Killer bears and inflation [Archives:2005/873/Opinion]

September 1 2005

“I tell you, if it was up to me I would just take an AK-47 and hit inflation right in the heart” said Hamoud, as he put down the paper trying to find some good news to talk about.

“Look Hamoud, when was the last time you saw inflation? Can you tell us what it looks like?” asked Faris as he pulled a chair and joined his friends for a juice drink.

Hamoud was ready with the answer: “Faris, did you ever see a dangerous bear that can eat men? That is what inflation is like. It growls and hits your wallet with percentage points, you won't believe. Just think of what the price of meat and other essentials has risen over the last year alone. I bet you that 50% would probably be still a conservative figure.

“But why should meat prices rise? After all, livestock do not depend on diesel and other fuels for nourishment?” Sa'eed asked as he also pulled up a chair to join them.

“Come on Sa'eed, you will never make a great economist by asking silly questions like that. Everything depends on fuel for transport, for running the water pumps, for getting the butcher to the slaughterhouse, etc.” Hamoud explained the significance of fuel in getting meat to consumers.

“Why bother to talk about meat? We haven't seen a decent serving of lamb in our lunch rations since the Feast of Sacrifice, when our wealthy neighbor distributed one calf he sacrificed for the neighborhood and another for the poor.” Faris was reminiscing some good times in the past.

Hamoud commented: “You are lucky to have that guy in your neighborhood. In our neighborhood all we have are a million kids who knock on your door asking for holiday treats. I wonder where those kids all of a sudden spring up from on the holidays. Speaking of holidays, the religious holiday season is approaching: Ramadan, Eid Al-Fitr and the Feast of Sacrifice. Boy, will the next few months need a basketful of Yemeni Riyals. My father the other day was looking for a country that offers asylum to those who want to escape the holiday money crunch.”

Faris was taken aback by what Hamoud just said: “Your father was what? Just think, a few years ago, Yemenis had the liberty of packing up their bags and heading for the Gulf states whenever their pockets and hidden money boxes got empty. Nowadays, they have no place to go. It was such an easy going life. When the men left, the families at home never worried about how they are going to enjoy Ramadan delicacies or get new clothing for the holidays.”

“My mother is already reconditioning some of the clothes of her older kids to get them ready for the younger ones. As for us, we were told that the outfits bought in the last holiday will just have to do this year. There is no way our father is going to be able to get us any new clothes. The shops aren't offering any credit, and even if they did our parents are already overextended in debt.” Sa'eed finally contributed to the conversation.

“What about all the money your father makes as a broker for firewood?” Hamoud asked.

Sa'eed had the answer to that easy: “Firewood? There aren't even any more thorny acacia trees in the country. Besides the propane gas took my father out of that business quite sometime ago. Now he is trying to get a license to sell gas, but unfortunately there are already too many outlets, but very little gas to sell for the small shopkeepers, because profiteers have taken over the gas cylinder business.”

Hamoud remarked: Doesn't your father deal in anything but things that burn. Why doesn't he try to sell perfumes or something delicate like that?”

Sa'eed responded somewhat humbly: “My father is a simple man, he wouldn't know where to start to get into the perfume or apparel business. He is now just living of whatever real estate he was able to buy up when a lubna would cost one or tow riyals. But even that can't be relied upon anymore, because half of his real estate is subject to contestants seeking to take everything away from him. So half the money he gets from selling the land goes into litigation costs to try to keep what is left.”

“Who is taking his land?” asked Faris.

“You wouldn't believe the kind of people he has to deal with. Some of them are military officers. Some others are children of former sharecroppers, who have decided to divide up the land as their 'inheritance from their father'. Still there are others, who have only been in Sana'a for six months and already have land deeds and other documents that state the land to be theirs. They come from all over the country thinking that it is easy to take any real estate you want. All you need are a few armed men and cinder block bricks. They start at sunset and by sunrise the land is already fenced in by the new settlers. You would think that the Palestinians are the only ones who have illegal settler problems?”

“Be careful, there is a Yemeni Jew sitting in the next table, he is going to tell the American Embassy that you are an anti-Semite Sa'eed.” Hamoud was joking with Sa'eed.

“I am really serious, you wouldn't believe how my father's health and stamina has deteriorated because of all the litigation he has to go through. Sa'eed was trying to show that even if you have some net worth, you are not free of any problems. If that was not enough, he has to deal with cutthroats, who promise him protection, but when they get the money, you never see them again. I have told my father to keep what ever is left to meet the coming holiday season expenses and maybe by the next presidential election inflation will be countered by a more responsible government and people's property will be safeguarded.

FAris wasn't too optimistic: “No my friend, inflation is buddy buddy with our government officials. They never feel it so why should they care about fighting it? Some of them even make fortunes in speculative games and other hedging tools, by using government funds to invest in short term investments and they just cream off the profits. The AK-47 solution seems to be the only viable tool, if only we could be given a hint at what inflation looks like, so we can aim for it when we see it.”

Inflation can not be seen. It just growls and crawls upon you and gobbles you up like a big killer bear.”