Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Poverty-Weather-Suicide Correlation

I’m enjoying the conference I’m currently attending because there are people here from all over.  Aside from me there are only two Americans, but there is a large contingent from Europe and Africa.  Since I am a bit unusual as I haven’t left Africa for the past year a number of people have approached me and asked a variety of questions about my time here on the continent.  Today I had a conversation with someone about poverty in Africa.  I told her that most government officials in Africa regard poverty as being out of their control, something they simply can’t change.  Just like they can’t predict or influence the weather, they can’t influence or change the occurrence of poverty.

Botswana is considered an upper middle income economy, but according to the World Bank 32.9% of the population still lives below the national poverty level.  Of course, Botswana is the wealthiest country in sub-Saharan Africa.  I know I’ve mentioned some of the unemployment issues in countries like Nigeria (54.7% of the population lives in poverty) and Zimbabwe (72% poverty), that Lesotho (56.6% poverty) used to be so poor that one of their primary exports was human blood, and that Congo (71.3% poverty) is so unfortunate they can’t afford to eat the cassava and instead they eat the leaves from the plant.  Poverty alleviation is a huge key term which you hear all over the place.  But the truth is most African leaders don’t think poverty can be cured, so they don’t really sweat it.

It should be noted that poverty alleviation is different from economic growth.  I have a friend who works for the World Bank.  His job is to identify aspiring entrepreneurs, give them micro loans- typically $1,000 or less- in an effort to get them to improve their socioeconomic status.  He can’t GIVE this money away!  He told me about a conversation he had with a fisherman.  The fisherman said he caught three fish each day and then sold them; that would meet his needs.  Mr. World Bank explained he would loan him money to buy a new boat, or new nets, or whatever he needed to improve his business so he could catch more fish.  The fisherman’s response: “I don’t need to catch more fish.” Mr. WB explained if the fisherman caught more fish he could send his son to university, or have the money if his wife got sick, or maybe just buy some milk for his family.  The fisherman said he didn’t need money in case those things happened.  He said when his wife got sick he would just catch five or six fish that day to buy her medicine or pay the doctor.

The reason the fisherman in the story didn’t want to earn extra money is because he would never get to save that money, so it was pointless.  The challenge with elevating Africa out of poverty and improving standards of living is because the culture here does not encourage future planning.  Family ties are important and everything is communal.  This means if the fisherman catches 10 fish and suddenly has more money his aunt in the village will show up and ask for the money to pay her medical bills.  If he catches 20 fish he won’t see any profit from that either because his distant cousin in the next village will ask for the money to pay the bride price for her son’s upcoming marriage.  If he catches 50 fish then the niece of his neighbor’s granddaughter in the country next door will show up on his doorstep asking for a loan to pay for her father’s funeral announcement.  And the cycle continues and never ends.

As I continued my conversation with the woman at the conference today she asked me how Africans are able to withstand so much poverty, violence, government instability, persecution, disease and everything else they put up with.  Just last night I finished the book David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell.  In his book, Gladwell states that happiness is measured on a sliding scale in relation to one’s peers.  He states that Switzerland has the happiest people in the world.  However, Switzerland also has one of the highest suicide rates.  By contrast, Africans are significantly less happy because of all the challenges associated with living here, but since everyone else here is miserable (at least in terms of material possessions, wealth, etc.) the suicide rate is very low because they can’t look at others and be envious since everyone is in the same (sad) boat.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Presidential Protocol

If you’ve been following my blog for a while and read my posting back in December about How to Make a Speech (in Africa) then you probably already know where I’m going with this title.  If you missed that blog you can read it here.

As I mentioned yesterday I am here in Mauritius for the Advances in Hospitality and Tourism Marketing and Management Conference.  The fun thing about going to conferences in Africa is that the organizers take them very seriously, so they often bring high ranking public officials to be keynote speakers or guests of honor in order to show attendees how much the country values the topic of the event.  For instance, at the opening session of the conference today the President of Mauritius was the keynote speaker.  In the past year I have seen President Khama of Botswana, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, President Sata of Zambia and now President Purryag of Mauritius at conferences.  In the last 35 years I have NOT seen Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton or Obama.  I did have breakfast with former President Bush Sr. when he was a speaker at an event I did in Vegas and while I didn’t meet W. (George W. Bush) I did ride in his limo when he did an event of mine while I was working at Disney- though that was before he became prez.  To put this in perspective, I have a 100% presidential citing average at conferences in Africa.  Considering the fact I have probably organized at least 500 events over the years that means I have seen presidents at 0.004% of my events in the U.S.

Of course, having a president, or any well-known public servant attend an event here calls for protocol.  First there is a red carpet.  I didn’t take a picture of today’s red carpet because it wasn’t one of the nicer red carpets I’ve seen in the last 12 months.  But, you can see Mugabe’s red carpet here if you like.  Of course, before the official of note shows up there is the corralling of all the staff at the hotel, as well as the entourage.  Mugabe travels with a presidential escort of 60 vehicles and hundreds of personal guards and staff.  I didn’t witness the line of all the hotel employees standing outside the hotel for inspection upon arrival by President Purryag today, but I know it happened based on reports by other conference attendees.

Once the official arrives there is the playing of the national anthem, then the seating ceremony.  Now, up until this point I follow along like a well behaved guest.  I only reveal my true colors once the speeches begin.  And today was no exception to the rule.  Each time someone spent five minutes saying hello to all the honored delegates and then stated, “Protocol observed” it was all I could do not to burst into laughter. Again, if you don’t know what I’m talking about with the “protocol observed” you REALLY need to read this blog post.

All in all the visit from President Purryag was positive.  He had a lot of good comments regarding tourism in Mauritius and Africa as a whole.  Plus, it was fun to have one final reminder about protocol and speeches before I head home.  Thanks for the memory President Purryag!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mauritius, Not Madagascar

As I am writing this I am sitting in bed in my hotel room watching the television show, The Good Wife, which is dubbed over in French.  For the past year I have been travelling around Africa and each time I’ve checked into a hotel I have hoped for two things: 1. air conditioning and 2. television.  This is the first time I’ve had both and naturally, now that my prayers have been answered I am no longer interested.  I’m at a beautiful beach resort in Mauritius for a conference and it just seems wrong to be using the air con or watching tv.  In order to help you understand why air con and television is criminal here (and to make you a teeny bit jealous) here is my hotel room:
And this is the view from my balcony:
I arrived in Mauritius yesterday and my conference started late this afternoon.  If you haven’t heard of Mauritius before, that’s ok, very few people have.  But, given the fame of the Disney film, Madagascar, I’m sure you have heard of Madagascar.  Well, Madagascar is not Mauritius.  But they are neighbors.  Madagascar is a very large island located off the south-eastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean.  Mauritius, Reunion Island and Rodrigues are three very small islands east of Madagascar.  That brings us to the end of today’s Geography lesson. Any questions?
Mauritius was invaded/ruled/colonized by all the major players in Africa: first the Arabs in the 10th century, then the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French and finally the British.  Due to its location in the Indian Ocean, Mauritius was a major stopover point between Europe and the East, causing a significant influx of immigrants.  Today 70% of the island’s 1.2 million people are Indian with Chinese, Africans, and Europeans making up the remaining 30%.  So far I have only seen Indians here.

I’m looking forward to my conference as there are a lot of researchers and presenters here from across Africa.  Plus it’s nice to have a good excuse to visit Mauritius as it is a very popular, high end tourism destination here in Africa.  Weddings and honeymooners are the primary tourism target market here.  And I can see why.  Here is the view from my breakfast table:
And the view from my seat on the beach this morning:
And the lobby of the hotel:
It’s kind of a waste to come here alone.  It reminds me of Hawaii, though not as humid.  In a way it is almost a terrible place to come for a conference because once you see the views all you want to do is sit on the beach.  But then again, I would have never come here if it weren’t for my conference.  Nevertheless, I enjoyed my beach time today and am looking forward to starting work tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

One Final Safari

As my time in Africa is drawing to a close I decided it was time to take one last spin around Botswana before saying, “adieu.”  After my Kilimanjaro trip my dad came to visit which was the perfect opportunity to show him around my favorite places here.  For the past week we have been celebrating Kelly and Dad’s Week of Fun (in Africa).  We had intended to go to the Okavango Delta first, but since my flight from Kilimanjaro arrived a day late we had to cancel that part of the trip.  Instead we went to northern Botswana to visit Chobe National Park.  We took a river cruise:
We went on a game drive where we saw about a dozen lions, including two lions chasing a water buffalo across the road right in front of our vehicle:
There were about twenty game drive vehicles all in the same area of the park jockeying to get the best view of the lions; nothing quite like an African traffic jam:
We also saw some giraffes fighting:
After two days watching the animals we crossed the border into Zimbabwe to visit Victoria Falls:
And we went to the Victoria Falls Hotel for lunch:
It was a fast week but we had a great trip.  Aside from having a lot of fun with my dad, it was great to have one more visit around Botswana.  There is a lot I will miss when I leave:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Four Best Friends That Anyone Could Ever Have

When I travel I tend to think of people that I meet as Single Serving Friends.  I’ve actually considered writing a book by that title.  The reason I refer to them as Single Serving Friends is because I often meet people while I’m travelling, spend a few days with them, have a great time, and then never see or hear from them again.  It’s really just the nature of travel.  I expect the three guys who were part of my AF group during the Kilimanjaro trek will be Single Serving Friends, but for one week, we were the four best friends in the whole wide world.

Have you ever seen the movie, The Hangover?  If you haven’t the premise is that this guy is about to get married so his two best friends decide to take him to Vegas for a bachelor party.  In an effort to bond with his future brother-in-law, the groom brings along his fiancĂ©’s brother as well.  Once they get to Las Vegas everything that could possibly go wrong does; they get arrested, they steal Mike Tyson’s tiger, the responsible dentist marries a stripper, and they lose the groom.  At the end of the movie the goofy brother-in-law sings a song about how they are the Four Best Friends that Anyone Could Ever Have.  On our last night together Rod, Matt, Tom and I were joking about how the four of us mimicked the characters from The Hangover.

I was obviously the groom because in the movie the groom misses his own bachelor party, and here on Kilimanjaro, I missed the summit.  Tom was the brother-in-law because in the movie the brother-in-law slipped roofies (or ecstasy, I forget) into the drinks of the other three.  This analogy was the funniest because Tom is a vegan, so he was always offering people papaya pills (gives you energy) or spirulina tablets (helps with altitude sickness) or some other vegan remedy to keep you healthy.  We all learned a lot about veganism during this trip.  Matt was the responsible dentist because on our trip he was just that, the voice of reason, and very responsible.  And Rod was Bradley Cooper, because he is tall and funny.

Though we didn’t have the same challenges as the characters in the movie we had our own unique experience which brought us together, most specifically the 8 members of the NSA, who we tolerated through gritted teeth (and then commiserated with one another about in private).  I can’t imagine having done Kilimanjaro with anyone else.  I will miss them very much.  Considering we started off four strangers, all from different continents, we couldn’t have gotten along any better.

The Awesome Foursome- Matt (South Africa), Tom (Israel), Kelly (USA), Rod (Australia):