Friday, December 21, 2012

Liberia 2012 / RCA U.S. Capital Trends 1212 / The Final Rippple

Liberia 2012

After traveling for 24 hours, even a pretty resilient traveler can feel a little weary. The scene at baggage claim at the airport in Monrovia, Liberia would have been funny if it were in a Woody Allen movie.  As it was, I just stood back, got banged around a bit and smiled at the craziness but, somehow, in the end, everything all worked out (doesn't it usually if we let it)?   

The MacDella Cooper Foundation Academy (MCFA) is located on secure and beautiful piece of property, six miles from the airport and further from the smoke, smog, noise and bad influences of the city.  

Prior to this government, headed since January 2006 by Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa, the country had barely survived a 10-year civil war fueled by a really bad man who has been convicted by the World Court for crimes against humanity.  But, while resentment coming out of a war can last for generations, the future of any country, of any people, hinges on the ability of it's leadership to inspire and set positive examples for it's citizens, especially the children who are the future. And that is exactly what is going on in Liberia under her presidency.

The academy is made up of two long parallel buildings.  On one side is the dormitory building and the other side the classrooms, office and dining/multi-purpose room.  At one end of the outside "common area" is the water tank tower and pumping station.  This is where the children fill their buckets every evening to carry back with them to their dormitory and take their baths.  

While one of the staff members filled my buckets, I bathed like everyone else:  you have your bucket of pretty much cold water and a scoop.  You stand in a place that has a drain on the floor and you (is this getting into too much detail?) pour the water over yourself…actually iprobably something that the campers amongst you have done many times.  But, it really feels good and I just make believe I'm jumping into a cold lake for a swim. After returning from my trip here six years ago I made a vow to never take the luxury of a hot shower or bath for granted and I never have!  

Monday I got to meet the students, 80 in all, ages 4-13 in classes from K-5.  After MacDella introduced me to each class, the children felt safe and at one point there were about 20 gathered around me outside shaking hands and high-fiving.  Many of the boys have never had an adult male in their lives (or only one that was a poor role model).  One young boy simply wrapped his arms around my legs and held on.  It was both sweet and sad. 

On Monday afternoon I was treated to a special holiday performance by the students which included singing, dancing and some humorous theatrics.  There are a few really talented young people in this group.  

After the generator is turned off around 9:30 pm it's really dark but your eyes get used to it.  I can't describe to you the feeling the other night when I was walking from the dining hall back to my room with the only light guiding my way a bright orange almost half moon.  A quiet voice from one of the dormitories said, "Good Night Mr. Felix."  It was just so sweet. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, as the 'responsible adults' came one by one to the Academy to pick up their children, the message that Ms. Cooper conveyed to them the night before was clearly present with them:  "When you go home you are an ambassador for the MCF Academy and what you have learned here.  We expect you to behave properly and not slip back into the ways of the street that you grew up around.  You know the right things to do.  Just do them and make us and yourselves proud."  Environment is a powerful drug but while I had only had the chance to spend two full days will all 80 students, I saw the impact of the training that their time at the school has had.  

As the week has gone on, the children have gotten more and more comfortable with me and have been asking me questions and telling me things.  Do you have a family?  What are their names, their ages?  I show them some photos.  How far away is America?  I show them a map.  In just a few days I can see there has been some independent study going on about America in the school library.  Like young people everywhere, these children are sponges.  They hear everything you say.   

Thursday and Friday:  We're staying in a house on the outskirts of the capital city of Monrovia a few days to pick up provisions, run some errands and give the eight students who truly have no parents to go home to a change of scenery.  

Driving in the interminable traffic to take care of a few things in downtown Monrovia, I noticed some real changes.  The main drag, Tubman Boulevard ,was now paved as opposed to being full of shell holes from the war.  New buildings have sprouted up.  The presidential palace is inspiring to say the least.  A couple of new hotels, including at least one luxury resort on the beach have opened.  We drove by the apartment building on 18th street which was our home last time and the 'shanty' residences that had lined the street were all gone.   Billboards tout "Liberia's Top Student" and have other uplifting messages.  But, the dichotomy between the 'norm' and the 'new' is staggering to stay the least.  Change takes time.  Lots of it.  However, like a friend of mine told me years ago, "You don't have to be going straight, just forward!"

MCFA accepts resident students based on a rigorous screening process.  The investment made in each student is not inconsiderable in Liberian terms.  The all-in cost is $2400 per student per year. At this time of year, everybody and their brother is asking you to donate to this, that or the other charity.  So, I'm not going to make a plea here.  But I am going to convey this piece of information:  You can sponsor an individual child at the MCFA for $300 a year!  From what I've seen, professional fund raisers break these type numbers down into things like "You can make a difference in a child's future for less than a dollar a day" or "Instead of going out for one expensive dinner…."  So, I'll just leave it to you, in your own good time, to read about what MCFA does.  While the website is words and pictures, I'm here to tell you that everything stated is real, and good, sincere, committed and passionately executed.  Hey, why don't you come down for a week and see it for yourself?  

Even for a man of many words, the experience of being here is hard to describe.  Perspective is a wonderful thing.  I have also been getting some good introspective time which is much needed at this time.  

RCA U.S. Capital Trends 1212
  • Office: While November is a typically slow month for closings, sales of significant office properties totaled $6.9Bn, more than double the volume from a year earlier.
  • Apartment:  Falling cap rates in many markets being offset by increased activity in higher-yielding secondary markets.  Markets posting the largest declines in cap rates this year are Boston, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle.
  • Retail: The largest sales last month occurred in higher-yielding secondary markets such as Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Portland.
  • Industrial: Nationwide cap rates were up 20BPS last month to an average of 7.9%, although this may be more due to the dearth of  recent institutional transactions versus a change in market direction. 
  • Hotel: The largest hotel transaction in November was Sahara India Pariwar's acquisition of a 75% interest in The Plaza Hotel in New York that valued the asset at $575MM.

The Final Trippple Rippple 121212

This party is the brainchild of a good friend of mine.  The idea was hatched when she and some of her friends had a New Year's Day brunch at Windows on the World, atop the World Trade Center on 01/01/01.  Each year since then, she organized an event on the Trippple Rippple date.  Some of the themes:  02/02/02 Groundhog Day Bowling; 03/03/03 Ping Pong and Pool; 05/05/05 Margaritas on Cinco de Mayo; 06/06/06 Devil Dogs in Hell's Kitchen; 11/11/11 Rolling 'YO' Eleven; 12/12/12 Cocktails on Little West 12th Street.  Why should kids have all the fun?

  • Brad Barsily who has joined Rubenstein Partners.

As John Lennon said, "Happy Christmas."

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