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HOBO: free and fragile wanderer


The scent of independence and freedom evoked by Hobo, a myth dear to the U.S, has crossed borders for years. Literature is full of exciting and romantic stories that give this wanderer a somewhat idealized image… Let’s open the road book of these strange travelers. ... [ The roots ] ... It may be tempting to connect the hobo to the homeless of today. And some quickly compare him to the sad tramp spending his days begging…. Yet at the end of the 19th century he was only an itinerant worker, a seasonal moving according to the job sites where one would need his arms. This word (probable contraction of Homeless Boy) appears only with industrialization, the railway and the economic crisis coming with the 20th century .Deprived of work and housing, pushed to leave to earn a living, the uprooted hobo becomes a “temporary resident” of the major stations where he illegally travels by freight trains, risking his life. Quickly, half a million Americans launched on the roads entered the collective imaginary thanks to writers like Jack London and musicians like Woodie Guthrie. From autobiographical stories to songs, the image of the miserable hobo soon gives way to the romantic portrait of a freedom-loving backpacker who chooses a marginal life, Completely free, otherworldly, carried by a “pioneer” spirit.  ... ... [ A true Hobo culture ] ... Then, freedom seems to be the deep motivation of hoboes but dangers are numerous in of a life without markers. One should expect to be sometimes greeted by people with guns, know how to spot some aggressors wanderers, learn how to keep warm thanks to newspapers or avoid injuring oneself by jumping clandestinely in the trains. Soon, a few rules are needed (defense and systematic help to children, respect local laws, leave no waste on a bivouac, try to keep clean, do not take advantage of the weakness of another drifter, etc.) A newspaper, the Hobo News, is occasionally published from 1913, in a slang specific to its readers (hobo slang). A code made of signs drawn on buildings along the way also allows them to exchange without crossing over the presence of a nasty dog, a barn where one can sleep, food offered for a job, friendly or armed residents, hard police controls, etc. Better still, a hobo guide entitled "Knights of the Roads" was published in 1947. Hobos even elect a king at national conventions held for nearly 30 years! Thus, despite a will to live independently and according to personal own rules, hoboes had to organize, regulate somewhat their universe to be able to survive. ... ... [ Knights of the Roads Vs HOBO 2.0 ] ... The fantasized image of the hobo crossed the 20th century and aroused vocations. But today’s “vagabonds” do not live quite the same life as the previous ones. Hobo slang and codes have given way to information technology. Hoboes 2.0 use smartphones and laptops to find small jobs on the road, directions, hitchhike or find out what time the next freight train is going by… If the hobo naturally knew how to fit in different environments but was careful to remain discreet, the digital wanderer instinctively shares his daily life on social networks. However, risks remain real in this adventurous way of life remain and the hoboes of today are still facing rail dangers, bad encounters, racketeering and hunger.. Living like a hobo is exposing oneself to loneliness, to know an exhaustion that one ignored, to meet all forms of violence from disrespect to aggression. ... [ Freedom has a price ] ... To be a hobo is to sail day by day between romanticism and survival. Freeing oneself from social constraints, distancing oneself from consumerism, enjoy the beauties of nature and enrich oneself with unexpected encounters is romantic and motivating. Having to walk in the mud, sleeping anywhere in all weather, finding food every day, never be able to really rest, it’s also surviving. More than just a journey, before trying a hobo life, you should think twice… ... ... Photos: Alyssa Schukar & Lee Snyder ...
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Isabelle and the children of Zinder


At first glance, her blond hair, her angelic smile and her sweet voice may not evoke flawless determination, incredible tenacity and deep commitment. This young Swiss woman, born in a comfortable environment, could have remained unknown… That was without counting on an early (and frustrated) vocation to help others. And you’ll see that Isabelle Macheret knows how to move mountains! ... [ Clear path and branching off ] ... Without any irony, it seems quite classic in Switzerland to train to work in the banking world. This is what Isabelle, a docile child, did. While she dreamed of discovering Africa and helping the poorest from a young age... Like it was meant to be, life throws painful surprises – health problems, invasive but successful surgeries, divorce – trials that helped her to reveal. Then, no way to focus on anything else than her first calling. ... [ Humanist second life ] .. Isabelle is all made of contrasts. At the same time leading and caring woman, humble and resolute, fully restrained but not mincing her words. She rapidly quits banking where she learned a lot but also understood the meaning of the word inequities. In the early 2000s, the first physical contact with Africa takes place in Togo where she works as a volunteer in a health center. Thereafter, she will run races in Rwanda and Mauritania. Without delusion about her lack of medical training, she applies to an international NGO and just hired in 2006, joins a tackling malnutrition program in Niamey, Niger. Just happy to be here, she rapidly feels disillusioned: “I was quickly frustrated with the reality. We were treating and distributing and I saw these children and their mothers coming back to us at each difficulty. They were waiting that we treat the most fragile and smallest before going back home… before coming back again and again.” More needed to be done, support and aware the mothers, help them to become more self-reliant. Her meeting with Bachir, a young orphan boy living in the street, with a deep mycosis covering his head and neck, will be crucial. The NGO, limited to its malnutrition program, could not treat him… Then Isabelle will come back on her own the two next years, even bringing from Switzerland a medical treatment for Bachir. In 2009, supported by a group of reliable Swiss volunteers, she founds “Au coeur du Niger” in Zinder, in the south of the country. “With the committee, we finally decided to send Bachir in Benin in May 2011, in a hospital where nuns used to perform skin grafts. He came back in July, totally healed! The graft was a full success.” ... [ “Au coeur du Niger” comes to life ] ... First renting a small place, the association was yet welcoming 25 teenage mothers in 2010. Since, Isabelle worked hard on all fronts to create a complex hosting street children from Monday to Friday. Over the years, it has grown with a mentoring and donation program, the construction and equipment of buildings, installation of solar panels, drilling of a 100m deep well, creation of a vegetable plot, a goat pen and a sports field, etc. You can easily imagine what kind of energy, wisdom and responsiveness was required to succeed alone such a bet! When Isabelle underlines “Rest of us, Westerners, starvation, we cannot understand”, we guess the pitfalls met during fundraising campaigns. When she says “Except me, there is only local staff, hired and paid to supervise, teach, train and support pupils”, you feel the time passed to recruit and the willingness to involve Nigerien society in the development of a sustainable project. State-approved and proposing extended education facilities, In “Au coeur du Niger” welcomes today 330 orphans, teenage mothers and their babies, albino kids from the Zinder area. ... ... [ A hope for the “magical kids” ] ... This is the way albino kids are called sometimes. “These children are victims of strong traditional beliefs still present in several places of Africa. They are sought for their organs and limbs, and are sometimes subject to ritual sacrifices.” Their colorless skin and irises make them extremely sensitive to the sun and light. Nearly blind, they hardly ever go to school and exposed to the rough African sunlight, often develop melanomas and cancers. You should absolutely read on the website of the association, the cautionary story of Amadou, who reached the center in 2015, to understand the misery of those kids that the association welcomes and protect as best it can today. In Niger, albinism concerns 1 child in 1,000 that is to say 17 times more than in Europe. ... ... [ The Nigerien paradox ] ... 189th out of 189 countries in the Human Development Index (HDI)… It means that Nigeriens knows well what is extreme poverty! The Nigerien story is full of crisis and difficulties: a quite full arid country, familiar with drought, starvation and locust invasion, no reliable irrigation scheme, an uncontrolled demography and nearly 70% of the population being analphabets. Books and meals have a cost and often, schools are very far… To the risky journey and lack of money, you can add the frequent feeling that school is a den of iniquity where the younger will be westernized. And no need to say that a girl will generally be married in her teen. Isabelle underlines “Among 100 girls learning at the Primary school, only 2 or 3 will go to High school, the others being married…” However, the subsoil of Niger is overflowing of oil, uranium, phosphate, coal, tin and groundwater! Third world uranium exporter… and one of the poorest. “It begs the question of the ability of the State to guarantee a minimum protection to its citizens… These are mobilized to manage natural resources but the exploitation appears to lack transparency.” Ultraliberalism, resale at a high price, speculation, nearly 2/3 of MPs are merchants. According to Isabelle, the unique way to correct those deficiencies is education, training which could help young generations to forget the poverty patterns known by their elders and avoid some of them to follow terrorist organizations where they could feel valued. Through « Au coeur du Niger », Isabelle thinks further ahead. “Emergency relief is necessary but we have to build confidence, to transmit know-how, to put the cards in their hands. Cooperate, persuade but never appropriate the job of local authorities.” Among the precious help gave by international structures and despite a huge personal involvement, what Isabelle wants is “a practical assistance leading to long-lasting effects”. That’s it! ... ... [ Sleep, eat and think Niger… Even from Switzerland ] ... Due to the pandemic, Isabelle Macheret had not been in Switzerland that long for 11 years, which does not prevent her from working every day with her Nigerien staff and share with the kids by Skype. This is a chance for the team to gain autonomy, even if she gets every day the reports and validates the daily expenses in advance. “You have to follow everything from start to finish and control everything in order to lose nothing”. Remember that Isabelle was a banker in a previous life and in this case, it is useful. Wise and grateful, she takes advantage of distancing to deepen contacts with donors and mentors and devotes much of her time to fundraising. It must be said that concerning « communication”, our good fairy is also working hard. It seems that no Swiss media has remained insensitive to her project, she leads presentations, generates challenges faced by students and published in 2017 “Words to grow up”, a coloring book based on the daily life of Zinder citizens. Not to mention a documentary DVD called “Isabelle’s dream: a future for the children of Niger” published last year. Did you notice that a day lasts 24 hours? … Isabelle sets herself a new mission: “I am writing a book to explain how I have been able to build such a center in Niger with everyday anecdotes, hoping that others will replicate the same concept.” Such a deep and sincere commitment to her heartfelt family deserves to be talked about. Like all nature, earth and human lovers, we wish that Isabelle’s dream (fully) comes true. ... More information on “Au coeur du Niger” Support Isabelle and the children of Zinder .. ...
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Survival skills (or simple return to the roots)


Today, we invite you to a special meeting where you will have to be at the top, a unique encounter with the one to whom the human species owes everything: nature. Wild, forest or desert, cold, temperate or tropical, it has so many faces that we think we know… Yet, in a natural setting, even a few miles from home, the adventure can be difficult or even cruel if one does not prepare for it… ... [ Hakuna Matata: no problem, just solutions ] ... Getting closer to nature, leaving to explore new territories is a trend. At a time when Survivor and Mike Horn are so successful, most of us limit to a few escapades in the mountains or in the forest. But hiking becomes an unpleasant journey when, totally lost, stress wins you. The slightest noise evokes a wild creature and you suddenly understand what it means to be homeless as the night comes…. Even if the only monsters you see are jumping rabbits, you will have to cope. It’s time to remember this sketch about a tropical island where a tourist says “nature is hostile… Over there, you need thigh boots, not rangers… because scorpions sleep in the rangers… after the first bite, I wore a size 25.” Let’s keep smiling. Immersion in a natural environment will be wondering if you know how to prepare yourself in humility, avoiding some mistakes such as not drawing your way, leaving without warning or not providing suitable clothing and equipment (waterproof bag, compass, map, knives, blanket, first aid kit, head-lamp, etc.). When lost, the basics of survival are: > Choose points of reference such as a hill, a river, trees and most of all, do not move randomly > Build a shelter > Think about finding water (food will come after) > Know how to light a fire with the available means > Be able to report, call for help (without phone) ... ... [ Look for the bare necessities ] ... … Just the bare necessities. In the nature, hydration and protection are the most important vital elements. Spending several days without food is still possible but 72 hours without drinking can be fatal. Our tourist mentioned above also admitted “I lost 12 kg. It is my fault, I drank water…” Would the infamous word “turista” come from his ignorance? Water – whether it comes from a plant or a natural water source – must be filtered before it is consumed. If you can’t boil it, having a few chemical treatment tablets and a filter will help you. Simple tissues or paper coffee filters could do the trick. ... ... Protection in the natural environment means shelter and fire. A Light tent, hammock or tarp will adapt to all types of grounds. Twigs, moss and foliage or your survival blanket placed on the ground will insulate the shelter from moisture. Just take a few ropes and know how making strong knots that you can also undo without spending the day… Even if you are not very skilled, the chair knot seems to be the good one. This makeshift shelter will protect you from temperature variations, mosquitoes, rain and allow you to sleep to stay sane. Let’s talk about fire, a burning topic and probably the most difficult to manage. It helps to purify water and cook food, warm and light you up and to keep wild animals away. After finding the necessary wood, you will have to install it at a short distance from your shelter but far enough from the vegetation. You will probably bring matches or a lighter to light the few bark, dry grass or lichen that will serve as tinder. If not, there are other methods such as the energetic friction of dry pieces of wood that will produce the first ember. A stone struck on a steel blade can also produce sparks and under the sun, a hand lens placed above the tinder will suffice at the start of fire. You will then need to arrange in a cross the dry branches above the ember. Obviously, this advice will be useless in case of strong rains… Concerning food, the length of your journey will determine your needs. If berries and other plants can provide you with the main nutrients, you must first make sure they are edible. If the stay continues anyway, maybe you will become a hunter, a fisherman… ... ... We are not talking here about survivalism, Bug out Bag (Bob) or Commando operations, just about precautions. The Survival skills will depend on whether you are surveying icy regions, coniferous forests or a burning desert. However, the basic principles will remain the same. Anticipation and humility will guarantee your survival no matter what (and probably nothing will happen to you ☺). Far from the cameras and an extreme media exposure, you will enjoy serenely a preserved nature, in all simplicity. ...
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