inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #51 of 161: David Adam Edelstein (davadam) Sun 25 Mar 07 08:41
    
I'm reminded of someone I once met whose reported technique for
staying away from "hot spots" in search of a more authentic experience
was to buy a copy of a map and a fodor's for wherever he was going. 
Any town that was mentioned in the fodor's got crossed off the map, and
he planned his travel through the remaining towns.  It sounded a
little over-restrictive in some ways, but a creative approach.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #52 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 09:45
    
Scott, thanks for the great, introspective discussion on hot spots,
and since no one asked, I might as well plug briefly for PNG. 

Papua New Guinea is a great add-on to a trip to Australia. The best
thing to do there is buy cool art along the banks of the Sepik River.
And the best way to do this is surely by a local boat, but most people
prefer a small cruise boat/yacht with cabins and meals and stuff. PNG
doesn't have sights, but it's got great spirit masks and once you've
gotten them blasted with insecticide in the Oz airport (no, you don't
have a choice), they'll last years.

On the other topics, truly the best experiences are chicken-holding.
And all of this Hopi talk makes me uncomfortable, and I touched on this
in the intro to Dik-Dik, but there aren't really answers--will I roam
forever? Is there a way to enjoy a life of routine but still get the
thrills I get from the challenges on the road? It's not like I'm out
there to see a museum. It's more having to think on my feet and satisfy
some kind of craving for surprise, the unknown, and some kind of
meaningful interaction. I don't entirely understand it. But it's not so
simplistic as many would claim. "Are you running away or towards?"
Argh, spare me the trite cliches! Nothing is that simple. I sometimes
thing I am seeking like-minded companionship and a borrowed sense of
community. I'm most isolated at home, in New York. I'm a part of
something in Uganda, or on the back of a truck, or brushing my teeth
into a ditch with Zambians. What's it all about? 

And last, thanks for the compliment, but I'm a tourist. It's one of my
rants/peeves. Not directed at you! But a point I like to make.
<http://mariejavins.blogspot.com/2007/01/traveler-or-tourist.html>
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #53 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 09:58
    
Captward, Couldn't I still go to Kreuzberg and have it be sufficiently
unhip that it would be a rewarding place to stay for a bit? 

Even at home, I'm a contrarian on these things. Give me Jersey City
over Williamsburg any day.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #54 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 10:04
    
DAE--very funny. But then, you have to ask yourself if perhaps
backpacker/tourist culture in and of itself is a destination, an
authentic-yet-mobile experience. Nice to visit, not sure about living
there. 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #55 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sun 25 Mar 07 10:35
    
In Ethiopia: “The twenty-year-old man sitting next to me—quiet at
first—bought some kolo from a young female vendor who boarded the bus at
one of our short stops. He offered me some. It looked brown, hard, and
seedlike, and it tasted like burned popcorn.” What is kolo?

Kolo symbolizes what I seek when I go traveling. I don't know what it is,
but it's unfamiliar and new to me. It's not like I'm not satisfied with what
I've already experienced, but there it is and how can I not partake?

My desire to visit Namibia (which was the germ of my whole Africa trip) came
from watching a handful of movies like "Dust Devil" and seeing that
experiencing Namibia would be unearthly and yet immersed in a history I
didn't know but should. I just saw Claire Denis' "Chocolat" (1988) again
with my students and thought my next trip to Africa must include Cameroon.
The landscapes are so beautiful, and maybe I would learn a little more about
Cameroon besides the way I've come at it--through the eyes of a French girl
who grew up there.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #56 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 12:16
    
Frako, the day before yesterday I had to partake of raw artichoke
during a taxi ride home from checking out an ancient site south of
Cairo. Pity I don't have your positive outlook! I just thought "Ah,
crap, I have to eat this to be polite."
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #57 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sun 25 Mar 07 13:01
    
Here's a photo of Marie eating raw artichoke:
<http://mariejavins.blogspot.com/>

I suppose I would have choked down a few leaves' worth of raw artichoke meat
out of politeness. I'm sure it wouldn't have hurt me if it hadn't hurt the
driver by now.

So what is kolo? Is it in a similar class of substance as qat, which you saw
the driver holding a bag of and other passengers consuming on your
disastrous truck ride to Lalibela (Ethiopia) that eventually crashed? If you
were offered qat, wouldn't you have partaken out of politeness?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #58 of 161: Berliner (captward) Sun 25 Mar 07 14:02
    
I don't think it's done to offer women qat, although maybe foreigner
women don't count in that proscription, they being loose and all. If
you allowed women qat, the work would *never* get done. 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #59 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 14:10
    
Qat/khat? No way. He did offer. There are limits to my politeness.
That looks like a bunch of leaves. It's an amphetamine. Seems a bad
idea to choose a truck ride in the middle of nowhere with total
strangers to start experimenting with substances. 

I think Berliner is right for most countries, though I think in Yemen
women chew. But yeah, foreign women are often honorary men.

Huh, just learned that "Qat" is a popular Scrabble word when no "U" is
around. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khat>

Kolo is apparently roasted barley. It has no hallucinogenic effects,
but it can get stuck in your teeth like unpopped popcorn. I can't claim
to have been wowed by it, but it was innocuous, kind of like raw
artichoke. Another popular roadside treat in Uganda is fried meat on a
stick. <http://www.geocities.com/mjavins/blog/meatstick.JPG> In Laos,
there are people who eat friend rat on a stick.
<http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/6947/1372/1600/rats.jpg> (Because
everything tastes better on a stick.)

The issue with these things isn't really the food. It's worries about
water, hygiene, and the hands of the kind person making the offer. It's
not a leap of faith each time you accept something like this on the
road, because that implies you expected to not get sick out of trust.
No, it's more like you hope you don't get sick, but you kind of expect
to anyway. And sometimes you do. But then you usually get better. And
if you don't, you drag yourself to the local clinic.

I heard a story a few nights ago, about a photographer here who had to
go photograph some fishermen on the Nile. He was offered tea, and
accepted. 

And then watched as they scooped up and boiled Nile water, then gave
him tea. 

He sent a silent prayer to the dodgy-tummy gods, smiled, and drank it.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #60 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sun 25 Mar 07 14:19
    
> If you allowed women qat, the work would *never* get done.

I was under the impression that qat would make me work real hard without
complaining!

OK, let's get to September 11, which happens to Marie while she is in
Africa. In Tanzania, you describe this: “As I walked through the lobby of
Arusha Naaz hotel after leaving Paul, I noticed two hotel employees staring
with fascination at the computer. Glancing over their shoulders, I saw that
they were intently playing and replaying an animated map of the flight paths
of the planes that had hit the World Trade Center. They looked at me, caught
my glance, and giggled.” (129-130) At Olduvai Gorge, you saw graffiti
written in dust: I (HEART) OSAMA BIN LADEN. You were traveling on September
11th and spent many days afterwards in a kind of daze.  What was it like
traveling in Muslim climates--I believe Tanzania is 33% Muslim--when
something of this enormity was happening in New York City, your town?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #61 of 161: Cupido, Ergo Denego (robertflink) Sun 25 Mar 07 18:20
    
Thanks for the traveler-tourist item in your blog. Is this another
example of the "more authentic than thou" syndrome?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #62 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sun 25 Mar 07 23:14
    
I suppose labelling oneself as traveler rather than tourist is "more
authentic" syndrome. It's really a way of patting oneself on the back,
along the lines of "How much did you pay? You did? I only paid half
that." (Basks in glow.) 

It's also a marketing ploy. Lots of travel companies use "Be a
traveler, not a tourist" as a way of proving that their company is more
authentic. "Sign me up!" Because nothing is more authentic than a
homestay with 20 of your new best friends. 

You *can* get more authentic experiences in lots of ways, including
some small-group tours. And that's great! I support it. But it doesn't
give one the right to use subtleties of language to show superiority to
someone who is on a bus and maybe is living a dream they've had for 40
years. It's just being a tourist on another level. 

I say all this because I once listened to a retired woman glowingly
describe her coach tour to Italy. I almost said "Why not just take the
train" when she started going on about how she'd been scared to go for
decades and couldn't speak the language, and how much she's LOVED going
to Italy. Ah. I get it. She's living a dream--and this is a way to
facilitate that dream.

Then there is living somewhere. That's being an expat. Not a tourist
and not quite a local. A resident. A strange in-between.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #63 of 161: paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Sun 25 Mar 07 23:44
    
There is definitely a slippery slope there.  At what point does a
place become *too* accessible?  And who gets to decide?

It affects everything from whether to pave the path in the local park
or allow private cars in Yosemite or limit the number of minutes you
can spend with the mountain gorillas.  And when you're one of the
elite--the able bodied who can easily hike a few miles along rocky
trails to see a fabulous sight--it's all to easy to forget that it's
not so easy for everyone, and assume that your experience was the
"authentic" version.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #64 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 26 Mar 07 00:28
    
Frako, on the 9/11 point, I really think these people were expressing
something else rather than their religion. Cultures around the world
tend to idolize the David against the Goliath, ours included. And here,
totally out of the blue, a few guys had taken on Mighty America. This
wasn't support for Al Qaeda--no one was even totally sure what Al Qaeda
was then (plus in Tanzania and Kenya there is no support for these
guys who killed lots of Africans in the embassy bombings). This was awe
that the little guy had dented the big guy's armor. In the book, I
think I mentioned it was perceived as Robin Hood. And then a
psychologist on a safari with me said, when we saw a lion that had been
chased up a tree by a herd of buffalo: 

"Marie, which do you identify with, the lion or the buffalo." 

The lion was king of the jungle. The buffalo were fighting back. 

"The buffalo. I'm not the king of the jungle." 

"Now you understand that graphitti." 

I tried hard to understand the "Robin Hood-itis" of OBL that was going
on at the time. And I did feel that any time I tried to articulate it
on MariesWorldTour.com (on the Forum), I was smacked down. There was
not a lot of dialogue in those days, but there was a lot of pain.

It was challenging to understand the POV of the cultures I was
traveling through, because it was personal for me. I knew those
buildings well. Had I been home, I wouldn't have been there. I'm a late
riser and a freelancer. But I know people who were there, who
described to me scenes of blindness as they used their hands to find
their way out of clouds of dust and debris. Who hiked uptown for miles
carrying the family dog. Whose parents were finally located at a
shelter in Bayonne, days later. Contrast this with some kid in
Tanzania, giggling in the internet cafe because to him, it might as
well be on the moon. It had little more bearing than an
action-adventure movie, the latest flick in which the audience roots
for the single man taking on a vast conspiracy perpetrated by the big
(=evil in Hollywood speak) corporation.

Think also about the first time you heard about the genocide in
Rwanda. How relevant was that to your own life? Or Idi Amin in Uganda?
Or today, ask yourself what can be done for Darfur, or about the Lord's
Resistance Army? A sad shake of the head, perhaps. That's as remote to
New York as is Tanzania or Kenya.

But on the Muslim point, this didn't matter. I was on Zanzibar during
the actual event, in an internet cafe, watching CNN with locals and
tourists. And everyone was silent and grieving for the people in the
WTC. No one was cheering, no one was happy. There were Muslims and
Christians there, maybe Jews too. Everyone was just watching with their
mouths open. 

And the big question hanging in the heavy air was unspoken, but was an
elephant in the room. 

What next?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #65 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 26 Mar 07 00:37
    
Debunix, you are absolutely right, and I sure don't have the answers.
But I know that the number of tourists here in Cairo are damaging the
Pyramids of Giza. (moisture) What's the answer? High-priced permits?
Bus them all to the pyramids of Dahshur? Forbid people from going
closer?

There would be outrage, but so what? But then, what if that little old
grandma from the Italian tour bus has been waiting her entire life to
see the Great Pyramids of Giza? "Well, Dahshur is almost as good." Um,
I don't want to be the one to tell her that. 

For the mountain gorillas, they just keep hiking the price up and up.
People pay it. And it goes to Uganda Wildlife Authority. It's hard to
argue with that strategy. But the locals cannot pay it. So they don't
see the gorillas. 

When you have an organization like Uganda Wildlife Authority or the
National Park Service or the Supreme Council of Antiquities, at least
you know who gets to decide. They do. And suddenly, only the richest
can afford to see these sites, or perhaps it is decided by random
lottery. In Peru, they've clamped down on the number of people who can
walk the Inca Trail. And surprise--turns out there are dozens of Inca
Trails anyway, not just the famous one. Why did it take damn near
killing the one we had already to work that bit out? 

Tourism can destroy the very sites the tourists come to see. So what
is the answer? Stay home? (And help global warming while you're at it!)
I'm not real comfortable with where these issues point me, but it
might be that I'm behaving irresponsibly, even as I wax poetic about
how if we all traveled and saw that other people are the same as us, it
would take away the fear and increase tolerance.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #66 of 161: Berliner (captward) Mon 26 Mar 07 08:10
    
One thing that, as you point out, might help slow the disintegration
of monuments, is to let people know there are *other* monuments. I
wasn't aware how many pyramids there were til you went to Cairo and
started visiting them. Is there any reason everyone has to go to Ghiza?
Are they the most clearly superior pyramids of all? Bigger? Better
proportioned? Frankly, a pyramid is a pyramid, and I'd be happy seeing
any one or group of 'em. People just get stuck in ruts. Would the
little old lady on the bus tour even *know* that the pyramids she saw
weren't the ones she'd read about? 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #67 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 26 Mar 07 08:38
    
There are nearly 90 pyramids along the Nile--in Egypt! Meaning there
are some other styles (steeper and shorter) in Sudan. The TALLEST in
Egypt, and the world, is at Giza (by volume, there's a pyramid in
Mexico that beats the Egyptian pyramids). The 4th tallest is at
Dahshur. Practically no one goes there, and it was off-limits due to
being a military zone until a few years ago. In my opinion, it's a
GREAT site, because not only is the Red Pyramid tall and in great
condition, but there is also the oddly shaped Bent Pyramid. And
practically no one else around. And no one hassles you to buy postcards
or ride their camel. And the Bent Pyramid has most of its casing
intact. 

There are so few visitors to Dahshur that you can go in and out of the
pyramids at will. No crowd, no big deal, no worry. No "The sheer
volume of us is loving it to death!"
<http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/red.htm>

But I don't recommend going into the Red Pyramid. Three days later, my
quadriceps are still QUITE unhappy with the experience of scurrying
along hunched over for 200 feet each way (down a 27-degree ramp that is
about four feet tall, then back up). 

I was also really pleased with the temple of Abydos, between Luxor and
Cairo. Almost no one goes there, and it's lovely. Lots of the original
paint and no hassle. Well, almost none. You have to get a taxi from
the train station, and that is always fun.

You know what I'd recommend for tourists to Egypt? View the Giza
pyramids from the road. Yep, you can see them from Giza. Then get in a
taxi and go to Dahshur for the up close experience. Drop by the step
pyramid of Saqqara on the way back. Not as dramatic, but en route. And
you're doing your part to lessen the impact on the Giza Plateau. 

Problem with this plan is you miss Sphinxy. Ah, a flaw in my scheme! 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #68 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Mon 26 Mar 07 08:43
    
Ed's question kind of points to a bit of truth in the tourist-traveler
distinction, though. Even if the little old lady on the bus tour didn't even
know which pyramids she saw, she'd want some verification that they were
indeed the Giza pyramids she'd read about ahead of time. That's why tourists
rely on tours that promise you Giza (tm) and Sakkara (tm), since you didn't
do a lot of research ahead of time to get you there independently. The one
and only time we were in Egypt, we relied on a private tour guide to get us
to the most well-known and well-traveled sights in the 8 hours that we had.
We were tourists.

We'll probably still be tourists the 3rd and 4th time we go to Egypt too,
but we'll be shading more into travelers because we'll be more independent
and informed about what we'll want to see and do next.

I've noticed most in cave systems that certain caves are set aside as
"sacrificial." These are the caves that people are led through. They'll be
ruined so that other caves, which might be more spectacular, can be left
alone. That's inevitable.

Marie, I agree with you that global sentiment about September 11 doesn't
come from religion so much as it does from the David-and-Goliath surprise. I
like this paragraph you wrote:

"Dozens of people had warned me not to go into post-September 11 Sudan.
'It's full of terrorists,' wrote MariesWorldTour.com readers. 'You'll be
kidnapped! You'll be killed!' It was the first and only time I flagrantly
ignored the will of the readers. They'd overwhelmingly voted for me to fly
to Egypt or to sail around Sudan. But as an American abroad on September 11,
I felt a responsibility to culturally interact with people in Muslim nations
and to demonstrate a lack of terror. My contribution to world peace was
microscopic, but I could offer a smile and a few pleasantries in place of
paranoia. It wasn't much, but I told myself that if more of us were out in
the world interacting, it would go a long way toward showing that Americans
were willing to engage the world on a local level." (263)

I think if more of us HAD been out in the world interacting, this might not
have happened and we wouldn't have to be paranoid (or "Canadian") at all.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #69 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Mon 26 Mar 07 09:04
    
Our private tour in Egypt was a bit of a drag. It was an incredibly hot day
in June, and the air was so dry that I felt choked. We had a schoolmarmish
bossy tour guide. Between the pyramid and Sphinx trips we had to visit a
carpet "school," papyrus "museum," and perfume shop. All vaguely suspicious
enterprises. Poor children are sent to the carpet "school" to learn how to
read and write and, almost incidentally, make carpets. A handful of kids
were there to demonstrate. We were supposed to buy a carpet to help the kids
out. The carpets didn't look worth shipping home. The papyrus "museum" was
just a gallery of super-tacky paintings on papyrus paper. A guy gave us a
very cursory demonstration. Like most tourists, I ordered a T-shirt to be
embroidered with my name in a cartouche.

The perfume shop had the hardest sell. The salesman desperately wanted me to
buy a 30-ounce bottle of amber oil and showed me a letter from some American
swearing that the amber oil had saved her skin. He also couldn't be
satisfied by my request for 2 ounces of lotus blossom essence--I had to buy
their versions of Hugo Boss or Calvin Klein or Issey Miyake. He did bring us
refreshing glasses of karkaday, a sweetened hibiscus juice. I was worried
that the bottle of essence I bought would leak in my duffel because of the
cheap plastic stopper. He made me feel foolish for worrying, but sure enough
it leaked just on the way back to the hotel.

The pyramids at Sakkara and Giza were awesome, but the postcard and curio
vendors and camel-ride touts were incredibly rude and aggressive. Never were
you left in peace. A camel would come gallopping up to you and while you're
trying to shoo him off a guard on another camel comes thundering between
you, shouting. That, and the loud lecturing of the French tour groups
nearby, made the experience a bit of a zoo.

We were rushed through the tombs and claustrophobic passageways. I bumped my
head and scraped my back countless times, and I'm not such a klutz.

We had the best time in Cairo just wandering around. I found a defunct
outdoor cinema, which for a few Egyptian pounds I was allowed to enter and
take photos. The Egyptian Museum was absolutely amazing--my favorite kind of
museum: dusty and musty with ancient or nonexistent labels, packed with
riches, mummies, sarcophagi, jewelry, statues, figurines. And one of my best
memories was of a widowed free-lance barber named Mohammed who took it upon
himself to sit us down at a cafe and buy us a kind of soft pizza and
karkaday so we could watch the old guys suck on their pipes and hang out.
Later he plopped Joe in his barber's chair and let me watch him give Joe the
worst haircut he'd ever had, including a fascinating session of ear-hair-
cutting with crossed threads. It was fun watching Joe wince and try not to
express pain whenever another hair got lopped off. He let us go after we
gave him a 1000-yen note and a new pack of Marlboros.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #70 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 26 Mar 07 13:53
    
Frako, I don't like to be Canadian! And actually, I don't do it. Once,
in 1998, I said this in Peshawar in northern Pakistan. But I felt
guilty after and so I stopped. Because the truth is that if we are all
Canadian, no one is Canadian, and anyone who says Canadian becomes
suspected of being American. And then we could potentially be putting
our fine neighbors at risk.

But everyone shouldn't get paranoid just because we discuss risk. The
vast majority of the world is safer than being in an urban area in the
US. Even here in Cairo, the biggest dangers are traffic accidents and
annoying "papyrus" salespeople. Oh, and sexual harassment, oh joy. But
violent crime is uncommon in this city of nearly 20 million.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #71 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 26 Mar 07 14:20
    
Egypt is totally set up for independent travel. Easy to take trains
<http://www.egyptrail.gov.eg/docs/online/online.html> and most hotels
will book activities for you at Luxor. 

But independent tourism is a pain here, just like your private tour
was. Every time I do something touristy, it involves convoys at set
times with police guards, or some taxi drivers trying to squeeze me for
ridiculous money, or someone trying to get me to visit their friend's
shop. 

Now here's the thing: 
It's good to take some personal responibility and invest locally. That
is, spend money on local goods and businesses when you travel. Your
money goes right into local pockets and helps people directly. Plus,
it's not a handout. It's a fair trade. I expect to pay a little more
than a local citizen, but not ridiculously more. 

BUT I don't want to buy things like banana leaves that are supposedly
papyrus, or perfume, or a ride on a camel whose very presence ain't so
good for the site I'd ride it around. And I don't want someone to chase
me with a clay mini-sphinx, yelling "4 pounds, no, 3 pounds." 

What to do? 

(Wait, am I supposed to ask or answer? Anyway, it's rhetorical. The
answers are case-by-case.)
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #72 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Mon 26 Mar 07 17:23
    
Exactly. Marie, one of the strengths of your book is that, beneath the humor
and light touch of much of your descriptions, you show that you're thinking
clearly about the consequences of your actions. Like when a young Ugandan
woman named Regina starts a conversation with you implying that you should
give her money to finish high school, or an Ethiopian teenager who seems
like he might be high acting sick in front of you. You've been told it
"won't be ruining it for other tourists" if you gave money to beggars, so
you decide who gets a handout and who doesn't. You decide things case-by-
case, which is so much more humane than sticking to some unrealistic
principle.

You talk about traveling in Sudan. What would you say to somebody who wants
their first visit to Africa to be a mission of helping in, say, Darfur?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #73 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Tue 27 Mar 07 08:47
    
I've also heard rumors that tourism to Africa is way up, and that one factor
is fear of terrorism and tsunamis in Southeast Asia. Do you know if any of
this is true? Maybe Swakopmund is evidence for increased rates of tourism in
Africa.

In your book you describe Swakopmund, Namibia, in 2001 as a swell, happening
place--“the organized adventure capital of the region, second only to
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. In Swakopmund, you can quad-bike over dunes along
the ocean in the morning, jump out of a plane over the desert in the
afternoon, ride a horse or camel at sunset, and watch a video of your day
later at the bar. If you’re too tired for all that activitiy, you can lie
on the beach, visit the uranium mine, or go on a dolphin-viewing cruise.”
(44)

Our experience in Swakopmund was very different in 1998. Has it changed so
much? Maybe all that stuff was there and we just didn’t notice it? We were
in a rental car driving from Windhoek via Sossusvlei dunes and the tiny
village of Solitaire, where the friendly white gas station/restaurant
proprietor had showed us his menagerie of animals (coral snake, puppies,
recently widowed meerkat) and we stocked up on food. In Walvis Bay we did
birdwatching.

We stashed our stuff at the big, empty-feeling casino hotel there in
Swakopmund and went up to Cape Cross to see the seals. In a few hours our
clothes and hair were permeated with the stench of those animals, and I’m
sure everybody in the hotel lobby could smell us when we got back. In the
evening leaving from a wretched screening of “Face-Off” in the hotel
theatre and trying to return to our room, the security guard subjected me to
questioning that implied I was a prostitute. This confrontation came out of
nowhere but seemed consistent with the overall coldness and suspicion that
seemed to float over the entire place.

How did I miss the swell, happening Swakopmund? I guess I chose the wrong
place to stay, or else it became transformed over just 3 years!
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #74 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Tue 27 Mar 07 10:39
    
It might have been the wrong hotel. Or because you weren't on a guided
trip! So independent travel has its downsides. Had I ever heard of
Swakopmund, Namibia, before my guide Shawn drove me there and told me
about
quadbiking<http://www.geocities.com/mjavins/blog/mj_quadbike.JPG>?
Showed me the laundromat, the beach, the dunes, the ocean, the
boutiques, and the adventure sports booking office? No! (This was
pre-Brangelina baby birth there in Cottage Hospital.)

I rented a flat there in 2005 for a month. There's even Bavarian
architecture. That was there for sure in 1998. There was an Oktoberfest
with men imported from Munich and playing music in Lederhosen.
<http://www.geocities.com/mjavins/blog/oktoberfest1.JPG>

I don't know how fast Swakopmund picked up--real estate values
skyrocketed there between 2001 and 2005 (cause I had this unrealized
dream to buy a little condo there)--but it's been a haven for Namibians
and South Africans escaping the interior summer heat for years, so I'm
guessing you missed it because no one pointed it out to you. 

Isn't that funny? Here we are singing the praises of independent
travel and oops, sometimes it's not necessarily the best way to get a
feel for a place.

All that said, Swakop is a weeeeird place. More German than Germany,
in some ways, and yet distinctly Namibian. "Frische Spargel hier" will
say the sign, as two African women walk by with baskets on their heads
or babies strapped to their backs. A place where it's helpful to speak
English, Afrikaans, and German, and many people do--as well as their
tribal language. And how do these cultures exist side-by-side, or do
they even get along? A month was not enough for me to offer insight,
only guesses that are almost certainly ignorant.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #75 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Tue 27 Mar 07 11:02
    
"What would you say to somebody who wants
their first visit to Africa to be a mission of helping in, say,
Darfur?"

In that case, I'd suggest going somewhere else and sending a donation
to an aid organization. Warm bodies are good for projects like Habitat
for Humanity but Darfur, I reckon, needs professionals. There are all
kinds of volunteer projects that run the gamut from "life-altering for
the volunteer" to "useful for the people in need." I'd say a healthy
amount of research would be required to distinguish between a situation
where someone is genuinely useful and where someone comes home
back-patting.

Charity, aid, and development are complicated issues without single,
broad solutions. Some is good, some is bad, some makes you feel all
warm-and-fuzzy while the recipients just shake their heads and wonder
what those crazy foreigners will do next. The desert is full of
dried-up bore-holes, someone's good intent researched poorly.

I read a review where someone suggested that I asked a lot of
questions but didn't have any answers. Uh, no, I don't. There are
mounds of papers and books written on topics of aid and development and
there is no single answer for what works, what doesn't, who should be
responsible, and what is naive.

Okay, this one always gets me in trouble. But think for a minute about
child labor. 

Now think about welfare and social services.

Now think about if there were no welfare. No social services.

And one parent was dead and the other disabled. And there were three
kids. And there are no handouts, no shelters, no backup plan. 

Do you let the kids starve or go to work? And what about when public
outcry in the US shuts down that factory the kids were working in?

I'm not comfortable with either the starving or the working. Just
sayin', sometimes there's a lot more to think about than just "That's
bad." What's the solution? 

Like the reviewer said, I have all the questions... none of the
answers.
  

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