Friday, August 29, 2008

DR at the Olympics

I've been quite busy the last few weeks with work trips, hurricanes, tropical storms and moving. Not much time for posting.

Yesterday the DR's Olympic medalists were welcomed home and received their cash rewards from the government for winning medals. I heard a bit of the ceremony on the radio as I was battling Santo Domingo traffic on my way home. A few weeks ago, President Leonel Fernandez was sworn-in for his second term in office.

Like any good political party, Fernandez and his ilk were sure to not be totally corwded out of by spotlight by the Olympic heroes. The emcee said something (loosely translated) along the lines of, "The other day I was talking to a child who said to me, 'It's so wonderful that everytime President Fernandez wins the Dominican Republic gets Olympic medals." (He was referring to the 400m hurdles gold medal won by Felix Sanchez in Athens in 2004.)

Oh, really? Hmm. This "child" seems awfully politically astute for... well.. a child.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Lagos has competition...

Here's a NYT article on Lagos and all of its extreme wealth. If you substitute "Luanda" for "Lagos" and "Angola" for "Nigeria" you could very well be talking about Angola's capital city in the next few years. Except, of course, Angola has much fewer international soccer stars.

The article makes the claim that Lagos is the most expensive city on the African continent, although it should be noted that Luanda does not figure ANYWHERE in the list, which leads me to believe that it was not included in the survey for some reason. There's no way that a city where charges US$12,000 a month to rent an apartment is not on this list.

At least in Lobito I only had to pay $7 for a box of Cheerios.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Crocs in the Sewers

On my last full day in Kingston I went with one of our partners to visit the community resource center my organization funded a project for. It is located in Riverton Meadows, a very rough and poor neighborhood in Kingston. As we were touring the health clinic we funded, we heard a huge ruckus outside- lots of excitement and shouting. The head nurse ambles over and says, “They caught a crocodile.”

Something was going on...

There is a large open sewer that runs through the community, and the community is located right next to a trash dump. Apparently the croc came up through a river connected to the sewer. What was truly amazing is that some of the men in the community hopped right in a wrestled the croc out of the sewer. They thought it was too dangerous to have it loose in the community and the police or animal control certainly doesn’t go into Riverton, so they had to take matters into their own hands. It looks small in the pictures, but this thing was huge!! Huge and angry!

The sewer that runs through the community, from where the croc came...
I was as curious as anyone else, and ran over to take pictures. Some people were like, “Who’s the whitey mon” (even though I'm a woman I'm still a whitey mon, apparently) but most people were too excited by the croc. I asked the center manager what they were going to do with the croc. “Are they going to eat it?” Boy, did I ever get ribbed for asking that! Apparently crocodile meat is not the delicacy in Jamaica it is in Southern Africa! In my defense, the croc was being strung up right in front of Jerky’s Jerk Center! Would have been convenient...

ABC Primetime Special on China- with Angola!

Last night ABC did a special on the growing importance of China. Any conversation about China’s expansion must include Africa, and where else to start but Angola. ABC sent their man to Luanda to check out the Chinese. It was both infuriating and bittersweet for me to watch.

Infuriating because, for one, they really didn’t do more than a superficial investigation of the relationship between the Chinese and Angolan governments. They showed our dear friend Aguinaldo Jaime, the Prime Minister who got his knickers in a bunch when Bob Geldolf said Angola was ruled by thieves, speaking the praises of the Chinese government. PM Jaime cried and cried about the cruel, inflexible Western donors who wanted to put horrible restrictions on the Angolan government- like transparency and semi-responsible investing! The nerve! Luckily for them, the Chinese came along and were willing to give them multi-million dollar loans with few strings attached.

The report also pointed out that Angola is recovering at an amazing pace. This is true. During my time in Angola I saw a great deal of rebuilding going on; my Angolan coworkers can testify to even more progress seen since the end of the war. But what about the quality of the work being done? The Chinese company hired to repave the streets of Benguela in time for AfroBasket paved them in record time- one week there was a dirt and rocky road, the next week there was pretty asphalt! Pretty asphalt, I might add, that two months later had collapsed into a sinkhole bigger than any pot hole that had been there before.

What really made me angry was when they started talking about the hard work the Chinese were doing. They pointed out that on the reconstruction projects being done by the Chinese, over 70% of the employees are Chinese. Immediately after they said that Angolan firms do not have the capacity to do the work. This is true, but is doesn’t explain why the Chinese must import laborer to do the most manual of jobs. I was struck by the number of Chinese workers I saw in Angola doing manual labor- ripping up railroad tracks, laying asphalt, etc. I cannot be convinced that: a) only Chinese workers know how to do those jobs; or that b) it is cheaper to import Chinese workers than hire Angolans. In one interview on the program a Chinese project supervisor admitted that the workers work from 7 am to 5 pm for 7 days a week- something that is explicitly against Angolan labor law. Angolans are some of the hardest working people I have met. I know that there are plenty of Angolans who would be willing to do the work of those Chinese laborers- and in turn provide more for their families and contribute to the local economy. The Chinese workers tend to live in compounds and are very isolated form the local communities and economies. A Newsweek article from earlier this year explains how one Chinese company imports even its food from China.

One last thing to complain about, mostly superficial… In the introduction to the segment, they played some African music that was definitely NOT Angolan. Angola has great musical traditions, how hard could it have been to get a Bonga clip and use that? Africa is a big continent, ABC, and- shockingly- has different cultures! It was as if they went into the stock audio file marked “African Children Singing” and stopped there.

There’s a lot more I could say about the report- I was cursing and rolling my eyes at the TV as it was airing, but I would have to see it again in order to give a more informed opinion. But overall, it wasn't a bad piece.

I must admit that seeing the images of Angola actually made me miss the place. Now that I’ve had a few months of separation and time to recover from Angola, I can look at it again and see beyond the evil SME agent who extorted money from me. I guess moving from frustration to nostalgia is a good thing. There was one thing said by one of the Chinese workers that I agreed with; when asked what he thought of the Angolan people, he said that they were wonderful people.