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May 2007
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July 2007

Home Stretch

I am in the final hours of my long stay in Zimbabwe.  I finished up some facilitator training for TPI today and now I will have nonstop meetings until I depart on Saturday.  I will overnight in Nairobi and will then be home in the States on Monday. 

I am looking forward to being home. I didn't have hot water this morning but did have electricity.  That is one thing I won't miss when I leave. 

There is only one aspect of traveling that I don't like and that's packing to go home.  I don't even mind packing to go away, but somehow my stuff seems to grow and expand and it's always harder to pack on the return portion of any journey. 

I fly all night out of Nairobi but have a business class day flight from London to Newark.  Business class is nice. That's about it for today. Not much time as I attempt to tidy up the loose ends here before I go.

Too Late

I woke up this morning at 6 AM and it was cold in the cottage. I thought, "I'll stay under the covers for five more minutes." Then the power went off, so I missed my chance for any hot water. So it was back to the sink bath using my cold kettle water. I shaved, got dressed and combed my hair in the dark, and I am fortunate I had color coordinated clothes on for my TPI session because it was so dark. Tonight the power is on, so I just sat in the sauna and will shower tonight, just in case.

The exchange rate actually fell today, from 200,000 Zim to $1US to 125,00 Zim to $1US. Why is that? Are conditions improving? No! I heard it was because there weren't enough Zim dollars in circulation, so their price against the dollar changed to reflect that reality. Money is a commodity here, just like sugar or butter, and a dollar in better condition can actually get a greater return in the open market. People who had Zim to change to US, however they could make that happen, were the big winners in today's currency sweepstakes.

I hear there is a severe shortage of diesel fuel in the nation at this time as well. People are buying five or six gallons of fuel out of the back of someone else's car, that's how desperate people can be for petrol. Yet life goes on. Last Sunday, the church was full. I see none of God's people starving and business opportunities are everywhere. I am so burdened by the negativity here right now that I am helping to start a blog site that will be called and will invite people to record what's right about Zimbabwe. Of course we will stay away from politics. I will let you know when it is up and running.

That's about it for today. I'm sure tomorrow will bring more adventures. I read a quote one time that if you want to make an impact in the world, you have to go to a part of the world where an impact needs to be made. I guess I followed that advice when I came to Zimbabwe.

Feel free to write your comments to this or any other entry on the site where they are posted.

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New Book

I come home this weekend to the States and head to Atlanta on July 9 for the annual Christian Booksellers Convention. There I will launch my latest book, Beyond Purpose. I am excited about this release, but I'm excited about anything I write. The question is whether or not I can get the buyers excited. I believe that both my African publishers have decided to pick up the rights to this new book in Kenya and Nigeria. It's ironic that I sell more books in Africa than in the United States.

This new book has 52 short chapters that focus on personal development, creativity, time management and goal-setting. It is intended to be read one chapter per week and includes simple exercises at the end of each chapter to help the reader apply the lessons. If someone doesn't want to read it that slowly, they can sit down and probably finish it in a couple of hours.

This morning I launched the fourth Pacific Institute (TPI) Investment in Excellence (IIE) program here in Harare. We have 21 people in class. Later in the week, I will hold the second facilitators training program for TPI. I am expecting eight people. The IIE program is so good that it holds everyone's attention from 8 AM to 5 PM. There is not time to doze or rest; the material just keeps on building, one unit after the next. I love working with the material and it has radically changed my life.

It's hard to believe that I've been away from home for nine weeks. Needless to say, I am glad to be going home. I miss my wife, my children, my 90-year-old mothers, my sister, wireless Internet and baseball. I miss reading USA Today, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, ESPN, my friends at CUBM, my church, the farmer's market and my office. It is winter here, so I miss summer heat back home and the chance to ride in my car with the windows down.

I am busy once I get home, not being in Pittsburgh very much in July. But at least I will be Stateside. God bless America! I'm coming home.

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Write It Down

Someone once said that the problem with taking mental notes is that they fade so quickly.  That is so true.  If there is one secret, and it's not such a secret to my productivity, it's that I write things down that I need and want to do. 

Where do I write things down?

I carry some index cards in my jacket pocket.  Sometimes I write things down there.  I have a Treo 680 phone organizer and I write things down there as well. The Treo syncs with my computer Icalendar and task list. I am violating a rule that you should only have one location, but I go one step further and also record some things in my journal.  I then regularly go back over these four locations to consolidate into one daily to-do list.

I just sat at my office desk (lit by generator power, I might add) and did two hours of work, and it was all fueled by my to-do list, my written to-do list.  I never rely on my memory to keep track of what I need to do.

I have also used the Franklin Covey Classic organizer and lately the Covey pocket compass system.  I am not a bigot as to which system you use, but I am rigid on this one principle:  Write it down. 

I hope when you read this you will refer to and compose your list of things to do and then will get busy doing them.  Sorry, I have to run to my next appointment, or at least that's what I have written down. 

Frustrating Day

Woke up to no power, water or generator this morning.  Hung around the house for five hours, but finally dumped the only water I had in my kettle into a sink and did a sponge bath (burr, it was cold!).  From what I understand, the power came back on right after I left.  Then I came home tonight and, you guessed it, there was no power, water or generator.  So I packed up and came back to the office, where there is generator power but no electricity.

There are some people who go like this for two weeks at a time.  Some only have power a few hours a day.  As I write, the presidential motorcade raced up the road, taking the president home for the evening.  As I write, there are people gathered outside my window, singing and praying, presumably for their nation.  As I write, I have a cold, probably a carryover from the bad bottled water I drank in Ethiopia last week.  Yes, even the bottled water may not be safe when you travel.

So time to go back to my cottage.  I have a flashlight in my back pocket in case the power is still out.  And if it is, that means there will be no space heater for the cold night ahead.  Ah, the joys of working in Africa.  I'm not complaining, just reporting.  I know there are people who have it worse than I do and I am grateful for the work that I have to do with wonderful people.  It would be nice to be able to do it, however, with some of things we take for granted in most other parts of the world.

Reconnecting with Proverbs

In 1997, I wrote a daily devotional entitled A Daily Dose of Proverbs.  It is still my most popular book.  I wrote a one-page devotional for every day of the year, choosing one verse from the Proverb for that day.  Proverbs has 31 chapters, so on the eighth day of every month, I chose and wrote about a different verse from the eighth chapter.  So there are 12 verses from each chapter that are featured in the book.

I tell a lot of stories about myself in A Daily Dose, some of which aren't flattering.  As a writer, I try to be honest and tell stories that be relevant to the reader.  Judging by the feedback from readers, I think I was able to do that.

As I have reconnected with Proverbs, I am taken by how many verses have to do with the mouth and speech.  Of course, there are lots of other topics in the 951 verses found in Proverbs, and at one time, I had identified seven major topic headings that almost every verse comes under.  I'm not so sure those seven headings are relevant any more.

The thing about Proverbs is that there are so many topics in each chapter that I can reach the end of a chapter and not remember anything I read!  That is why I tried to find categories and read the verses not by chapter but by topic.  It did help to retain what Proverbs teaches.

I used to teach that we need Proverbs for it's the only book that tells parents that they can and should spank their children!  But there's so much more -- finances, leadership, relationships, reaping and sowing and, as I already said, the tongue.

I had a seminary professor tell us that we should read the whole Bible but have one book that is "ours."  We should study that book inside and out.  We should take it apart, so to speak, and then put it back together, only to take it apart again.  Proverbs is that book for me. What's yours?

I will try to share insights from time to time as I read through the chapters.  If you have any, feel free to share them with the readers.

Life in Harare

In addition to the daily power cuts, we have hyper-inflation here in Zimbabwe at the present time. The inflation rate in the States is probably about 3-5%. Here the official rate here is 2,000%, but it's probably more like 14,000 to 19,000%. I did not make a typing error! There is no way to explain what this means for daily life unless you are here to experience it.

When I arrived on May 7, the street exchange rate for the US dollar was $37,000 Zim to $1.00US. Yesterday, it was $200,000 to $1.00. What does that mean? It means that people are so desperate to dump their Zim dollars that they keep driving up the "price" to obtain real currency so they can transact business or feed their family. Of course, it is illegal to trade Zim dollars for US through anything except official government channels, and I and my friends would never think of doing anything but what is legal. Rumor has it, however, that even the reserve bank is on the "street" bidding up the price of foreign currency with useless Zim dollars to get their hands on that precious and scarce foreign currency.

While fuel is available right now, it is approaching $8.00US per gallon! What does that mean? It means that the exchange rate isn't keeping up with inflation. The Zim to US dollar exchange isn't keeping pace with the hyper-inflationary daily price increases on the basic necessities of life. I got a quote recently on a handmade briefcase. One Friday the quote was $5 million Zim; the next Friday the quote was $6 million. Most price quotes are good only for the day they are given and then change the next day.

I ate out the other night and spent $1.76 million Zim at a local restaurant. How much was that in US dollars? It's hard to say. On that day, it was probably about $12US. Two days later, it was $8.50US.

How do the people cope? First, they carry around huge parcels of money, since the largest bill right now is $100,000. Then they scrape, watch, adapt, swap and keep on smiling. Yet the pressure is intense and many leave permanently or look for some break from the intensity of living here.

What is the answer? I have no idea! I have a masters degree in economics, but they never prepared us for a scenario like this.

I have heard that no country in history has had inflation of 1,000% or more for six consecutive months without something happening to break the cycle. This has been going on for one year and it has defied all the experts and their predictions. There is no end in sight.

When I was in Cuba years ago, I never saw a peso -- only US dollars. I would think we are headed for the same thing here. If someone has US dollars, pounds or South African rand, they will be able to live. If not, then they will suffer with their Zim dollars, just like the Cubans suffered who had only pesos. The unofficial economy has and will become the official economy here and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

These are fascinating times and I am learning so much as I watch history unfold here. My commitment to Zimbabwe and its people are firm, and I watch and pray for answers that will unlock these unprecedented challenges. When this turns around, and it has to turn eventually, we will then be faced with a whole new set of challenges to bring stability and peace. Perhaps it is for such a time that I am here. God's will be done and may He have mercy on the people here as they seek to build and restore their nation.

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Ethiopia 3

Today we met with the head of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce to discuss possible training opportunities for the business leaders here. The chairman is in his first month of service and the organization is looking for a new secretary-general to run the day-to-day operations. This seems like a good time to forge a partnership with this new team and bring fresh, purposeful ideas to Ethiopia. We have made a significant local contact who will pursue this on our behalf, and who knows the local culture. That is always so important when you do business in any country, especially in Africa.

This is the rainy season so it has rained all three afternoons that we were here. I didn't mention that I flew Ethiopian Airline here. I have always heard that it is a good airline and I was not disappointed. It seems that Ethiopian, Kenyan and South African Airways are the three jewels of sub-Saharan African airlines.

One thing to keep in mind if you travel to Africa: Just because someone can speak English doesn't mean that they understand English. That may sound strange, so let me explain. I can't tell you how many times I have said something and repeated it to someone on the continent. Then I had them repeat it back to me. When they did that, I assumed that they understood only to find out later that they did not. In many African cultures, it is not polite to ask too many questions, so they shake their head as if they understand, but they don't. they may even be able to give back to you what you said, but that doesn't insure comprehension.

While English is the official language here, we have had to use an interpreter more than I usually do. This isn't a problem; it just requires that one be patient and not assume anything where communication is concerned.

I head back to Zimbabwe tomorrow. It looks like my trip to Nigeria is postponed, which will then allow me to dig into some big projects in Zimbabwe that need my attention.

Ethiopia 2

I have learned so much about Ethiopia already. Yesterday we drove about 90 minutes outside of Addis to address a class of leaders from the 26 territories of the country. There was one male and female from each region, and they are being trained to go back to their region and engage in community development. Tom Deuschle and I tried to impress upon them that all lasting change begins on the inside and works its way out, and that before you can change any action you must first change the way people think. More importantly, we urged them to change themselves and allow those changes to guide their work as community developers.

We then went with our two guides for the day to a resort area on a small lake that was built by an Ethiopian who lived in Boston for 23 years. He has done a great job in building something outstanding. We were impressed and wondered what we could do to encourage that kind of creative thinking and business throughout the country.

Here are some other things I've learned about Ethiopia in my short stay here:

1. It is the second most populated country in Africa. They are just completing a new census, but estimates are that it will be close to 100 million people! Only Nigeria is bigger.
2. Coffee is its main export and it is delicious. They are serving us Arabica coffee here at the hotel and it is wonderful.
3. Speaking of hotel, we are staying at the Addis Ababa Sheraton, and it would be a five-star facility no matter what country it would be located. It is tremendous.
4. The Ethiopian people always smile at you. They are a handsome people, male and female.
5. English is the main language.
6. They drive on the right side of the road.
7. Their food is unique, and tasty, although we have been a bit limited to what is in the hotel.

So I get ready for my last day here, I am excited for the possibilities of working here. The embassy usually extends a three-month visa to visit Ethiopia. Ironically, I was given a two-year visa allowing unlimited visits, and I didn't even ask for one! So I know that today, my last day, will reveal why I got this visa and the way forward. I will keep you posted.

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I am in Addis Ababa for my first visit to Ethiopia. Yesterday an acquaintance took us to have a meeting with President Girba, who is 82 years of age and widely respected in Ethiopia. We met in the office where Haile Selassie had served as emperor for 48 years. I was with Tom Deuschle, who had met the president while they both were in the States last month. Our purpose was to see how we could bring the training of The Pacific Institute to this country. While the prime minister is more powerful than the president, it is still an influential position and we were delighted at the privilege of a meeting.

After the meeting, we had a personal tour of the private collection of Haile Selassie's treasures and possessions. We also toured his royal residence. It was fascinating to see so many exotic things, some of which were made of pure gold! I wish I could have taken pictures, but no cameras are allowed. The exhibit is not open to the public.

We did not get out of the hotel much after that on our first day here, but today should be much busier. I am staying at the Addis Ababa Sheraton Hotel and it is a five-star facility. This would be a fabulous place no matter where it was located and matches up against the finest hotels in the world. I am impressed.

I have to run so I will keep you posted on my Ethiopian adventures. I have already learned so much, but there's so much more to learn. Stay tuned.

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