Jacmel, Haiti, – Carnival Time

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Jacmel is a small town, a fishing village, and situated south west of Port au Prince Haiti. While Port au Prince is electric and you need to have our wits about you, Jacmel is laid back, a place where you can walk the streets at any time in safety. It is welcoming, walk able, and atmospheric.

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Two great festivals that happen in Haiti every year are Fet Gede, in November and Carnival, in February. Fet Gede celebrates the Day of The Dead, a voodoo festival when, according to folklore, Baron Samedi takes people from their graves and welcomes them into the underworld. There is lots of voodoo, ritual dancing and drinking rum. Carnival, on the other hand, is a riot of colour, noise, and ordered chaos when the small town of Jacmel is transformed and welcomes people from all over Haiti to celebrate culture and freedom. It is about costumes made from papier mache, dancing music and celebration. Preparations by individuals and groups go on for many months before. It is unlike any other carnival that I have ever seen in that it celebrates uniquely Haitian things in a uniquely Haitian way.

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Papier mache, simply pieces of paper stuck together with water or paste is an art form in Haiti with some wonderfully beautiful pieces made in moulds, and it is the centrepiece of the costumes for carnival. Celebrate Haitian music, art, culture and their history particularly their rebellion as slaves, which resulted in an independent state in 1804 of which they are rightly proud.

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The carnival is special, it is fun, and it is energy and an unforgettable experience.

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Port Au Prince, Haiti.

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If you travel far and wide you think you have been to poor countries and have seen poverty and deprivation and met people living difficult lives, and then you go to Haiti. The capital, Port Au Prince is a shock to the system. From the moment you exit the airport you are surrounded by noise, offers, urgency and traffic that is uniquely chaotic. But some how it works and beneath the extremes Haitians are friendly, soulful, stoic and they know how to enjoy themselves with music and dance.

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I stayed at the Hotel Oloffson, famed for being written about in Graham Greene’s novel, The Comedians, and for rooms that are named after famous stars who have stayed there. It is in downtown Port Au Prince, not in the more Westernised suburb of Petionville, and more fun for that. The voodoo garden that surrounds it is filled with fascinating statues from the world of voodoo.

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Port Au Prince has not recovered from the devastating earthquake of 2010, which affected some 3m people and in which more than 230000 people were killed. Buildings are still wrecked and it is very slowly being rebuilt. Poverty is rife but Haitians never lose their positive outlook and pride in being who they are. It is a place where you should not take photos of people without asking first, a throw back to the old days of Papa Doc. Take a trip to the Iron market, a great introduction to the markets that dot Haiti filled with everything from trinkets, to food, to second hand clothes to voodoo icons and lotions. You don’t see a lot of people wearing helmets on motor bikes and scooters in Haiti but riding on the back of one of those is the cheap and easy way to get around. Take a trip up to Jalousie, a suburb up the hill, a place that is not recommended by tourist guides but once you get there, start talking, and overcome the initial suspicions  you start to experience what makes Haiti special. You will often be told not to go out alone, and it is a place to be careful, but don’t let that stop you enjoying the sheer feeling of energy and curiosity that Port Au Prince engenders

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Bankers!

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“The conservative banker is an impressive specimen, diffusing the healthy glow which comes of moderation in eating, living, and thinking. He sits in state and spends his days saying, with varying inflections and varying contexts, ‘no.’ … He says ‘yes’ only a few times a year. His rule is that he reserves his yesses for organizations so wealthy that if he said ‘no,’ some other banker would quickly say ‘yes.’ His business might be defined as the lending of money exclusively to people who have no pressing need of it.” — Fred Schwed Jr.

 

http://www.gryphonmanor.com/books

 

 

 

Money Lending

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Money makes the world go round. When it does not rotate quite as quickly as you desire do you reach out to a money lender? Or do you loathe the money lenders, the usurers? In his varied and extensive career in the money lending industry, George Watson has seen money lending in all its manifestations and became fascinated by its history and by its various effects on people and societies. Money lending has become an all-embracing all consuming monolith which either serves societies or devours them depending on your view.

Living life as both lender and borrower, encountering people from every part of the economic and social spectrum, there grew a deep understanding of the extent to which money lending in all its forms affects and implicates everyone, whilst simultaneously, society candy coats the activity and avoids the moral choices.

This book examines how life connects us all to the money lenders, how it started, how it evolved and where it is now. It examines the humour, the pathos, the successes and failures of an activity that has affected us or infected us since the dawn of history.

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George Watson was born in Malawi in Central Africa and educated in the UK. He read law and was called to the Bar in 1971. Being of an entrepreneurial and libertarian nature, he went into business on his own account, providing finance to small owner-managed start-up and early stage businesses in London. In 1998 he moved to Cape Town in South Africa to establish the same business in the new post apartheid South Africa. The business was sold to a government agency and now he divides his time between London and Cape Town, consulting, travelling widely and writing. His extensive travel has shown that the money lending phenomenon is global, its moral conflicts and its social hypocricies universal. Read all about it!!

http://www.gryphonmanor.com/books

 

 

 

 

 

A Money Lender’s Tale

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They say that everyone has a book in them, everyone has a story to tell that will fill at least one book. Some people are driven by the creative process and writing a book is an ambition that becomes real. But for most of us, it is just something that sits at the back of the mind, way down the bucket list. Often we can tell a story in conversation and be met with the refrain “Oh you should write a book!”  We smile, gratified that our little anecdote was well received, but that is all. And if, as I do, you have lots of stories to tell so that refrain repeats itself. Then eventually,  one day, as I did, you sit down and write a book.

 

Writing a book is daunting. You stare at a blank screen and wonder what should the first word be. Harder than it would seem! You want something explosive but inevitably you end up with a pronoun or preposition, in my case “it”! Then it pours out like water from an unblocked drain, words engulf the screen until you realise that none of it makes sense and then the real work starts. It’s a long arduous and educational process, endlessly refined. Stories, people and ideas from long ago float to the surface of your memory and you restrain yourself from embroidering them.

 

The creation morphs from simply being a means of talking to yourself, to the point where you are happy that others will understand it and grasp it, and be able to laugh and cry and question themselves about its message. And above all, you hope that the reader will at the conclusion, be satisfied, amused, and thoughtful.

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A Money Lender’s Tale is a story about one life in the world of finance, or rather the world of “money lending”, for that is the true nature of all finance. A world that engulfs us all although we are not always aware of that, an octopus-like industry that we both need and yet despise. Its about the rich and the poor, the small farmer who fed his best breeding pig on marijuana and cream cakes, to the couple selling t-shirts in the market who build a million dollar construction and plant hire business, and of course it is about those whose lives are consumed by failure and greed fed by the money lenders. It is not a “how to” book, not a clarion call to lend money, nor is it an apologia, it’s about a life.

 

You can find it at http://www.gryphonmanor.com

 

 

Bon Voyage, Take Your Time

 

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This little gem of a greeting was sent to me today by a good friend on the eve of my departure for another journey. Those I know who don’t share my obsession with “going on a journey” as I call travelling, have got used to these regular disappearances. They have seen the familiar signs of introspection as I decide where to go and what to do. They have seen the minimal research I do in order to create as much of an adventure as possible when I arrive, and they know that the space they have made for me in their lives, will be empty for a while until I return refreshed and reinvigorated by my experience,, at which time they wont ask me how it was but where I will go next. I will disappear from their lives for a while and they from mine and normality will resume when I have had my journeying fix.

For me the nervous anticipation of pastures new, the preparation, the familiar routines of preparing to go, the nervousness that will turn to exileration as the wheels leave the runway tomorrow, and that wonderful sense of the unknown starts to fill me. What will I see, who will I meet, what challenges lie in store because of my vague itinerary, what special moments, what will go wrong as something surely will, it’s the anticipation of the journey. You start to cut away the routines and events that bind you to daily life, try to make sure that nothing will happen when you are away and turn your face to the unknown. You start to feel a different person, the flavour of life is richer because you will undoubtedly learn many things new and you wont be the same when you return.

I am excited and yes, I will take my time!

The Pirogovo Open Air Museum Kiev

 

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About 12 kms south of Kiev Ukraine lies the village of Pirogovo which contains the Pirogovo Museum of Folk Architecture and Life. It is a 370 acre open air museum showing the cultural history of Ukraine. The site contains folk architecture brought from all parts of Ukraine and reassembled there.

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The setting is rural as is the display, ancient buildings, a church that dates back to 1742, windmills, old houses, art and handicrafts. On festival days in Ukraine there are displays at the site which are well worth seeing.

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There are records of habitation at the sight since the 1600s and its setting is ideal for an exhibit like this. Rolling country away from the city although close enough to easily reach it. In summer it is beautiful with wild flowers walks, streams, horses, all redolent of the times gone by.

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It is an official state museum although the setting is far from the traditional museum building environment. It’s a rally great day out in the country with a combination of rural life, fascinating buildings and real history as it was lived.

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