“Many things that shouldn’t have happened, happened because of money,” says Wang Youliang.

“The situation [in Wenzhou] is a secret everybody knows, but you can’t talk about it in public.”

He is a young entrepreneur and shoe manufacturer working in Wenzhou, China. Among his friends, five failed factory owners fled and one killed himself.

The country that is predicted to be the next big super power on the world economic stage has its own hidden crisis.

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Tuareg people spread across five nations in the central Sahara have long sought independence. But last January rebels in Northen Mali began a movement for succession. (Photo via <a href="http://www.magharebia.com/cocoon/awi/xhtml1/en_GB/homepage/"> magharebia.com</a>)

Tuareg people spread across five nations in the central Sahara have long sought independence. But last January rebels in Northen Mali began a movement for succession. (Photo via magharebia.com)

Until a couple weeks ago, you probably didn’t think much about Mali, the large, former French colony that spans North and West Africa.

I know I didn’t.

But then we started hearing about French troops invading northern Mali, and militants kidnapping foreign workers in Algeria and that this all somehow connected to the fall of Gaddafi in Libya.

So, what’s going on in North Africa, and why does it matter to us way over here in Seattle?

Public transportation in South Waziristan, in the lawless Tribal Areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Photo by Gohar Masud)

Public transportation in South Waziristan, in the lawless Tribal Areas between Pakistan and Afghanistan. (Photo by Gohar Masud)

My friend and I squeeze in the front seat of the pickup.

We’re lucky–others are stuck in the back without seats in the freezing winter, getting tossed in the air when the driver crests the hills.

It was another one of those days when I would travel between my home in Dera Ismail Khan and South Waziristan, part of Pakistan’s lawless Tribal Areas, to sell medical supplies for Abbott Labs, an American healthcare company.

Vitamins, antibiotics, Ensure, Similac, Sensimil, Formance, Isomil; basic products you’d find in any hospital or pharmacy in Seattle were a godsend to families in Waziristan. Nobody seemed to care that they were produced by an American company.

By the time I finished my sales at 4pm it was pretty late to start the six-hour trip back home through the so-called no-man’s-land along the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

But I had a bad feeling. I just wanted to get out of there, despite the urging of locals who told us it wasn’t wise to travel during the night.