Friday, July 8, 2011

Howard, David, and Me

1. My Chinese is better than Howard French’s!

I was talking to our CEO in the car on the way to his house, and he mentioned that a few months back he was interviewed by a professor from Columbia, who was doing research for a book on the Chinese in Africa. Unless there are two Columbia professors simultaneously working on the same type of book, I’m guessing that it was the man himself ( I’ve mentioned him in an earlier entry, and I’ll once again suggest his article from the Atlantic on the topic ( for those interested. But to get back to my point, I’m happy my boss thinks my Chinese is better than French’s for two reasons: First, French spent three years as the Shanghai bureau chief for the New York Times; second, he completely blew me off when I e-mailed him earlier this year about contacts in Zambia.

2. I’ve decided that I will spend time over coming month interviewing and surveying as many of my company’s employees as possible for my senior thesis.

Partly because of the sudden intrusion into my life of Howard French, and partly because I’ve started plugging away at some of the scholarly (or at least quasi-scholarly) articles that I tend to set aside “for later,” I’ve started to think a bit more seriously about my senior thesis. I’m beginning to come around to the idea that a case study – or, a broader thesis grounded in or complemented by a case study – could have a lot of value, especially given the tendency of many academics to paint things in broad strokes and lack deeper practical knowledge of the situation on the ground. I’m also running up against some personal constraints: notably, a lack of focused knowledge about anything in particular, and the fact that I already have plans for next summer and will thus not be using it for research. Add that it’s a current topic which I find interesting, accessible, and relevant (both to my major and as a major force in international relations), and it seems like a done deal. My thesis will have to be one of the many things I discuss with my academic advisor when I return to Yale, but I hope I can take advantage of my time here to lay a little groundwork..

3. Something you’ll all be much more interested in, and the reason I didn’t write this weekend, is my visit to Victoria Falls.

The Falls are very difficult to capture by camera in all their glory – looking up at them from below – for three reasons. First, the sheer amount of steam and condensation kicked up, even at the beginning of the dry season, obscures most views from below, even from dry land and at a distance. Second, the aforementioned water is absolutely pervasive near the lower edge of the falls: they rent large raincoats and waterproof bags for a dollar near the entrance to Victoria Falls Park, and I’m glad I took the latter because the bits near the lower falls are in a state of permanent precipitation. Third, and not least: How do you get a good shot of a waterfall that’s over a mile wide?

Just as I was getting over the sheer volume of water careening over the precipice, my mind was set reeling by another thought: When the explorer-missionary David Livingstone ( first reached and explored the falls, he did so without the aid of roads or bridges. He just... walked, and boated, and tried not to fall over the edge before he moved on. He spent decades on various expeditions around Africa – including eight years “opening up” the Zambezi River, and seven searching for the source of the Nile. Noble ambitions, insufferable faults, and everything else aside... Who today, not fleeing from something at home, would have the sheer guts to attempt that kind of venture? It may be generations before that breed of man is once again called upon, perhaps to plumb the depths of outer space.

The ecology of the Falls took me off-guard. The upper section and surrounding areas are typical Zambian bush: green trees, green shrubs, green grass. But I took a trail down to the bottom of the falls, and when I got there I suddenly found myself treading on sandy river-bank with what exactly my conception of rain-forest-type jungle all around me. There were also baboons! - cute, funny, and also pretty menacing when irritated.

I only spent a day in the area – a shame, considering the money and time I spent getting there and back – but it was a day well-spent. After seeing the Falls from all angles, I watched a few folks bungee jump, walked onto the border with Zambia for the second time so far, had a delicious burger, and headed back to my hostel just in time to catch an evening river cruise. On the boat and afterwards, I finally got to meet the other three Yalies in Zambia (Yes, there were four of us, in Zambia, at the same time.), as well as a brigade of Irish medical students bent on taking full advantage of the cruise’s open bar. We all had a blast, deep into the night, and went our separate ways in the morning. By the time I got back to my dorm the next day, I was tired, happy, and broke: of the $150 I had brought with me (my stipend for the month of June), I had approximately $.25 left in my pocket.

And that’s all I’ve got for tonight; I’ll try for another update on Sunday. It’s pretty late and the internet’s been alright lately, so I’m going to try to attach a few photos as I blog via e-mail – here’s hoping it worked.


1 comment:

  1. Hey, Ethan:

    Somebody from the Development Office wanted my ideas on some students who "are doing something interesting this summer," and I put in your profile. So if you get contacted, you can blame me. =)