Monday, July 28, 2014

Caribbean Teaser

This post is not going to be that exciting. It is just sort of an obligatory few lines to set up a post for next month (which in my time delayed blog entering corresponds with where I am now).  So about two months ago Mac tells me that he is going to teach a week-long course on statistics in the Caribbean. In Antigua. As there was no way that I was going to let that pass me by, I obviously cashed in a few of the frequent flyer mega fund to come for the weekend. We found a condo within walking distance of a dive shop and bar and set up camp. Both the diving and dive guiding was mediocre but the captain had very entertaining stories like the time that his girlfriend called his wife and together they sleuthed out that he had capsized his boat and had been floating off the coast of the British Virgin Islands for the past 48 hours. He lived. The marriage sadly did not pull through. Here are the best of the worst in terms of the photos. I am hoping that I will get a few better shots from my current excursion. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vandals at the Gate

So my experience in Tunisia can sort of be summed up as a series of taxi rides.  Sadly this is what my life has become when I drop into a country for a few short days to attend some meeting or another, and the only people I interact with are those serving me something at the hotel or driving me from one point to another. 

 There were some good ones (see below) and some not so good ones (the piss poor behavior of the guys hanging out across from the Sheraton make me feel much better about “random” airport screening).  And while it probably is not a good representation of the Tunisian people in general, it handily provides me with enough of a narrative thread to string together these pictures. 

So I get off the plane exhausted from a ridiculous trip from Monrovia, and hop into the first thing on the airport taxi line.  Despite a bit of miscommunication, we eventually get ourselves on the right path.  Just in time to watch the van in front of us crash hard into the car in the next lane and take off blazing.  Enter the unlikely buddy cop team of Driver and Economist. 

Coordinated through a series of gestures and grunts, he speeds down the fleeing car while I get the license plate.  Which we loop back to give to the perplexed but grateful Citron driver now missing a significant portion of their right front end.  A quick wordless nod to acknowledge a job well done and then we return to the previously schedule economic transaction.  

Due to a quirk of scheduling of Royal Air Maroc, I have the whole day after the workshop to spend tooling around the sites in neighboring Carthage.  In the midst of historic ruins and informative museums, what I really want is for the driver to stop at the graffiti covered door to one of the numerous residential compounds so that I could take a picture and cleverly name this post “Vandals at the Gate.”  Alas with my previously mentioned communication difficulties, I basically was gesturing at obscene or political graffiti in Arabic and making a camera motion.  He probably thought I was a sex fiend or a spook.  (I am not sure which is worse.)

One of thing of note - Carthage has lots of mosaic floors.  With my little pocket camera, I had to spend nearly 30 minutes to get the exposure right on this beautiful floor that I found in an underground chapel.  And then less than a hour later I come across this giant storehouse.  If I had been going directly back to DC, I might have tried to negotiate for one to replace the floor in my guest bathroom.  I am sure that my Global Entry status would not have been jeopardized by a little antiquity smuggling?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Of Angolans and Anglicans.

It has been awhile I know.  This year just kind of got away from me.  First by beloved Nikon D40 finally gasped its last, so I am without a camera.  Also, as a very few of you may know, the World Bank is going through the first corporate re-organization in a generation.  (Happy to talk to you privately about my opinions but I am pretty sure the new machine doesn’t want me posting publicly about how their new bean-counting system completely undermines any chance I may have had to help countries measure or understand poverty – so I am not going to say that.)  In addition there have been property purchases and some personal life re-organization, and some things just didn’t get done.  So now that I have caught up on six months of ironing, it is time to restart the blog.  I am going to try to post about the trips I took earlier this year one a fairly regular basis until I catch up.  I am starting with the first two stops I made in a March trip which took me to Angola, Oxford (England), Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Liberia.

So Angola.  I don’t get to say this often, but Angola isn’t really like anywhere else I have been.  It suffered through a horrific 27 year civil war which started when the Portuguese liberated their colonies somewhat fire-sale style after a 1974 coup d’├ętat.  (I learned it from watching you Dad, I learned it from watching you.)  The USSR and Cuba backed the Marxists, and the Americans teamed up with apartheid South Africa to back everyone else.  The Marxists won (as reflected in the flag which, despite being a gear and machete, representing farm and city, clearly is reminiscent of a previous era).
In any case, they got with the program fairly quickly and started hauling oil and diamonds out of the ground very quickly.  (Catch you on the flip side Karl!)  Currently it has one of the fastest growing economies in the world (20 percent per year – give or take), but still lags in development indicators (including some of the health and education basics).

Interestingly, the capital, Luanda, is the most expensive city in the world.  Seriously, more expensive than Tokyo or New York.  They have a Porsche dealership.  My standard hotel room was $450 per night and a Caesar salad and diet Coke from the room service menu is a bargain at a mere 42 US dollars.  Even the local restaurant across the street was charging 25 USD for a beer and some fish.  I might have been able to find cheaper food outside of the main downtown area, except I would have had to sell a kidney to afford a taxi (my trip in from the airport – probably equivalent to JFK to lower Manhattan – but in the middle of the night with no traffic – cost nearly 200 USD).  You get the idea. Other than that, it is a lovely country.  Government buildings are new, roads are clean and straight.  I have heard things are different outside the capital, but I shudder to think what it would have cost to investigate further.

From there I bopped up to Oxford for a conference.  Similarly to Angola, Oxford was also heavily damaged by strife during its history, specifically the Norman Invasion of 1066.  Since then they have been building tastefully appointed architecture and undergraduate pubs.  This blog post was actually delayed by me trying to think of something witty to say about my econ conference at Oxford, but alas, some things there is just no hope for.  Therefore I close with my favorite Oxford comma joke.  (I know – I am starting off slow.  They say it is just like riding a bike, but it really more like a unicycle – which I never learned to do in the first place).

Credit (or blame) to Andy Oler for the above.