Friday, December 22, 2006

December 22, 2006

One thing I like about living in the developing world, and this was true in Cambodia and to a lesser extent the Czech Republic, is the level of ingenuity you find on the street. Last Saturday, Rebecca and I were about to walk into a café to get some lunch and pastries for breakfast for the coming days.

As we were walking in, we saw a friend who is a teacher at the American School driving along. She waved. I waved and we walked on. But I didn’t want to make a big fuss because you never want to distract someone’s driving on the roads here. So we kept walking.

And then I noticed that traffic was moving, but our friend’s car wasn’t. Bec and I kept walking because we thought our friend just wasn’t looking. I soon looked up and noticed a group of men pushing her car over to the side and flipping up the hood. So Bec and I went and stayed with her.

The thing that was amazing, and why I’m writing about ingenuity, was that these guys on the side of the road were able to diagnose the problem and, with a few parts they picked up from a garage around the corner, fix it in under an hour. Try that in New York

Of course, they then tried to charge our friend 30,000 francs ($60 or so) for the work. But at that point, our friend’s Cameroonian husband showed up and got the price down to 7,000 francs, which is about $15. The parts turned out costing only around 2,500 or so apiece. I was in the car two nights ago, and can report that it works just fine.

But again, what was interesting was that a couple of guys off the street new how to fix the starter on our friend’s car, and probably around three-quarters of the guys in Yaoundé could do the same. I don’t think that would happen in the developed world, and it is one of those areas where we could learn something.

Of course, this can be taken a little bit too far. Last night, Bec and I were describing the wonders of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Bec was rightly saying how amazing it was that the temples and monuments were built without the aid of cranes or combustion-powered construction equipment.

I reminded her that they were built on the backs of and at the cost of thousands of slaves.

Oh yeah.


The other day I walked out of the apartment and saw butterflies in the courtyard of our building. This pleased me greatly. It was beautiful.

And then I started walking towards these beautiful butterflies. As I moved towards them, I noticed their wings were brown. No matter. I don’t discriminate. Butterflies are one of those creatures whose mere existence makes life more livable. Even the ugly ones are beautiful.

I drew nearer to the butterflies skittering through the air, trying to see the patterns on their wings and saw that these were the biggest, ugliest, nastiest moths I had ever seen. I fear that not only could they put holes in my clothes, they could put holes in me. They are truly awful. And now, they just seem to be popping up everywhere. Run for your lives!


Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it. If I don’t write again before January, Happy New Year.


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