A photo for the grandchildren

This hi-rise building in the Plateau district is the most visible sign of the ivorian crisis I noticed in Abidjan.  The damage is from small arms fire in the beginning of April when the fighting reached very central Abidjan.

I’m thinking that it’s a photo to save for the grandchildren, that will hopefully look as surreal and remote to them as  World War II photos of Europe look to me.

Small arms fire - typically not great for real estate values

Continue reading “A photo for the grandchildren”

Taleb’s measure of success

Possible but not easy

“My only measure of success is how much time you have to kill,”

-Nicholas Nassim Taleb

I have heard it said that you either have to work at a regular job, or you can start your own business, but if you do that you have to work even longer hours.  So we are all trapped, and it’s tough to meet Taleb’s measure of success.

Im thinking that it would be cool to show that it’s possible to start one’s own business without spending very much time on it, and without being wealthy at the outset.  So far my business is still small, but it looks entirely possible to make it bigger without increasing the time spent on it much. The blog actually takes more time than the business, and I’ll try to keep it that way. Ultimately it’s about a sense of freedom, of not being bogged down, and mastering one’s own time.

So, I think it’s possible to set up a business without spending too much time on it, but it’s hardly easy.   In my case I’m trying to manage things in Africa from Europe and that means you got to have people you can rely on to handle things on site. I think I do, but there are still snags.

Recently, I have had a carpenter  supposed to do work on the Cocody house taking an advance of 135,000 CFA Francs (205 euro), but not doing any work.  He has admitted he took the money to pay debts, and I got another carpenter to finish the job, but I’m not sure I’ll ever see those 135,000 CFA Francs again.  The law firm that I’m working with are pretty optimistic though. They say at worst they’ll get the carpenter put in jail and then his relatives will collect the money.  Well, I’ll see. It’ll be a test of the Ivorian legal system and how things work in practice.

Pas trop de frime

The other part of it not being easy to set up a business without spending much time on it, is that it means living beneath one’s means for a long period of time.  I’m taking a big chunk of my discretionary spending and investing it in the Ivory Coast, instead of well, spending it.

Guess it would have been possible to go down the debt route instead, but that isn’t really my style.  I mean sooner or later I will probably take on some reasonable amount of debt to expand the business, and there’s nothing wrong in principle with debt financing. What I mean is pretty well expressed by John Hempton at the Bronte Capital blog:

Chapter Two however starts with one of the best quotes I have ever seen:

“To be successful, keep looking tanned, live in an elegant building (even if you’re in the cellar), be seen in smart restaurants (even if you nurse one drink) and if you borrow, borrow big.” 

-Aristotle Onassis

Seldom have I seen a business/political philosophy so diametrically opposed to mine stated so clearly. And exemplars abound – think Angelo Mozilo in American finance or Andrew Peacock in Australian politics.

Just a fabulous quote and a world view that seems to work for the people who hold it if not for the rest of us…

Brace for Impact!

Crunch Time

It’s looking like the debt situation in Western Europe is approaching crunch time. Regardless what governments do I just don’t see how they can meet the expectations of their peoples in terms of stuff like goods and services, public sector jobs, various benefits and allowances, or pensions.

The direct cause is debt spiraling out of control, and I’d say the fundamental causes for that are:

1) Demographics – an aging population

2) A welfare state that has been allowed to expand more than what could be afforded

3) Governments taking on bank debt instead of letting banks fail

Not all countries in Western Europe have messed up though, but all will be affected, and especially export-dependent ones like Sweden. In Sub-Saharan Africa I don’t think any country have the problems above, but the effects of the coming crisis will be felt there as well, but, I think, less severely than in Europe. I wrote about potential effects for the Ivory Coast in the Well, Western World that was a nice 500 year streak post.

As to what’s going to happen in Europe,  it’s a lot harder to predict than the Ivorian crisis, where it was quite entertaining and not always difficult to guess Gbagbo’s next moves.

The options for debt ridden European governments are:

(1) Austerity – to cut spending significantly which is politically difficult as it’s never popular. For Greece it’s probably too late, but the other countries could still do it.

(2) Raise taxes, but due to tax levels already being high it’s possible that money flight and reduced economic activity actually make tax revenue fall as taxes increase

(3) Redirect (or confiscate) available assets, like forcing publicly controlled pension funds to buy government bonds or influencing commercial banks to buy government bonds

(4) Getting Central Banks to print money to cover deficits – possible for non-eurozone countries, and pressure seems to be mounting on the ECB to do the same in one indirect way or another. But there are problems with printing to put it mildly.  Quoting a zerohedge article:

However, it [printing] leaves the current status quo and financial system intact, does not provide the much needed lesson on productive capital allocation, provides no incentive for governments to put in real structural reforms because of tighter credit conditions and it will only benefit debtors and not savers. Savers will be punished greatly, especially since there is no limit to printing currency and the central bank could carry on undisturbed for a long period of time. This will continue to ease the burden on debtors due to inflation, but looming hyperinflation will be devastating for everyone.

(5) Default on a big chunk of government debt. This risks causing a chain reaction default in the European (and global) financial system as many big banks would be bankrupt in case of a large sovereign default.

One conclusion seems to be that pensioners will get the short end of the stick as the value of pensions will be reduced in all scenarios (except (2) but raising taxes doesnt really solve the problem anyway). My guess is that we’ll get all of the above, and real questions are whether it will be an orderly retracement or not, and whether it will go down the default-deflation route or the printing-inflation route.

Brace for Impact

Either way, it seems to be time to brace for impact.  My main brace-for-impact strategy are the investments in the Ivory Coast – especially the chicken farm seems to be quite well suited for tougher times. Even if things were fine in Europe, I’d still have made the investments in the Ivory Coast though – but this situation increases the urgency a bit.

Other ideas to protect one’s assets could be to buy:

-Currencies of fiscally responsible countries that seem to be able to weather a storm better than others, like Norway, Singapore or Switzerland (betting they will not keep the peg, or that the euro will split up)

-Gold, silver or stocks in gold/silver mining companies. Not too great in a deflation-default scenario though.

-Stocks in solid companies producing stuff people need even in a severe downturn.

-Real assets, preferably incoming producing ones, and preferably in parts of the world less hit by a coming crisis – and well, here we are back with the investing in Africa theme.

-Or for the real doomsdayers guns and food, but I doubt it will be that bad.

Or get a job (or start a business) outside the developed world. There are still billions of people joining the middle class, and for the world as a whole I think there is reason for optimism and plenty of opportunities.

Animals of Abidjan

Gotham City?

The Ivory Coast may not have much big game like other parts of Africa, but yet it happens that I’m in awe of the animal life just in Abidjan.

I’ve seen a few times when the sky over Abidjan is full of bats – thousands of them. No idea why, but it’s an impressive sight. Unfortunately, it’s very hard to capture on camera. Here are the attempts I made last time:

Continue reading “Animals of Abidjan”

Abidjan Real Estate

Real Estate ads

I recently got a reader question about how much an apartment in the Plateau district of Abidjan would cost.  And I actually have no idea. One of the differences between the real estate market in Abidjan (plus I guess other major cities in West Africa) and Europe is that sales of individual apartments is relatively uncommon.  Instead, more often, whole multi-storey buildings bought and sold, and the owner of the whole building lets the individual apartments.

Here are real estate ads from Ivorian newspaper Nord-Sud as of 11/11/2011:

(Click to enlarge)
(click to enlarge)

Five billion, special price only for you my friend!

In Plateau we have

Plateau : 02 immeubles R+5 et R+8 RM : 52 millions à 5 milliards

This very small ad is for two buildings, ground floor + 5 storeys and + 8 storeys, sold together for 5 billion CFA Francs or 7.6 million euro, with a stated return of 52 million CFA Franc (79,300 euro) per month.

Not quite for the small scale investor in other words. Quite cool that a whole building is advertised in the same way as a used car though, and seems to be almost as easy to buy.  Unfortunately out of my league though.

On this whole page of real estate ads there are only two ads for individual apartments for sale, and none in Plateau.

Luxury villas

Another thing with these real estate ads is the dominance of luxury villas for rent. Examples:

Marcory résidentiel : (remblais) une villa duplex de 15 pièces haut standing meublée + piscine. Prix :8.000.000

II Plateaux 3ème tranche: villa duplex de 13 pièces haut standing neuf sur 1000m². Prix : 2.300.00

Villa duplex 6P avec piscine – 1 500 000F/mois
Villa duplex 6P avec piscine – dépendance – 2 500 000F /moi

The top one is a two floor 15 room villa with swimming pool, in an upscale residential area for rent at a not-so-modest 8 million CFA per month ( 12,195 euro).

Guess  the luxury part of the market is where estate agencies make most commission.  Online, the top end segment is less dominant, but it’s still a big part of the market.  One reason is probably the income distribution with 0.5% or so super-rich, a far too small middle class, and all the rest.

In Europe luxury villas like these are more often bought than rented. In the Ivory Coast I guess you have executive level expats from the private sector, NGOs and the diplomatic world, that all require high standard living on a non-permanent basis.

I still kind of think that the prices are surprisingly high in Abidjan. I looked at rental prices for top end villas in Sweden and they are lower than in Abidjan. The whole developed world – developing world difference seems to break down in the top end segment.  Essentially, for 8 million CFA Franc per month  you can get anything you want in Sweden.


The Chicken and the Egg

New Crazy Project

Back in May I bought two plots of land in Bingerville just outside Abidjan.  I figured it was a good investment and a safe store of value, but hadn’t quite decided what to do with it. Now I have!

It’s going to become a chicken farm.  I got somebody I trust who can set it all up, it’s a product for which there will always be demand, and well, it’s a 10 minute drive from a fast growing city with 4 million people.

The numbers on paper are as usual too good to be true.  In the taxi case the real numbers turned out to be not as fantastic as budgeted, but still very good, so I’m betting it’s the same thing here.  Not counting the land, the whole thing costs about as much as buying and sending a taxi from Europe to Abidjan,  and it does look like a better investment.

It also has the additional advantage that it just keeps going, whereas a taxi needs to be replaced sooner or later.

As to concerns or worries, one is that I’ll be competing with imported frozen chickens produced on an industrial scale with EU subsidies.  The Ivory Coast is planning to lower the import duty on chickens with 70%, which probably is a good move for the Ivory Coast as a whole, but less so for chicken farmers.  It’s a weird feeling to be on the side that benefits from protectionism.

The other concern is that I have lived my whole life in cities, and even the countryside at home in Sweden is exotic to me. My knowledge of agriculture and breeding is pretty nonexistent, so I’m pretty much depending on specialists, at least at the start.

The outskirts of Bingerville - the area of the planned chicken farm

“Go and Get a Farming Degree!”

The timing seems to be good, as for the first time in, well, centuries agriculture seems to be “in” and described as a business for the future. Hedge funds are buying farmland in the US and China buys farmland in Africa.

Legendary investor Jim Rogers makes a pretty clear case for agriculture. Here’s an interview with BBC from August this year:

Jim Rogers: At some times in history, the financials types have been in charge; at other times in history the people who produced real goods have been in charge. It’s the way the world has always worked. The key of course is to figure out what’s coming next and go there. Become a Chinese farmer, that’s what you should do, Justin.

Justin Rowlatt (BBC): You say farming, why do you think farming will be such a crucial sector in the next couple of decades?

Jim Rogers: Farming has been a disaster for 30 years, Justin. The average age of farmers in America is 58 because it’s been such a horrible business. The average age of farmers in Japan is 66. In Australia, it’s 58. I could go on and on. In 10 years, those farmers are going to be 68 if they are still alive.

Justin, we have huge shortages developing in agriculture and great fortunes are going to be made by the people who address those problems.

Justin Rowlatt: And commodities is the other sector you said we should look up. Now hold on a second. If the world economy is entering a period of slow growth that you think is going to last not one decade but a number of decades, why on earth would you put your money in commodities?

Jim Rogers: Because you asked where the best areas of the world economy are going to be, that’s where the shortages are developing. In the 1970s, most of the world’s economies were in the tank, but commodities boomed.

Justin, we had one of the great world markets of history in commodities for about 15, 20 years in the ’70s, between the ’60s and the early ’80s in commodities, because we had huge shortages everywhere and because governments everywhere printed money.

Well, governments are printing money again. It’s a wrong thing to do Justin, but that’s all they know to do. So between shortages of supply and money printing, if you want to be in the dynamic parts of the world economy, don’t get an MBA and go to Wall Street, go and get a farming degree and move to Asia.

Better Than Gold

Rogers talks about money printing, and to protect from inflation (and other reasons) many people seem be into buying gold lately.  Doing a hypothetical comparison between buying gold and putting the same amount into the chicken farm in Bingerville, it seems the chickens win hands down:

  • The chicken farm provides a return, and hopefully quite a good one, whereas gold incurs a storage cost (at best, usually it’s a hefty ETF fee of which the storage cost is only a small part).
  • It could happen that central banks don’t print as much as the market expects, and in that case the gold price could plummet.  The chicken farm’s value is likely to hold up much better.
  • The chicken farm is a business that can expand and can be improved and that provides experience. Gold just kind of sits there, and going long gold is a bit like going short human ingenuity.

Economic Complexity

Atlas of Economic Complexity

I came across something called the Atlas of Economic Complexity. It’s an attempt to measure the  “productive knowledge” of each country using network analysis techniques on the flows of trade – a bit like Google analyses internet links to rank websites. From the Atlas:

Ultimately, what countries make reveals what they know.  Take medical imaging devices. These machines are made infew places, but the countries that are able to make them, such  as the United States or Germany, also export a large number of other products. We can infer that medical imaging devices are complex because few countries make them, and those  that do tend to be diverse. By contrast, wood logs are exported  by most countries, indicating that many countries have the  knowledge required to export them.

Now consider the case  of raw diamonds. These products are extracted in very few  places, making their ubiquity quite low. But is this a reflection  of the high knowledge-intensity of raw diamonds? Of course  not. If raw diamonds were complex, the countries that would  extract diamonds should also be able to make many other things. Since Sierra Leone and Botswana are not very diversified, this indicates that something other than large volumes of knowledge is what makes diamonds rare.


Think of a particular country and consider a random product. Now, ask yourself the following question: if this country cannot make this product, in how many other countries can this product be made? if the answer is many countries, then this country probably does not have a complex economy. On the other hand, if few other countries are able to make a product that this country cannot make, this would suggest that this is a complex economy.

Let us illustrate this with a few examples. According to our measures, Japan and  Germany are the two countries with the highest levels of economic  complexity. Ask yourself the question: if a good cannot be produced in Japan or Germany, where else can it be made? That list of countries is likely to be a very short one, indicating that Japan and Germany are complex economies.

Now take an opposite example: if a product cannot be made in Mauritania or Sudan, where else can it be made? For most products this is likely to be a long list of countries, indicating that Sudan and Mauritania are among the world’s least complex economies.


In fact, as we show in this atlas, the gap between a country’s complexity and its level of per capita income is an important determinant of future growth: countries tend to converge to the level of income that can be supported by the knowhow that is embedded in their economy.

Makes a lot of sense, and especially the part about predicting economic growth is interesting.  The authors of the Atlas claim their method does wonders in this area: (more on that in an Economist article entitled Complexity Matters)

In fact, it beats measures of competitiveness such as the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index by a factor of 10 in predicting growth for the following decade. It also beats by similar margins measures of human capital and governance.

So what are the predictions for economic growth?   The Atlas includes countries with a population above 1.2 million, trade above USD 1 billion and reliable data. Altogether 128 countries meet those criteria. In the map below they are all ranked according to their expected GDP growth to 2020:

Expected GDP growth to 2020

So it looks like East Africa is the place to be (and India), but West Africa isn’t looking too bad either.

What about the Ivory Coast?

Unsurprisingly the Ivory Coast doesn’t rank very high on economic complexity on a global scale. It’s 99th out of the 128 countries surveyed, and 11th out of 26 Sub-Saharan countries.

Since the Ivory Coast is slightly poorer than it’s economy is “un-complex”, plus having a fast growing population, prospects for economic growth are relatively good. The Ivory Coast ranks 28th of 128 in expected total GDP growth up to the year 2020.
The top of this list is made up of:

1. Uganda
2. Kenya
3. Tanzania
4. Zimbabwe
5. Madagascar
6. Senegal
7. Malawi
8. India

However, if one removes the population growth and looks at expected GDP growth per capita, the African countries fall back a bit.  Ivory Coast ranks  76th/128  in expected  per capita growth to 2020 – and that’s based on figures from 2008. And well, the question is if the Ivory Coast can move away from practically only exporting pretty simple stuff. Here are Ivory Coast’s exports in 2008:

Ivory Coast exports (click to enlarge)

UPDATE: Found two interesting articles about economic complexity:

The Art of Economic Complexity – New York Times

Complexity and the Wealth of Nations – Harvard Magazine

A Window to Another World

Skype hitting critical mass in Abidjan?

I use skype a lot for communicating with the Ivory Coast.

Usually I have been talking to people I know very well, where I was the one introducing them skype and helping out downloading and installing it.

However, in the last months it seems something has happened, I see more and more people start using it independently, beyond the young well-off connected people that have been using it for many years.

The other day I had my first skype conversation with a junior guy at the law firm I’m working with. It’s a great guy, and he has been very helpful in a lot of situations. If he starts his own firm I’ll be his first client, but unlike most other people in the Ivory Coast I talk to over skype, I’ve never been in his home and I don’t know his family.

So I’m sitting in my living room at home in Europe. He turns up on the skype video chat, and in the background you have his relatively barren home – I think it’s in Abobo – with noises of cooking, children playing and people talking and occasionally showing up on the screen.     It’s a weird kind of feeling, like having a window to another world, a direct channel between the developed and developing world, right in your living room.

More wise words from Niklas Zennström

Today I watched an interview with Skype founder Niklas Zennström at Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing. Interviewer Sarah Lacy seems to get the importance of skype in the developing world as she opened up with:

I’ve just become a huge huge fangirl for skype, because I’ve spent 40 weeks travelling in the emerging world and it was the only way I could stay in touch with home, stay in touch with work and anyone in the US. I don’t think many americans realise how transformative this product is until they use it, and it’s become one of the few companies I really can’t live without.

Yup, amen to that.

Techcrunch Disrupt Beijing (click to get to the video)

Zennström usually has something interesting to say, and this interview was not an exception. Here are two questions that caught my attention:

You know, it was not a lay-up. you got turned down by 25 VCs,  it was a very hard time in the market   I mean it was not  an obvious idea  you guys were not becessarily an obvious team, you had this distributed strategy. Why did none of these things hold you back, was it the power of the product,  was it luck, what was it?

I think a bit of everything, one thing is  determination, because there were a lot of times in the early days, the first year  leading up to the launch of skype  it was very very hard we couldnt raise money.   You know, it was just difficult times, so I think one thing was determination; never give up, and we  just kind of kept building and kept doing it, and then also we were lucky in terms of timing.  We just happened to do what we did at the right time. And then the product just took off and became viral – but we didnt know if it would. It was the time broadband starting becoming commonplace and for some reason no one had addressed what we were doing.

What have you learned from your failures?

One of the big problems is that people are afraid of failure. Because when you start your  company you are so exposed. If it doesn’t work and it’s obvious that it doesnt work,  and then there you go: You wasted time. You lost money, you lost investors money, your money, and you lost your job.

I think what Silicon Valley is great at is the culture that when  someone says my company failed people  say: “Ok good, what did you learn from it?”  And thats the right approach  if you look at a failure as an experience that  you can learn from it’s pretty good and then don’t be afraid of it.

The worst thing that can happen… sure investors lose the money but hopefully a part of their business model is that you have some good investments and some bad investments, so that’s not the end of the world

If you then as an entrepreneur, if you start a company, it doesn’t work out, then you probably learnt a LOT from the experience. You probably learnt much much more than you would  from going to a business school or having your job at this  big company.

And the other thing also is it has been that people are afraid of… maybe you  have a job somewhere at a good company and you have a good career so you are leaving that, you are leaving your job security.  But you know, with the economy in this shape   job security in big companies doesn’t exist any more, so that’s another thing you know the risk is not so … the alternative is also risky.

The crisis of 2008 made this point hit home in my case.  The big company I worked for had three rounds of lay-offs – I kept my job but it became pretty clear that job security in big companies is not what it was. As mentioned in the Fragility and Robustness post, I’m thinking that the returns from my investments/businesses in the Ivory Coast could be safer than my day job salary.   And well, the whole safety thing is usually the main impediment to become an entrepreneur, and now it seems to be gone.

As for learning, business schools and formal education, I mean I spent five years getting a Master’s degree in engineering. I don’t regret it, but I’ve been starting to think that formal education could be a bit overestimated and entrepreneurial experience underestimated. I recall when my younger sister who is studying engineering said that she that MIT lectures available freely online were better than the actual lectures given at her university. I would hire someone (from the Ivory Coast or elsewhere)  with no formal degree, but who has gotten relevant experience by setting up a business and/or had the passion, determination and motivation to delve deeply into a subject through online resources like the Khan Academy and others.

I guess one still need universities or something like it for the human interaction important in learning, getting a network, and (unfortunately) as a gatekeeping function, but it’s got to be possible to organise the whole thing differently and better, and still get the same benefits.


Omnipresent and omnipotent

The blog drogbascountry recently mentioned a world bank publication that described difficulties getting things through the port of Abidjan:

“The other major area with lots at stake, is the port of Abidjan. A real hub for many countries in West Africa, the port was the object of a first reform, which among other things led to the concession of the container terminal at the end of 2003. Despite the controversy of this move, the container port has become the highest-performing along all the African Atlantic coast, up to Durban, with a working speed of 23-30 containers an hour. But paradoxically, as a recent World Bank study showed on the sources of Ivorian growth, the port is one of the least competitive in West Africa because of harassments of all kinds, the costs of moving goods, and the obstacles to foreign trade. So, the container transit times are around 9-12 days, as opposed to 2 days at the port of Dakar. The overall costs of sending goods through Abidjan to Burkina Faso is 16% more expensive than from Lome [Togo] and 40% more expensive than Tema in Ghana. Overall, the port of Abidjan is estimated to be 35% more expensive than Lome. This situation is due to, among other things, the number of different hoops to jump through at the port and above all the omnipresence and omnipotence of the customs service.”

This is even worse than I thought and seems to be an area where the Ouattara administration is disappointing.

However, it’s not surprising that customs services are powerful in developing countries. When illiteracy is high, the informal sector large, and state institutions not capable of enforcing a complex all covering tax system, custom duties become a very important and easily collectable revenue for the state.   In fact, for most – if not all – countries in the western world custom duties were the largest source of income for the state up until the beginning of the 20th century.

Here are two graphs for the US:

Source: P. Krugman "The Political Economy of Trade Policy" Princeton
From the US Census of 1870. (Click to enlarge) Source: http://www.radicalcartography.net/index.html?9thcensus

Or to take an example closer to home, we have the toll paid by ships passing the Öresund straight between present day Sweden and Denmark:

King Eric of Pomerania introduced the Oresund Toll in 1429. All ships passing Helsingör had to pay duty to the Danish Crown (whether the cargo was going to or from a Danish port, or not). For centuries, the Oresund Toll was the most important source of revenue for the Danish Crown, furnishing the kings with relative independence of Denmark’s Privy Council and landholding aristocracy.   Source: oresundfilm.com

Kronborg Castle in Helsingör - built to collect the customs duty

I bet the Customs Service in Helsingör back in the day was just as omnipotent and omnipresent as the one at Abidjan port. Having big guns aimed at passing ships helped I guess.

19th century mixing with the 21st

So, how important are custom duties for the Ivory Coast today?  Looking at the Ivorian state budget for 2011, the total size is 3.05 trillion CFA francs (4.65 billion euro).  Of that the fiscal receipts are projected at only 1.216 trillion CFA francs (1.85 billion euro), the rest is rollover of debt, aid and various loans.

Projected income for 2011 from import duties is 343 billion CFA Francs (522 million euro) and from exports duties 210 billion CFA francs (320 million euro). So in total custom duties are 45.5% of total ivorian fiscal receipts for 2011.  Not quite like Denmark in the 15th century, but in line with the US in the second half of the 19th century.

When travelling in West Africa today, I find that you have this quite interesting mix of things that fit in the 19th century (e.g. manual craftmanship, horses and donkeys used for transport of goods) and others that are squarely 21st century like cellphones, skype and Canal+.  Guess customs can be put in the former category.

UPDATE: I have to add that while the 19th century elements can be fascinating for a visitor, west africans would be a lot better off if things were more 21st century and less 19th century. Which ever way one measures it, life on average in Europe’s 19th century pretty much sucked compared to  the 21st century.

This story from 19th century Sweden from the Brain Gain and a Historical Lookback post gives an example:

“I have worked in my profession”, says a poor shoemaker, “for 30 years and I can say that I have not yet managed to earn more than 1 krona [the Swedish currency unit] on average per day during the year.  I have usually worked 17-18 hours per day, but never managed to save enough to buy my own home. I am growing potatoes on a small plot of land on a slope close to where I live. I have still managed to raise seven children and now it’s looking bright even for me, because I’ve started to build my own home, not by my own earned money, but by money my oldest daughter, she is now 18, has sent home from America. She left when she was 14, and started sending us money already the first year. Since she turned 17 she has regularly sent us 10 dollar per month, and sometimes more, so that we in four years have received 1,500 kr from her. It’s with this money we now build our home.  But isn’t it curious that one can work hard a whole life here in Sweden and not manage to achieve as much as a young girl can save in a couple of years in America. I could never speak badly of America or the emigration, because I don’t know what would have happened to us if we hadn’t managed to bring the girl over there.”

Which I commented:

“This story has present day Africa written all over it:  Long working hours as self employed, subsistence farming, many children, strong family ties, reliance on remittances from abroad, children supporting parents, parents helping children moving abroad knowing they will not see them for years.”