On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

 

Confession Of A Practical Joker

 

The text of the following spoof was culled from the black heart of a practical joker who calls himself the Footloose Forester.  He sometimes risked official displeasure with his propensity to see the humor in many real-world situations; therefore he rationalized his antics by saving them for special occasions….like April Fool’s Day.

This one was sent in the inter-office mail with the format of a National Enquirer story, newspaper banners, columns, fonts; and all.  It arrived in the USAID Director’s office on the first day of April, 1988.

 

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Apr.1      -USAID Director Perry Garr today signed a $10 million grant to support CARP, Caring Americans' Relief Program, in launching a massive project whose technical components have already been identified as unworkable. Informed sources in Haiti said that project WRASSE (Western Region Assistance to Salt Sector Enhancement) techniques had been tried a number of times before and had all failed. The USAID grant would also lead to failure, they warned.

The WRASSE project would involve growing marine macro algae for export. In principle, CARP plans to grow macro algae in beds on salt flats adjacent to the inlet Anse Poisson in Northwest Haiti where CARP has been doing humanitarian work for many years. Macro algae are a delicacy in great demand among young, upwardly mobile German professionals (nicknamed guppies) who encouraged CARP to capitalize on use of the salt resources of the region. By treating the algae with local salt taken from adjacent salt beds, the preservation of the algae during shipping is assured, and the salt would be guaranteed a market. The scheme thus catches two fish with one hook. However, detractors of the project noted that macro algae are not part of the Haitian diet and there was nothing in it for the small fry except temporary jobs that had no technology transfer value. Also, many peasants whom NATIONAL ENQUIRER interviewed in Anse Poisson carped about satisfying the taste buds of decadent foreigners.  Appeal for the project, except for the jobs angle, is as flat as a flounder. Furthermore, major disruptions can be expected from feral swine that roam freely throughout the area. Porgy pigs, at one time thought to be entirely eradicated from Haiti, relish macro algae and would roam through the unprotected algae beds at night, eating their fill and contaminating the beds in the process. No provision was made in the CARP grant for fencing.

 

A Fish Out of Water

When challenged about the potential waste under the newly signed grant,  USAID Director Garr was as slippery as an eel, but acknowledged being misled about events leading up to the signing. The junior USAID project official who actually set up the terms of reference for the CARP grant was re-assigned to Bolivia late last year, where he is now supervising the construction of pots for Rocky Mountain oysters that were imported by USAID into the Andean region to diversify protein sources. The official, Herbie Simplex, was not available for comment. During the NATIONAL ENQUIRER interview with Orville Wrong, USAID Director Garr acknowledged that something definitely smelled fishy with the CARP grant agreement and said he was lured into signing the grant. In the coming months he will be angling to get a better line on the facts, he pledged. "In the meantime," Garr was quoted as saying, "it looks like we were taken for suckers-- we swallowed the bait,   hook, line and sinker."

Clamming Up

The ENQUIRER reporter also sought out the USAID technical advisor who originally fished for the facts that labeled the CARP angle as a red herring. But when approached for comment, the advisor at first was very crabby and then unexpectedly clammed up. Lon Gouste, who is on contract to USAID, claimed that the subject was an old kettle of fish; then the advisor tried to wiggle off the hook by claiming he was leaving Haiti because he had other fish to fry.

Left Dangling on a Hook

ENQUIRER reporter Wrong then dropped a line to Angel Fische, the director of CARP in Haiti and another line to her deputy, K. Rill. But neither CARP official took the bait; the correspondence went unanswered; and the issue was left dangling. There are, however, supporters of the project-- CARP technician Bill Peche, for one. "Your WRASSE project is no fluke," he claimed. When interviewed, he was wildly enthusiastic. "Holy mackerel, what a whale of a deal for the Haitians!” exclaimed Peche. "On the first day they were packed into the employment lines like sardines, and boatloads of hopefuls were circling the dock at Anse Poisson like sharks waiting to attack." At this writing, the CARP bark is dropping anchor in Anse Poisson and a swarm of CARP technicians are preparing to tackle the issues in the next phase of WRASSE. It remains to be seen whether or not there will be a bail-out for the CARP seaweed-for-guppies project.

 

Author’s Note:

The spoof of USAID in Haiti was written in 1988 just before April Fool’s Day.  On the day before April 1st, the bogus text was sent by interoffice mail to the USAID Director so that he would open it up on time to be an April Fool.  Probably not many people saw the spoof, disguised as a National Enquirer cover page story about the CARP program and its proposed project with the acronym WRASSE.  There are, however, several bizarre facts supporting the initial decision to write a fishy tale about CARP and WRASSE.  The following points are part of the factual record.

The Footloose Forester was alone in the empty wing of his office one hot summer day in late summer.  Someone in another wing of the USAID building sent over an interoffice package with a proposal submitted by the Israeli Embassy in Haiti.  In the proposal the Israelis did, indeed, propose to grow seaweed, or macro algae, in the salt flats in the northwest part of Haiti.  The proposal also mentioned using the salt resources of the area in processing and drying, prior to sending the macro algae to Israel as an export product.  Since this was a juicy story in the making, the Footloose Forester decided to emphasize its self-interested objective by making the episode into a parody about those organizations mentioned and certain people in them. Before working on a parody, however, he sent his response back to the USAID official in the other wing of the USAID building.  It was a pleasure to nix the proposal, on several grounds.  The most important reason for the rejection was because the mission of USAID in Haiti was to benefit Haitians, not the Israelis. The only positive aspect of the proposal that benefitted Haitians was the temporary jobs that would be created. Israelis did, indeed, have seaweed as part of their traditional diets, but Haitians did not.  Secondly, they were proposing mining Haitian resources at American taxpayer expense to produce a food product intended to benefit themselves.  

Seldom did the Footloose Forester get to squash a selfish proposal, single-handedly.  Has his boss or a deputy been around to look at it, they may have exercised their mandated authority to act on it, or at least spend more time on it that it truly deserved.  Proposals usually went through a committee process, but this one seemed like such a waste of time that it did not deserve further scrutiny.  In retrospect, the Footloose Forester never again heard anything about this particular Israeli proposal to spend American money. 

Now, to the parody and its dissection:  The allusions to fish and marine themes, in general, were decided upon because in the Northwest of Haiti, fishing was the main industry.  It was true that the region did have sea salt resources that were extracted from a limited number of shallow beds adjacent to the shoreline.  But edible seaweed was not a local resource; and there was never any indication that seaweed was part of local diets.  In theory, USAID programs were supposed to benefit Haiti and its citizens.  In this case, the beneficial links were specious, at best.

Real people were written into the spoof.  USAID Director Gerry Zarr became Perry Garr; CARP, the organization, was CARE that for many decades had dominated the humanitarian efforts in the Northwest where the salt resources existed.  The CARE Director known in the story as Angel Fische, and her deputy K. Rill, often challenged the findings of the USAID technician Lon Gouste. The Footloose Forester was Lon Gouste.  A wildly enthusiastic CARP technician known as Bill Peche was a truly enthusiastic Peter Welle, who was idealistic about nearly everything.  He and the Footloose Forester spent a lot of time debating issues, but Footloose and various other CARE cadres often disagreed about technical aspects.  CARE operated a $10 million project, and often came to USAID for even more money to finance projects that had questionable workability.  Getting millions out of USAID did not take too much if a small group was willing to press their agenda; and if USAID advisors like Lon Gouste didn’t fight them about concepts that did not and would not fly.

The small port of Anse Rouge in Haiti’s Northwest was the one closest to the salt beds, so it became Anse Poisson.  There truly were, however, feral pigs in several places in Haiti and they did roam freely and would have become an issue in regard to keeping them out of salt beds.  The bare bones proposal by the Israelis did not mention fencing or other protective measures; they merely emphasized the salt beds as a place to grow their seaweed.

 

alt

salt drying beds

 

And what about the small salt industry in the Northwest?  There was no mention in the proposal about alternative places where salt might be dried. In fact, the “sea salt” industry must take advantage of natural conditions whereby nearly level sand beaches are singled out for capturing and evaporating the tidal salt water.  In very few places in the world are the conditions suitable to capture tidal flows and then allow its salt content to evaporate at a pace whereby it becomes economical to wait for that to happen. A cursory check of shorelines around the world with a computer software program like Google Earth would confirm that drying salt adjacent to the shoreline is quite rare. 

The soil substrate, itself, must be of a composition to prevent sea water from simply percolating downward at a fast rate. Ironically, sandy beaches are not suitable at all, regardless of their length or depth.  Clayey soils adjacent to the ocean have much greater potential for establishing salt drying beds, but such clayey soils in flat expanses are equally rare. In the case of Haiti, giving up those salt beds to grow macro algae would have meant the loss of the entire salt industry.  The Footloose Forester was not an expert on the salt industry, but he had previously witnessed in situ salt manufacture in Cape Verde and in Senegal.  Thus, nobody from any quarter challenged him and his objections about the near-sightedness of the Israeli proposal.  Too often, nonetheless, proposal writers disparaged the Footloose Forester because he exposed weaknesses in their proposals that they did not want to acknowledge. The reasons for the disparagement were never stated that way, but merely that the Footloose Forester was “too negative.”   It was always easier to dismiss the messenger than to successfully argue a case for their message.

Finally, the use of the news stories as reported by Orville Wrong (Footloose Forester in the act of creating an April Fool’s joke); and a real one by journalist Alan Writing in the National Enquirer format was merely intended to catch the eye of the reader.  The Alan Writing story was reprinted word-for word—up to a point -- from an actual New York Times story that appeared a few days before April 1st.  It was a true red herring, intended to cast doubt about whether both stories were possibly fishy.  Footloose Forester was criticized by his brother for plagiarizing an actual New York Times story, but Footloose pleaded that without guileless humor, there would be no April Fool’s jokes.