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.
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>
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.
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.
mother of my eyelid (frako) Sun 25 Mar 07 10:35
In Ethiopia: âThe twenty-year-old man sitting next to meâquiet at firstâbought 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.â 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.
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."
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?
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.
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.
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: âAs 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.â (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?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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?
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--âthe 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 youâre too tired for all that activitiy, you can lie on the beach, visit the uranium mine, or go on a dolphin-viewing cruise.â (44) Our experience in Swakopmund was very different in 1998. Has it changed so much? Maybe all that stuff was there and we just didnât 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 Iâm sure everybody in the hotel lobby could smell us when we got back. In the evening leaving from a wretched screening of âFace-Offâ 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!
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.
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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