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Forging a new life in Africa

BRECKENRIDGE Africa. The name alone brings a swirl of images to mind: Vast deserts and sweltering heat; murky rivers and massive cataracts; rich gold mines and rampant disease. For most residents in Summit County, this landscape will forever remain in the realm of the imagination, stuck between pictures and hearsay. But for local Linda Gregory, a new life in Africa lies just six weeks away. Friday, Gregory ended her 16-year tenure as Summit Countys director of finance in preparation for a continental career change. As of Oct. 30, she will venture to Chad with the U.S. Treasury and assume the role of budget advisor to the Collge a committee that monitors government expenditures in Chads capital city of NDjamena.Ive seen the county through some pretty difficult times and some boom times, Gregory reflected on Tuesday. Its been a really interesting and rewarding job here. But its time for a change.Indeed, the change will be a severe one. As a budget advisor for the Collge, Gregory will find herself at the heart of the complicated and ever-controversial topic of African oil revenues. In 2003, Chad finished a 663-mile pipeline from its Doba oil fields to the Atlantic Coast (by way of Cameroon), affirming its position as a powerful new oil exporter in doing so.But the pipeline came with a hitch. Chad had received part of the $4.2 billion for the project as a donation from the World Bank. In return for the sizable contribution, the bank stipulated that all of Chads future oil revenues had to be directed toward poverty recovery programs. Its the Collges duty and now Gregorys to make sure that happens.They need budget help, so thats where I fit in, Gregory said. Im just really thrilled to be a part of this. If it (distribution of oil revenues to the masses) can succeed in Chad, its hoped that it can be a model for the rest of Africa.But as the ongoing war in Iraq has revealed, creating model programs or governments is rarely an easy task. In Gregorys case, she will have to streamline an organization that manages a $200-million budget on outdated Excel spreadsheets with the aid of no accounting software.More problematic, Chad is a country strewn by poverty, a land where the average life-expectancy is 48 years and the per-capita income is $1,600. As is the case with much of Africa, such a setting lends itself to corruption among the elite. According to Transparency Internationals Corruption Perceptions Index for 2004, Chad ranked 142 out of a 146 countries.I thought this would be a wonderful challenge, Gregory said. If Chadian oil revenues are to end up in poverty reduction programs like education and medicine, she knows that a well-monitored budget, one that can account for any shady dealings, will be of paramount importance.Not that I dont feel like I help people here (in Summit), but this is not a poor area.With her job aside, functioning amid such penury will mean a major change of lifestyle for Gregory. The 58-year-old will be living more than 7,000 miles away from her home in Summit, in a one-story, stucco house with security guards on duty around-the-clock and a panic button by her bed. She will be trading in her 2002 Jeep Cherokee for an old Toyota, buying gas out of bottles and driving on streets that are almost always unpaved.And as for food, Gregory has already sent a years worth of supplies over to Chad in anticipation of shortages. Its not that they dont have food there, but its a very small selection, and its very expensive, Gregory said, citing that one can find croissant and other facets of French cuisine in NDjamena today (the country was part of Frances African holdings until 1960). But as for fundamentals, resources can be short. Think of what youd try to buy for a year, including pharmaceuticals, Band-Aids and mouthwash, Gregory said. It was quite a Costco trip.For further preparation, Gregory will begin an intensive, language-immersion program at the Berlitz academy in Denver this Monday. She will be studying French 1-on-1 with a tutor, eight hours a day, six days a week, for six-straight weeks. French is a second remnant of Frances colonial presence in central Africa, Gregory explained. When asked if she was prepared to lead a new life in a foreign language, let alone in a foreign land, Gregory responded with the confidence that led her to Africa in the first place.Ive had some French in high school, she said. I know a little.Andrew Tolve can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 227, or at atolve@summitdaily.com


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