Grant McDermott bio photo

Grant McDermott

Assistant Professor
Dept. of Economics
University of Oregon

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Apologies for the lack of posting recently. To borrow a phrase, course work and project deadlines have been tearing me some new ones over the past two weeks. Pulled my first all-nighter in quite some time on Sunday, finishing up a group project. Productivity hit an all time low around 5:30am-6:30am. I must have been working on no more than five words an hour: The mental equivalent of a liquidity trap. It's going to be this way for a while, as getting to crunch time in terms of thesis delivery, etc. (I'm presenting a paper based on my thesis at a conference in May, so need to have all loose ends tied up by then... Cry me a river; I know.)

Anyway, to keep you interested, here's part of an email that I received yesterday from a buddy of mine, writing from (and I quote) "the departure hut of the Lubumbashi airport nestled deep in the Congolese jungle". We were housemates during my bachelors and he's been spending the last three years working on various projects in Africa. And I mean real Africa... Far, far away from the glamorous beaches of Cape Town, the high-rise office blocks and leafy suburbs of Johannesburg, or even the (relative) calm stability of Gabarone. As someone that has done my fair share of travelling in Africa, his emails always bring home the mixture of amazement, frustration and sheer madness that characterises life on the mother continent. Here's one story in particular that deserves retelling:
I have heard some great stories on good authority & I think you’ll find them interesting… This one really shouldn’t be funny, but I find it humorous in a sinister way so if you do too then don’t feel bad. If you think it’s a bit disturbing that I laughed when I heard it, then sorry. (Not really.) 

So, in August last year while flying on an internal flight a small 20 seater aircraft crashed into a house a few hundred feet from its destination airport. There were no distress calls from the pilot before impact & as far as the aviation authorities were concerned the crash was caused by a ”lack of fuel”. There were only two survivors, a Congolese man and a crocodile. Just so we’re all clear, a human & A CROCODILE. After a few days of lying in a comatose state the human awoke and revealed this remarkable story. 

What had happened was one of the passengers caught this juvenile croc in Kinshasa which he wanted to sell in Bandundu but didn’t want to pay the steep transport & licensing fees that would come with sending it up legally so he decided the best thing to do was buy himself a plane ticket to Bandundu and carry the half grown crock on the plane with him in a sports bag. Unfortunately for him (and all the other passengers), this brain surgeon didn’t bind it correctly and it somehow managed to escape from the bag just moments before the plane arrived at its destination. As it jumped free from its “enclosure", the croc startled the passengers who all jumped up from their seats and ran towards the cockpit to escape the gaping jaws of this prehistoric beast. The shift in weight on the small plane caused it to nose dive, the pilot was unable to correct in time and the plane hit a house and blew up. The crocodile was later dispatched with a blow from a machete. (Poor guy didn’t even get to tell his side of the story.) Very sad but really an amazing story! 

The workings of Africa are hard to comprehend unless you’ve truly experienced them, and don’t think to yourself “Well I live in Africa too” because, my friends, SA may as well be in a different solar system when you compare our fair land to the rest of Africa.
What you get if you search Google Images for "Crocodile on a Plane".

There are a few more great stories from the same email that I'd like to reprint here, especially eye-witness accounts to mind-numbing corruption and other acts of incredulity. However, in the interests of space, I'll leave it to this one for now. After having a good (i.e. very humorous) rant about some of political machinations at both local and national government level, my friend signed off as follows:
Let’s just say there are a few reasons I’m writing this email on the day that I leave the DRC... One being that I would very much like to make it out of here, the other is I would not like to return and this email will hopefully guarantee that.
While names and places have been removed, I hope that I'm doing my part to help his cause by spreading the word.

UPDATE: So I've done a bit of Googling and see that the story was covered by a number of news agencies and other sources at the time. I did not know that, Dude. (This email was the first that I've heard of it.)