27 August 2006

Where in the World is Cerna Goro?

The cement has barely dried on the new sidewalk. The new bridge is spectacular and stands almost as a piece of art dedicated to a city in the newest micro-state in the world. Elections are 2 weeks away and all the work must be evident to the electorate so that the powers that be – the politicians – remain in favour, in office, and in power. I am talking about Podgorica in the country of Cerna Goro which in English is pronounced Montenegro. It only dawned on me recently why the abbreviation for Serbia is SCG – Serbija Cerna Goro. I cannot be blamed for not knowing this since Serbian isn’t my language. Turns out that now that Montenegro is a free country, they also have a new language called CernaGorska or Montenegrin. This is similar to the way three languages are spoken in Bosnia – Serbian, Croation and Bosnian. It all represents the further Balkanization of the Balkans.

Anyway, Podgorica is very different from Skopje. First, everything is either new or being refurbished here in Podgorica. I don’t have a clue where the money comes from – I guess the politicos saved it for a rainy day and, if so, it looks like its been raining for a while. There are buildings here which remind me of California architecture. In fact, we could be in Santa Barbara, San Diego or Huntington Beach and see similarly built structures with lots of glass, round winding curves and the wide array of the bright California color schemes.

It is different here also because the roads are being fixed up to look very nice. There is little refuse floating about on the side of the roads and the people certainly seem upbeat, more so than I witness in Macedonia on the whole.

The other, and most significant difference, is that this newest micro-state of 660,000 people has a coastline and might I say WHAT A COASTLINE. I have apparently now seen 90% of that coastline from the road which travels along the sea and what I saw was quite beautiful. The “Gold Rush” for land is on now that statehood has been assured by the popular vote to secede from their union with Serbia in early July. I hear that Russians and Brits are buying up all the best properties and that pricing are increasing by 5% per month. I have been asking whether it is too late to find a bargain and have been told that they are still out there but you have to search for them. That is the Gold Rush!

I had the joy of visiting a town called Kotor which sits on a large bay fed by the Adriatic Sea but seemingly miles inland. This town was a traditional walled city from the late 900’s and part of the Croat Kingdom. There was a church inside the walled city which celebrated its 1,000 year anniversary in 1926. The wall to this city snakes its way up at least 1500 feet to the top of a small mountain overlooking the bay and walled city. Apparently this city is a sister city to Dubrovnik which lies about 60 minutes north along the coast. The port of Kotor allows for large Cruise ships to visit deep into Montenegro through this vast fjord. I am certain that as Montenegro grows as a nation-state it will attract more people and more cruise ships. I imagine that the way of life in Kotor will change as it becomes addicted to a more viable tourism industry.

I am in Cerna Goro to see whether the work I did in Macedonia can be replicated here. This brings up the other differences between Macedonia. In terms of development years that Macedonia is about 3-4 years ahead of Montenegro. For all of Macedonia’s faults, it has adopted new telecom laws which made the creation of Macedonia Connects much easier to accomplish. Here, most of the laws, as far as I can tell, have been put in place to provide support to the elite few who have had money, controlled imports, and protected the few businesses capable of surviving in a small nation-state – one of which is the telecom provider.

In 5 years Montenegro will be well on its way to being invited to become a member of the EU. It will endure many political and regulatory reforms during this period of time in order to gain entry into the EU. People will spend millions if not billions of dollars transforming this country from an isolated dot on the map to an Adriatic hot spot frequented by the type of people who are attracted to the new and unexplored. Visit here soon before the simple qualities of what they have now are gone. Money and greed have a way of destroying simple pleasures in favour of the gaudy.

19 August 2006

Travel Stories - My Best One!

We were standing in line waiting to get to the airline ticket counter. We, in this case, would be me and the young couple standing ahead of me. I could sense their excitement as I eavesdropped in on their conversation. Their backpacks were brand new and neatly matched. I heard little tidbits about Germany, England and New Zealand. I heard him say how cool it was that they would celebrate December 24th twice after crossing the International Date Line as they returned home to America. My interest piqued, I decided to say something about how slow the line was progressing. So where are you going I asked? The response was that they were about to embark on a 4 and ½ month adventure of a lifetime. They were taking an around the world trip.

We stood online for nearly 1 and ½ hours that day at the airport discussing travel. They wanted to know about Hong Kong, China, Thailand and eastern Europe. I was able to tell them so many things during the time we had together. The joy of traveling is being able to share short stories about having been to a particular city somewhere in the world.


I was traveling in southern Uganda from Kampala. The ride was about 3 hours long and I had a lot of soda during the ride. We finally arrived at the Primary Teachers College in Bushenyi. There we were met by a staff member and I asked whether I could use the bathroom. They asked me to sit in the outer hallway across from the President’s office. After 10 minutes the urge to relieve myself grew stronger and I said to the staff person that I was willing to go out into the bushes if using the bathroom was a problem. They looked at me rather oddly and told me that the President would be there any moment. Another 10 minutes passed followed by another 5 and finally he walks in – the President. He shakes my hand and says he is pleased to have me visit the school and he then led me to his bathroom.

It didn’t take long for me to finish my business. I washed my hands, wiped them off using the towel I found on the rack. I exited the bathroom and thanked them kindly. The staff person and the President had an odd look on their face. I asked the staff person what was wrong? He looked at me and said "you didnt take a bath". It then dawned on me – BATH ROOM. They wanted to know why I asked for a BATH ROOM if I didn’t want to take a bath. I asked what I should have said? "Shortcall" he said, "if you need to urinate you say short call and the other one is long call."

It is the collection of travel stories, and a venue in which they can be shared, that makes travel worthwhile. I really loved being able to tell this couple little stories about some of the places they would be visiting. I also told them how hard it was going to be for them. With small backpacks I suggested that their level of frustration will grow quickly as they accumulate items with no place to put them. I gave them my business card and asked them to write to me when they have been on their trip for three months. I quipped that by then they will either decide to never ever travel again or they will, like me, have the travel bug and live the rest of their lives seeking out new adventures and looking for an opportunity to tell people their travel stories.

01 August 2006

An Amazing President of the United States of America

I know that what I am about to write has nothing to do with meandering my way around the world but I just cannot pass this story up. I read an article about how some drug addicts are using heroine laced with the pain killer called fentanyl.

Fentanyl - an opiate used legally in anesthesia and for some cancer patients - is cheaper than heroin and 80 times more potent than morphine. That makes it an appealing additive for heroin distributors.

So what’s happening is that some druggies are dying because they are unprepared for the overwhelming affects associated with fentanyl and they overdose and die. There is a debate going on around the United States within municipal and State health agencies whether to make Narcan available to drug users in case they do overdose.

After more than 400 deaths nationwide from heroin laced with the painkiller fentanyl, some needle exchange programs are giving addicts prescriptions for a drug to keep on hand to halt an overdose. The antidote - naloxone, which is sold under the brand name Narcan - can save the life of someone who might not call 911 for fear of prosecution, treatment providers say.

As I see it, there is a way to stop people from dying by distributing Narcan to drug users. But that is met with the following statement from the White House –

"We don't want to send the message out that there is a safe way to use heroin," said Jennifer DeVallance, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which sponsored a symposium Friday on the fentanyl problem in Philadelphia.

So what is the alternative? I guess it is ok for drug users to die of an overdose instead of giving them a chance to live. We wouldn’t want to err on the side of life for people who use drugs.

However, our President would prefer to destroy an embryo instead of providing researchers with an opportunity to find a cure for some of the most deadly diseases which kill millions of people each year. It is also apparent that he has no love for drug addicts and would prefer that they simply fall asleep and never wake up again.