Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tragedy in Las Bocas del Toro

A confession: I sometimes act dismissive toward my wife when she tells me some of the beaches are not safe in her home country of Mauritius. My pledge is to not act this way again, after reading this article:

A fisherman off the northeast coast of Panama found the body of a Santa Monica High School English teacher Sunday, three days after he was swept off a beach and drowned, his friends said Sunday…

The article goes on to explain how this particular beach did not have any warning signs posted: Apparently, the local government in Bocas del Toro thinks giving people fair warning might hurt tourism.

May Mr. Lutz’s soul rest in eternal peace and I wish to send my personal condolences to his family. There is nothing more devastating than the loss of a child, and one can only hope the Lutz family will have their pain healed through time and whatever spiritual resources available to them.

But this should be a stark warning to all of us who travel to or wish to live on an island. Read as much as you can about the country you are visiting, and get to know what the dangers are. If you find an isolated beach that looks appealing, perhaps it’s better to ask the locals about it first. And never ignore a posted warning no matter how calm the ocean may look calm at the moment. All it takes is one wave to sweep a person out to sea.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Offshore Drilling Insanity

Normally, I plan to steer this blog away from politics. This journal is specifically intended for discussion of individual lifestyle and worklife planning and, as such, is meant to appeal to an audience of broad political and social views. However, occasionally policy collides with the world of offshore telecommuting, and where it does so, I will not shy from expressing my opinions.

The recent crisis related to rising gas prices has once again ignited the debate about so-called “offshore drilling. The practice was banned for certain protected areas in American waters by the U.S. Congress in the 1980s, which was later supplemented by an Executive Order from President George H.W. Bush. The oil companies, with the help of the Republican Party, the Bush Administration and Presidential candidate John McCain, have turned the public in favor of revisiting the issue. In an election year, even Democratic candidate for President Barack Obama is starting to waffle. The debate has begun anew: with skyrocketing gas prices, should currently protected areas be re-open to drilling for oil and natural gas?

The crazy thing about this 'debate' is that it seems to be completely disconnected from the real world. The U.S. government believes that there are about 18 billion barrels of oil in the areas in question, which amounts to about an extra two million barrels of oil for 25 years, and even that amount would not be forthcoming for another five to ten years.

With current global oil production approximating 85 million barrels per day, the extra two million barrels would increase supply by a paltry 2.4%. In other words, all this new drilling near some of the most scenic coastline in America, at best, will lower prices by a few pennies.

Oil companies and politicians that support offshore drilling claim that there is only a minimal danger to the environment. Perhaps they are right. If so, the debate really ought to be about the potential damage to the environment and economy of the states affected, versus the very small decrease in gas prices which might be realized a decade or more from now.

But that’s not what the discussion is about. It is about a fantasy in which supporters of offshore drilling imply,, that gasoline prices will drop by large amounts immediately. Take this recent quote from John McCain: "“We’re not going to pay $4 dollars a gallon for gas (when I am president) because we are going to drill offshore and we are going to drill now. "

So why, as an expat wannabe, am I so greatly concerned about the potential damage to American oceans and beaches? Two reasons: One, I am still an American and will always patronize beaches in the States. Secondly, the offshore drilling madness will surely not be isolated to the United States. Watch out as some of our most pristine island getaways feel the pressure to allow drilling near there shores.

My hope is that rationality will finally enter this discussion. If the public wants to support the policy being proposed by Bush, McCain, and Obama, it should only do so knowing the potential gas price decreases are minimal. Unfortunately, the U.S. media coverage I have seen so far does not give me much hope that the people will be given the facts.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mental Preparation for the Offshore Life

Getting your financial and health safety net in order is only part of getting ready for the big leap into the unknown. Just as important is mental preparation: Pulling up stakes and moving abroad is not an easy step for anyone. Having realistic expectations and bracing oneself for the inevitable culture shock, loneliness and sometime physical hardship is essential to making the experience pay off. As an ex-colleague of mine, whom I referred to in my first post, stated:

Island life is often terrific, but it is not 100% paradise that we all experience when on holiday.

Though I often throw around the word ‘paradise’ loosely, the truth is that moving from the bustling big city to a tranquil, tropical location is often about trading one set of problems for another. In New York sources of stress may include the hyper-paced lifestyle and the constant traffic jams. On the other hand, stress from an island paradise may be induced by not speaking the local language, not understanding the customs or, even worse, a hurricane or other natural disaster.

I am not trying to discourage anyone from getting motivated to making an ex-pat move; on the contrary, I am working hard to make such a move for myself. But I have already had a small taste of this life- I spent six months in Honduras in 1995. And the one lesson I learned, above all, is that if one is going to make a move like this, it is better to dive in with eyes wide open. That way, when tough times come, as they inevitably will, you will be prepared to minimize the chances that you’ll be discouraged enough to prematurely end your international living experiment.

To prepare one, I suggest the following:

Read reports and testimonies from those who have gone before you. Understand the types of ordeals that can happen and how others have dealt with them. Ingrain in your own mind to expect these problems, so you won’t be unduly shocked when they come along

Concurrently, enjoy your life to its fullest as it is now. If the ex-pat life will not be perfect, do not spend too much time discounting the everyday joy of living where you are now.

The biggest mistake is to waste excessive hours dreaming about how your life will be perfect when you are lying on the beach with a drink in hand. There are things to enjoy here and now that you will miss once you leave the U.S.

If your ex-pat move is done right, it will endow upon you very great benefits. But there will be inevitable moments when you wonder, “Have I done the right thing?” Realistic expectations and preparation can minimize those moments and make your move a transformative experience.