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Archive for August, 2009

Via Matt Yglesias via Brad DeLong, we find the following chart from one of the UC professor’s lectures:

housing

I did some quick googling, and found the following current statistics for Rwanda (these are based on total population, not households, and many of them are from newspapers, so beware).

Rwanda Development

Many people separated from us geographically are poor, and we profess to care about them and even pity them. Many people separated from us in time are poor, but we don’t care about them much, despite the fact that our actions can have far more impact on them. This is not the point I’d thought I’d make when I began this post.

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As far as I can tell, the standard lodging for an expat of any financial means in Kigali is much the same as mine: a room rented in a 3-4 bedroom house on a gated property with a couple housestaff. For most the living arrangement is a sharp departure from home, and ironically, it is in particular ways posher.

My living situation is a bit peculiar because I rent a room from American couple who live several hours away in southwest Rwanda where they are country directors for an NGO. The Kigali house serves, inter alia, as a traveler’s rest for any of the NGO staff who are in town. Thus, even when I’m the only tenant (as was the case for the past few weeks), the house is often not mine alone.

Much like a good conversationalist, every house in Rwanda has its idiosyncrasies, and it takes some time to figure out what they are. Overnight guests by their nature don’t know about nor have the incentive to deal with the house’s vagaries, which can be frustrating for longer lodgers like me. In an attempt to correct this problem, I blew the dust off my copy of The Transient Bible and posted a few relevant passages around the house. The text is an amalgam of the King James, Spurgeon, and a touch of The Music Man:

Insodus 4:12-14

In this house are many rooms: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a bathroom for you, at the other end of the hall.

And if I go and prepare a bathroom for you, I will use mine, and thou thine; that where I am, ye are not there.

Man’s law thou mayest break, and bear the penalty; but if thou breakest this the penalty is too heavy for thy soul to endure; it will sink thee like a mill-stone lower than the lowest hell. Take heed of this command above every other, to tremble at it and obey it, for it is “the first commandment.”

Phileakians 3:4

Thy curtain thou shalt use, lest thy tub runneth over.

Phileakians 9:12

I the LORD thy God didst cleave the fountain and the flood: I driedst up mighty rivers. Thou wilt do the same, if thou dost not take care tightly to turn off the kitchen faucet’s flow.

Loomentations 8:7

My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and have forsaken to jiggle the toilet handle, leaving the cleansing waters ceaselessly to drain and the cistern empty on a Saturday night.

Ephreesians 18:11

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert hot.

The same goeth for thy bath water: if thou desireth that thy water warmeth thy soul, as is my command, then thou shalt plug in the pump underneath the water tank outside.

If my commandment thou dost not obey, and becometh lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Many of these passages do lose their relevance if your water goes out for the weekend, he added grumpily.

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An Economist leader this week criticizes Germany’s exportlust:

Yet Germany’s muscle-bound economy is also a victim of its exporters’ success. Global markets are volatile: the country’s current-account surplus has fallen by more than half from a mighty 8% of GDP in just a year. As the hard-earned surpluses piled up, they were invested in lower-quality foreign assets. Just ask the German banks that gave their money to those sharks on Wall Street, or the firms that splashed out on big acquisitions, like Chrysler. Germany seemed to forget that the point of exports is ultimately to pay for imports (see article).

That last bit contains a nice nugget of wisdom that seems obvious from an individual standpoint but is often lost when aggregated into national statistics. To a person, an export is something sold and an import is something bought; selling (exporting) is done to pay for stuff one is buying (importing). I for instance sell my labor to a small company, and the proceeds therefrom allow me to buy shelter, food, a new iPod, and so on; I produce in order to consume.

Yet when it comes to national economies,  production often becomes the champion.  What a country sells is deemed far more important than what it buys, and indeed, the more a country sells relative to what it buys (called a trade surplus) is a point of pride. On an individual basis however, this attitude could see one being vilified as a miser.

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I haven’t  learned much Kinyarwanda yet–French is far more useful on the margin–but after a colleague showed me a phrase book (a scanned page of which is below), I’m having second thoughts:

After all, what if I’m stuck helpless in a situation where the following phrase might be needed?

  • Of what use are these little things? Just take them.
  • Outside help comes when the rain is over.
  • I’d rather die than give it up.
  • I worked harder than the others, but you didn’t see it.
  • I’m wet (from the rain). I’m going to find shelter.
  • Who is the mother of this child?
  • It’s my paternal uncle that you saw, my maternal uncle is dead.
  • Learning to whistle skins the mouth.

And my personal favorite:

  • The child’s small hands deprive him of his share of the sorghum.

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