Not long after the Soviet Union collapsed, I was asked to visit Kabardino Balkarya to carry out a technical due dilligence on a funding bid. A local businessman was hoping to convert a defunct electronics plant in to a factory for the production pharmaceutical infusions (large bags of sterile fluids) and had applied for a loan from an international bank to finance the project.
I had never heard of Kabardino Balkarya until then, but I found out it was a republic in the North Caucus with a population of less than one million, some stunning mountain scenery, and a level of development much lower than in the rest of Russia – or at least the parts I was used to visiting.
I had to tell the businessman that the the project was a non-starter. Electronics and pharmaceuticals both have to be produced under very clean conditions, but the technology is very different and the conversion just wouldn’t work. I suggested if they really wanted to make drugs, they should start with simpler ones, like tablets or cough mixtures rather than diving straight in with steriles – the most technically challenging of all the technologies.
Mount Dykhtau (Photo Shaman170
Despite these set-backs to his plans, my host treated me like an honoured guest. On my last evening, he took me out to dinner. The restaurant was poorly equipped and the choice of food was fairly limited. I had been forced to wash my hair in cold water that morning as the boiler had failed. We had passed cattle wandering through the traffic on our way to work that morning. To my eyes, this tiny republic still had a long way to go.
My interpreter for the trip was a young man, barely out of his teens. He told me he had been sent to America for his secondary education and University courses, but now he had graduated, he was living back in Nalchik, the capital. “Did you not think about staying in the States,” I asked him, wondering how he could bear to return from the luxury of America to this deprivation.
“But Elizabeth,” he said, “it’s my home.” He looked at me as though I should be ashamed of myself for even thinking he would want to live anywhere else – and maybe he was right.
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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