Snapped: Itanglish


Snapped from a display in the fortress of Senigallia, on Italy's East Coast. Read the first sentence... "a more than two thousandth anniversary of superimposition of subsequent interventions of the fortress"..

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Snapped: Penelope, a symbol of love

Penelope di Senigallia
Penelope di Senigallia

At the end of the pier in Senigallia (Eastern Italy), you will find Penelope. This statue symbolizes eternal love. Couples come from all over to hang padlocks with their names onto the chain strung around her, throwing the key into the sea.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Snapped: Steps near the breakwater

steps near the breakwater

Weathered steps onto the breakwater near Fano on Italy's Adriatic coast. The bright orange-red paint from the railing dripped off onto the wood. The paint mixed with the rust gave it almost an artificial feeling.
I love winter sea-sides! My favourite music this time of the year is Loreena McKennitt. Try this for size.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Life is too short

Life is too short

Drawing courtesy Gaping Void

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Snapped: An island in the mist

Theater in the sea, Senigallia Italy
The theater in Senigallia on the Adriatic coast of Italy. An island in the mist.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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The Monfort Plan: An interview

Jaime Pozuelo-MonfortYesterday, we had Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort introduce his new book, The Monfort Plan himself. Today, we are fortunate to catch him for an interview.

The Road: Reading through the dissertation, I see in front of me an idealist, a dreamer, a marketeer, and a politician. Which one are you?
Jaime: I am a realistic dreamer, a utopic idealist. I am the multidisciplinary European and an aspiring candidate to Chief Dreamer. Nothing can be proven if it is not implemented before. This is a Journey, the Journey of our lifetime. As such it may or may not lead to the final destination. We will know in 2050.

The Road: In what way does plan differ from all other attempts. What makes it unique?
Jaime: It incorporates imagination and creativity, suggests a realistic and implementable forward-looking action plan and proposes the best team of Expert Dreamers that have ever served the global public interest and a group of six countries that become the founding members of The New Architecture of Capitalism.

The Road: What are the 6 countries in subsaharan Africa do you have in mind you mention "that have shown their determination to build up a basis upon which they can prosper"
Jaime: From West to East: Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania and Madagascar

The Road: You make many analogies to the post WWII Marshall plan. But if anything, that was a massive injection of cash into a continent. A multitude of that amount has already been poured into Africa. Why has the impact been so small so far?
Jaime: Microfinance was not exploited. Economies of scale were not implemented. The middle man was not eliminated. The population was not incorporated to the vision. Developed countries did not reform areas such as trade or agriculture. The Bretton Woods Institutions did not help with their structural lending programs of the 1980s and 1990s. The Cold War fed and exacerbated the burden of civil wars.

The Road: If you would suggest a new cash injection, where would that come from, now that aid organisations are even struggling to meet the immediate short term needs.
According to FAO, 1/6th of the world population is hungry. Of which probably 150 million die if they did not receive food aid. But yet, aid organisations are unable to raise even enough cash to feed the dying. Nourish the sick. The L'Aquila promises all seem to be hot air.
Jaime: Innovative financing for development is an area that has not been much explored. I call it positive shock therapy. I call it the value of consensus. There are vast amounts of funds hungry to obtain higher returns with long-term opportunities. There are a myriad of new opportunities that the book will discover.

The Road: You mention microfinancing as part of your theory for economic development, including the development of the public sector. But microfinancing is based on individual entrepreneurship. It seems like the public sectors you mention are typically not individual neither entrepreneurship, but public services. How would you link those public services to the drivers of the success of microfinancing, which were "putting the initiative and responsibility on the individual"?
Jaime: Two different areas. The universalization of microfinance through two new organizations (Bank for the Poor and Yunus-Fund) focuses on microbusiness expansion. The delivery of global public goods aims at providing a social fabric that will contribute to building up an educated and healthy workforce from which entrepreneurs will arise.

The Road: Reading through your dissertation, it looks like you concentrate on politics, and global structures as the solutions.
Jaime: This is am ambitious vision that spans over forty years, the Glorious Forty and targets the eradication of extreme poverty through the increase of average incomes and the shrinkage of the global income distribution. Average incomes have to be boosted up and inequality has to be brought down.

The Road: You would like to start "a supranational organization that accepts new members on an ex-ante conditionality clause". I have visions of lavish state dinners and the typical political gatherings which mean nothing, change nothing, cost a lot. Name me one geo-political organisation that makes a change or has made a change in the past.
Jaime: European Union, SADC.

The Road: One of the theories going around is the that first world likes a poor Africa, likes conflict in mineral rich areas. It gives them cheaper access to the natural resources.
Jaime: I do not believe in conspiracy theories. I think our political and economic elites lack the vision of the great men of the 1940s and 1950s. I think we continue to maintain and perpetuate the national interest over the global interest. We must transition from a world that defends North-American or European nationals to a world where everyone has the opportunity to move forward. It may sound idealistic, I call it utopic.

The Road: Many regions of Africa are poor, simply because "the physical environment" does not allow prosperity. Desertification, continuous floods/droughts,.. Others because of the geo-political climate. Maybe it is no longer the battlefield of a cold war: communist versus capitalist countries, but a new hot war: christian versus muslim countries. All fought out in Africa?
Jaime: I think academia has shown that this is a myth. I think there has been a vision implemented for Western Europe. I think Western societies to which I belong lacked the ambition and the belief that change can be brought on board. There are solutions to the great evils of our time. We have simply ignored that creativity and imagination can propose forward-looking policies that tackle once and for all the very roots of poverty and conflict. There are interests nobody dared to touch. Incentives can be aligned between rich and poor to move forward together.

The Road: Let's take 3 troubled countries in Africa. Can you detail how your theory would aid DRC, Somalia, Darfur.
Jaime: Difficult. I argue that the six countries where the New Architecture of Capitalism may emerge are in the southern cone of Africa largely for three reasons: proven willingness to be part of an ex-ante conditionality scheme, low political risk and high peace index, and a recent history of supranational cooperation. In addition four of the six countries are categorized as Least Developed Countries according to the United Nations. It is important to first build up a successful pilot.

The Road: Your dissertation concentrates on Africa. How about poverty in the Middle East, Asia?
Jaime: If accomplished, the new scheme could enlarge to other candidate countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia.

The Road: Jaime, thanks for your time, and the best of luck with your book, and your endeavours!

Jaime graduated from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid in 2000 with a master’s and a bachelor’s in telecommunications engineering. He also studied two years as an exchange student at Télécom Paris and Universität Stuttgart. Subsequently he earned master’s degrees in business administration from Collège des Ingénieurs in Paris, in financial economics from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, in financial engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, in economic development from the London School of Economics, and in public administration from Columbia University.
He currently pursues a master’s in international law and politics at Georgetown University and a master’s in public health at the London School of Hygiene.
He has worked in the technology sector in Madrid, Stuttgart and Paris, and in the financial industry in New York City and London.
His interests lie in the interaction between financial economics and economic development. He is a columnist in written and electronic press.

"The Monfort Plan" is available via Amazon and Wiley Finance

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The Monfort Plan: Capitalism redefined

The Monfort PlanIt is not often we let authors present their own book, here on The Road. This time, I make an exception. It is not often we stumble upon books with new and positive ideas, after all.

When Jaime Pozuelo-Monfort told me about his new book, "The Monfort Plan" (available on Amazon and via Wiley Finance), I asked him two things: to summarize his book, and to answer a number of questions I have in an interview. Today, we feature Jaime's book summary:

The Monfort Plan (Wiley Finance, April 2010) presents the new architecture of a redefined capitalism. This summary piece introduces the five year action plan and explains why a new architecture may be needed in today’s environment.

Today’s capitalism is based on a vintage architecture that dates back to the 1940s and the American effort to pull the world away from Nazi Germany and Soviet communism. It was then when the four institutions of this old architecture were designed: the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations and the GATT. The old architecture designed by the Bretton Woods elites served a purpose: it contributed to the economic resurgence of Western Europe and brought peace to a continent that had fought wars for centuries.

Subsequent to the design of the new architecture the Truman Administration proposed and implemented the Marshall Plan, the plan for the economic recovery of 17 countries in Western Europe. The plan enabled the vision of Jean Monnet to come up with a European Community of Coal and Steel, the parent of the European Union. These were times of courage and vision. The great changes of the 1940s and 1950s were precipitated by the devastation of the two World Wars and the economic collapse of the Great Depression. The environment set the basis for thirty years of phenomenal economic growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

The second half of the twentieth century had two flavours that modeled the world's geo-political pattern of both Hemispheres: the cold war and the emergence of neoclassical economics fathered by Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan and implemented by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Neoclassical economics brought about an increasing mathematical sophistication where economic sub-fields such as financial economics prospered thanks to the work of gifted mathematicians such as Merton, Black or Scholes. Monodimensional utility functions prioritized profit maximization over other variables such as human dignity or environmental sustainability. Academia was captured in the allure of models. Our economic policy-makers were constrained by mathematical models that worked on paper.

We continued to live in the world of the nation-state that defends a realist foreign-policy agenda based on the welfare of its citizens and the non-cooperation of states. Priorities were national but not global. A silent cold war was fought in the Northern Hemisphere, with cruel civil wars taking place throughout the Second World War, aggravated by the supplies of either side.

Major changes have to be brought on board if the great evils of our time persist. Today’s world continues to be a world dominated by extreme poverty and inequality. Today’s world maintains a status quo where a vintage architecture works for the developed world. We are reluctant or unable to move forward because we are afraid of losing the privileges the old architecture awarded to the victors of World War II. We are unwilling to reform because our political elites are afraid to lose popular support if they remove agricultural subsidies, or give up representative power at the Bretton Woods Institutions.

When approaching the geo-political environment of a world in desperate need of creative policy-making it is easier to propose a radically different new architecture, designed to cope with the challenging and increasing problems of the planet, than it is to reform the current architecture. Today’s crisis opens up a window of opportunity where intellectual exercises that propose new ideas ought to be considered by our political elites. But this will not happen. There is a gap between the world of creative policy-making and the inability of our political elites to embrace change and reform. Our political elites continue to live in the world of the nation-state, where citizens reward myopic policy-making that prioritizes our interest over that of the vulnerable.
The reality is that there is only one way out of the crisis with many possible final destinations: we have to incorporate the extremely poor countries to a new order where we undertake reform conducent to the elimination of the great evils of our time.

The Monfort Plan proposes a five year action plan to redefine capitalism and eradicate extreme poverty. The Monfort Plan also presents the team of one hundred Expert Dreamers that could be brought on board to implement the action plan. The action plan gives specific detail on how to accomplish change starting in six countries of Subsaharan Africa that have shown their determination to build up a basis upon which they can prosper.

The Monfort Plan reviews and identifies today’s vulnerabilities and explains why the current order is perpetuated. It then proposes an Axis of Feeble that has to be defeated. In order to do so reform has to be brought on board of six areas, namely agriculture, trade and labour rights, extractive industries, small arms trade, international financial architecture and brain drain.

In the book the lessons from the success of the Marshall Plan are drawn. The action plan proposes a new Marshall Plan for Africa, called the Annan Plan that would boost agricultural productivity on Subsaharan African soil. It also proposes four new organizations that would universalize microfinancial services for the extreme poor in order to deliver, through the microfinance network, global public goods including universal healthcare, education, water and sanitation.

The Monfort Plan also proposes innovative financing that could contribute to creating the Poor’s Endowment able to finance the delivery of global public goods through the microfinance network over the next forty years.

The action plan seeks to replicate the success of the European Union in the development space. By creating a supranational organization that accepts new members on an ex-ante conditionality clause, developing countries could have a phenomenal incentive to embrace reform in order to join a new architecture that will deliver global public goods for free to all the extreme poor for for the next forty years, or until the poor leave extreme poverty behind. Economic growth per se is a necessary condition to pursue global prosperity, but in itself does not suffice.

We need to become, one more time, men and women of stature and embrace the vision of the great men of the twentieth century. We need to become disciples of Marshall and Truman to defeat, once and for all, the great evils of our time. There is a window of opportunity. There is no other exit out of the crisis. Let the Glorious Forty begin.

Read on: our interview with Jaime.

More book reviews on The Road.

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Snapped: Italian Condom Dispenser

Question: How are condom dispensers called in Italy?

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Let's have a taskforce !

UN Taskforce diagram

This is part of a hilarious cartoon series by Helo. Check it out.

Thanks to MF for the tip!

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Driving in Rome

If you are used to switching from one highway to another using four parallel lanes, a smooth gradual exit and re-entry, then you will need to adapt to real life when you visit Rome.
Driving here, is more about being creative, daring and above all: it's about being decisive.

To switch from one highway to another, this road in Rome takes you through several backstreets of an area I would not like to drive at night. It has a four meter exit at 90 degrees, and a five meter long re-entry with virtually no visibility on incoming traffic.

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Snapped: Surf school in winter

surf school in winter - Italy
Taken half a mile from where I live. The remains of summer.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Aidwork: Should you pay to volunteer?

Jose Ramirez in Nepal
I often get questions and feedback from people who want to get started as an aidworker. Recently, I got in contact with Jose Ramirez, 30, from Barcelona, Spain. He worked for several years as an architect in several offices across Europe, before he decided to call it quits. He wanted to take his life in a different direction, doing more fulfilling work in the humanitarian sector.

As many people, he was struggling to find his way in. Where does one start? He decided to work as a volunteer, and was prepared to pay for the experience. An experience which turned out not to be what he had hoped for. I interviewed him.

Q: After your initial years in the commercial sector you wanted to work in the humanitarian world. What triggered that?
Jose: It was nothing in particular. Not "a documentary" I saw or "a terrible image in the news" which made me take that decision. It was more the lust to travel and discover. I wanted to travel through Asia, but I knew from the very beginning that I wouldn't go as yet another backpacker. I had to leave with 'a mission'. I wanted to make a difference.

Q: When you started to look for a job in the humanitarian world, what did you try, on whose doors did you knock?
Jose: I didn't try. I didn't know anything at all. It would have been very pretentious to do that since I had never been in Asia before and I didn't know if I would like it there or not. So I thought that a great introduction into the humanitarian world would be perhaps to volunteer.

Q: How did you choose the organisation you volunteered for?
Jose: I was quite lost. On the Internet, I found lots of information related to volunteering. I had something in mind: I wanted to go to Nepal. After some research and a lot of reading through load of websites I decided finally for a kiwi based recognised NGO. They work all over the world. They seemed very professional and reliable and had a programme going on in Nepal. You could pick among several kind of volunteering there: children's homes, teaching English, etc... I signed up for the community maintenance programme, although the description about the programme was very vague. I thought I could use some of my skills as an architect in that task.

Volunteer fees were involved in all the programmes/countries. As most almost all volunteering sites asked for fees, I assumed it was a normal and indispensable practice when it comes to volunteering.

Q: What was the procedure to register, to get started with that organisation?
Jose: It was way pretty sophisticated. You fill your application on-line and submit it. After they receive it and give you the 'ok', you have to pay a US$350 'volunteer fee' immediately. Once they receive your fee, they contact you again giving you 'the volunteer package': a massive amount of information in the form of emails and pdf-file, which you have to read through. If you have some doubts you can contact the programme coordinator via telephone or email. Eight weeks before departure you have to follow up with the rest of the volunteer programme payment that varies depending on the amount of weeks you stay. I signed up for 4 months and I paid US$1,722. In total, I paid them US$2.072.

Q: Plus your ticket?
Jose: Yes.

Q: What were the promises the NGO made, what were your expectations before you took up the job?
Jose: The NGO promises emergency assistance during your stay. They covered placement with Nepalese families, which included accommodation and food. They would also provide a briefing and formation once I got there. I was very excited about it although I couldn't have any real expectations since it was still unclear which specific job I would be doing.

Q: So, you arrived in Nepal. What were your immediate first impressions. How were you welcomed, briefed, set to work?
Jose: Every placement starts the 1st of every month. You are welcomed by the local branch of the NGO right on arrival. During one week you receive information about the country, basic local language classes, explanation of the programmes. You get to spend 3 days with a Nepalese family to have a first "taste" of the basic life you will be leading in the coming weeks or months. After the briefing week you are sent to your placement, and you start to work.

Q: What were your tasks?
Jose: During the briefing, we, the community maintenance volunteers, learnt we would be helping in the construction of a brand new orphanage that was about to start right after we arrived. After knowing what we would be doing I couldn't be more excited, after all, I was an architect. It looked very challenging work. Even though I knew that I would be mainly doing "labor" work, I hoped to bring some input in the tasks. Local and experience workers were doing all the 'real' construction work supervised by a foreman and a local architect. Our tasks were merely to assist with some 'extra' work, work not budgeted and 'easy' to do by non-experience Westerners. That work included clearing off a bamboo "forest", building a bamboo hut for storage and the construction of a boundary fence. These were "crumbles" in my opinion.

This was the most ambitious project that this NGO had ever done, so they were quite focused with the fundraising, and unfortunately not really with the volunteers on site. We were left sometimes for a week without feedback from the NGO. We were working with broken tools. The jobs we did, were needed for sure and I believe we achieved a very good result. But i wondered many times if that work couldn't have been done faster and better by local people.

Jose and his Nepalese host family

Q: What did the NGO cater for?
Jose: The NGO works with some Nepalese families. These families are used to have foreigners and can speak some English. They provide accommodation and food under basic conditions. I learned after, they were paid US$60 per a month per volunteer by the NGO. Some of the families had up to 4 volunteers.
They provided as well the tools, gloves, etc...

Q: what work was the NGO actually doing. What projects did they have, who did they partner with?
Jose: The NGO was involved in several projects besides the construction of the new orphanage. They were sending volunteers to several children homes in different areas of Kathmandu run by local management. They helped help with teaching English and supervisory tasks. There were some health programme going on as well, which were carried out by volunteers with some medical training.

Q: You worked with colleague volunteers. What was your impression of them: "well willing", "adventurers", "lost souls"?
Jose: Another thing I was very excited about was to meet different people from different countries coming with the same purpose. The reality was way different from that. I was so disappointed to realize most of them were kids in their twenties. They were not focused on the job, at all. Most had come there because their parents paid the volunteering fees. I realized that those kids were probably attracted to volunteering because they didn't have to pay the expenses, themselves, which is quite sad. I met some good apples amongst the rotten ones. I still keep keep in touch with them.

Q: Even if the work itself were you able to use your presence there,"in the field" to network, to make contacts with other organisations, with other aid workers?
Jose: The aid workers network is very big in Nepal. Maybe too big and too corporated. I met some interesting people though and made some contacts I hope to use in the future.

Q: Your experience was rather negative. In how far is this a generalization?
Jose: I would rather say "not absolutely satisfying". I was unable to share my negative impressions with most of the volunteers since they didn't pay the fees themselves. I met some other people and volunteers on the way and I did share this with them, we all agreed that is not certainly the way to go when it comes to volunteering.

It would be naive if I would say that money is not necessary her. It is if you want your aid project to reach somewhere. But there are different ways. If you accept money from volunteers willing to help, people that have crossed half the world in a very expensive flight, but don't put them to good use, you are a soulless NGO. No matter if you are using the money for a good cause.

Q: How did you end your assignment with them. What did you do after that?
Jose: Construction takes some time. I worked in several tasks on the building site during my stay. When I left, the construction was still going on. After that I spent some months in Nepal, did some trekking and thought of my next move. In the end, I did another volunteering task in Thailand. But this time with there was no money involved whatsoever.

In those months in Nepal, I had the chance to meet some amazing Nepalese people. They were completely astonished when they learnt we had paid US$2.000 to 'do labor work'. That really enhances the idea we are spoiled Westerners, willing to give up so much money to end up dirty with mud and with blisters in their hands. They thought nobody should pay to do that kind of job, volunteering ot not.

Q: What is your advice for those trying to enter the aidworld or who want to volunteer?
Jose: Volunteering, is a job or task that should be done honestly. It is understood you are not getting paid for it. It is very sad nowadays you HAVE TO PAY for it. No way. We have to stop the way this is working. What happens is that NGOs are relying more and more on volunteers. Not to do the work, but to fundraise for their projects. The goal is honest but the way this is done, is not.

My advice is simple: "Don't pay to volunteer". When money is involved, the word loses its meaning. Instead, I would advise people to travel to the country were aid is needed and once on site do some research. My second volunteering experience in Thailand showed me this is still possible.

The Road: Jose, thank you for your blunt answers. I wish you the very best.

If you think of starting as an aidworker, here is my advise to you.

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Snapped: Sunset at the Belgian coast

sunset at the Belgian coast

I was born and raised here: Oostende on the Belgian coast.
Have you read my shortstory about Le Plat Pays? It's an ode to my roots.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

PS: Doesn't my iPhone make smashing pictures?

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Snapped: Signs of fall in Rome

Rome signs of fall

Every season has signs of beauty. Fall is the season of colours: Trees in the centre of Rome.

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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More signs of fall(us)

wild mushrooms in fall
wild mushrooms in fall
wild mushrooms in fall

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Snapped: Fall phallus symbol

Palm phallus symbol

As the palm trees in my neighbourhood get trimmed for the winter, a friend of mine said: "Peter, it looks like you live in the middle of giant phallus symbols".

The Snapped Series: mobile phone shots from the hip.

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Science Fiction: Read a newspaper online (1981)

A video from 1981 tells us from the 2,000 to 3,000 home computer users in the Bay area about 500 considered reading a newspaper online. "We can copy it and printing our own copy".
It took two hours at $5/hour to download the main articles...

Discovered via Weird News Files

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More blogging aidworkers

Man in front of Bazaar

I have found four more blogging aidworkers:
  • Denise in Tajikistan features astonishing notes and pictures from some of the most isolated places in the world: Voyageuse Mondiale
  • Nathalie in Cambodia always amuses me with her witty writing: Nathalie Abejero
  • Matthew is an aidworker in Bangladesh and writes mostly about self-development: iDevelopWorld
  • The last blog is "someone" writing from "somewhere" in the field: Straight out of the Jungle
I have added them to my aidworkers blogroll in the sidebar. The list has now grown to a total of 71 blogs. This must be the most exhaustive list of aidworkers' blogs you can find anywhere...

aidworker blogs

Take your time to browse around these blogs. They provide a unique view into the daily life of a unique brand of people I am happy to call "my friends and colleagues".

I automatically post update summaries for each of these blogs on AidBlogs (updates via Twitter: @AidBlogs).
If you want to follow the updates mixed with the "wider humanitarian news", then Humanitarian News might be your thing. The latter broadcasts updates @HumanityNews on Twitter...

Picture courtesy Voyageuse Mondiale

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The Wild West of Pakistan

There are plenty of things I have seen in my travels around the world, I can unfortunately not write about. However, when I come across a video or an article that reminds me of some experiences, I surely can post them.

Here is an intriguing video from the tribal areas in Pakistan, bordering Afghanistan.

Video courtesy VBS TV

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Picture of the Day: Shot and Charred

UN flag jacket in burnt Kabul guesthouse

A charred bulletproof vest lays in the burnt-out UN Kabul guesthouse, which was attacked last week. (Full)

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Peter Nicholls/The Times

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My angels

I was home, in Belgium, for the weekend. It is at those moments I realize how deep a father's love runs. Lana and Hannah are 15 and 12 now.

Lana and Hannah




Lana and Hannah

Lana and Hannah

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Picture of the Day: Malaysia floods

Malaysia floods
Cows and abandoned vehicles stranded on a tiny strip of land surrounded by flood water in Jeram Perdas northeast of the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. (Full)

Have a close look at that picture. Surreal...

More Pictures of the Day on The Road.

Picture courtesy Reuters/The New Straits Times Press/Fathil Asri

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"Honey, look what I bought you for Xmas!" or "There are digital pictures... and then there are digital pictures..."

Nikon D90

I love to take pictures. It feels as if I can experience the things around me much more intensively when I take pictures of it. It is only then I discover details I would have overlooked otherwise. Even when I review a picture, months or years later, I can revive the feeling I had when I took it. And I love a good picture.

Since my 15 year old analog (that's right: using film!) Minolta reflex camera died ("Sorry sir, we don't repair cameras older than five years"), I have not had a decent camera. Most of the pictures on my blog are shot using a nine year old Fujipix digital camera, Tine's small Sony Cypershot, Lana's newer compact Nikon Coolpix P80 or my cellphone (recently upgraded to an iPhone).

But I lacked something of my own, where I could take real high quality pictures. With the help of my friends Diego and Scott, I finally made up my mind and bought a Nikon D90 (above) with a 22-200mm lens. I can tell you: after all these years, I had simply forgotten what a decent camera feels like, and what a serious quality picture looks like.

Like a small kid sitting by the Christmas tree, I opened up the boxes, put the lens on the camera, switched it on, zoomed at something randomly, pointed, focused and shot... My first picture with my new camera was a bottle on a table in an ill-lit room. I just pointed and shot with the built-in flash.

The picture looked like this (I converted the picture to low resolution for this blog):

bottle neck

It was not until I looked at the picture in the actual resolution that I saw the real detail, and the real quality. Look at the play of the light and colours on the bottle neck:

bottle neck

Look at the condense droplets inside the bottle (this is the actual resolution):

bottle neck

Here is the original picture (3 Mb, though!)...

So, in short.. expect more pictures on this blog ;-)

Picture camera courtesy Gear Patrol

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Snapped: Italy in a nut shell

Italy Bracciano

This can just as well be "Italy in a nut shell": Water, mountains, quaint villages as hidden treasures around almost any counter. The greenery, clean water, the people...

Snapped is a series of posts with pictures taken with my mobile phone.

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Snapped: Lake Bracciano

Lago Bracciano

40 minutes away from where I live, in the center of Italy lays a lake with memories.

Snapped is a series of posts with pictures taken with my mobile phone.

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Snapped: Never enough of a sunset

sunset in Italy

I live 100 meters from the beach here in Italy. I try to -at least once per week- to catch the sun setting over the Mediterranean. Which is really more like a pond than a sea, but we will leave that discussion for another time..

Snapped is a series of posts with pictures taken with my mobile phone.

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Snapped: Italian Tuk-Tuk

I think Italy is the only country in Western Europe where the "Tuk-Tuk" or "Treewheela" (as they are called in many places around Asia), are still widely used. Here is one at a traffic light in the center of Rome.

Snapped is a series of posts with pictures taken with my mobile phone.

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Snapped: This way !

Traffic sign covered with flowers

A traffic sign just around the corner from my house.

Snapped is a series of posts with pictures taken with my mobile phone.

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The Silent Twilight

Twilight in Lazio

Sitting in the silent twilight
The purple half light
Of the twilight

Wrap the night around me
Blanket of black on my back

I feel safe in the darkness.

               From "Purple", by Crustation

Picture taken from Parco d'Abruzzo, looking towards Lazio (Italy, 2009)

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10 seconds standing still

Sometimes, it is worth while to stand still for a few seconds and just admire the world around us.
A shot of a garden by the beach close to where I live, near Rome.

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Wrap-up of our Philippines fundraiser

Philippines flooding

After the Philippines was hit by two consecutive typhoons, I started a project to raise the awareness of both the scale of the devastation and the impact it had on individual people. At the same time, I wanted to mobilize people to issue microfinance loans to entrepreneurs in the Philippines.

I described the devastation and outline the project on the kickoff post, asking people to comment. I committed to raise $5 per comment left on that post. Little did I know how it would take off.

Last night was the fundraising deadline. In about 11 days time, the post received 1,211 comments (!). That is good enough for US$6,055. Needless to say that on the 1st anniversary of Change Starts Here, The Road's social project, I could not be more proud...

It probably could not have been more timely, as sadly this weekend, a third typhoon hit the Philippines.

While, for the Philippines project, we allocated already over $4,400 new loans (check here, here and here), in the past year the 76 members of our Kiva lenders team issued US$21,000 in microfinance loans to 520 different people all over the world (check the score card).

To change is possible! Why don't you join our Kiva Lenders team too?

Picture courtesy WFP Logistics

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Snapped: Another road to the horizon

Another road to the horizon

I snapped this "Road to the Horizon" yesterday, while walking on the beach...

More in The Road's Snapped! series.

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