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’état.  (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.

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