I’m really not an expert. But I’m travelling to Senegal in a week or so on a writing trip. The best part is that I’m bringing along my 15-year old daughter Holly.
We will be observing a Samaritan’s Purse shoebox distribution program and travelling to a few other development projects run by this large Canadian NGO. Holly has a couple of writing gigs lined up to report on this adventure as well as doing some video blogging (vlogging! what a fun word!).
Here’s what I learned last year — by what I did and did not do — to prepare for South Sudan:
1. Sleep before you go, because you won’t be sleeping much after you get there.
2. Pack light. But do pack cargo pants with pockets big enough to hold pens, notebook and digital recorders. You will look hippy (as in, woman with large hips, not cool and funky).
3. And for the love of pete, don’t forget to bring extra pens. Carry them with you for when you need them, they don’t do you much good back in the tent, silly.
4. Pack protein bars. When you’re at the mercy of other people for food, those other people might not have much mercy on your delicate, needy Canadian eating schedule.
5. Pack meds of all kinds. You will most need what you don’t bring.
6. Go as low-tech as possible. In South Sudan, I relied on a dollar store notebook. It didn’t let me down.
7. Write down details: smells, colours, fragments of inspiration as they hit you. Take pictures of people you interview and jot the picture number beside your interview notes so you remember who is who. And what is what.
8. Promise little to the people back home. Saying you’ll text when you arrive in the refugee camp is a false promise. Technology will fail you. Establish a no news is good news policy.
9. Soak up every minute. Journal your feelings as well as what you are witnessing. Bring more cash than you think you will need. You will need it.
10. When you get back home, don’t wait too long to write. Just long enough to absorb, not long enough to forget.