Friday, October 3, 2008

No electricity (for a while)

So, the main desk guy in our building called me up around noon yesterday on the building intercom and informed me that the electricity guy was here to disconnect the power to our apartment. Turns out that someone (who will remain unnamed) decided to go to the US without paying the electric bill. And then that same someone decided to stay stateside for several weeks longer than originally intended, and then that someone didn't go immediately to the bank (where all utilities and other bills are paid - weird, huh?) to pay the bill.
Hence, the power turn off, which makes two things abundantly clear - one, that this country doesn't screw around with their utility payments, and, two, that I'm clearly to blame for this fiasco.
Actually, things weren't that bad. I continued to do my work for the day at a cafe with wifi access. And we had what could be considered by some people as a self-enforced romantic evening by candle light. There's something surreal about hanging out in a be-candled house, enjoying a meal in the dark and just hanging out, and then walking out of your apartment to a lit up foyer. Kind of weird to be in the dark when the rest of the city is lit up outside the windows. But fun, for a day at least.
The one downside, if it can even be considered a downside, is that we had no phone or internet access. So, for those of you who were trying to reach us in the later part of the week - we weren't ignoring you. At least, not in the way that we usually ignore our phone calls.
This experience (the power is back on now), coupled with the financial crisis going on at the moment, and sprinkled with a little of the last (latest) die hard movie (what is that - the fifth? sixth) that I caught a snippet of at the gym this morning, has me thinking about the relative differences in reactions to the pandemonium that is upon us. I've been thinking about the "developing" nations of the third world, and the fact that most people have little or no access to capital (debt or equity), and how, up to the last couple weeks, this was seen as a major detriment to the development of these countries. There aren't that many mortgage instruments availalbe to people here, little credit cards, no home equity lines of credit, no car loans, no commercial paper, no short term loans (this has all started to change recently, but I imagine that the growth in this area is going to be drastically curtailed in the future). People in Ecuador, specifically, have gone through a period where all bank assets were frozen, across the nation - nobody could get any money. And they survived. They were able to continue going about their business as usual.
Huge swaths of this country only recently were added to the electric grid, and those that have had electricity for a longer period of time (such as in urban areas) have gotten used to losing power for days at a time. There was a time in the not too distant past where Quito would only have power every other day - and that went on for years.
So, what does this all mean? It means that the "third world" people are far more prepared to deal with adverse conditions than their developed neighbors. That the developing nations are going to be in a better position, relative to their more developed neighbors, to handle the coming difficult times, and that maybe, somehow, the gap between the developed and developing nations is going to shrink. We, or our counterparts who think and work on these issues, used to think that this gap would shrink when the third world became more like the first. Who knew it would happen when the first moved down the rungs to join the third?
I guess there's a silver lining in any cloud. Consider this - no more illegal immigrant issue. Nobody wants to sneak into a country that has no jobs to offer them.

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