Iguazu Falls

Ciudad del Este and Foz do Iguaçu are frontier towns in Paraguay and Brazil respectively, connected by Puente De La Amistad, meaning The Bridge of Friendship. The bridge is built over the Parana River that separates the border cities, and at this place, the river is hardly a kilometre in breadth. It was thrilling to be at the bridge and see Brazil on the other side. I made my first trip to Paraguay by visiting the capital city of Asuncion in December 2013. From Asuncion, I took an overnight 5-hr bus ride to reach Ciudad del Este.

Brazil is one of the difficult countries to do business with if you want to sell your products there because of the cumbersome registration process and higher duties & taxes totaling more than 170%. Ciudad del Este is a free zone as well as one of the biggest wholesale markets in South America, which depends on the traders from Brazil. Both countries have a free trade agreement between them, enabling free flow of goods without having to undergo registration or payment of duties. On either side of the bridge, there are immigration checkpoints, but I found hardly any checking at these points. A non-Brazilian with Brazilian visa can get into Ciudad el Este through this entry point without having to undergo any checking. Foz do Iguaçu International Airport is the nearest airport which is hardly 30-minute drive from Ciudad del Este. I had traveled to Ciudad del Este through this route a couple of times without having Paraguay visa and faced no problems at the entry or exit point.

Ciudad del Est is a sleepy place that goes quiet quite early at nights. It is more a commercial city than a leisure one though a few casinos dot the city. The wholesale market opens as early as 8 a.m. and closes around 5 p.m. Past 6 p.m., the city is without any hustle bustle. People from Ciudad del este drive to Foz do Iguacu for dining and shopping. With my business partner, I made such an outing to the Brazilian city.

Foz do Iguacu decked up for Christmas:

The most famous attraction in Foz do Iguacu is Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall in the world, falling on the border of the Argentinian province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Parana. I took a trip with my friend from Ciudad del Este to the Falls in December, 2019. The Iguazu River rises in the largest city, Curitiba, of Brazil and passes through the state of Parana in Brazil, later bordering with Argentina before the falls, More than 80% of the falls is situated on the Argentinian side while most of the river basin is in Brazil.

Around USD 25 is the entrance fee to the Falls. A bus ride through a neatly maintained forest-park for 10 minutes takes you to the Fall’s extended-basin side. Then, you have to take a walk uphill to the Falls, enjoying the Falls in its virgin beauty as you stream up and the falls wade down. Though it sounds oxymoron, one has to climb to reach falls.

A picture from the spot where we were dropped by the bus:

Walking up to the Falls.

As we climbed, there were outreach-spots to view the falls as well as for photo ops.

People taking boats to get closer to the Falls was a usual sight.

As we walked along the way to the Falls, enjoying its burbling sounds and awesome beauties.

A closer look at the Falls:

Water looks at its best when it flows down as frothing white streams. And the beauty gets augmented when water columns are made to come together and jump in their pristine beauty:

There is a 1-km long footbridge, a walkaway over the river’s widest stretch named the Devil’s Throat, and the bridge takes you closer to the Falls on the Argentinian side. The roam and spray is the most mighty here. One will get fully wet in the spray on the bridge.

You can board a lift if you want to get a view of the Falls from the top. At the top, there are structures built to outreach to the Falls as close as possible. You can witness the mighty Fall from a few meters away and experience its fumy canopy, along with burbling sounds at its highest pitch.

The following pictures cover both Brazilian and Argentinian sides of the Falls:

The lower Iguazu collects in a canyon that downstream into the Parana River.

This confluence-junction of the two rivers is called Tri Junction that marks the borders among Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. There is a land point of the Tri Junction that frontiers these three countries, with three roads heading to cities of Foz do Iguacu, Brazil; Puerto Iguazu, Argentina; and Ciuadad del Este, Paraguay. Tri Junction is a popular tourist attraction. One has to cross this point to go to Ciuadad del Este from Foz do Iguacu.

The visit was a sweat and shower experience. As I walked up to the Falls, I sweated profusely. But at the Devil’s Throat and near to the Fall’s top, the sweats were blown away by the spray-showers. It was a 5-hour extravaganza with nature’s wonder. At the end, I was tired but did take home the freshness of the Falls showered by the sprays, with the burbling sounds humming in the ears.

The Mirror In You

“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” ~ Saint Jerome. The first part of this quote is an adage in many languages. Every adage, including this one, was evolved over the years and had come into existence from the forge of human experiences. They are hammered into substance out of the attentive and elucidating chapters of human life. So they do carry messages of truth. Howsoever clever or deceptive a person is, she/he cannot paper over reflections of the mind. In the movie, Terminator 3: Rise of Machines, the Artificial Intelligence machine personified by Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger tells John Connor, who threatens to shoot himself, “Based on your pupil dilation, skin temperature and mode of functions, l calculate 83% probability that you will not pull a trigger.” The three metrics were reflecting John’s mind though he was telling otherwise. The adage of face being the mirror of mind is substance-fully correct.

Household mirrors do reflect, and they reflect because of back-silvering – the process of coating a non-conductive substrate surface like glass with a reflective material like silver. What about a household mirror that lost some of its back-silvering? It reflects from the area that is silver-coated and lets object-images pass through the area that had lost the silver-patch. A part of me was absent when I looked at the mirror in my dressing room. There was nothing wrong with me, but the mirror had lost some of its silver-coating, so it allowed a part of me to pass through while reflecting the rest. We should also be like such a mirror, absorbing and reflecting good things that come to us while allowing – like the silver-lost part does – bad things, negative thoughts and unfriendly and negativity-spreading people to pass through – let go – without them having any impact on us.

How many types of social interface do we get exposed to in our daily life? We come across two types of people and things: positive and negative. By using our basic intelligence, we can decide to reflect positive people and things and learn from whatever they bring to the table, as well as decide to direct the negativity-spreading people and things to the silver-lost part of our mind and let them pass through without having any impact on us. Negative people should be allowed to go, not to be reflected on, for they have nothing productive and positive to contribute to your progress and well-being and that they are mostly incorrigible with an inbuilt thought-machine that runs on the fuel of negative energy.

In the ultimate analysis, you are someone with either a positive or a negative mindset but not a neutral one. You can train yourself in and become a champion of neutral response, but neutral response itself is a suppressed state of negative or positive attitude. So, is that all? No, there are two more types, with one being dangerous and the other a miss. They are false-positive and false-negative respectively, and you need more than basic intelligence to handle these two.

U.S.A. doctors found something strange in the diagnosis of COVID-19 in both swab and serology test methods. In one study, of the 12 antibody tests that were studied by the COVID-19 Testing Project, one of the tests gave false-positives more than 15% of the time, or in about one out of seven samples. Three other tests gave false-positives more than 10% of the time. Some studies showed that the false-negative could be to the tune of 14.8%. False-positive is negative, so it is terrible to tell someone that she/he is COVID-19 positive though it is not so. Similarly, false-negative is positive, and it is very dangerous as the person is considered as virus-negative, though she/he is actually positive, and allowed to socialize with others. Doctors, finally, resorted to scanning machines to check if the lungs were infected or not to reconfirm the test results.

False-positive — the hidden personality — individuals are the most dangerous persons to deal with. Like COVID-19 giving false-positive test results, these deceptive people succeed in hoodwinking our basic intelligence to make us understand them incorrectly – we will be unknowingly made to think that they are attitudinally positive. Similarly, it will be a irretrievable loss if we identify someone as false-negative and let her/him pass through the silver-lost part of our mind. We lose a chance to learn from them, to get kindled by their positive energy and enthusiasms that could have motivated us to climb the heights with added vigor. How do we identify false-negative and false positive people? We need something, like the scanners used by the doctors, to see through the intentions of people to know if they are charged positively or negatively.

There is no specific tool or method that can be deployed to read if a person is behaviorally false-positive or false-negative. We have to employ our Deep Intelligence to diagnose whether people have virulent intentions hidden deep inside or are carrying benign and productive frame of mind by swabbing deep beyond the facade put up by them. Arnold Schwarzenegger had a built-in supercomputer within him, which enabled him to look for and decipher nuances like the eye-pupil movements and understand if John Connor was telling truth or not. Like Arnold used his supercomputer-intelligence, we should use our Deep Intelligence, which is the retrofit of basic intelligence with knowledge and experience. By a certain age, you would acquire certain level of knowledge and a unique level of learning from your experience. Knowledge and experience, the crucial semiconductors added to your integrated circuit called basic intelligence, convert basic intelligence to Deep Intelligence. We need to scan through histrionics and other body languages of people using our Deep Intelligence to gauge and judge if they are matching with what they say – what they think. Deep Intelligence should be used ruthlessly, unbiased and unemotionally to identify false-negative and false-positive people.

Prepare your mind like a mirror that has patches of silver-lost area. Deploy your Deep Intelligence to identify negative and positive people, including false-negative and false-positive. Reflect positive people and things while you let go negative people and things without them having any impact on you.

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World! Rising majestically 7970 feet above the mean sea level from the Sacred Valley that is situated 80 kilometres northwest of Cuzco, Peru, Machu Picchu is considered as the lost city of the Incas, the most prominent tribe that ruled large swathes of South America before the arrival of the Spanish. Built in the 15th century, the wonder was oblivious to the world until it was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, an American historian. There is no unanimity on the nature of this wonder. Archaeologists have divergent opinions on what Machu Picchu is, and the most accepted one is that it was an estate built for the Inca emperor, Pachacuti.

The first day of my visit to Cusco in March 2013 was spent on sightseeing in the city – detailed in the blog: https://nowhereperspectives.com/2020/05/06/cusco-and-the-incas/?fbclid=IwAR0zf_uaJCzw_LK8qXEDf-KiqFY9DbG30wrlTGkPH7A8eS6hZS4Rap_vrjY. The trip to the mountainous marvel was on the next day. Cusco city is set itself in a valley, so one has to go uphill to reach the Inca citadel. I was on a package tour, and we started the journey in the early morning by boarding a bus. A 30-minute bus ride through the serpentine mountain roads took us to Poroy railway station. The beauty of the journey began from the very boarding of the train that climbed through the hilly terrains to Aguas Calientes railway station in a 3 hour 15 minutes of wheeling, covering a 69 km mesmerizing stretch of unadulterated nature.

The uphill journey was through a panoramic-carpet rolled out by nature, with the train and passengers being the only human interventions in the abutting natural ambiance. The train passed through different backdrops of mountains, valleys, etc., with a stream, which was so white in color that it looked as if snow were rolling down, being beside us most of the time though the train was travelling in the opposite direction. Although the trip was done 7 years back, I still remember a few things like the train running through the ravines, with mountainous walls on either side being very close to the train.

From Aguas Calientes station, we took a bus – I remember so – to reach the mountain base to start the climb to the site.  

As we reached the site, I took an aerial view around and was amazed at the beauty of the magnificent mountains encircling the site. The mountains were cloud-blanketed on that day.

Breathtaking views of Machu Picchu:

The big mountain, as seen in the picture below, in the backdrop of the Machu Picchu is the Huayna Picchu mountain, which has an elevation of 8,920 feet. This mountain is steeper and has lesser flat summit compared to the Machu Picchu mountain.

Machu Picchu was built in the classical Inca style of Dry Stone method, a building method where no mortars were used, instead, interlocking of stones that lie one above the other was done. Cusco  and Peru are located in the Pacific Ring of Fire – the global seismic fault line – and had experienced many seismic shocks in the past. But no earthquakes affected the Inca-built structures, including Machu Picchu, due to this building method. I had explained this technique in detail in the blog: https://nowhereperspectives.com/2020/05/06/cusco-and-the-incas/?fbclid=IwAR0zf_uaJCzw_LK8qXEDf-KiqFY9DbG30wrlTGkPH7A8eS6hZS4Rap_vrjY. Machu Picchu remains as the most popular icon of the Incas. How did the Incas bring boulders and other building materials to the mountain summits? Were the stones carved out of the mountains? Many such secrets continue to remain shrouded in mystery. The artistry of the Incas draws awe.

Many archaeologists are of the view that Machu Picchu was not completely built. They believe that the construction got stopped around 70% level due to the collapse of the Inca Kingdom from the Spanish invasion.

Let’s take a tour of the site. Small door! Were the Incas short?

As we walk into structure:

Machu Picchu is a treasure of surprises. There is one rock which defies the dynamics of compass. In normal case, north comes on top and south at the bottom in directional compass. But on this, it comes in the opposite way! Our guide demonstrated it by keeping a compass on it, and it showed the north at the bottom and the south on top!! This piece of rock is curious!!

The Temple of the Three Windows is another treasure! It is located at the Sacred Plaza of Machu Picchu. There are many theories about the Three Windows. One says it represents three worlds: the underground, the heaven and the present world. It represents sunrise, another theory says.

A replica of a mountain, located near to the Three Window, built by Incas:

The following three structures depict a bird: the first picture is the head of a bird, with the next two pictures being its wings. Behind the head, the body is in the form of a cave that has platforms for human sacrifice – we passed through the cave – and the wings are structured out from the pelvic of the cave. Archaeologists unearthed human remains of children from this spot, suggesting that they were offered to Gods. Twelfth Inca King abolished the human sacrifice system prevalent in the kingdom.

A downward view from the site gives spiraling sights of the Urubamba River that encircles the mountains. There is a hydroelectric power project, the only source of electricity in Machu Picchu, built up in the river.

The Happy Mountain is one of the three main mountains of Machu Picchu, with the other two being the Huayna Picchu mountain and the Machu Picchu mountain.

The Happy Mountain:

Words about Machu Picchu are incomplete without mentioning Lamas and Alpacas, the domesticated animals of the Incas, which were sources of meat and woolen cloths.

Lama:

Incas with Alpacas:

Beauty, peace, serenity, and I am short of superlatives to explain the goodness that nature had showered on this place in their most pristine forms. As a visitor, one will feel these blessings of nature at Machu Picchu. I spent around 4 hours at the site, and many moments of that short-stay are still afresh in me. A memorable day out!!

Another blog on Peru: https://nowhereperspectives.com/2019/12/11/peruvian-pages/?fbclid=IwAR0sUjmIoDM23Bz44ikJElUSaO7y5WGdKW2iIebvZS9N3SzsDfchjrorDXk

Is Blood Thicker than Water?

Is blood thicker than water? Or, is it as good as or worse than water? In other words, is one’s relation with one’s own family members more valuable than that with non-family members? I had a flash of these thoughts when I came across a few disturbing news reports: children abandoning their elderly parents at hospitals and running away after giving false address; many deliberately leave mentally deranged parents at crowded places like temples and festival sites, with these poor souls not being able to remember their way back to their homes and ending up at old age homes; etc. I do visit an old age home every year as a part of remembering my parents. I learnt from the caretakers of the home that more than half of the inmates was mentally ill, who arrived from outside Kerala  — they were packed off by their relatives without their consent in trains heading to Kerala.  

I came across many cases where money reigns supreme in relations involving siblings. At the same time, there are people who act benevolently and keep the influence of money outside the perimeter of their relationship with the siblings. There are many others who are indifferent to the sufferings of their fellow beings and friends while stories of magnanimity being shown by someone to someone else are aplenty – this someone can be a friend or acquaintance of or a stranger to the someone else. These four cases make the title of this blog irrelevant. So it is neither blood nor water that really matters in human relations, including the one among siblings, but something else. What is it?

What makes a person to rise above the narrow confines of self and open himself/herself for the wider canvass of humanity? For this to happen, one needs to possess three fundamental traits: righteousness, truthfulness and compassion. These three together forms the foundation stone called basic goodness. How do we identify people with basic goodness? Basic goodness or the lack of it, like the tip of the iceberg, cannot be hidden but comes out in the open as man’s behavior is a demonstration of what is on his mind. Do observe relatives, friends, acquaintances and strangers during your interactions with them to get clues on the elements of basic goodness. Let me explain these traits a bit in detail.

Righteousness is a decision to be on the side of justice unconditionally. Justice is the state of being in harmony with the nature’s fundamental principles that govern us. It is not justified for a student to expect good marks in examination by being in the good books of his/her teacher because thinking so is not in harmony with the principle that being good with books only can result in good grades. It is not justified for a man to expect prosperity without working his ways toward it, for it is against the fundamental principle that you need to sow to reap. Something that is in harmony with nature’s rules does only carry justice. Do not hesitate to ask this question: is it justified?

Truth is the only thing that is absolute in the world. Everything else is relative – a reason for us to call our relatives as relatives? Oxford dictionary defines truth: something that is indisputable. Attempts to mention something as half-truth or partially-true are untenable, for truth is a fully baked product. Truth is unipolar as it is either .. or – either true or untrue. Truth is also naked because it is brave enough to stand firm on its own without any padding. The relation between truth and righteousness is straight – truth comes out only when justice is the arbitrator; otherwise, it is opinion that supplants truth.

Tenzin Gyatso, the Dalai Lama of Tibet, passionately propounds compassion as the panacea for solving all human sufferings. Conventional wisdom says compassion is sympathetic feeling for the sufferings of others. It is a common saying that sympathy is a cheap feeling which anyone can show without putting in any extra effort or cost and that what needed is not sympathy but empathy. But, how could something propounded by Dalai Lama, a great soul of immense learning, be shallow? Let us have a look at what Dalai Lama meant by compassion. According to him, compassion connotes love, affection, kindness, gentleness, generosity of spirit and warm-heartedness. The operative word is connote, and it means that Dalai Lama had gone beyond the primary meaning of compassion as defined by the conventional wisdom.

Compassion, as defined by Dalai Lama, is what I mentioned earlier as a part of the foundation stone called basic goodness. Empathy is the trait of being able to think from the point of view of another person. One needs to be empathetic to be loving and lovable, to be affectionate, to be sensitive to human sufferings and to be gentle to others in the same way one does to oneself. Generosity of spirit is the output of the realization that giving, not receiving, gives boundless happiness. Warm-heartedness is having heart, instead of mind, as your frontage. That brings compassion as a mix of empathy, realization of giving and allowing heart to be your frontage. Though righteousness and truth are mutually inclusive, you may face a dilemma to negotiate your way out of confrontation between righteousness and compassion.

Basic goodness should be the main criterion in evaluating relationships, and a person with such a trait is highly unlikely to subvert others. It is not possible for a person to establish dearly and respectable relationship with another person without being wary of. Fear is taken out and respect gets mushroomed in a relationship when both parties are convinced of each other’s basic goodness. Over a period of time, such a relationship gets tested and acquires sustainability leading to bonding between the two persons. This bondage, as a matter of fact, is between two souls. Such soul-bonding can happen between any two human beings: two friends; a son/daughter and his/her parent; between two siblings, wife and husband, a son-in-law and a father-in-law, etc. This invisible bonding between two souls built on the foundation of basic goodness, not blood connection, is the overriding factor that decides the strength of a relation. Children will not abandon their parents if bonding of souls exists between them and their parents.

The Land of a Million Elephants

Laos — pronounced with ‘s’ silent — is sandwiched among buzzing tourist destinations in Southeast Asia like Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar. Therefore, the attention it commands from a global traveler is predictably dwarfed. Yet any tourist who chooses to put this country on his/her itinerary is sure to be enthralled by this picturesque place. Juxtaposed by the aforesaid countries, along with China, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic sits landlocked from all the sides, with the lifeline provided by the 4350 km long Mekong river that originates in China. Besides providing  drinking water, irrigation and fishing avenues, the river is also a main source of income for the country from the production of electricity and its sales to the neighboring countries.

A fisherman operating gill-net in the Mekong River:

Symbolic of the ancient kingdom of Lan Xang, the people of Laos consider the elephant to be sacred in that it stands for wisdom and brings prosperity to the country. It once abounded in elephants though it’s rapidly dwindling now. Laos is a small country with a population of 7 million. Formerly a French colony, Laos became independent in 1953. The French sourced cheap labor from Vietnam and settled them in Laos during the colonial era. This explains why 40% of Laos’ population is of Vietnamese ethnicity.

I visited its capital city Vientiane – pronounced as Vindhian – in September 2013. It is a small, less populated city and is safe for a visitor at anytime of the day or at night. Tuk-tuks are omnipresent and fairly light on the pocket. If one wants to soak in the ambiance of the place taking in the sights and sounds, walking is the best option.
The iconic “Victory Gate of Vientiane,” known as ‘Patuxai’ in the Laotian language, is a tourist-magnet. Architecturally magnificent, this magnificent seven-storey structure was built as a war monument in the center of the city. The construction lasted for eleven years and was completed in 1968. The Patuxai commemorates the memory of the brave soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice for the nation’s independence from the French colonial masters.

There is a water fountain beside the edifice, and the surrounding area is a recreational place for the nationals as well as tourists.

One can take the steps built inside the pillars to climb to the top of this edifice and savor a birds-eye view of the city.

The entire Southeast Asia was practicing Hinduism before Buddhism arrived in 250 BC. In Thailand, I had seen Buddhists actively participating in Hindu functions. Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia, built in the 12th century, was initially a Hindu temple which was later converted into a Buddhist complex. Scriptures of Hindu Gods adorn this temple. Similarly, Patuxai’s scriptural drawings and sculptures offer a rich tribute to a pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.

In the evenings, the city‘s street-side food scene is reminiscent of the same in some Indian cities with roadside mobile-eateries and other restaurants selling Indian cuisines. I had food from one such roadside shop run by an youngster from Chennai, India. It is a version of “Thattukada” as we call it in Kerala. I had very delicious “Parattas” from the eatery.

Buddhism is the predominant religion of Laos. The cityscape is peppered with lots of regal Pagodas. It feels like a world conjured up by a magician armed with a pot of gold and a paint brush. These pagodas spell resplendence in every frame.

Statues of stunning Apsaras and Gandharvans adorn the premises of the pagodas:

A real “Apsara;”

Statue of a sentinel at the entrance of a pagoda.

The Buddha in various postures from meditative to relaxed and sleeping postures  and other pious souls etched in golden splendor. They radiate an aura of tranquility.

Buddhist monasteries offer five-year ascetic programs/courses for an aspirant to become a monk. Many Pagodas have monasteries adjacent to them.

Monks at the premise of  a monastery:

A monk preparing for the examination:

Big pagodas have tombs built at their premises. Mortal remains of not just monks but any Buddhist can be cremated or buried here. Buddhism permits both mummification and cremation.

This is a city that treasures it’s past and takes pride in preserving and showcasing them to the world. Vientiane has more than ten museums. I visited the Wat Sisaket museum which has maintained the original structure without doing any modifications. It is famous for a wall marked with thousands of niches, each containing an image of Buddha in various mudras, crafted in wood, ranging from the 16th to the 19th centuries.

An intricately carved wooden-snake that looks like a snake-boat from the museum:

An elegantly etched wooden door at the museum:

Laos is a synergy of the urban and the bucolic; the ancient and the modern carry on a peaceful coexistence here. It offers pockets of quietude and hums a soothing melody of the rhythms of life.

The blog is authored by Linet Placid.

Why This Pandemic?

This is my thirteenth blog related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and a few of the previous blogs had an underlying theme that the pandemic was a warning, possibly the last one before an all-out attack, of Mother Nature, telling man to stop its overexploration and start to live within his means. Why does man overexploit nature? A couple of days back, I read an article which stated that Jeff Bezos, the mercurial founder of amazon.com and the richest man in the world, would become the first-ever Dollar trillionaire — USD 1000,000,000,000 — of the world in 2026. Not leaving behind, other billionaires like Jack Ma and Mukesh Ambani are on track to achieve the trillion-dollar status in 2030 and 2033 respectively. In the Indian currency, it will be ₹76 lakh crores. The article pushed me to think a bit deep to find out the answer for the question: why does man overexploit nature?

There are many other manifestations of this question. Why does man need two mobile phones when he can use only one phone at a time? Why does man have an array of pairs of shoes when he can wear only one pair at a time? Why a collection of watches when a pair of hands can carry one ? Why many cars when only one can be driven at a time? Though the seemingly-right answer to these questions is money, it is not because all rich people do not have the habit of having these extra possessions marking extravagant lifestyles. And that line of thinking brings us to the correct answer of greed. Yes, man’s greed, which is the irrepressible trait of longing for ostentatious living that defies the law of Diminishing Marginal Utility, is the culprit. Greed, however, is immobile unless gets bankrolled, and barring a few exceptions, this financing is done by something called speculative demand.

It is very difficult for a layperson to understand the concept called speculative demand and its monstrous stranglehold on the way we live. Let me explain it with a few examples. Imagine that you want to buy a plot to build a house in Kochi in Kerala, India. The transaction is supposed to have only two players: you, the buyer, and land-owners who have plots to sell. Nonetheless, in the corporatized and highly leveraged real(estate) world of commerce, a third player creeps in many a time with or without your conscious reckoning. It is speculators. Unnatural demand — speculative demand — created by them generates lots of extra money to finance man’s greed. How does it work? Real estate companies, the speculators, temporarily buy plots, hold and resell them when market conditions are favorable to make a killing on the price-front. These companies do not buy plots for end user purpose but to create an artificial demand. In this process, they stand between original sellers and end user buyers thereby blocking the view — manipulating the understanding — of buyers to know the actual strength of supply. The speculative demand thus created, along with end user demand, spikes up land price, forcing end users to dish out extra money for the plots they wish to buy. As prices go up due to the artificial scarcity created by speculative demand, speculators sell to make quick profits. For example, instead of, say, ₹50 lakhs — USD 65,000 — for a 10-cent — 4356 square feet — plot, you may end up in paying, say, ₹65 lakhs to either an original seller or a speculator who temporarily holds the plot. An extra ₹15 lakhs is generated.

Millions of such speculation-induced steroid-transactions create billions of dollars of extra money for both original sellers as well as speculative sellers across the world in a day. This happens in almost every segment of the global economy, making millions of people sitting with fat bank accounts. What do they do with this extra money? Buy an extra phone, load their shoe racks with many shoes, many collections of watches to wear with matching attires and so on. 

The best example of speculative demand’s power play is the share market. Let us consider an imaginary situation: you bought 10,000 shares of ExxonMobil @ USD45 per share. Subsequently, the company discovers a crude oil deposit of 2 billion barrels in the Gulf of Mexico. The share price surges to, say, USD50 on hearing the news, so your shares are worth USD500,000. You sell the shares and make a profit of USD50,000. But a cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico or a skirmish in the geopolitical fault lines of oil producing counties can bring down the share price the very next day. But thousands, including you, already made extra money out of the hype made on an asset that is still a still-asset! Share markets across the borders create such unnatural wealth based on speculative hypes and fill the pockets of many. What do they do with this extra money? Go on a spending spree and buy more and more than they can consume.

The most recent example of speculative demand creating unnatural wealth is the trading of the shares of Moderna, the American biotech company that reported encouraging results of the vaccine trails for COVID-19. On May 18, 2020, its share value jumped by as much as 30%, taking the share price to USD87 — swelling its market value to USD29 billion  — before settling at USD70 by the end of the trading week as experts downplayed the significance of the early trail results. But during the 5-day trading week, speculators created a hype and made millions of dollars. The most notable among those who gained are the company’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Medical Officer who executed their stock options and sold nearly $30 million of shares, making a combined profit of USD25 million. The best joke is that Moderna has no marketed products as of now. The vaccine trials may or may not succeed, but the speculative hype already created artificial wealth for many, including the two executives of the company. What do they do with this extra money? They will use this bonanza to finance their greed —  extra cars, additional farmhouses, private jets, cruise tourism and many such extravagant purchases and outings. 

These are only a few examples of how speculative demand creates unnatural wealth that does not have any realistic moorings. Such wealth powers man’s most insatiable trait of greed to fly in breadth and depth, actualizing its manifestations in extra and over-extra possessions that overexploit nature. Every extra phone, additional car, added pairs of shoes and extension of living into extravagant living are equivalent to overexploitation of nature’s resources like clean water, soil, clean air, carbon sequestration, etc., thanks to the extra pollution created during their production.

Mother Nature teaches us many things, and the most powerful and pervasive one among them is the lesson of counterbalancing — every force is neutralized by a counterbalancing force. For centrifugal force, there is centripetal force; positives have negatives to counter; protons for electrons; intuitive thinking and counterintuitive thinking; friction to motion; alkalinity for acidity; and so on. This fundamental counterbalancing act by nature is not just-avoidable but inevitable. So when man’s greed, fueled by the unnatural money from speculative demand, overexploits nature, nature ought to counter it for its own existence. How does it do it? By bringing in measures to debilitate man from rampaging nature, cooping him at his home and making him leery of even doing little things like going out to enjoy fresh air and sunlight. 

Will Jeff Bezo and other billionaires become trillionaires at those timelines? Well, I do not know if the author of that article contemplated nature’s counterbalancing principle while fixing the timelines? But one thing is certain that nature is determined to stop man from overexploiting it by denying opportunities to spend the EXTRA money to satisfy his greed. A pandemic like COVID-19 had brought the share markets down, real estate and property sales crashing and almost all economic sectors facing bleak futures. No room for speculators to hype, forcing them to lie low. Hence, end users will be able to see supply strength without speculators standing in between, resulting in prices curving to their natural value, not market value. Natural value gives you money to have one phone, not two; one house, not an extra holiday home; one car, not an additional sport car to relish speeding; and so on. Stability is nothing but controlled instability. If man lets loose his uncontrolled greed to destabilize nature, then nature will counteract to bring the balance back. 

Floating Villages of Siem Reap

How long have you stayed in water at a stretch? A pool-goer will answer: a couple of hours while the answer could be a whole day by a sea-surfer. Fishermen spend days, even months at sea, so do sailors. None of them, however, spend their whole life in water. But there are people who live their entire life in water — they are born, do live and die in water. You would have visited wonders of water-worlds which are an unavoidable element of theme parks, a top-end entertainment-product of consumerism, but that had been only to the extent of a few hours during an occasional outing. But imagine a community that spends its whole lifetime in water!  Welcome to Floating Villages — the surprising  water-worlds that many of you might not have heard about!

Siem Reap, a province in Cambodia, is located on the northwestern part of the country. The province and its capital has the same name: Siem Reap, which is a sought after destination by tourists due to the attractions like Angkor Wat, Bayon,  Bahuon, Floating Villages, etc. I took a bus — 6-hour journey — from Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, to Siem Reap, on September 23, 2012, looking forward to visit these tourist spots. Tuk-tuk is a mode of transport in the city, and I hired one for my 3-day visit. One the day of arrival, I had the afternoon left to spend as the next day was reserved for Angkor Wat, so the driver of the tuk-tuk told me to capitalize the half-day by making a trip to a floating village — it is called floating village because all the dwellings of the village are in a state of floating-but-still in water. They remain still with temporary anchoring. There are four such villages around Siem Reap.

I reached the the jetty around 3 p.m. and hired a boat for the cruise to the nearest floating village, Chong Khneas, situated in the Tonle Sap Lake. It was a 3-hour visit that gave me pleasant surprises and showed hard realities which were beyond what I expected before I began the cruise.

It saddened me to find an young boy behind the steering wheel assisting the driver. He is a trainee, I was told. The water-road to and from the village was clearly-invisibly marked, with ‘the open thoroughfare’ having disciplined two-way traffic. Such traffic discipline was needed to avoid any potential accident in the water.

A billboard on the ‘roadside.’

The floating village is a self-sufficient mini-world in itself. They have schools, hospitals, supermarkets, churches, transport system, recreation centers and almost all that are needed for people to lead a moderate life. Here, life in water is not a fun-living but the way of life. The moving columns of water are their courtyard and backyard. The place is just like any other village, except that it is a world of floating souls.

Supermarket:

Restaurant:

Church: 

The church has an orphanage housed at an adjacent building for physically challenged children. One can visit the orphanage and spend time with the children. As a goodwill gesture, you can buy foodstuff from the nearby supermarket and present it to the children.  

Recreational Center:

In-house playing ground for the children:

Canoes are, naturally, the mode of transport. Children have both onshore and offshore playgrounds. I saw children playing on/in the water-ground — they are good swimmers as swimming for them is like walking for us.

Couple of Houses at the Floating Village:

A family at the façade:

Our children play with dogs or cats, but the children at a floating village play with snakes, their natural friends. It, infact, is not a play but livelihood. They showcase their snake-playing skills before tourists and earn money from it. 

The residents of the fishing villages are of Vietnamese and Cambodian origins, living as stateless citizens. They had been like this for centuries, and the efforts by the local governments to relocate them to land were not met with much success although some of them agreed and resettled onshore. They love to live in water so much so that they move to offshore when water levels in the lake go down.

Fortunately I got the opportunity to visit many places across the globe, but the visit to the floating village gave me a rare and inexplicable feeling touched by the life I had seen there – felt sad for them though I knew that my sadness was meaningless as they were leading a happy, normal life of their choice. A different and memorable experience that is still afresh in me.

Experience

The simplest definition of experience is that it is the sum total of acquired knowledge. Man’s knowledge-base has two elements: basic knowledge and acquired knowledge. Basic knowledge is all that we learn from our parents, teachers, books and the ecosystem of upbringing from the first day of our birth until we embark on the journey to build our life. Beginning of this journey can happen at any time between primary school — like those unfortunate ones who drop out from school and start their career too early to shoulder or share the responsibilities of their families — and completion of university education. Acquired-knowledge gets accumulated on the foundation of basic knowledge that everyone possesses though in varying strengths.

Is experience as simple as acquired knowledge? Why do people of similar experience produce different quality-outputs for the same constants under the same variables? As we venture out to find answers for these questions, more questions like the following will pop up: why do some people, despite having years of experience, continue to languish in where they are? Why some people with little or less experience do better than others with more experience in the same field? How to make experience — acquired knowledge — add value to basic knowledge so that the knowledge-base becomes sharper and quicker in solving problems of life? 

Possession of acquired knowledge is good, but that alone does not decide the utility value of experience. What decides how good and useful – utility value –  the acquired knowledge is depends on the dynamics that a man can bring into play to kindle the acquired knowledge lying dormant into action. In other words, knowledge is important, but knowing from the knowledge is more important. Knowing from knowledge is learning from knowledge, and it is to be followed with internalizing that learning to the extent that one feels fortified and better equipped — a feeling of more-skilled —  to deal with the world. The dynamics continues with adding of ‘the learnt element’ to the active skill sets that you deploy to solve life’s problems. People with same years of experience but are different with little/lower and higher levels of this dynamics produce different levels of quality-outputs when given the same task under the same conditions.

We are hardwired with everything that are noble and evil, but the accompanying software decide which of these elements works. Basic-goodness, willingness to accept and appreciate good and meritorious things, etc. are some of the manifestations of nobility while jealousy, unwillingness to appreciate and accept good things, etc. are from the list of evil-base. Basic knowledge is the hardware, and acquired knowledge is the software. If lessons we learn and novel ideas we come across can be channelized to spur up the noble elements of our hardware, we will become more and more receptive to good and meritorious things. Life never ceases to teach us lessons, and none can bunk the classes; the difference is that some learn from the lessons and progress to higher class where more advanced lessons are taught while others refuse to learn and continue to remain in the same class. If you are unappreciative of and hesitant to accept new ideas and better ways of doing things, probably because they had come from your friends or peers, you will continue to languish in “the same class,” no matter how many years you add to your experience.

Having experience is not conditional to success as the process of acquiring knowledge happens on the way toward success and beyond. Haven’t you noticed that fresh-recruits with little experience doing better than the experienced-hands though not all fresh-recruits do so. Our basic knowledge mostly teaches us to solve problems in a conventional framework, meaning that almost all problems can be solved by institutionalized metrics. There are, however, many practices and the related-problems in life that cannot be institutionalized, hence, get missed out but are capable of derailing the solution being chalked within an institutional framework. Fresh-recruits, who have overarching view — extra usage of skill sets — to see such institutionally-invisible factors and can factor them in, succeed better than others, including an experienced but ‘not-learnt-from’ person. For example, if you are a fresh-recruit to the sourcing division at a fish processing-unit and that you do not over-arch to see the practice of adding powdery-sands to fishes as a way to increase their weight by suppliers, it is highly likely that you will pay a big price by the time you catch the unscrupulous elements — from my own experience.

Basic knowledge is your past and the present combined which, along with acquired knowledge, takes you to the future. Basic knowledge is a done deal so is limited to that extent, but only sky is the limit for acquisition of knowledge. How do we make ourselves receptive to and embrace acquired knowledge thereby fully unlocking its latent value? The process of  unlocking the potential of acquired knowledge begins with taking the feeling of inferiority out from us. How do we do it? Feeling of inferiority is our undesirable ability to adopt another person’s strength as our weakness. Accumulated vestiges of disappointments and setbacks arising from one’s dealings with others as well as oneself feed this undesirable ability.

It is almost impossible to not feel disappointed while dealing with others, but one can try not to get consumed by it by accepting and internalizing the fact that helping or doing something for others is a thankless job. And self-inflicted disappointment can be made to go by sensitizing oneself that any shortfall in accomplishment is a ‘fait accompli’ that can never be reversed but can be acted upon to learn from and improvise. A man capable of quickly overcoming disappointments and setbacks does no more consider another person’s strength as his weakness, rather he will be in spate to receive and internalize new ideas and better-ways of doing things, giving added prowess to his foundational strength called basic knowledge. This, along with confidence which itself is an indication of clarity of thoughts, gives him faculty to wade through complex problems faster and sharper. Let me conclude that experience is the ability to find simplicity in complex problems within the shortest span of time. Those who are experienced sans this ability are experienced without the experience.

The City of White Nights

 In July 2018 I visited Saint Petersburg, the city founded by and named after Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. History seeps through every pore of this magnificent city. The city was founded on the territory captured from the Swiss and was initially named as Sankt-Pieter-Burch — the Russian equivalent of St. Petersburg. The naming and renaming continued through Petrograd, then, Leningrad until the original name, St. Petersburg, was given back to the city on September 6, 1991, through a popular referendum after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The cityscape is studded with ancient architectural marvels, and there are restrictions to construct high-rise buildings as a measure to preserve the city’s seamless historical and architectural uniqueness.

How did Tsar Peter earn the epithet: ‘The Great’? Tsar Peter the Great is considered as the most visionary Russian leader who embarked on a journey to modernize the Russian Empire. He traveled to Europe to get a glimpse of the progress being made there, and after the return, he appointed the renowned French architect, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond, who designed and built the city that continued to be the capital of the imperial Russia till October 1917 when the Bolsheviks stormed the city during the October Revolution. 

The awesome beauty of the historical architectures is further amplified in the nights, with lights providing uninhibited wholesomeness to the wonders that stand towering tall over the years. Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, built over 40 years from 1818, is a jaw-dropping view at night when lights clad it in golden reflections. St. Isaac was the patron saint of Peter the Great, and the cathedral was built as a tribute to him. It is no more a cathedral as it was turned into a museum in 1931.

You can walk around at night for hours, enjoying the beauty of the light-clad buildings. It is safe to venture out at night, and I went out to explore the city, with my return to the hotel only in the wee hours.

The Winter Place is another iconic building in the city. It was the official residence of the Russian emperors. The building had been converted into a museum: Hermitage Museum.

Some more architectural wonders of the city:

There are roadside-entertainers whom you can rely on for short breaks while roaming around in the city.

The city has many cathedrals built in the early 1700 and 1800, with the following being some of the famous ones:

The belfry of Peter and Paul Cathedral sits at a height of 404 ft, making the cathedral the tallest Orthodox Church in the world. The Cathedral and the associated Fortress were the city’s first landmarks built by Peter the Great. The golden ornate interiors of the cathedral are mind-blowing, with its painstakingly-carved golden structures and murals catching the attention of the visitors’ eyes with awe.

The remains of almost all the Russian Tsars lie inside the cathedral. The last Tsar, Nicolas Romanov, his wife Empress Alexandra and their five children were caught by the communist revolutionaries in 1917 and moved to Siberia. The whole family was killed in cold blood in 1918 by firing squads on the order of Vladimir Lenin. The remains of the Romanov family were, however, brought to the city and re-interred in a state funeral in this cathedral in 1998 — 80 years after the executions — thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glasnost that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, also known as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, is a memorial to Tsar Alexander II, who was assassinated on the spot where the cathedral was erected. When I visited, the cathedral was undergoing renovation. The cathedral has a fantastic mosaic collection covering biblical scenes and ornamental patterns.

The Simolny Cathedral:

The waterscape of the city, especially in the nights, is another attraction that should not be missed out if you happen to visit the city. The city is laid out on the banks of the Neva River at the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. A night-cruise will give you unforgettable take-home memories for a long time to cherish for. There are paid boat-services that take you through the crisscrossing water-lanes of the river before safely down-streaming you into the estuary with the Baltic Sea. It is a 3-hour water-extravaganza starting around 11 p.m. and ending with the witnessing of the opening of bridges.

Over the years, St. Petersburg became one of the main naval bases of Russia, which celebrates July 26 as its Naval Day, and the city became the center of naval exercises on that day. President Putin was in the city to lead the day, and  the preparations for the celebration were already visible on the penultimate day, on which I went  for the night cruise. The waters were dotted with warships, submarines and other naval weapon systems.

As the city is built on the banks, there are twelve drawbridges connecting the two sides. The bridges are opened both for facilitating ship movements between the Neva river and the Gulf of Finland as well as tourist entertainment. Among them, the most famous is the Palace Bridge. This and other bridges are opened around 1 a.m. every night, and it is a unique experience to watch the unfolding of the bridges from a boat in the choppy waters. I was excited to witness the opening of the Palace Bridge from a few meters away. 

The sequence of the lift of the Palace Bridge, or Dvortsoviy Most — the Russian name.

St. Petersburg is called the City of White Nights, for in summer, the nights of the city do not get completely dark due to a natural phenomenon at the polar region. The White Nights last from June 11 to July 2, the best period to visit the city. The scientific reason of this phenomenon is as follows: “The White Nights are a curious phenomenon caused by St. Petersburg’s very northerly geographical location — at 59 degrees 57′ North (roughly on the same latitude as Oslo, Norway, the southern tip of Greenland and Seward, Alaska). St. Petersburg is the world’s most northern city, standing at such a high latitude that the sun does not descend below the horizon enough for the sky to grow dark.”

I visited Saint Petersburg twice so far, and I will love to visit the city again if a chance comes in my way.

Economic Perils of Gargantuan Proportions – Invisible Webs of Economic Linkages

The International Labour Organization, or the I.L.O., recently stated that 1.20 billion people out of the 3.30 billion working population would lose their jobs due to the pandemic. Is it an exaggerated figure or closer to an impending reality? Let’s look at it based on what is happening around us.

I am working in the perfume industry. One of my friends, who works in the foodstuff sector, told me that he had shelved the plan to buy a house in India as his salary was cut down by 50% due to the pandemic. I told him, “Your decision will adversely affect my perfume sales.” He asked, “How will me abandoning the decision to buy a house in India affect your perfume sales? Another friend told me that he decided to give up his weekly routine of having coffee from Starbucks, for he was also facing the prospect of salary cut and job loss. I told him the same thing that I told to my other friend. He, too, asked, “How are Starbucks business and your perfume sales interconnected? So, how will their decisions create downward risks for my perfume sales? 

When a house is built, lots of metals and alloys like copper, aluminium, iron, steel etc. go into its make. The largest copper deposits in the world is in Chile, with Peru in the second position, and countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia coming in the top 20-list. Zambia produces 70% of Africa’s copper which gives 60% of Zambia’s foreign exchange. The Republic de Guinea, a West African country of 12.50 million population, has the largest deposits of bauxite, the ore from which aluminum is separated  —  7.4 billion tonne bauxite reserve which is about 25% of the world’s total bauxite reserves. Bauxite is the top export earner for Guinea, clocking 1.70 billion USD annually as per the latest statistics.

I sell perfumes to Chile, Peru, Zambia, Guinea, the D.R. Congo, etc. When my friend and millions of people across the globe abandon or indefinitely postpone their plans to buy new houses, the construction industry will come to its knees, with demands for copper, aluminium, iron, steel, etc., going down, thus, bringing their prices down globally. So Zambia, whose main income is from the copper belts, will be adversely affected, with the government having less money to spend and people having less disposable income, thereby them avoiding discretionary goods like perfumes. A similar pattern of economic impacts and consequent change in consumer behavior can be expected in countries like Chile, Peru and Guinea. These downward spirals will have a dampening effect on my perfume sales to these countries.

The decisions of my friend and millions of people not to buy houses will also play out a different chain reaction having wider and deeper macroeconomic impacts. Mines in Zambia, Chile, Peru and Guinea use imported mining and earth-moving equipment from countries like Germany, and as mining activities go down, demand for these equipment will also go down. Hence, the German equipment-manufactures will have to produce less, possibly forcing them to reduce two shifts to one shift, leading to retrenchment of staff. The German mine-equipment manufactures, which depend on countries like India for engineering goods and machine spare parts, will consequently reduce their imports. 

In 2018-19, India’s export of engineering goods stood at USD 81.02 billion —  one fourth of the total merchandise exports — with the main export markets being the U.S.A., the U.A.E. and Germany. Lesser orders from countries like Germany will in turn make the Indian suppliers to downsize their operations and staff strength, initiating a chain reaction that will extend down up to the last supply chain shops of engineering goods. And the last shop in this value chain is the mines of metals and minerals in countries like Chile, Peru, Zambia, Guinea, etc. My friend’s decision made us to start from mines, travel through different economic sectors — including the perfume industry— seeing how billions of Dollar worth business are unfavorably affected and millions of people losing their jobs and livelihoods. And, finally, ending our journey at the same place — mines — from where we started the journey.

How are Starbucks business and my perfume sales connected? Ivory Coast — Côte d’Ivoire as called in French — a Francophone country in West Africa, is the largest producer-exporter of coffee beans, contributing 1.80 million tonnes, which is around 38% of the world’s supply. Another 1.55 million tonnes come from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameron and Togo. The two figures together form 2/3rd of the world’s cocoa production. Ivory Coast earns USD 4.60 billion annually from the export of Cocoa beans, which forms around 40% of the total export earnings. Similarly, the other four African nations earn significant greenbacks from the exports of coca beans. These four countries come under my main markets for perfume sales.

When my friend and millions across the world stop going to Starbucks and other coffee shops, coffee consumption goes down in large-scale, negatively impacting the economies of all these cocoa-exporting countries. Resultant reduction in disposable income across the households will bring down demands for consumer and semi-luxury goods like mass-market perfumes that I sell. So my sales will be affected badly.

What will happen to companies like suppliers of computer hardware and software that depend on the above companies that we discussed. Demand for computer hardware, software and all the accessories connected with running computers will go down, calamitously impacting the companies involved in this business. So downsizing of production and furloughing of staff will follow suit. There are many other economic linkages to show how the decision of my friend and millions like him will inimically impact many other industries in one way or other. I am convinced that the I.L.O.’s projection of job losses is real and has started to take its hold already.

The above examples show how different businesses are interlinked and that one break in the economic-chain can create domino effects of unimaginable proportions across the entire macroeconomic spectrum, including the industry where I work. What about you? Do you see such economic fault lines developing in relation to the industry you work?

Economic Perils of Gargantuan Proportions – The Great Suppression

It is for the first time in the modern era that the world is facing economic downturn due to an unconventional economic reason. We had witnessed conventional economic downturns like the Great Depression of 1929 and the Recession of 2008. Both resulted in the collapse of the world economy in varying degrees and wreaked havoc on the economic well-being of the peoples. Also, both had the characteristic that they were man-made. But the current economic turmoil is neither man-made nor conventional; it has been inflicted on the world by nature, so the effectiveness of the conventional monetary and fiscal measures in fighting the downturn is anybody’s guess. Conversely, it will be science, scientists and healthcare workers who will be the protagonists clearing the way for an economic revival.

What is the Great Depression? In order to understand this question, there is another question that is a prerequisite to be asked: How do governments fight economic downturns? In other words, what measures do governments use to revive consumer demand? There are mainly two macroeconomic measures that are deployed to fight economic downturns. The first one, monetary instruments, is used by central banks. These include tools like repo rate, which is the rate at which central banks give loans/money to commercial banks and this benchmarks the interest rate at which commercial banks extend loans; reverse repo rate — the rate at which central banks borrow from commercial banks; and various cash reserve ratios that mandate proportions of deposits to be kept by commercial banks as reserves with themselves as well as with central banks. By reducing these rates and by adjusting reserve levels, central banks can make more, cheap liquidity available in banking systems, enabling commercial banks to lend more money at lower interest rates, thus, bringing more money to the pockets of people to spend and revive consumer demand.

The second macroeconomic measure is fiscal instruments which is the domain of union governments. Tools like taxation — both direct and indirect taxation, corporate taxation — stimulus packages, public borrowing etc. come under this. Governments can cut tax rates so that people will be left with more money to spend; similarly, corporates will have more money to invest. Governments can reduce borrowing from commercial banks so that they will be left with more funds to support businesses and people through loans. All these measures can result in having more liquidity for economic activities and resultant revival of consumption.

The Great Depression was the deepest, longest, severest and the most widespread economic downturn of the 20th century, happened across the world during 1929 to 1930. It started in the United Sates of America, with the crash of its stock market on September 4, 1929 and followed by the crash of share prices globally on October 29, 1929 — known as Black Tuesday.  

The Great Depression devastated economies around the globe, with personal incomes, tax revenues profits and prices going down. Every industry was affected —  farming communities suffered as crop prices fell, construction activities coming to a virtual halt, heavy industries dependent on the  primary sectors getting collapsed, etc. All these led to widespread unemployment. The situation was further exacerbated by consumers cutting down their expenditures, thus, further eroding demand. The decline in the U.S. economy was the primary factor that created the domino effect leading to the collapse of other economies in the world.

There are many economic theories that explain the Great Depression, and among them, Keynesian Theory and Monetarist Theory are the most debated ones. The Keynesian View contends that fiscal loosening by governments by using deficits through spending large sums can compensate the aggregate lower spending caused by massive declines in incomes, employment and private investments. So spending by government will keep more people employed, creating more income and demand — multiplier effect resulting in economic revival. Governments, including the U.S.A., did not use this fiscal instrument resulting in the stock-market-induced recession snowballing into the Great Depression. This view upholds effectiveness of fiscal measures to fight economic downturns.

The Monetarist View states that the Great Depression was caused by the failure of central banks, including the Federal Reserve. The view contends that since the Depression was started as banking collapse — monetary contraction of 35% — it could have been prevented to grow into the Depression by cutting down interest rates and injecting more liquidity into banking systems. This view upholds the effectiveness of monetary measures in fighting economic downturns. 

The United States Government had already come out with USD 2 trillion  — 2,000,000,000,000 — stimulus package to support the economy and that another one is under preparation to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The European Central Bank, or E.C.B., announced a monetary injection of USD 820 billion through private and public bond purchases. Furthermore, the E.C.B.said it would roll out cheap loans to banks in the member countries at interest rates as low as minus 0.75% and that it would step up bond purchases under its USD 2.9 trillion bond-buying program. Japan announced a fiscal stimulus of USD 1 trillion to support the economy in its fight agonist the pandemic. Governments and central banks across the globe are injecting trillions of USD into the their economies as the virus deepens its stranglehold.

Through monetary and fiscal policies, more money at lower capital cost can be brought into the hands of people who are expected to spend them, resulting in revival of demand, thus, reversing economic downturn. But, what if people are not in a position to spend even if they are fed with money, for their movement is restricted to their homes for a significant period of time? What if people have become cautious and discriminatory in spending — spend only on essentials and avoid spending on semi-luxury and luxury goods — even when they are proffered cheaper and affordable money? What if people metamorphose themselves into a new-normal of deciding to live within their means and refusing to leverage any extra liquidity to pomp up their living? All these questions have only one answer: consumer demand will not be revived as desired and expected by the loosening of monetary and fiscal policies. Conventional macroeconomic measures from man failing to tackle the unconventional economic catastrophe — let me call it as the Great Suppression — inflicted by the Mother Nature.

Let’s make a comparison between the historical data of the Great Depression and the emerging and indicative data of the Great Suppression. The world economy shrank by 15% between 1929 and 1932. The European Central Bank’s Chief projected that the world economy would contract by 12% this year alone. So over a period of three years — 2020-2023 — will it surpass 15%? It is highly likely. During the 3-year period of the Depression, the international trade fell by more than 50%. The World Trade Organization says that the international trade is expected to fall between 13 to 33% in 2020. During the Depression, unemployment rate rose to 23% in the U.S.A. and to as high as 33% in some countries. The Great Suppression already brought the unemployment rate in the U.S.A.to 14.3% as on May 8, 2020, and the United Nations said 1.20 billion — 37.5% — out of 3.30 billion working population was expected to lose their jobs due to the pandemic.The unemployment scenarios across the world are poised to get worse, making these numbers to increase further, may be even surpassing the unemployment number of the Great Depression.

Will this Great Suppression by nature be bigger, longer, deeper and more severe than the Great Depression? I think the answer to this question depends not alone on the fiscal and monetary measures being deployed respectively by governments and central banks but mainly on the 7-letter word called VACCINE. This virus-induced Suppression of the world economy can be stopped only through a vaccine because as long as one infected person remains at some corner of the world, the virus has the potential to unleash its virulence on the word again.The world is in peril like never before. The superheroes who can save the world and its economy from the Great Suppression are science and scientists.

Cusco and The Incas

Cusco was the cultural and administrative capital of the Inca civilization that arose from the highlands of Peru in the early 13th century. The Incas, like the Mayans of Southern Mexico and Central America, were able to build one of the largest empires through the conquests of large parts of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and built the largest civilization in South America till it fell to the Spanish conquerors in 1572.

The most famous architectural marvel of the Incas is Machu Picchu, one of the 7 Wonders of The World. The Incas built many such architectural monuments, and all of them had stonework which employed a special technique. I will give a pictorial narrative of this engineering technique at a later part. Furthermore, extensive road networks reaching all corners of the empire, finely-woven garments, etc. were some of the indicators of the high caliber of governance put in place by the Incas to keep this vast empire together.

I had been to Cusco in April 2013 to visit Machu Picchu. The flight from the Peruvian capital city Lima took an hour to land in Cusco. Cusco city is a tourist destination in its own right and has many a must-seen places on the tourist itinerary before one embarks on the uphill journey to Machu Picchu. One such tourist hotspot is the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of the Virgin, built by the Incas in 1550; it was later restored and renovated by the Spanish. The Cathedral portrays a fusion of the Inca culture and Christianity. Christ on the crucifix is dark-skinned, with the traditional Inca cloth covering Him; statues of Mother Mary in the shapes of mountains, etc. No cameras were allowed inside the cathedral.

Another attraction is Coricancha — also spelled as Qoricancha meaning The Golden Temple in Quechua, the indigenous language used by the tribes, including the Incas, in South America — the most important temple of the Incas, dedicated to Inti, the sun god whom they worshipped. 

Sun Temple picture:

The Incas employed a special stonework technique to build this Cathedral and the myriad architectural gems that dot this landscape. This amazing technique stands testimony to the prodigious expertise possessed by the Empire. I am taking you through a pictorial tour, along with narratives, to understand this technique.

Every building-unit is single stone-carved and is chiseled its way through all the corners. So there are no joints at any corners of the unit to connect with the adjacent ones on the same line.

And every unit is connected one over the other not by any plastering substance but by a technique that is unparalleled in human records. Brick over brick with no plastering in between….amazing!!

The technique: Each unit is chiseled out with a square-beam on its top and an equally measured square-cavity at the lower side. The beam is locked into the cavity of the unit above, thus, creating a compact structure to build walls. Have a look at the building-unit:

Peru is an earthquake-prone area, and there were catastrophic quakes in Cusco in 1950. But the Inca buildings, including the Cathedral, survived the quake because this technique had an inbuilt mechanism to tide over the quakes. Beam is not fully tight inside the cavity but can move a bit, thus, giving space for the shockwaves to pass through.

Cusco is 3,390 meters above the mean sea level. It is a beautiful city, closer to nature with less moorings of urbanization. The city is set in the valleys encircled by beautiful mountains whose trajectory resembles waves in still-motion.

An overlooking view of Cusco at night is splendid, clearly showing the mountains going into their natural slumber while the valley-city gets lit up to keep itself awake.

A man with Lord Ganesha tattoo. I met this man in the city, and he came forward to me after identifying me as Indian and was happy to show the tattoo to me.

Sacsaywaman is believed to have been a fortress of the Incas as the archaeological ruins have storage rooms for military gadgets. This is another engineering marvel from the Incas. They used big stones which were chiseled to perfect-boulders to fit each other without mortars — the same stonework technique used to build the sun temple.

It is incomprehensible to imagine the amount of labor needed for such arduous works. Scientists find it difficult to clearly fathom out how the Incas managed to transport big stones to such heights. The site’s altitude is 3701 meter.

An young Japanese couple was there in our group.

The above three pictures were clicked using their camera, and I am thankful to them for emailing the pictures to me as promised by them.

Alpacas and Llamas were the main domesticated animals.These animals served twin purposes — their hides were used to make warm clothes and their meat for consumption. Llamas are bigger and taller than Alpacas.The most striking difference between them is the shape of their ears: Alpaca have short spear-shaped ears, but ears of llamas are longer and banana-shaped. The most expensive warm cloth is the one made from “Baby Alpacas,” duplicates of which are also available and that are called “May be Alpacas.”

There are six stages in the making of warm clothes as depicted in the picture below:

Visit to the above monuments and places was done on the day I landed in Cusco, and it was a guided-tour. I took a package from a travel agent in Lima, costing USD850 for the 3-day sojourn. So there were tour guides to assist from the time I landed in Cusco. The tour to Machu Picchu was on the second day, and I will write about that exhilarating experience in another blog soon.

Economic Perils of Gargantuan Proportions – A Preview

COVID1-19 unleashed an unprecedented economic downslide. The world hovers dangerously on the precipice of a global economic recession. It’s skating on precariously thin ice that’s melting fast. The economic downturn promises to be a long drawn one with no hopes of an upturn anywhere on the horizon. In this series, I intend to look at the hows, wheres, whats and whens of the global economic impact of COVID-19.

The numbers that we were afraid of had started to trickle down. The numbers are more frightening than what we expected, and they look like the portends of an arduous, debilitating odyssey of economic hardships that man has to undertake with no end in sight. The International Labour Organization, or I.L.O., says that out of the 7.80 billion people, there is around 3.30 billion — 330 crores — working population and that 1.60 billion workers are in the immediate danger of losing their jobs due to the pandemic. Frightening! The indications of this projection are already out.

The USA economy shrank at 4.8% pace on annualized basis in the first quarter of the current financial year — the biggest contraction since the 2008 financial crisis; the contraction numbers of the Spanish and French economies for the same period are 5.2% and 5.8% respectively. They all fear that their economies are heading for the sharpest declines in the coming months since the Second World War. Well, many, including the W.H.O., opined that the world was fighting the biggest war — if you number it, it will be the Third World War — against COVID-19.

Comparing the present economic crisis with the financial crisis of 2008 will not be appropriate. In 2008, it was a Wallstreet-Crisis hitting the real economy; there was bloodbath across the share markets, with the Dow Jones plunging below 8000, but the real economy was not hit proportionally. Conversely, the present crisis is not a financial crisis but an economic crisis arising out of the crashing of the real economies across the borders. This is the reason that the share markets are still holding on, but the indices have to come down as and when more numbers representing the perils of the economies come out.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that lockdowns started in Europe and the U.S.A. only in March, that is, the economic activities ground to a halt only in March, but a month’s closing of shops, factories and farms was enough to offset whatever economic growth happened in January and February, even pushing the numbers into the negative territory. So imagine what the economic contraction will be in the second quarter! It will be even worse, and that was why Christine Lagarde, the chief of the European Central Bank, warned that the global economy would contract by 5 to 12% this year. Now, let’s look at a couple of equivalents in the real economy vis-a-vis the negative numbers of the contraction.

It is your birthday, and you woke up with a Happy Birthday message from your dear one, along with a bouquet of flowers of, say, chrysanthemums, roses, tulips, etc. You smell the flowers and feel great. Okay, good. But, have you ever thought about where the flowers were sourced from and who were all involved, right from farming and all the way to the florist, finally, to your home? The global cut flower business is 23 billion USD — Rs. 174,800 crores — industry. The major exporters are the Netherlands, accounting for 55% of the trade followed by Colombia (18%), Ecuador (9%) and Kenya (6%). The major consumptions markets are Germany (19%), USA (17%), UK (16%) and the Netherlands (13%). Countries like Kenya, Colombia and Ecuador airship the flowers in refrigerated condition mainly to the Netherlands, which houses Royal FloraHolland, a cooperative and the largest auction house of cut flowers in the world. From the Dutch city, Aalsmeer, as well as these three countries, flowers fan out across the world and reach your hands in less than 12 hours.

Millions of people depend on the cut flower industry for their livelihoods. Reports say that in Kenya, more than 2 million people are involved in the cut flower trade. And it is close to a million in Colombia and around a few hundred thousands in Ecuador. Flower farms in Kenya give around USD 100 as monthly salary to farm workers, most of whom are women. I read that a flower farm in Kenya had to chop the blossoms as there were no buyers and that it needed to spend USD300,000 as the running cost so decided to downsize with the dire prospect of closing down soon. The report also narrated workers, the most being women, being hit hard, with uncertainties of how they would feed their families. Imagine what is happening to those millions of workers of the global cut flower industry, who lost their jobs! Devastating! The economic destruction being brought out by the virus is beyond our imagination.

Kerala, a small state of 35 million people in India, employs around 350,000 saleswomen at textile shops. Their average monthly salary is meagre, around Rs.10000 — USD136. With Kerala under lockdown, the textile shops pulled down their shutters, pushing these hapless saleswoman who already lead a hand-to-mouth existence into penury. I happened to see the interview of such a worker narrating the hardships being endured due to the temporary loss of job. Even when the lockdown gets lifted, many of these workers will lose their jobs as demand for garments will be down immensely in tandem with the overall downward spiral of the economy. Scale up the loss of jobs of these saleswomen to pan-India level, then, to global level, you will get fatigue with many millions of lost jobs in the textile industry.

The economic nightmares happening around and awaiting us due to the pandemic are beyond our imagination and comprehension. Let’s go back to the I.L.O. numbers that 1.60 billion will lose their livelihoods. Since the crisis began, 3.5 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits, taking the total to more than 30 million. This number will go up in the near-term.

The unemployment scenarios unfolding across the globe are heart-wrenching. Reverse migration of millions of workers from the Indian cities to their homes in rural hinterlands; exodus of workers, who flocked over the years to Peru’s capital city, Lima from rural areas to make a living, back to their homes in the countryside; economic hardships awaiting the Central Asian countries likeTajikistan — whose 50% of GDP is contributed by foreign remittance by the workers employed mainly in Russia, which itself faces economic challenges due to the crash of crude oil price and the pandemic; and the impending evacuation of millions of Indians, Pakistanis, and other nationalities from the Gulf countries owing to loss of jobs are only some of the global carnage perpetrated by the virus on the livelihoods of billions of peoples. It will not be a surprise if COVID-19 will add up to and surpass the number put out by the I.L.O. It would be nothing short of a miracle if the world could stop the virus from doing so.

COVIDian Reflections: Nature Does When Man Refuses to Do

Many of you would have heard about the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. It was an agreement under the guidance of the United Nations to cut down global greenhouse gas emissions to keep the increase in atmospheric temperature below 2 °C above the pre-industrial levels, with a long-term goal of making it 1.5 °C. The agreement also envisaged reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 20%. Countries like China and India insisted and succeeded to include per capita basis quota for greenhouse gas emission in the agreement. With Turkey and Iran not joining, 189 nations signed the agreement on December 21, 2015. President Trump pulled out of the agreement later, saying that the agreement was economically disadvantageous to the USA. The best joke about this agreement is that it was not binding on the signatories and that each could fix its own annual emission targets. As it is not binding, nobody knows which country is doing what on this agreement.

The Mother Nature does when man refuses to do! The World Meteorological Organization, or W.M.O., said on April 22, 2020, that the global carbon emissions were expected to come down by 6% this year because of the pandemic as reduced burning of fossil fuels arising out of low factory-activities, lower transportation needs, etc. The W.M.O. says the target of keeping the increase in atmospheric temperature to 1.5 °C above the pre-industrial levels can be achieved if annual emission levels go down to 7%. Even with the Paris Agreement, the governments were not serious in containing the greenhouse gas emissions. So nature decided to take matters into its own hands and act, forcing the governments around the world to close down factories and transportations that brought down the emission levels — reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that they were hesitant to do.

The W.M.O. also said that such sustained level of lower emissions were needed to bring down the atmospheric temperature. Now, look at what the World Health Organisation, or W.H.O., said on April 22, 2020; it warned us that the virus would be with us for a long time. Don’t you see a linkage between what the W.H.O. and W.M.O.said? The W.M.O.: Needs sustainable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to the level of 7% to achieve the temperature-reduction target. The W.H.O.: The virus will be with us for a long time. Incidentally, both statements came out on the same day! So the pandemic is an action by nature when man failed to act, isn’t it so? 

How many among us noticed the importance of July 29, 2019 ? Very few if not none. Right?  It was the Earth Overshoot Day. The day is calculated by Global Footprint Network. Let me explain what this day is if you are unfamiliar with the term. Earth Overshoot Day is the day by which humans used up their allocation of natural resources that earth can replenish in one year. Those resources are clean water, soil, clean air, carbon sequestration, etc. In other words, we had exhausted the resources for the whole year by the 7th month of the year. It means that we had used approximately 70% more resources than what nature could produce for us in 2019, so we overshot the ecological withdrawal allowed by and possible for nature. We had been doing this for many years: The Overshoot days were August 2 and August 1 respectively in 2017 and 2018. This ecological overshoot is overconsumption. 

Why the overconsumption? In his bestselling book, “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,”  Yuval Noah Harari says that one of the biggest inventions of man is “credit.” Credit is the present utilization of your future income. Credit opens up a magical world where you do not have to be rich to lead the lifestyle of a rich man but have to only show that you currently possess the prospect for a future income. It gives you (false?) courage in the form of Equated Monthly Installment, or E.M.I., to take bank loan in order to do things like possessing a second home/farmhouse for occasional use. Credit gives you extravagant audacity to buy a second car when one car is suffice for you and your family. When you can talk to only person at a time, why do you need two mobile phones or dual-SIM mobile handset?  Many telecommunications service providers give zero-interest credit to buy the latest iPhones, with E.M.I. facility, and I know many people who used such credit facility to replace their existing iPhones with the latest entrant though their present-income did not allow them to do so. You even bankroll differently-fashioned ornaments to suit different occasions! And this kind of credit-powered borrowed luxuries are innumerable.

What effect has credit had on many of you? You overused credit to overconsume — over consumed the natural resources in the forms of your second home, second car, second mobile phone, etc. How did you over-consume? The volume of clean air and clean water that got polluted while producing your second car, second home and second mobile handset; the pressure that your second home, second car and second mobile phone put on the soil in the form of minerals and metals used; and the additional carbon footprints that arose from the production and use of your second home, second car and second phone. When millions and millions indulge in such extravagant overconsumption, it is natural that the resources, which nature can replenish in a year, will run out by mid-year or early. But, how long can nature sustain this overdraft from man? Just like the credit-fueled bubble bursts in property market, commodity markets, etc., this overdraft-bubble will also have to go bust one day. Nature did it now! You are homebound now, with your second home lying forlorn, possibly rotting with none to take care; let alone your second car, even the first one is lying idle; not able to recharge even your one phone with credit, etc. All those designer jewelry and the overflowing designer wear are lying despondent for want of use. Nature has locked mankind in, so the rest of her creation can revive and bounce back.

What do you expect to be the Earth Overshoot Day in 2020? December 31? Since humanity is home-confined, instead of 70% of overshoot as in 2019, will it be 20% undershoot in 2020? Mind you that nature did not wait till July, as it happened in 2019, for the Overshoot Day but began the work in December 2019 itself and halted man in his tracks in April itself for 2020.

Why do we make mistakes? We make mistakes because of two reasons: we do not know how to do what is to be done and we learnt to do things in an incorrect way. The solution for the first reason is to learn how to do, but when it comes to the second, how do we know what we learnt was the incorrect — wrong — way to do? This will happen when someone shows us reasonably, logically and convincingly that the way we were doing things was wrong — completely not in alignment with the way it ought to have been — and that we have to unlearn what we learnt and relearn the correct way. Now that nature is showing THE WAYS, will we unlearn and relearn?

The Land of Our First Grandparents

Science traces the first man to unicellular Amoeba that evolved 800 million years ago. Christianity says that Adam is the first human. Hinduism has two concepts for the origin of man as explained in Rig Veda – Hiranyagarbha and Purusha concepts,. In whichever of these or other concepts of man’s origin that you believe in, there is some kind of unanimity among anthropologists, based on the paleontological evidences, that the first human had started to roam around in Africa and that it was in the modern-day Ethiopia.

Scientists found that our first foreparent was a woman and gave her the name: Lucy. She was discovered by the French paleontologist, Donal Johnson, at Hardar in the Awash valley region in Ethiopia in 1974. She was reconstructed from hundreds of fossilized bones that formed 40% skeleton of a female belonging to hominin species: Australopithecus afarensis. Google says,” Hominin – the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors, including members of the genera Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Ardipithecus.” Lucy is 3.20 million years old. So it is believed that humans emerged first in Ethiopia, then, spread across the globe.

Lucy as reconstructed, then portrayed, accordingly.

So, is it because of Lucy and her relatives that the Colonists decided to leave Ethiopia from occupation? Ethiopia is the only country out of the 54 countries in Africa that was never colonized by the Europeans or any other country, except for a small period of 4 years during the Second World War when it was put under the protectorate of Italy — this was not colonization. Ethiopia has its own calendar which is 2013 years old. I was in the capital, Addis Ababa, in 2007 when Ethiopia was celebrating the completion of its second millennium. For more than 3000 years, Ethiopia was ruled by various kingdoms till 1975 when the Communists overthrew the king and took over the reins. In 1991, Ethiopia saw a people’s revolt against the brutal communist rule, with the Communists losing power. It led to the establishment of democracy in Ethiopia.

Physically, the Ethiopians look closer to South Asians and less African. Most women have long, uncurled hairs. Many men also have uncurled hairs. Their facial features like long and sharp nose, eyebrows, general complexion etc. resemble to those of South Asians. I described these features only to show how the Ethiopians have physical features that show linkages to other ethnic groups.

It is an English speaking country. People are friendly and helpful. I found Addis Ababa as a safe city and never had any problem. It is safe to venture out at night. 

Some of the Ethiopian foods are also similar to the Indian food — spicy. Chicken and beef curries are similar to the Indian make. Injera, Ethiopian flatbread, looks like Dosa. Unlike other sub-Saharan countries, Ethiopian food has a stream of local items in its kitty; some of the popular dishes are Doro Wot — Chicken Dish;Wot –Ethiopia’s version of curry;Beyainatu — vegetarian dish;and Shiro – vegetarian dish.

Injera

Wot

Beyainatu

Shiro

Ethiopia is predominantly a Christian country, and Christianity was introduced to the country in 4th century. Normally, during Lent, the Christians practice Abstinence; they follow a strictly vegetarian diet though people feast on Easter. Ethiopian Christians also fast during Lent, and the above vegetable dishes are the ones they consume during such abstinence, renouncing meats temporarily. There are also Indian, Italian and other European restaurants in Addis Ababa.

Medhane Alem Cathedral, Addis Ababa

Have you ever wondered how come a poor country like Ethiopia produces Olympic gold medal winners in long-distance running? The answer lies in its altitude. Ethiopia is located at 4132 to 9843 ft above the Mean Sea Level. So atmospheric pressure in Ethiopia is lower than the standard atmospheric pressure, with central Ethiopia clocking 15% less. It is difficult to do strenuous exercise at such high altitude because as atmospheric pressure is low, air is thinner, so it is a challenge for our body to extract oxygen from air into our blood stream. Ethiopian athletes train in these arduous conditions;they have higher stamina as a result and find it easier to run faster for longer distances at the standard atmospheric pressure. Hotels in Ethiopia have notice boards warning tourists to not engage in strenuous exercises as it can lead to death. Such unfortunate deaths happened to a few tourists while playing basketball, I was told by a hotel staff.

There was a time when people used to mention Ethiopia while talking about hunger and starvation-deaths. A deadly famine impacted Ethiopia during 1983 to 1985, killing around 1.20 million people and internally displacing more than 2.50 million people. Ethiopia walked past that past! Today, it is doing better than many of its sub-Saharan counterparts. My last visit to Addis Ababa was in 2018 and could see a lot of progress in the city. 

Ethiopia is fast emerging as the next big destination for sourcing garments. Many Indian, Turkish, Chinese and Bangladeshi companies had set up  production bases in Ethiopia, a country with 114 million population that offers cheaper labor compared to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Besides, Ethiopia is also a producer of cotton, with 2,697,640 million hectares of land suitable for growing cotton. Many clothing giants like H&M source from Ethiopia. Ethiopia is a land-locked county and uses the seaport of the neighboring country, Djibouti. 

With a GDP growth of 7.4% in 2019, Ethiopia is marching ahead to progress. I look forward to see a more progressed Ethiopia during my next visit.