Friday, November 18, 2005

Back at it again

After many comments from loyal readers, I'm glad to say that I found the "send" button for my blog once again. In the many weeks since last posting here, I have been deluged with work and I have been traveling outside of Sudan, neither of which makes for good or easy posting conditions for blogs.

The work stuff has to remain "off line" for reasons of confidentiality even though it is often the most interesting and, even, "juicy" stuff of all. Included in the past 6 weeks of my work: a weekend-long Board Training Retreat; the arrival of a new teacher; the untimely resignation of another teacher; a Meet-the-Superintendent presentation to parents; two meetings of the Board; the purchase of a new car for me to drive; etc. If you really want to hear about that, send me an email and perhaps I can fill in the blanks.

The travel stuff, however, is totally appropriate -- well, mostly appropriate! -- for this blog. One trip was to Harare, Zimbabwe, where I attended the annual meeting of international school directors within the African International School Association region. The conference itself was excellent! AISA brings in great speakers and facilitators and the time in Harare was chock full of good and useable material for a guy like me.

Getting a glimpse of Harare was fascinating. Flying in over Zimbabwe, one sees some of those "Out of Africa" type of landscapes with those lonely umbrella-like trees dotting the landscape. The Harare airport is, at first glance, a very modern facility and I felt like I was back in a (semi-) developed country at the very least. Changing a bit (US$50) of money, however, brought home one of the stark realities of life in Zimbabwe: rampant inflation. The local currency is "Zimbabwe Dollars" (or, as the locals say, "Zim-Dollars") and the one US dollar (US$1) will buy sixty thousand Zim Dollars (ZD$60,000). That's right, you read correctly SIXTY THOUSAND Zim Dollars! So, for a mere US$50, I got back THREE MILLION Zim Dollars! And, since the highest denomination bill is ZD$20,000, that was about 3-inches worth of cash!

To put this in even worse terms, ZD$20,000 will not even purchase a loaf of bread in Harare! The cab driver told us that on Monday he went into a pub and ordered a glass of local beer. It cost ZD$20,000. On Thursday, that same glass of beer cost ZD$30,000. A 50% rise in less than a week! Of course, salaries do not rise with any of that same swiftness. You can imagine the result. The situation is almost comical when I realized that most of the "money" which I was given was in the form of "Bearer Cheque" with an expiry date of Dec. 31, 2005. The ultimate of "Spend It or Lose It" thinking! In a 5-month period this year, inflation was clocked at 400%!

For foreigners like me who come into the country with "hard" currency and only stay for a short period, this all works to the good. I could have -- and did have -- a sumptuous meal at a gourmet restaurant for $12. The "real" price of the gorgeous Zimbabwean hand-crafts (batik fabrics, carved wooden items, etc) was outrageously low. Of course, for the Zimbabwean merchants, it meant a meager existence, to be sure.

The city of Harare has a modern "feel" to it but one gets the impression that just beneath the fa├žade, things are deteriorating rapidly. But, the people seem to be long-suffering. They have had the same President (Robert Mugabe) for the entire 25 years since gaining independence from white rule and nothing seems likely to change until Mugabe gives up power at some unknown date in the future.

The other trip was to Tokyo. This time around, the contrasts between the African experience and life in Tokyo couldn't have been more stark. Frankly, it was good to be back in a country where everything "works." There was no thought of whether or not the electricity would be there 24/7 or whether it was safe to eat the food or drink the water. The Japanese obsession with cleanliness and orderliness was a comfort for someone like myself who had lived for the past 4 months with neither of those commodities.

Besides, it was great to see so many great friends whom I have come to appreciate even more in the months since leaving Tokyo!

Of course, I had time to spend with Greg who is living there in Tokyo on his own this year. He is working hard at a number of part-time jobs -- all of them in the teaching/education field -- and he has built a nice network of friends and colleagues so that his life is going well.

After hours and hours in airplanes and airports, it was, however, good to get back "home" to Khartoum. There is still a ton of work to be done at the school but, for the most part, it's interesting and challenging work. My apartment feels more and more like "home" and it's been great having people over for dinner and for relaxing evenings. I am already working with my travel agent to arrange much more travel......most of it work-related, including a February teacher-recruiting trip to the USA which will take me to Iowa and New England, and a March school-accreditation visit to Karachi, Pakistan.

So, while there's no rest for this weary traveler, there is, it seems, more traveling ahead. I'll try to find ways to be a better blogger in the mean time. It's certainly good to be back on line!

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