Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HAB or CRAPpy business in Guyana

So, frustrated with the main freight-forwarders to Guyana- Laparkan who couldn't seem to keep track of more than three items at a time I went with a friend's suggestion and tried another company who keep advertising their freight-forwarding service. Their rates were slightly higher but comparable on enquiry by telephone.
Being a small business-owner I have more sympathy for the Mom and Pop businesses and appreciate the personal touch. Not so in Guyana! Small businesses tend to operate like fly-by-night affairs - generally exulting that they've suckered you in and don't expect to get repeat business.
So HAB have a system that they email you to say your stuff is at their office--in spite of previous instructions to consign the stuff. Knowing the American propensity for wastage-- I asked whether they could remove the Outer packaging to lessen the weight and waste-- after all they are smaller and should offer a more personal service! No go - not possible-- so was suitably shocked to discover that the final charges were over TWICE that of Laprakan. I mean there's no justification. On ringing to enquire, I was given a convoluted explanation of ignoring the actual gross weight and instead dividing  the total volume by 1.6 which basically arrived at the chargeable weight of almost three times the actual weight!  It's this coyness about what charges are that makes you feel there is a Rip-off system in place, especially as Laparkan are only interested in the actual weight or the actual volume, and readily said over the telephone said the Gross weight would be the higher figure!
The poor staff were unable to give a decent explanation as it seems to be the brainchild of someone in Miami with and overinflated estimation of their abilities and value!
Caveat emptor!  (Although no longer applied in consumer law, the principle of caveat emptor is generally held to apply to transactions between businesses unless it can be shown that the seller had a clear information advantage over the buyer that could not have been removed by carrying out reasonable due diligence)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Leadership

Although audience numbers have dwindled per blog since starting, got two different requests to blog on Leadership. Interesting series of papers by Alban-Metcalfe sent by a MSc hopeful clarifies some pertintent issues and quite interesting to relate to the Guyana situation.
So, as common with students today, I shall engage on wholesale tiefing of ideas to summarise the five main stages of Leadership:
1 (circa 1930's) -  'The great man' stage
2 (circa 1950's) - managerial and later leadership competencies, then behavioural theories arising.
3 Situational and contingency models
4 (circa 1970/80) - defining organisational reality
5 (now-ish) - engaging leadership

Several things stand out-- 'that being competent is necessary but not sufficient for Leadership'; 'also the possession of certain qualities and values is necessary, but not sufficient, for achieving success. If a leader is to be successful, they must learn to use their personal qualities and other attributes in certain ways, and to apply their values.'
A fine balance needs to be had between being competent at achieving goals and engaging/motivating  the rest of the staff to foster a strong 'team spirit' for the betterment of the Organisation as you may have someone who shows great concern for others, and creates a supportive environment in which all staff are valued, but is unable to deliver what is required of them in terms of achieving goals or meeting agreed targets on time. Such a person’s style of leadership is highly engaging, but they show a low level of competency as a leader.
Coincidentally I was half-asleep when an episode of the Mahabharata was showing on TV and it was at the part when Krishna was explaining the Gita and explained that a self-realised Man would do the right thing without looking for personal gain-- which approximates to Plato's Philosopher-King who would stand apart and do 'the right thing'. Sadly for Guyana none such exist!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield

An interesting if a bit hocus-pocus-y read. Anyone familiar with Eastern religion and Philosophy would recognise many of the Key Ideas or insights.
He made it into an Indiana-Jones type story but seemed a bit undecided about the 'Love/Sex' interest. Bearing in mind that the book was first published in 1994, I was impressed that there was a fairly strong environmental message about the relation of Virgin forests and mountains to humans. It may be coincidental that in a short time I will be experiencing just that- which is exactly the first insight- coincidences.  I thought the first insight would make those suffering from Paranoia feel justified so at least one group of people would be happy!
The attempt of the Catholic Church to prevent the publishing of the last Insight eeriely echoed the attempts of the early Church to suppress the Gospels of Mary Magdalene, Judas and Thomas - a documentary I saw a couple of weeks ago:  http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/beyond-belief/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+TopDocumentaryFilms+%28Top+Documentary+Films+-+Watch+Free+Documentaries+Online%29



Tuesday, June 21, 2011

LORD help us...


I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the Headline in today's SN- Canadian crime prevention expert shot and robbed-- I opted for the former-- and it immediately brought to mind the local Head of Security at the US Embassy being kidnapped while playing golf on the East Coast during the 2002 Crime Spree or one of the periodic upheavals of crime associated with impending Elections.
So this guy, an ex-policeman from Canada who's a Crime Prevention Advisor to the UN, went on his regular evening jog on the (Sea)Wall near UG and was accosted by two men, one of whom unfortunately had a gun and shot him in the thigh at the relatively busy time of 6pm last sunday... and all for a mere iPod.
The foreigners have the option to leave but this continues to stress the rest of the Population and interestingly, SN-- the harbinger of Bad News-- had an editorial that the Government seems to be in denial about the burgeoning Crime--- but excuse me-- aren't they the same people stoking the flames when things get out of control?? Needless to say, a comprehensive plan can't work when the problem of youngsters without the basic Math and English, never mind the moral values are not available! It is fairly depressing to hear from foreign volunteers here to train the 'locals' that they have to 'dumb-down' their program and virtually beg the few to even turn-up regularly!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Turtle-Spotting Weekend

Guyana's north-eastern Coastline, being relatively unpopulated with people is the Nesting Ground for four of the World's seven marine turtles- being the Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Oliver Ridley ones.
A solar-panelled station had recently been set up which doubles up as housing for a couple of Wardens, but set in the grounds of the de Freitas family who basically run the Guyana Marine Turtle Association. There seemed to be about six to ten families living on the beach-- and I have to hand it to them as I didn't see any netting in a couple of the houses I peeked into -- as the mosquitoes are the persistent, aggressive, black type common to New Amsterdam and who were a serious deterrent to any activity not undertaken under a netting!!
We had Beginner's Luck to come across two 5-footer Leatherbacks actually laying eggs on our 7-12pm patrol and we spotted two in the water-- one untagged one who ventured too near a populated area and one tagged one who swam away from the over-enthusiastic efforts of the youngsters to find the tag! The young part-time Warden who came with us noticed a trail from hatchlings and the accompanying paws of marauding dogs leading down to the shoreline and he traced back the nesting site and dug for any survivors-- we were thrilled to find three live baby Leatherbacks and one dying one. My baby Leatherback got all excited to hear the Ocean and carried out some strong Flying manoeuvres, so I went down to release him but was told the Cuirass- a type of ocean catfish - would be lurking to feed off the stragglers from the Nest. The rest of the youngish group, contrary to any conservation idea of little or no interaction with the Wildlife, had fun 'playing' with the babies and I think must have confused the s--- out of them by picking them up just when they reached the waterline to do the turtle equivalent of petting and laughing at their innate 'flying' movements. One little hatchling had the light shone of him for an extended period and he circled in and out of the water in confusion-- the warden -- being a 'nice' Guyanese guy didn't say anything but later told me that we could have blinded them by shining the strong LED lights on them directly! Sigh-- we still have a far way to go as I noticed that the innate Guyanese habit of littering -- was exhibited by the Warden himself, a native of the populated coastline- as he threw away the plastic covering of a sweetie wrapper-- which I'm sure I remember reading that the turtles swallow and choke to death by mistaking for Jellyfish! *
So-- it's the 20th Century problem spilled over to the 21st Century --- the effects of man and domesticated animals on the Wild Beasts-- as the warden said he estimated about 50% of the Eggs laid are destroyed by Man (people pay up to three times more for a turtle egg in the nearest largest town), their domesticated and feral dogs and Natural Predators - like Ghost Crabs and Carrion Crows ( local name for common vulture); leaving one in a thousand eggs to develop to Mature Adult.
Coincidentally this article came to my attention: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/nature/oceans-on-brink-of-catastrophe-2300272.html

* The area there is referred to as Shell Beach - for the obvious reason that there were shells on the beach-- but it reminded me of how the Georgetown Seawall used to be when I was a child. It was sad to notice that there were beginning to be signs of the pollution of Plastic bottles that has become such a common sight in Georgetown.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Recklessness...

... well, we're reaping what we sow.. took my parent's car to fix a puncture and it had the unusual feature of shorter Lugs for the spare as the rim was different-- now WHAT asinine manufacturer would dream up THAT and why?? The tyre was damaged beyond repair and as the spare was being mounted, the 'boy' at the Repair Shop proceeded to force in the last Lug-- I began to feel unease as I had changed several wheels in my lifetime and it was a relatively simple procedure- not requiring such Brute force-- I tried half-heartedly to halt the process  and say just leave the lug/nut sticking out the last centimetre or so, but was overruled by the brash confidence of Youth!
Was then unable to reverse the car because the extended lug was jamming the Handbrake/ brake-drum-- all the lugs came out except that last one-- they were scared to air-gun it as they felt it would break in the slot and instead took an hour to work it back and forth! It finally emerged damaged beyond repair, but worryingly-- I am keeping my fingers crossed that the thread of the hole is also not damaged beyond repair!!
I think this highlights the common experience in Guyana and the wider world that perhaps 85% of things can be carried out with little or no training but it's the crucial 15% that requires commonsense and expensive training to know your limits and when to stop.

Interesting letter in today's paper: which graphically illustrates this - http://www.stabroeknews.com/2011/opinion/letters/06/15/the-main-reason-for-guyana’s-low-average-growth-rate-is-that-total-factor-productivity-has-been-mostly-negative

- that people will be trapped in third-rate jobs and private-sector will be reduced to reselling goods and not producing- if we're not already there.
* A BBC radio program talking about the emergence of Biomass (composting) fuel noted that regular electricity was a pre-requisite for development and that with an emerging Middle-Class the taxation base is significantly increased so that Government can fund its own road and other programs.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

My Wardrobe, My Right

This is a short documentary produced by SASOD, one of the more pro-active organisations in Guyana.
It pushes the boundaries of what sort of Society we want to live in by briefly following the lives of two Cross-dressers who both felt prostitution was the only job open to them-- I  took a brief moment to consider whether I would employ them in the office and thought their personalities were probably too big to do the job properly and then the job would become about them and not the work-- interesting that other self-employment options like farming didn't seem to occur to them.... but I digress.

Gulliver looked really attractive and hailed from Buxton, but I felt the producer dwelt too long on him putting on his make-up. I really sympathised with him to come from a family of boys and know that he wanted to sneak on his mom's black New Year's dress but would be castigated.  Peaches had some moral support from his sister/s and he related how the Police campaign to keep them off the Streets resulted in them having to put up Bail money each night and then be held without charges while enduring the ribbing of the Police. I felt annoyed that the Police would waste their time on 'soft' targets while more serious crimes merited the attention of the CID. As usual it's selective use of which Laws the authorities want to enforce. The magistrate also sounded very foolish to advise them to put God in their life-- as if THAT would then make them more acceptable to her and change their sexual orientation!  The SASOD spokesperson was able to give his point of view that morality was not a basis for Law-making and cultural beliefs, and that an objective basis was needed to make Laws and Public Policies. Mmm, who decides objective?

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Was surprised to discover this book was required reading for 15yr olds in the US and France as I thought the ideas might be lost on callow youths and perhaps scar them for life with the very French, cynical views on life.

I thought the book was about the sad life of mediocre Charles and wondered whether Emma- Madame Bovary could really be THAT self-destructive, as being an ambitious, savvy, social-climbing farm-girl, I had my doubts whether she would recklessly proceed to complete financial ruin. Somehow women are not THAT stupid - I mean they'll get into deep waters and then pull back. I lost any sympathy for her at her cold attitude towards her child who ended up in The Poor House being exploited for child-labour.
I wondered if the book was also making a commentary about women who took control of their sexuality - resulting in the ultimate salvation being a handful of arsenic- as mediocre Charles must have been a dullard also in bed and I really can't hold it against her for seeking outside affairs-- sounds like she got it right with Leon - but then I couldn't figure out the whole fantasy thing of buying expensive stuff for her lovers as she surely lived in the era when it was the other way around!
I was a bit depressed at the end as the Baddies 'won' - Lheureux established a regional company and Homais became the chief medical 'expert' in the village and won a National Award- and it seemed to reflect well the Guyana situation, making me feel the only salvation is a handful of Arsenic, but the death was so long and melodramatic I wouldn't do THAT!




Friday, June 10, 2011

Translation of an Indian Prayer


This reminded me of what the nuns at my Catholic primary School were trying to instill in us - guess some things are universal.
O Lord Thou art the ultimate creator of all things.� I respect your power.
Lord Thou hast given me this unique and wonderful body.
Grant me the power to use it for the good of all mankind.
Lord this incomparable intellect that Thou hast bestowed on me, grant me the power to use it always in the best possible way.
Lord there is no way to count the gifts Thou hast bestowed on me so I bow my head in all humility with gratefulness.
Grant me the power to do what is right and keep everyone in this world happy,healthy and prosperous.
Let there be peace all around

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Fishies...

Thanks to the Government's far-reaching and well-thought-out scheme (sic) I'm sitting in my office with no business apart from the dreaded Paperwork which I am happy to shelve at a moment's notice to go and see the fishies on a boat just in from a Fishing Trip.

 The cages are funnelled interiorly to prevent the fishes from swimming out and as my receptionist said-- stupid fish-- why did they swim in in the first place!?
Cages marked by buoys on the ocean floor are winched up, the catch sorted and frozen down in the Hold.
Fairly low-tech way of sorting, loading the baskets, weighing and then loading the trucks!

Very pretty fish but the shark sadly lost his face and fins in quick time!
With the declining fish stocks the Fish market is booming but not too sure if we can protect our stocks from the High-Tech countries where the demand is ever-growing!
Grunt
Angel Fish


Plate-sized Red Snapper

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Great Learning happens in Groups

An anti-establishment teacher frustrated with 'system' and also with a huge ego problem, has been- quite rightly- asking what's wrong with our Education System. I could tell her in a short answer-- lack of adequate funds to pay for quality education... like a lot of things.. the horrible 'slave' mentality of someone else providing the grunt work and paying the locals to 'work' raises it's ugly head. Unlike Singapore which identified early-on that the way ahead for a small nation was to be highly educated and luckily for them - their investment paid off as technology boomed.
So I digress- this is an interesting video by an Educator looking at what's wrong with the system-- however he hasn't put forward any alternatives-- suggestions anyone?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U&feature=youtu.be

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

A thought-provoking book on the whole meaning of Life.
A sensitive 15yr old gets initiated into sex by a secretive older woman. Although we later learn that she is illiterate, she makes a life-time impression on him as they connect mentally also but she always retains the 'upper-hand' in the relationship, keeping him constantly on the defensive. He is fairly devastated just when he's beginning to step-out on his own, she leaves without any clues when she's going. He internalises this, not knowing that in fact, she's running from the shame of possible discovery that she's illiterate. This idea seems rather dated in current Guyana, as people manage just fine, but I liked the line in the book--pg 188:  'Illiteracy is dependence.' It reinforces the Keats' line 'Much have I travelled in the realms of gold...'

The second part of the book has Michael as a student lawyer observing the trial of Hanna, where he realises that she's illiterate, but for various convoluted reasons, the main one being his philosopher-father's - that one should respect another's boundary- he elects to do nothing. I felt it was cowardly of him and eight years later, after the break-up of a rather cold marriage, he begins to send Hanna tape-recordings of various books. She uses these to teach herself to read and after writing him Thank-you notes, yearns for further contact but he is trapped in the shield he has put up to prevent further hurt after his encounter with her! It's a sad,vicious circle of missed opportunity- as in Life.
I liked the sub-storyline of the next generation coping with the awful truth of what roles their parents played during the war from a German angst-ridden point of view, having being exposed to an unrepentant viewpoint that the Jews deserved all they got and the media never missing an opportunity to pound the awful things done to the Jews while totally missing that Jews are doing the same unrepentantly to the Palestinians. It's a funny old world.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Macushi Lecture

Interesting snippets of information given  by a Brazilian student about the Macushi (one of the nine indigenous tribes of Guyana)- shame it couldn't have been a Guyanese student, but the anthropology associate course at UG doesn't look like it'll even get off the ground.
He started by giving the historical background that Montaigne so detested-- 16th century Europeans considering the lands occupied by the Indians as vacant as only Christians were considered legitimate people. Spain and Portugal created a treaty to divvy-up the world including the northern part of South American. Thanks to the machinations of the English, who moved their Protestant missionaries in, we were able to claim part of Roraima as Guiana in front of Italian judges back in the day.
The Macushi's legend of their formation is that Makonaima, the first being, noticed a forest animal sleeping with the remains of strange fruits in his mouth. So he follows it secretly to the Tree of Life which has all the  fruits growing on it limbs-- sort of Magic Far-away tree (see Enid Blyton). And what do you think he does next?? --- bearing in mind this is back in the day when men were macho alpha dogs, not the namby-pamby, save-the-tree, look-I'm-a-New-Man-but I'm-not-doing-any-Housework-being --- yep-- chops it down! So THAT's why boys and girls Mount Roraima looks like a tree stump and the area above the Rupununi is so forested cos it represents the canopy of the 'tree'.  After wukkin' up an appetite, he then makes a 'clay' woman, but unlike the Japanese blow-up 'comfort' doll, this one produces the Macushi tribe.  Are we sure we want to hand over Forest Management to these people?
I was amused that the student reported that they looked down on the White Man as being physically weaker, but with stronger weapons (see Guns, Germs and Steel) and where the Macushi take poisoned food and turn it edible, White People( and I suppose the others aping him) take edible food and turn it to poison! Very apt considering my previous Blog.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Food Foolishness

The current E.coli outbreak in Germany and subsequent destruction of beleaguered Spain's fruits and vegetables only goes to show how increasingly fragile the food chain is getting. Contrary to the multi-national Food Giants, there should be an argument for countries to provide at least 50% of their food requirements! Both from a health point of view (fresh produce retain more of the 'good stuff') and an economic one if one were to factor in the true transport costs. Granted most things can be produced cheaper on a larger scale, from a point of view of soil exhaustion surely that cannot be a good thing in the long run?
As a child growing up in the urban area of Guyana, most houses had land for one or two fruit trees - the idea of fresh and organic was not even an issue! We have now moved completely away from that. The markets are inundated with over-priced foreign mass-produced stuff-- wax-coated apples which turn soft if left unrefrigerated overnight. An American friend complained about the tasteless carrots imported from the US that are available here  - I told him I was puzzled that we didn't import/smuggle  from Venezuela as I remembered how good their locally-grown fruits and vegetables were! A local company started growing vegetables in a large scale for the Export market but due to transport costs they had to stop. Trinidad apparently would be willing to buy tomatoes but found our varying quantities and qualities too difficult to deal with! While in a stop-over to NY I was astonished that Trinidad was exporting what seemed like a container of large-leafed spinach - and we have more land in Guyana but can't organise that?
An article in an English newspaper ( http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/johann-hari/johann-hari-its-not-just-dominique-strausskahn-the-imf-itself-should-be-on-trial-229227) notes that the IMF had prevailed on Malawi to sell their stockpile of food to private companies and when the crops failed the following year, partially because the IMF then insisted on removing the subsidies on fertilisers to the farmers, it precipitated a huge Famine.
Then too, it's education - our Amerindian people have to work very hard to get produce from the land in some instances and with lots of time on their hands - make their traditional foods. The younger generation don't have time for THAT- neither back-breaking farming work or producing the traditional foods so their diet is changing/has changed. Sadly they seem to be in no-man's land - a few reaching the dizzyingly heights of urban Georgetown  but most seeing their opportunity doing a few short-term stints working in a mining camp, with no long-term goal in sight. As in Berbice, the children of farmers do not want to be farmers but then don't have the education or discipline to settle down to being employed by a larger concern.
 A friend who has land with many fruit trees said that it was too much trouble to employ youngsters or indeed find reliable people so he preferred to let it all rot! I hope he was just winding me up!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

No Difference between Countries!

Interesting program on Al-Jazeera, thanks to improved technology: http://stream.aljazeera.com/episode/5216 , after the first 13 minutes.

I really admired the thoughts and analysis of the young female journalist, Sana Saleem who commented that there was lack of clarity and coherence in the Public Discourse between the difference factions on the way ahead. I think this has been the problem of all Third World countries and not helped by continual interference by other countries with their own agendas!
It's interesting the panel discussing this problem noted that the Leaderless revolutions of Tunisia and Egypt have been hijacked and really evolution is always more preferable and the ultimate losers are the regular Public!