Saturday, March 7, 2009

Empty boxes

Hi folks,

Sincere apologies for holding you all with bated breath (note: this is the correct spelling....see for more information). That's a joke, since I presume very few people even think about my missing a few days.


Since I last wrote, I have returned to my wonderful home in Erbil, Iraq. My soccer field has turned a great green since I left on vacation, although the rain that has contributed to that also makes the underlying layer of soil a bit too wet to play on the field just yet. We'll get started soon if the rain stays away for a few days.

I wrenched my knee on a rough street on the first day I was back, so a little delay in starting the season gives me some time to rest, as well.

A few issues that have come to mind since I have been back:

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Please use your own fabric/plastic/whatever shopping bags when you go to the grocery store, and use a water filter and a reusable bottle for water. I see so much plastic trash here in Erbil, mostly bags and bottles. And I think about my old stomping grounds in SW Washington, along the Anacostia river (the most polluted on the East Coast), where storm drains clogged with plastic grocery bags resulted in raw sewage spilling into the river....

DO NOT rely on those bins in front of the grocery stores in which you are supposed to put your used, un-needed shopping bags, ostensibly for recycling. Many of the stores just dump them in landfills despite their PR programs.

Sudan: Bashir is a madman, and I am afraid we may see a river of blood, even bigger than we have seen so far. I have not heard specifics from my colleagues and former colleagues who have been working there as to what this means for their projects, but I don't imagine there could be any good news. Be prepared for another round of genocide, ala Rwanda.
The Economy: While most of us don't have lots of spare capital at this point, conventional financial wisdom tells me that whatever spare capital you do have should go into the market now. Buy low, sell high. I am not a licensed financial planner, but I do have a sense that things will start to turn around as the 'stimulus package' starts to kick in. I personally don't think that the market will go much lower. All that said, the most important financial action anyone can take is to get the heck out of debt (except insured college loans, etc.).

Whatever you do, don't buy GM, Citi, or AIG. Get index funds that benefit from more healthy companies' performance. It's too late to buy gold.

Toilets in Iraq: I have held off on this topic for some time, because I wasn't sure folks would understand. But since this is a grab-bag issue, I will share it with you.

Over here, most toilets are what we might commonly call 'Turkish toilets'--basically a hole in the floor with some porcelain around it over which you squat and do your business. The procedure is delicate, to say the least. You use a regular flush tank to push it all into the septic system, and then you have a hose with a kitchen-sprayer-type attachment to make sure you leave the place clean.

We also have 'Western toilets', although the flush tanks are much smaller than necessary, as a rule. In these types of bathrooms, you also have a hose with a sprayer, which is actually a pretty good way of making sure the bowl is clean--probably more hygienic than the traditional toilet brush.

The funny thing, and the whole point of this story, is that it is considered proper etiquette to leave drops of water on the toilet seat to show that it has been properly cleaned. Look for these drops of water before you sit down. The yellow drops are not part of the etiquette.

Ok, now the marquee story, and the best joke of a sad day in world affairs:

Empty boxes:

Our training center has benefited from some unilateral initiatives on the part of the University where we are based. One of these is the installation of big street-light posts all around the building. They dug trenches, laid the cables, poured concrete foundations for the poles, erected 25-foot lamp-poles, and then curiously delivered the products you see below.

Empty Street Light Cases.

We've had a few good laughs looking at this process.

That's the last joke of the day!

Love and Peace to all!

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