The PGAF took me to Mexico; the first half of the trip I spent in charge of a small hostel in Oaxaca, and the second half was spent attending the ABCDE conference in Mexico City.
After an overnight stay in Mexico City, a city which sits at 2,500 ft, (higher than the tallest peak in the UK) I hopped on a domestic flight to the coastal town of Puerto Escondido in the Southern state of Oaxaca, a lush green spot popular with local surfers. Although the town centre is a tourist hot-spot, just 10 minutes out of the city centre the beach bars are replaced with dirt tracks and lush vegetation. Before long I arrived at Casa Kei, a collection of rooms covered in hand-painted murals and sporting bamboo roofs built from scratch by surfer Pepe, who I had met through volunteering site workaway.com. He spent the afternoon showing me around the area, giving me directions on how to keep the hostel in good working order, and how to welcome paying guests. The next morning he left to visit family for a week in the state’s capital, leaving me, a stranger new to the country and with very limited grasp of Spanish, in charge of his business and livelihood.
Over the following week I got to know the local area, making daily trips to the neighbourhood laundry and buying groceries and other essential supplies. Guests arrived from Colombia, Argentina, Germany, France and the US, and I passed on tips about the local area, showed them how to catch the shared flat-bed taxis (the colectivos) and cooked meals for us to share. Initially, the biggest challenge was communication: both with the guests who turned up to the property expecting (very reasonably) a Spanish-speaking host, and with visitors to the property who came to speak to Pepe, deliver water and collect garbage. In only a week, however, I went from an embarrassing reliance on hand-signals to basic conversation, and I was able to communicate important information about the property to the new guests (including to a Colombian traveller who turned up in the middle of a thunderstorm expecting a room despite the fact we were fully booked!)
After 8 days of running the cabanas in my bare feet, beginning the days with freshly picked mango from the trees growing in the yard, I flew back to Mexico City ready to don a suit and attend the 2-day Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) at the Hilton in the centre of the city. The conference’s theme, ‘Productivity, Growth, and the Law’ was the perfect combination of my interests in Development Economics (which had piqued my interest during my Economics degree at Edinburgh) and in Law (in which I am about to begin a second degree at Oxford). Over the course of the two days I attended policy panels and paper presentations by speakers including Kaushik Basu (senior vice president and chief economist at the World Bank), Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof, and eminent legal scholar Eric Posner. Some papers were particularly inspiring, including a quasi-experiment examining the speed of judicial delegation in Senegal authored by economists from the World Bank.