Recycling Human Beings After Ramadan

I'm in Montreal for the weekend, with my wife and our 12 year old son, speaking Franglais and restaurant hopping and seeing bugs at the Insectarium.

But the highlight of my trip was last evening, when we hosted a modest dinner reunion for friends at the original Basha's Restaurant (the first Lebanese Cuisine restaurant in North America, according to the website).  It was the "End of Ramadam" meal, and a busy long line of eaters at 8:30PM set the restaurant into a mass-feeding, no special orders mode.   We met with 9 friends, all with connections to WR3A and Fair Trade Recycling.



Jean Frederic Somda ("Mr. Fred" at our plant) and Hamdy of Egypt met, with friends Pascal et Isabelle, and  six children jabbering together in 3-4 languages (typical Montreal).

Learned English in Quebec
Mr. Fred is by all accounts the most prestigious WR3A Intern.  He was at his peak somewhere in the crooked line of ascension in the politics of Burkina Faso.   He was popular with the USA State Department, as a former seminary student with impeccable morals.  He was Attorney General or Prosecutor General, refused to prosecute "political enemies" and fell so far "out of favor" that he had to leave in the dead of night. He gained political refugee status after his 6 months stint at our E-waste company.  He will be passing the bar exam in Canada in December, and has made a focus of international law and the Basel Convention.  He was always a classy, upscale, impeccable dresser and it was a thrill to me when he came to meet us in his "Good Point Recycling" T-Shirt.

He met with Hamdy and Hamdy's wife and child.  Hamdy was one of my oldest trading parterns, one who I sold an interesting chunk of the 300,000 used computers I'd exported as of 2011, when he left Egypt with his wife and family.  He had the economic resources, unlike Fred, to get permanent resident status in Montreal based on economic grounds.   He described Egypt as a place of hope and change, but shared worries.  It was no longer safe to walk the streets at 2 in the morning, he said, describing the balance between Egyptians fear and dependence on the law and order of the military.



Pascal is from Burkina Faso, Africa, and his wife Isabelle from France.  They know us through my wife, and have stayed with us off and on for 9 years, when Pascal teaches summer languages at Middlebury College.  Pascal is related to Fred, who was meeting Hamdy face-to-face for the first time.  Next summer he's taking his family back to Burkina, and we're invited.

Illegal to carry this photo of a photo in Tibet
My sticky caramel passion for free and fair trade recycling is fueled by the baklava texture of the people we do business with.  I wrote in October 2010 about balancing "e-waste" law and legislation, the benefits of further reducing 15% residue with the dangers of outlawing computers with photos of the Dalai Llama (if you sell a week old tested working laptop in China, it's illegal both because it's used, therefore second-hand, and therefore waste (a protectionist rule), but you are REALLY taking your chances in prison if it has a picture of the Dalai Llama as a screensaver.  As this photo from old RPCV chum Judi posted yesterday, "He was in DC for an eleven-day ceremony in July 2011. This is a photo of a card I got at the time; the caption notes that it is illegal in Tibet to carry his picture."

We missed Nikita, my Montreal Chinese friend who said he'd be there for the dinner, and my coptic (orthodox Christian) Egyptian friends, George and Nabil (who owned 5 used computer warehouses when I started doing business with them in 2003, and now own 4 new-China-brand PC warehouses and one used PC warehouse) were on vacation in Mexico.

Hamdy's Egypt warehouse, profiled on 3SAT TV
But I think the Catholics (Fred), the agnostics, the Muslims, the Buddhists, and the Copts would all have enjoyed pulling an even bigger table together last night.

We had WR3A and Fair Trade Recycling in common.  Fred listened intently as Hamdy described the same stratagy as Jinex pursues in Peru (buying a combination of used and new products from China, so you can buy the new product more frequently and take less risk with shelf life), and I told him Nabil and George were the first people I knew to pursue it.

Vermont's role in the history of the USA Peace Corps is in the news this AM.  None of these people, specifically, come from my years as a PCV in Cameroon, and my last link passed away when Yadji Moussa drowned in June (Good Point Employee 2001-2012, with hiccups, and best friend and protector 1984-87 Ngaoundal Cameroon). For that matter, I joined Peace Corps from Arkansas (land of Senator Fulbright), not from Vermont.  But at 50, I can honestly say that Peace Corps and my international relations internship at the UN Geneva (1984) were just a warm up for development, exchange, and multi-ethnic ecoeconomics in the decades to come.

We all laughed when I said that Fred could join a friend of the court in the Intercon lawsuit against Basel Action Network... Hamdy's business suffered $60,000 in losses when his tested working computers were seized as "e-waste".   And we laughed again when I said that by the time we won, the used computer business would be over, at least as far at the USA supplier was concerned.   But the second laugh was more of a "good point" laugh.  The ship is passing.  Used goods are going to get into the developing world from countries with newer used goods.   And while the USA and Europe "powned" that market (as the kids would say) a decade ago, there's really newer old stuff available elsewhere.  And somehow, being able to mix used and new product in export containers will be seen differently when Chinese Original Manufacturers see it as a way to sell half-loads or half-loaves to Africa, lowering the barrier to purchase the half container of new goods.

Somehow, I don't think the Basel Convention or the images of primitive informal brown people burning e-waste will get in the way of commerce between 6 billion people who live in the "non-OECD", and who raised a glass of soda pop to the end of Ramadan last night on Rue St. Catherine, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.


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