Just taking a little detour from focusing solely on #COVID19Chronicles to clear my mind of some other things I want to explore.
My good friend and former IMF colleague, Wayne Camard (@WayneCamard), posted a story on Facebook, recently, about some memorable moments in his life as an IMF economist. Like him, I’ve had people suggest I write a book about my experiences; still resisting. But, I may do a series of recollections, as a start.
I remember a story about Wayne, in Riga, Latvia, after a lunch with officials and a lot of vodka with the many toasts. I’m not going to tell the best part, but let’s leave it that it involved a van ride back to the hotel and Wayne did not make the afternoon meetings. 🙂 He has no recollection of the events, he told me (I’ve since reminded him of the details, in private); for me, they’re vivid, and my wife, also once an IMF economist has heard the story many times. Wayne is still held in high public regard, so let me not put that in jeopardy with any tell-all reports 🙂
But, of my past, what stands out? Two little tales, for starters, far apart in time and in terms of what happened.
I told a friend last week about my first trip to Uganda, in 1992, and being met at the airport by a man from the central bank, who asked me if I “had seen a white man on the plane?” I said no. He was perplexed and then said the man was coming from Washington DC, the IMF. I asked him if the man’s name was Mr. Jones. “Yes! That’s it!” Well, I let him have his few seconds of pause and then offered my hand and said “Here I am!” His ‘oh my gosh!’ expression was priceless.
I spent two weeks in Kampala, working mainly at the central bank trying to identify their foreign reserves—they thought they had a lot more foreign assets than was the case. It still had many signs of its civil war-torn past (1980-86), eg broken traffic lights. I loved the sense of familiarity of the place, with clear echoes of Jamaica, though food was markedly different. I discovered matoke (plantain and beef stew), the national dish. I also discovered the cost of telephone piracy when my hotel phone bill after a couple of nights was over US$1000: the phone company was recouping losses from years of piracy 😦
At the other extreme, was my time as resident representative in the Republic of Guinea, 2003-7. During 2005, my father came to visit and we did a bit of touring to the Fouta Djallon, without Therese, where we climbed Mount Nimba (a mountain made of iron ore) in my Toyota Land Cruiser and my father climbed down a steep rope ladder in the hills. My father had the time of his life, and my daughter, Rhian, then about 18 months, was a good traveller, though sometime in a stroller.
On our way back from Labe, fighting had broken out between students and government troops, and we made a hasty exit to the sound of gunfire in the town centre. We met road blocks and traffic detours on the way back to Conakry. I got a call from my good friend in the French military that diplomatic staff could head to the evacuation rendezvous point at the French embassy, if desired. He gave me a rundown of happenings in the capital. As we came to the city limit (Kilomètre 36), we passed easily but soon met boulders in the road and could see tyres or debris burning in the distance. My driver lived that side of the city and I asked him if he wanted to head home; he said no, as his son would go our our house and meet him on a motor bike. I then asked our nanny (who is still with us as a housekeeper in Jamaica) if she wanted to get off and head home; she did. As we went on, with no idea if we would get by without incident . At one point, when some students approached our car, but with no threat, my father piped up “This has been a great trip!” No kidding, Dad! We got home safely and retold our stories to my wife and put the baby to bed and had a good drink.
I struggle to find anything about such activities in my employment contract. But, I have plenty of reasons to say I really had the time of my life in Guinea.