Travel and Culture

How to Travel Alone, pt. 1

The following is part one of a three-part post about the joys of solo travel. “It seemed an advantage to be traveling alone. Our responses to the world are crucially moulded by the company we keep, for we temper our curiosity to fit in with the expectations of others…Being closely Read more…

Social Enterprise

Thoughts on Rugged Altruism

One sign that the U.S. political scene has reached rock bottom is David Brooks writing one of his weekly columns about development workers in Nairobi.  In “The Rugged Altruists,” Brooks discusses the virtues possessed by three smart, young development workers in the course of doing this work. The first is Read more…

Travel and Culture

Dispatch From a Shrinking Planet

“I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

Develop Economies, the alter ego for my life on the road, is almost a year and a half old.  I’ve been to three continents, eleven countries, and spent too many hours in buses, planes, ferries, and motorbikes.  And the people I have met along the way have been memorable. [caption id="attachment_2459" align="alignright" width="180" caption="A cliff in Malapascua"][/caption] In the Philippines, I spent most of my time with Filipinos, a handful of laid-back Australians in their 20’s and 30’s, a crew of Germans fresh out of high school living on farms and teaching Aikido to street kids, sampling their first taste of freedom and being of legal drinking age in a country where liquor are cheap, and a few American Peace Corps volunteers who, for the most part, are still there and are having an increasingly difficult time finding a reason to leave.  I spent a lot of time in the bush, with loan officers from my MFI, at the bar with my co-workers, or at Siberia with the Germans, the only serious night club in town (I’m not much of a clubber, but I tend to do what the Romans do, and Germans go clubbing).  In fact, I was never a huge fan of Germans for obvious historical reasons until I met some awesome ones running around the Philippines.  Now, I’m sold. Halfway through, a few friends who were teaching in South Korea came to visit.  I flew back from a conference in Manila, met them at the Bacolod port, boarded the last ferry to Iloilo at 5 PM, and killed time playing cards at the bar until 3 AM, when the first van left for the island paradise and party hotspot of Boracay.   When we finished the would-be six-hour drive three hours later thanks to the huevos of steel borne by the driver, the room wasn’t ready so I called it a night and went to sleep at 7 AM on the beach. [caption id="attachment_2464" align="aligncenter" width="604" caption="Sunset in Boracay. I'm the second from the left."][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_2465" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="On the boat, Malapascua Island, Cebu, Philippines"][/caption] At the end of my time there, I took a whirlwind scuba-diving trip around the country, exploring sunken WWII Japanese warships in a town called Coron off the coast of Palawan, where the novel, “The Beach” supposedly drew its inspiration.  I came face-to-face with a four-meter manta ray who’d come to get so fresh and so clean at a shoal in Malapascua off the coast of Cebu.  The day before, I was surrounded by a school of sardines – millions of them – in Moalboal, a beach town eight hours south on the western coast of Cebu.  I mostly traveled alone, and met some cool people along the way.  I dove with a woman representing Slovenia at the World Expo in Shanghai, a professor of comparative religion in Germany, an Italian banker, and some Filipino rastas who happened to be Rotarians.  Diving is a great way to meet people, since you’re out on a boat in the middle of the ocean for eight hours a day, three days in a row, with nothing to do but eat, drink, share stories and play cards.  In fact, some of my best memories are from either from the deck of a boat in the Pacific Ocean, or the bungalows and beachfront bars where I spent most of my nights. (more…)

Travel and Culture

Music in Ghana: High Life, Hip Life, and Gospel

As a generalization, African music is some of the best in the world.  In fact, most of the rest of the best music in the world is derived from African music, in one way or another.  Jazz, blues, bluegrass, rock and roll, and reggae can trace their roots to an African lineage.  I’m not sure why the number of African bands to make it on a global scale is so limited, but it is a missed opportunity.  Graceland by Paul Simon put Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the map, in part because the release of the album happened during apartheid, but also because the music was so good.  Fela Kuti, the Nigerian protest singer, and Oliver Mtukudzi from Zimbabwe, and Osibisa from Ghana (and other places), all have epic catalogues, but their international success puts them in the minority.  So, now that I have left Ghana, it is a good time for me to give a rundown of the music I’ve been listening to for the last six months. High Life: High life is among the most popular styles of music in Ghana.  It is breezy and upbeat with a quick drum line.  The most famous highlife group is called Osibisa.  It is an old school throwback band from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s.  The core members are Ghanaians who studied music in the UK and formed an international super-group comprised of different nationalities. 1.  Osibisa - "Sunshine Day" (more…)

Development Economics

CNN is a Joke

CNN is supposed to be a serious news outlet.  To see its penchant for outrageous self-calls, one need look no further than its slogan, "the worldwide leader in news." Of course, it's not, and never has been.  If BBC and Al Jazeera are Hemingway, CNN is R.L. Stine (though CNN International, and specifically Fareed Zakaria, are pretty good).  But, the website component of CNN, makes the television network look like The Sun Also Rises. Its hard-hitting news stories, with titles like "Zsa Zsa Gabor to be a mother at 94?," and a section between the "Opinion" and "Travel sections called "The Royal Wedding," have led me to check my pre-conceived notions about the worldwide leader and take it with a grain of salt.  But something I read today was truly pathetic.  CNN has re-posted an article from Vice magazine, a hipster bible, with the following caption:

The staff at has been intrigued by the journalism of Vice, an independent media company and Web site based in Brooklyn, New York. is Vice's site devoted to the overlap between culture and technology. The reports, which are being produced solely by Vice, reflect a very transparent approach to journalism, where viewers are taken along on every step of the reporting process. We believe this unique approach is worthy of sharing with our readers.
For one thing, I can't stand hipsters.  But that is an aside.  The article is titled "Inside the Criminal World of Ghana's Email Scam Gangs." It details the rise of internet scamming in West Africa, and Ghana in particular.  The authors - in a hip, "I care about shit, but I don't give a fuck" kind of way - talk about something called Sakawa, which is a specific Internet scam:
In the same way that hip-hop went from a music style into a descriptor for everything from pants to dancing to potato chips, Sakawa (which originally referred to a specific credit card scam) now means pretty much anything involving money -- if you wear a bunch of flashy brand-name clothes you're dressing "Sakawa," if you've got a nice car it's a "Sakawa" car -- all of which makes sense considering internet scamming is the only way most Ghanaians can afford this.

Foreign Policy

Islam is a Religion of Peace

On long bus rides and flights (of which there have been many during the last 18 months of traveling through Asia and Africa, for a combined total of at least 200 bus-hours), I listen to podcasts.  It is a way of depositing knowledge into my brain while still admiring the scenery.  The one I listen to the most is an NPR podcast called "Intelligence Squared." It is described as "Oxford-style debating on America's shores." It is both intellectually-stimulating and fits well with my strict "Buy American" policy. Most recently, I made a 13-hour bus ride from Accra, the capital city of Ghana, which lies on the coast of West Africa, to Tamale, the capital city of the Northern Region.  In West Africa, the percentage of Muslims increases as you get closer to North Africa.  So, in order to stimulate the brain waves and get mentally prepared for being in a predominantly Muslim area, I listened to an episode of Intelligence Squared in which teams of two debated the following motion: "Islam is a religion of peace."  The debaters ranged from a former jihadist turn peace activist who realized, after going through a period of anger, that his interpretation of Islam as providing a mandate for militancy was all wrong.  On the other side of the debate, a Somali immigrant who had lived under the terrible influence of Al Shabab stressed the point that many passages in the Koran advocate violence and any interpretation of the religion must take this salient point into account.  It was an interesting debate. My personal opinion has always been that Islam is a religion of peace.  To pull particularly violent passages from the Koran and use them as evidence of Islam's fundamental commitment to violence is fair, I suppose.  But applying the same rubric to the Old Testament of the New Testament leads to the obvious conclusion that Judaism and Christianity are also not religions of peace.  And looking at Christianity's long history of violence, like the Crusades, leads to the same conclusion.  Another argument presented as evidence against the motion is that a religion is judged by the actions of its followers.  Even if most of the Muslims in the world are moderate in ideology and peaceful in nature, the actions of Jihadists and fundamentalist Muslims speak for the religion as a whole.  Again, looking at Sinn Fein in Ireland and the violence between Protestants and Catholics, or at the Jewish Defense League, which is effectively a terrorist organization, leads to the same inevitable conclusion.  So, in short, the arguments may be salient, but the ultimate conclusion is that no religion is one of peace.  (Actually, the bible has twice as many violent passages of the Koran, but, on a percentage basis, the Koran actually wins). (more…)