Category Archives: country bios and literature

Ahoy, Matey! Care for a drink of water?

images-11Well, it might be hard to get one here. In Djibouti, next on our list of countries that people might conceivably be from in the data base, it’s dry. Really dry.


And crowded.

It should be the cover photo for Friedman’s “Hot, Flat and Crowded”. Talk about your strategic location, location, location, though. It’s smallish formerly French country on the horn of Africa. With a lovely harbour for shipping and piracy. And the saltiest lake on earth, Lake Assal. Well, except for Don Juan Pond, a tiny spot in Antarctica, named after the helicopter pilots that found it and yet, only one of them is named Don. Neither are named Juan. Hmm. I suspect self-aggrandizement. Those helicopter pilots are all the same.

They struggled to independence despite the French, who vote-rigged to extremes around 1958 and threw out all sorts of Somalis who wanted to join with Somalia. Instead they remained French for a while longer.

Djibouti now seems to be surviving independently despite poverty and totally desertified land, and have prioritized education with a view to the future. Kuwait is helping them out.

The French Foreign Legion has an office there, should you romantically wish to join the Legion. You can probably even wear rags tied across your face to keep out the sand.

Impressively, they had an election in 2005 where there was only one candidate (who won!) and an amazing 78.9% turnout.

Given that we can’t dig up more than 30% in our wonderful democracy here where we have many candidates, I wonder about this. Are they all just really really happy with the current leadership? Or did they learn something from the French? In any case, it looks good on paper.


Unlike their financial state (bad), unemployment (60%) or their maternal and child mortality, all of which are shouting “Danger, Will Robinson!”

But they pretty well all can read, they speak nine languages throughout the country, and in the interest of equality, they circumcise around 95% of both men and women. Isn’t that nice?

And now, for the island that hates human visitors…

ImageBouvet Island is a volcanic island covered with glacial ice and surrounded by more ice, located about as far away from Norway as you can get. It’s waaay down on the southern side of the world, below the 50th parallel. No one has ever lived there. And yet, Norway owns it. They fought to have it.

And the island has been trying to kick them out ever since.

It didn’t like people earlier, either. Bouvet, the explorer, found it first in 1739, but recorded the wrong coordinates so no one else could find it. James Cook tried to find it, and couldn’t. The next explorers did find it but couldn’t land on it thanks to the glaciers and sharp hillsides. An American explorer pretendedto find it and hunt seals there but since he never mentioned the glacier, people think they maybe weren’t at the same island.

It gets more confusing because there is a secretive second island, Thompson Island, that is there sometimes, but not there other times. The UK, in trying to claim the island, got legally stopped by the question of which island they had actually landed on.


When a convenient rock slide finally allowed landings on the island, people came and built a hut for meteorological study. It washed away. They brought a more sturdy building and set it up. An earthquake happened – 6. something on the Richter scale – and it shook the building loose. It washed away, just as if the island shrugged its shoulders and tossed them off.

Strangely, it has an internet code. .bv What the he..?

Seriously, it’s a nature preserve, with thousands of migratory birds breeding there, and lots more passing through on their way to better vacation spots. Apparently they eat snow lichen. Yummy.


Go home! Stay away! Macaroni Penguins want it that way!



But if you’re human, I suggest you stay away. The island doesn’t like us much.

Look, there’s a coconut!

ImageOr so the name of today’s entry tells us. Much like Canada, a country named for a native word meaning small village, today’s country, Niue, was inadvertently named for an exclamation about food. Captain Cook called Niue the “Savage Island”, another mistake, as the inhabitants are peaceable but given to eating red bananas, thus staining themselves with red gore-like substances. I don’t know if they are still messy eaters, but let me tell you, Niue is top on my list of paradises I wish I could go visit.


No poisonous animals (unlike nearby Australia). They speak English, good for the linguistically challenged or lazy.

A total of 1269 inhabitants by latest account, though since their birth rate is strangely negative, and their death rate is 9/100,000, I suspect the crowd has thinned even more. For this population, apparently they have 4 physicians (good for those of us with a disability), and support themselves by selling coconuts, honey, and souvenir postage stamps.

They grow crops here and there, but it’s the largest coral island, so arable land is small. Lots of enchanting limestone cliffs, cool pools with lots of fish to play with, whales to swim with, wonderful pathways to hike.

It looks smashingly gorgeous. Image

Curiously, there are 1200 phone lines and 600 cell phones, as well as 1100 internet users. One has to wonder who they are talking to, when a saunter down the street could link people face to face and calling costs off-island are enormous.

It hasn’t been a happy land always – newly independent -1974 -they’ve been wracked by typhoons and debt and just when they thought they had a good thing going, the international banking laws changed and they could no longer hold offshore accounts. Still, they are supported by the lovely New Zealand, so it can’t be all bad.

And the chance of visiting a coral island that probably very few of your friends will ever go to – tempting.

On second thought, don’t go. I want to get there first.


Wandering the earth through 251 Countries

Did you know the earth is split up into 251 countries? I didn’t. I guess I had a vague understanding that I really didn’t know about all those teensy weensy countries in the middle of vast oceans, etc, but it wasn’t until I reviewed a computer registry program that I saw the names of so many I had no idea existed.

So I’ve decided to find them and write a bit about them, if I can. I was going to go alphabetically, but that’s kind of boring, so I think I’ll play lucky draw and pull one country out of a hat a day, gradually working through my list. The list, btw, is the official UN one.

So here goes – first one: Kiribati = joined the UN in 1999.

Robert Louis Stevenson was here, and with his wife designed a flag that was never used. It had a crowned shark on it. They have a better one now.

kr_large_locatorKiribati is a collection of island and atolls scattered like grains of rice down in the waters near Australia. According to Wikipedia, it’s the only country to have parts in all four hemispheres, which I suppose depends on how one slices hemispheres, but there’s something interesting about a place that has the international date line on its east coast. They moved it, the locals, after years of being split by time and day. Now they get to be the very first at everything, primarily receiving aid from the rest of the world.

Given that a few of its spots have already sunk beneath the waves, they’re opposed to climate change and are fighting it with the support of the Australians and others. They’ve arranged to move the population to Fiji at some point.

From Wikipedia:

“Kiribati is expected to be the first country in which all land territory disappears due to global climate change. . . .the Kiribati president Anote Tong said that the country has reached “the point of no return”; he added: “To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”

About 100,000 people live on the 32 islands. They have their own musical style and dance style, which seems to consist of sitting or standing and keeping their arms outstretched. It is rude to smile while dancing, as it is meant as a form of religious observance.

Also they practice “pubusi” wherein you can ask anyone for anything they have and they must give it to you or lose face. Remember this if visiting.

Lonely Planet tells of three things to do in the country. Three. Seems a long way to go to play “can you spot the island that isn’t an atoll?” There’s one in the country, I guess. How would you ever tell?

I’m sure it could be a lovely place, but a few things that concern me about this island paradise. They have a leader who once shut down all newspapers in the country after the first non-government newspaper started up. There is one policeman for every 222 people.  Elected officials stay in rather too long. And the country is probably still smarting after the Brits came in and gathered up all their phosphorous (their one source of money) and went away.KR_002

According to the CIA:

Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order.
typhoons can occur any time, but usually November to March; occasional tornadoes; low level of some of the islands make them sensitive to changes in sea level
Field info displayed for all countries in alpha order.
heavy pollution in lagoon of south Tarawa atoll due to heavy migration mixed with traditional practices such as lagoon latrines and open-pit dumping; ground water at risk





The main island, Tarawa, was the site of gruesome battles during WWII, and has been used to film movies about them ever since.

As far as I can tell, there have been only a couple of writers from there, but one visiting fellow, J. Maarten Troost, wrote what seems to be the hilarious “The Sex Lives of Cannibals – Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific”.  He and his girlfriend spent time on Tarawa, forced to listen to endless playing of “the Macarena”. I’ve put this book  on my wish list.

Sounds better than actually going there.