Kathryn of Omaha TV: Hello Mars Man. Welcome again to The Mother Earth Weekly Squirms show for your feature interview. You have in front of you Mr. John Black, former Total Loss Bank employee and reputable consultant for several continental institutions, Governments and Development Agencies. I am sure you people on Mars are eager to hear about the experiences of a seasoned development economist before he turns his abilities on Mars. As you may have seen, Mr. Black posted recently his list of international cultural chocks from which he is still recovering.
Mars Man: Thank you Kathryn. Very honored to be your guest again and welcome to Mr. Black, an old acquaintance of mine whose illustrious career I have followed through the years. Yes, I reviewed Mr. Black’s list of cultural shocks with great interest. If I may add one of my own it is Mother Earth’s habit to paint us as monsters while you look like wobbly skeletons yourself. Mr. Black, please tell us why you felt it necessary to go into the business of developing underdeveloped nations.
John Black: Thank you Mars Man for that important question. Frankly, I don’t have a clue. I think it was because I got a better salary and it was duty-free.
Mars Man: That’s a very honorable ambition and a good starting point for economic development. So, what do you think you have achieved?
John Black: An immense array of achievements. First, an innumerable amount of frequent flyer miles that allowed me to take my wife on my trips first class to nowhere where she could spend her time at the swimming pool drinking punch. Second, the beauty of development is that underdeveloped countries don’t maintain the investments you finance for them and that means my job never ends, as I have to do it over and over again multiple times. It’s a copy and paste job and I get paid well for it.
Mars Man: Well, we on Mars would value our money better. Why do they have that attitude?
John Black: Good question. If you give a kid a lollypop and tell him he has to pay for it he won’t take it. If you give it to him free, he will and believe you will give him the next one free, too. Meanwhile he will do nothing to earn it.
Mars Man: Don’t you people train them to do better, then? After all, you and they are using tax payer money.
John Black: Oh yes we train. They love training. Free food, free drinks, free hotels, free showers, away from wives or husbands, shopping, and then go for the next training. And on taxpayer money, using Other Peoples Money (OPM) is a sound business principle even taught at Harvard Business School and standard in the Obama White House.
Mars Man: But don’t these countries learn anything then?
John Black: No. For two reasons: first, we mostly train the wrong people, and second if they apply what they learn they won’t be sent on training again.
Mars Man: Have you not made any progress then?
John Black: Yes and no. If I achieved anything it was immediately destroyed. I witnessed seven coup d’états, two murdered presidents, and continuous strife in several countries. All my projects went bust. You fill one hole with another. But as I said, this makes my life easy because I only have to open my drawer and take out the old documents and turn them into new ones by changing the document number and start over again. Recycling is the king of repetition.
Mars Man: What happened then to all the tax payer money you spent?
John Black: It went to pot. Don’t believe our Annual Reports.
Mars Man: And where did the money in the countries go?
John Black: The goal of development lending is that the money is used for the purpose intended. But the meaning of that purpose is in the eye of the beholder. You see, transparency is a subjective proposition. For you, transparency may mean you see clear. For others it may mean you see nothing.
Mars Man: See nothing?
John Black: Well, yes. Like looking through your fingers. No trace. Invisible for the eye of a western accountant.
Mars Man: Money embezzled?
John Black: No, shared among the beneficiaries.
Mars Man: Are you speaking of corruption?
John Black: Corruption in the Third World is a misnomer. It’s sharing the wealth. Obama does it too.
Mars Man: But wouldn’t these countries have courts to prevent taxpayer money from being misappropriated?
John Black: Courts in these countries are like community organizations. They, police, and nationals all work together for the purpose intended and that is sharing the wealth. The president gets most and the underlings the crumbs and nobody gets convicted because that’s unsocial. Only those who object to the system go to jail.
Mars Man: So you must look back on a productive career indeed?
John Black: Most definitely. My grand children will still be working on it, and so will be theirs. No better and never-ending enterprise with plentiful tax payer money. We are transforming the Third World.
Mars Man: Thank you Mr. Black for this enlightening interview. For our listeners on Mars: It’s a pity we don’t have a Third World. We should invite Mr. Black to create one for us. Thank you Kathryn. Till next time.
“Lucy Cello Girl” (on the right) is the third story under the series Some Women I have Known. It is built around a sweet young cellist whose real name I cannot reveal. Friends of mine may remember her. Over time her memory has turned into a fantasy, a melody of transcendence through love and music you want to hear forever.
“Lucy” is the precursor to a novel I have penned entitled “Enchanting the Swan” which will hopefully see the light of day in the near future.
Enjoy the Short Story on your Kindle or Kindle for PC.
I have traveled and lived in quite a few places and endured numerous cultural shocks. Looking back, I understand better why we humans from different places do not always understand each other and get annoyed with each others behavior. Living and traveling in other countries offers you a different perspective on life and is certainly enriching, but it is not always easy to absorb. Below follows an abridged list of my cultural shocks, but it is by no means exhaustive.
If you have your own list, please let me know, and I will publish them! It’s fun to know how we look at each other.
THE “WEST” AND SORT OF WEST
- USA: Americans think only they are sane. The rest of the world thinks they are insane. Depending on which side of the Ocean, the rest is right.And everything looks and tastes the same and their girls are xenophobic.
- Russia: Taking a bath is against the rules, unless you do it in vodka.
- Holland: Bikers don’t look right or left and run you over yelling YOU are stupid. Plus ample dog poop and the only place where I got robbed three times over the years by the same people. Guess once. Starts with an “M”, Holland’s most popular ethnic invaders.
- Belgium: Toilet paper cut from old newspapers and no sinks to wash your hands. Language either Flemish or Walloon, either way unintelligible. French fries, mussels and beer for breakfast (or “rouge”, red wine). Lots of smokers.
- France: Toilets with black holes, no seats and pissed-over footsteps and no sinks to wash your hands. Plus subway stink is the world’s worst. And heaps of dog and pigeon poop. Food is way too expensive and waiters are rude. And French love is a myth. Americans in Paris made that up because they don’t know what love is either, only in the movies. But I made some very good friends.
- Spain: Males can’t leave a girl alone. Females are locked up 24/7. And I can’t sing serenades in Spanish.
- Portugal: As many windmills as in Holland. They look spooky. Don Quixote traveled to Portugal to fight them.
- Italy: Males can’t leave a girl alone. But females eat too much pasta. And there’s too much pigeon poop, too.
- Germany: One menu only: bier, wurst und sauerkraut. And too much hoompa poompa.
- England: no menu at all, only rain, and after joining the EU they still drive on the wrong side of the road.
- Ireland: All Irish gone to New York to join the Democratic Party. Only Poles and Romanian pick pockets left.
- Scotland: Rain, cold weather, smoking chimneys and nobody speaks English.
- Switzerland: Swiss French unintelligible; Swiss German unintelligible, Swiss Italian, well, who knows; I don’t speak Italian. Traffic priority signs for frogs, cows and turtles. Puts holes in its cheese to attract Americans. Raclette sits in your stomach for two weeks and cheese fondue a bit longer causing an outbreak of fumes not liked by others, especially not your co-worker.
- Rwanda: Twice destroyed in thirty years with old colonial help.
- Burundi: Twice destroyed in twenty years with old colonial help.
- Central African Republic: snakes in and/or under your bed, wasps in your toilet, and pygmies running between your legs.
- Cameroon: The food looks great but you can’t eat it.
- Congo-Kinshasa: Everybody cheats.
- Congo-Brazaville: Nobody cheats. It’s forbidden by the law.
- South-Africa: Visit a shopping mall to get shot at and run for your life.
- Tanzania: Dar es Salaam has too many SUVs and nobody knows how they were paid for.
- Kenya: Wildlife is for tourists and the airport road is to kill them.
- Ethiopia: The table cloth is edible but you wouldn’t think that when you go to bed.
- Mali: That’s where Timbuktu is and when I got there I finally understood why.
- Guinea: Why for heaven’s sake did the colonialists put that country on the map?
- Ivory Coast: Must be called Côte d’Ivoire to show it was once French and because of that it has been good at destroying all it had been given.
- Ghana: The only place in Africa on the West Coast that seems to work because it has a direct KLM flight from Amsterdam.
- Nigeria: The one place in Africa that should work but doesn’t. Night flight out to safety.
- Bangladesh: Delicacy: cockroached curry. Eating with your fingers; spit reservoirs in every corner of every corridor; toilets are bastions of urine, providing the main perfume in office buildings; and getting the Dhaka run if you don’t survive it (most of the time).
- India: more of the same, but a little bit more sophisticated. And heavenly Kashmir should be declared neutral territory for everyone to enjoy, not just Islamists, not just Hindus, not just Pakistanis, or whatever. Just let it be.
- Malaysia: A mushroom garden with millions of multicolored edible mushrooms and a McDonald’s in Kuala Lumpur. What a place to live.
- Singapore: The country that everyone wants to ape but only Singaporeans know how to run.
- Taiwan: The only place where China is not China but everyone speaks Chinese, and a tree you can slide through to become rich if you don’t fear getting stuck in the middle.
- Philippines: Manila TV is like American TV – just as awful. Only in the countryside you find its beauty, but you may get struck by a typhoon.
- Indonesia and Bali: Djakarta is like Lagos, but outside the city Java is a jewel. And on Bali they serve the best suckling pig on earth. Driving off the main roads you see the real Indonesia and its terraced rice fields. Heaven on earth. But paying the hotel bills was like hell.
- Hong Kong: British geniality mixed with Chinese Confucianism. Foremost a good cuisine, especially on the street, but everyone wonders how long the good will last.
- China: More bikers than in Holland, and I never had real Chinese food before, not even in Amsterdam or NY China Town.
- Macao: Beware! Bought my wife a sapphire ring that turned out a piece of colored glass.
- Japan: Plastic food in the window is for show but not for eating. You must bow when meeting people in the elevator. And even a GPS can’t find where you’re going
- Hawaii: advertised as little Asia but no, it’s pure America. So good to be back, or is it?
- Saudi-Arabia: The place where beautiful women are kept in hiding and your head gets cut off for saying something about it.
- Lebanon: A Falafel tastes as good as a bomb.
- Jordan: An oasis in the desert and the only place in the Middle-East where I could ride a horse, have dinner in the open with a lovely woman, and feel at home.
- Guyana: Loud. Loud dogs, loud crickets, loud vehicles, loud music, loud people but great curry and the best rum in the world. Drives on the wrong side of the road because the British stole Guyana from the Dutch in the 100 year European wars and when it changed hands from England to Holland, the Dutch Governor did not know what left or right was because he drank too much rum. Since Independence everybody drives in the middle of the road, so I stay inside or take a cab. Beautiful and savvy women, always showing a pleasant smile; and everything stays the same.
- Surinam: Awfully isolated but Surinamers don’t mind. Fluent Dutch speaking Guyana (the only country outside Holland – apart from Flemish Belgium – that does): the greatest shock was that they are not Dutch at all, actually quite the opposite, and although pretty, women bite.
- Aruba: Nice but too much beach.
- Curacao: The place to live but too expensive to retire.
- Bonaire: For scuba divers only and iguana lovers.
- Jamaica: The place where I lost my Millennials and my tendons tore when climbing back into my capsized sailing boat, leaving me burdened with Jamaicanitis.
A last meal and blessing hand
Brings us peace in holy land
Make your neighbor a best friend
Hate has no place in holy land
My heart will fold as red as blood
Forgive I will my tears will flood
You were created to be good
An undivided brotherhood
Lavender blue will spread in spring
It’s peace of mind that it will bring
Don’t make hate your tool of life
End your endless words of strife
Shout that peace is good for all
Not just you in clustered walls
Tear them down your flags of hate
They are NOT an act of faith
Shaking hands across the line
Sharing meals of bread and wine
Showing trust in someone’s heart
Making one a world apart
[And keep that dagger just in case
The other earthling shows bad grace ]
In our days of hustling and bustling we often forget the value of what we have. We constantly want things to change, even without realizing that when they do, we don’t like what changed and want to change what cannot be changed back again.
This reflection dawns on me each time when I look out on Lime Street from my million dollar seat. Lime Street in Georgetown Guyana has not changed since I saw it for the first time in April 1974. It is so refreshing that in 2014, forty long years later, it is still the same. Granted, I would never have sat on this seat had it not been for having fallen in love with the smashing beauty in the house, in a place far away from the million dollar seat, but she took me to the seat and since that happened, I don’t want to release it for a million dollars.
Each time over the many years when I sat down in my million dollar seat, it baffled me that the view remained the same. Oh yes, the green city buses disappeared and made room for multiple vans as a genial replacement of public transport, relieving the city budget from a bankrupt company where nobody paid the fares. More cars appeared in the street, from old Wolseleys, Morris, and Austins to Toyotas, Nissans, and scooters. Taxis a plenty. But the horse-drawn wagons are still there, the utility poles have not changed, the same grass grows along the street, and the same houses border the street, some done-up a bit, but otherwise mostly the same.
I have come to appreciate this view. As an economist, I always deal with “ceteris paribus”, the Latin phrase for “all other things held constant”, as a way of arguing that economic outcomes are expected to be “x” as long as the “variables” don’t change (they always do). The perfect reason why economics is not a science like physics: a stone falls straight and does not zig-zag (as my socialist opponents always purport).
Well, Lime Street in Georgetown Guyana is the perfect example of all other things being held constant. The same beauties come and go and never seem to age.
The same little food carts with their Calypsos blare over the street. The same loud vans with their oversized speakers drum by. The same stray dogs hop from grass poll to grass poll, cross the small street in utter disregard of oncoming traffic, somehow never getting hit. It’s a continuous flow of things that never changes in substance, only in color, number or size.
There are other million dollar seats.
I know a few, such as a terrace on a beach house in Goa in India where you can stare for an eternity at the Indian Ocean rolling in,
sitting on a balcony in the Jura watching the Mont Blanc across Lake Geneva, turning white to pink to blue, a seat under a parasol on a Bali beach where the sea stays forever blue
or a view of a swimming pool bordering the Dead Sea.
But Lime Street is different: it’s not nature, it’s in the middle of a town where hordes of colonialists, World Bank and IMF and other “developers” have come to preach the benefits of change. And it did not. Thank God.
It’s a relief to look at things that remain the same.
Above: Lime Street Early Morning
Middle: Lime Street at Siesta Hour
Below: Lime Street After a Rain Fall
It’s peace of mind. Leave the hustle and bustle to others and other places. Bring poetry into your life. Sit, watch what stays, let it flow and come back into place, while sipping from a glass of rum. Value what is and what you have.
Don’t change. Don’t change. Don’t change.