her husband was killed in an automobile accident.  Since property passes to the husband’s family, she and the children were forced to move from their village and ended up with friends in John Obey.

Yenken at home

When Tribewanted kicked off its eco-tourism project in the village, Yenken  landed her job with Tribewanted which has changed her life dramatically.  She is now able to provide for her children and built a small home from some of the unused materials at Tribewanted.  She also just received her first ever micro-loan through Salone Microfinance Trust (SMT).  With the Le500,000 (US $125) from SMT, she plans to tarp her house to keep it dry and will use the rest of the money to stockpile palm oil for the rainy season when she hopes to sell it for a higher price.

Oosman, Mohammed, Yenken & Momo

Yenken was eager to show me her new home in the village.  It’s a mud structure framed with sticks and has a tin roof.  There’s no furniture and she sleeps together with her children on blankets stretched across the dirt floor.  To most it wouldn’t seem like much of a house at all, but it’s quite the rarity to find a Sierra Leonean woman who has her own home.

nearing nap time for Mohammed


Early this morning, I walked along the dusty road that winds from the upper village of John Obey down to the lower village on the beach. There were four of us but I walked ahead lost in my thoughts ignoring the group conversation as I was hot and just wanted to get back to the village. We had just visited the local school and were looking forward to a swim in the ocean. The morning was stifling as most mornings are since the breeze doesn’t pick up until later in the day. I kicked rocks and took in the sounds of the forest – crickets, strange bird calls and the sound of a machete hacking through the bush somewhere off in the distance. And then I heard something new.

There came a rumbling from down the dirt road. The dust was visible from over the trees and whatever it was it was large and moving fast. Suddenly a large truck rounded the corner filled with young men hanging onto the back. The image was eerily reminiscent of some of the war footage of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) I had seen and it stopped me cold in my tracks. Like most African vehicles, this one sported a customized paint job and the slogan, “The Devil You Know.” I was mesmerized by this truck and its title and instinctively, and perhaps stupidly, raised my camera to take a shot.

RUF or fan club?

Just then, the men began screaming and the truck slammed on its brakes and came to an abrupt stop, kicking up red dust and gravel everywhere. Paralyzed by what was going through my mind, I stood on the side of the road fully aware that the rest of the group froze as well, probably cursing me and my camera. The men jumped off the truck and hurriedly made their way directly toward me. “Oh F#*&!” came out of my mouth as I awaited what I was expecting to be dismemberment. These loud men approached and I was shocked they were yelling “Suzie! Aw di bohdi? Aw yu sleep?” and extending their hands in welcome. I had no clue who these guys were but they knew me and were quite happy to see me. Funny how things turn out sometimes. They even asked for more snaps (photos).

not so scary after all


Tribemembers took a frisbee to the school at John Obey.  You would have thought it was Christmas morning!

More pics of the school visit are up on  http://braunphoto.ipower.com/?page_id=983

Who knew a frisbee would be so exciting!

So much fun!

The little guy on the left who is air born caught it nearly every time. He got it in this shot despite how it looks.

Happy girls.


Most likely something you haven’t seen before are the earth bag buildings constructed by Cal-Earth, an organization based in the Mojave Desert in California.  One of several organizations involved working with Tribewanted on the John Obey project, Cal-Earth is constructing a dozen small eco-dome structures for living space.

completed eco-domes from another Cal-Earth project

Much like a beehive, these adobe structures are made from synthetic bags packed with earth and spiraled much like you would make a coiled pot from clay.  During my 2 ½ weeks there, I was able to see a great deal of progress on the first building.  Day one was the excavation of the foundation, and of course, the lamb sacrifice.  After the first bag was laid the building quickly began to take shape.  My last week I was there, an entry way and steps began to appear and the floor joists had gone in.  I’ll be excited to see the finished structure completely stuccoed when I return early next year.

Tribewanted's first eco-dome underway

As I was reading Cal-Earth’s website I found it interesting that these buildings are using materials easily found in a war zone- sand bags, barbed wire, earth – making them ideal for countries trying to rebuild post-conflict.  The houses are inexpensive to build, don’t impact natural resources and can meet the demand of the growing housing crisis in developing nations. The domes can be simple in construction or can incorporate arches in doorways, windows and additional rooms.

Hooman Fazly is the resident earth bag specialist overseeing construction of the new homes.  Always armed with a wicked tool belt, and his mudflap girl water bottle, he will be working six days a week for the next year to complete this project.  I admire Hooman’s intelligence, fashion sense on the job and his sense of humor with his crew.  He is quite the character as is evident in the pics. It’s Hooman’s birthday today.  Happy birthday, Hooman!  Hope you are able to celebrate Salone style.

Hooman Fazly with Cal-Earth


It’s 1:30p and we’re hungry.  Wonder what’s for lunch?  Don’t bother.  It’s one of two choices, cassava over rice or groundnut over rice, both containing pulverized fish and bones.  Yummy!  After seven days of heaping bowls of rice and fish sauce that comes in only two colors, some of us decided to get creative in the kitchen.  My favorite lunch modification was peeled cucumber over rice with lime juice and salt.  Sounds pretty bland now but it was absolutely divine a week ago.

ground nut stew

A varied diet is not something for which Sierra Leoneans are known.  They eat the same thing over and over which is due to food availability.  How spoiled we are to have so many choices in our supermarkets back here in the US.  Cally and I spent an afternoon going through the pantry to see what items we had on hand, took a trip to the market in Waterloo to see what items were readily available there and started to come up with some different recipes to introduce to Elijah.  A touchy thing to do without offending, but, in the long run, I think it will be a big morale booster, especially for those working at Tribewanted for months.

fish, fish, fish

Cally and I made curried chicken with coconut rice one evening and also tried making bruschetta out of tomatoe paste, onions and giant hamburger-like rolls.  One morning, Cally made crepes with lemon juice and sugar that were a huge hit.  Popcorn went over well, too, however the British and Americans could not reach an agreement as how to flavor it –with sugar or salt?  Americans prefer salt.  As for French toast, or rather eggy bread to my British friends, it’s meant to have syrup or confectioner’s sugar, definitely not ketchup. What’s with ketchup and beans for breakfast?

During our trip to the market we found the offerings there are  limited; however, there are some things we can do to vary chop.  Once I have some time on my hands, I hope to come up with some recipes to bring along in February when Cally and I make a return trip.

prep work


The morning I was packed up to leave, Elijah, the head cook, walked into camp with a small antelope dangling from a stick.  I thought it looked like an interesting purse idea.  It was going to be Tuesday night’s dinner.

So, how does one prepare a furry fresh antelope for dinner?  Skin it first, of course.  And how does one skin an antelope, you ask?  Well, there’s more than one way, but bet you never thought to use a bicycle pump.


Hooman, our ever so clever resident architect/earth bag specialist, was in charge of flaying Mr. Antelope.  I saw Hooman sharpening his knife as I was getting my bags ready to leave and then overheard the discussion between Mike and Hooman on how to remove the skin.  Next thing I know, they’ve got a ball pump and are inflating the antelope to separate its skin from muscle.  The ball pump was working!  They even discovered that when you press on an inflated antelope, they make some rather embarrassing noises.

inflating the antelope


view toward the wreck

Alejandro, our Costa Rican perma-culturist, invited me to join him for a swim out to a shipwreck that rests some 300-400 yards off the beach. A good sized portion of the hull was visible at low tide and it looked very tempting and fun to explore. Given my fear of dark water, I normally would have said no but Alejandro has a way about him that makes everything feel good and safe, so, I pushed aside my fears and decided to go.  He shared his thoughts on fear- simply acknowledge that you are a part of nature and ask the creatures of the sea or forest for their protection and acceptance.  Oh, to be so mellow.

Armed with masks, snorkels and sharing a pair of fins, one broken and both too small for Ale, we made our one legged swim out to the wreck.  Ale liked to swim down to the bottom and would disappear every so often, causing a mild panic attack on my part.  I am an expert on all things bizarre and all gruesome ways to die, so the Discovery Channel’s footage of the giant great white breaching the water to swallow a sea lion whole came to mind.  Between the beach and the wreck, we swam through greenish water with no bottom in sight- to my neurotic mind, prime hunting grounds for sharks. I asked for acceptance by the sea creatures and hoped they were listening.

As we got closer, the waves broke over shallow rock formations where the wreck had come to rest.  Happy to be in friendlier waters, we started exploring the sea floor.  There we discovered the mast, much of the railing and a good portion of the hull still intact.  Oddly colored but beautifully detailed pieces of scrap surrounded the wreck.  We dove hoping to come back with some interesting treasure. Snapper, barracuda and all sorts of fish were there for us to enjoy.  Ale managed to climb up onto the rusty piece of wreckage that stuck about seven or so feet out of the water and pulled me up to share a much-needed rest. The swim back was tiring but it was a beautiful way to spend the afternoon and a treat to share it with Ale.



One of the things we westerners really don’t appreciate is the privilege of having clean running water pumped into our homes.  I remain fascinated and thankful for the water that comes out of my wall and especially water that goes around in the toilet.  So, what’s it like to not have water in your village?  Well, it pretty much sucks.  When I arrived at Tribewanted October 1, the compost toilets and just been completed- a true luxury for us firstfooters.  For the poor guys who were here preparing for our arrival, they had to carry the orange shovel of shame to the bush, sometimes having to hold an umbrella while attempting to keep the roll of toilet paper dry. Needless to say, we all love the compost toilets.


As for drinking, bathing and laundry, it’s a one mile walk up hill to the river to fetch fresh river water.  Granted we’re beach front and also have a beautiful brackish lagoon for our backyard, but it’s not drinkable nor ideal for wash.  Jerry cans, those bright yellow 20 liter plastic jugs seen all over Africa, are the water delivery vessels.  Children as young as ten can balance these  40+lbs. cumbersome things on their heads, some with no hands. I can barely drag the cans ten yards to fill the bucket shower.   Early on, we had to load all twenty jerry cans into the back of our truck, drive up the bridge where we’d scramble over rocks to submerge the cans into the water,  load the truck, drive back down the road to our village, unload the truck and haul the water cans down to the outdoor kitchen.  After nearly two weeks, we now have a completed well which will provide water for us and the neighboring village of John Obey Beach.  It’s going to be wonderful not to have to haul water anymore for us and a life changing luxury to the villagers here.


How many showers can you take with one of these? The more you carry, the less you'll use!

James and Aaron at the river

Filippo, Aaron and James fill the water tank

the well diggers


Seems the thing to do here if you’re a Sierra Leonean single man is to hit on single white women.  The question always comes up shortly after meeting a man — so, where’s your man?  Answer that you don’t have one and you’re in for a long line of suitors.  For me, I had four candidates.

The Rastafarian

Peter the Obama t-shirt-wearing-dreadlocks man with a few screws loose came into the village and serenaded me publicly singing “I Will Be Your Hero Baby”, “Every Bread You Take” and several others I can’t remember as I was laughing too hard.  He tells me rasta men make the best lovers and I have earned a special place in his heart.

The Challenger

Perfect — “I hear you are a swimmer and swam out to the wreck.  I will to defeat you and I will make a fine husband for you. So what do you say?  Will you be my wife?”

Mr Shy

Isa- “I need to talk to you.  First I will go home and bathe myself.”

Straight to the Point

Mr. Toure- “You will be my second wife.”

Mr. Toure- charmer extraordinaire



Today was a very special day.  Tribewanted  John Obey officially welcomed its first-footers  with a village wide party complete with djembe drums, traditional dancing, a feast of ground nut and cassava leave stews, Star beer and poyo, a local brew made from the sap of  palms.  Most memorable was the blessing of our first earth bag building with the sacrifice of a lamb by the village elders.

dancing Mata

blessing of the new earth bag building

Early in the day the excitement of the day was apparent.  The sound of the villagers practicing their drumming and singing spilled into our camp.  Women were busy cooking fish and rice over open fires.  The lamb was escorted into the village and sensing his impending doom put up a struggle coming down the hill.  A couple of squeamish tribemembers opted out of the ceremony.   This was my first animal sacrifice and although I thought it would be gruesome it was done humanely and with respect by the village elders.  Not exactly my cup of tea though.

Rasta man Peter made his first appearance singing Bob Marley songs in his Obama shirt.  This would be the beginning of Peter the Rasta stalker.  More to come on Peter.

Peter- my Rastafarian suitor