inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #76 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Tue 27 Mar 07 13:04
    
I would be suspicious of someone who had more answers than questions.

I mean, just going to that "carpet school" brought up so many questions that
I was paralyzed. For one thing, I didn't go to Egypt to buy a carpet.
(Although I did buy one in Madurai, South India) But they were pressuring me
to buy one to help out all the poor little kids whose livelihood that was.
They assured me that they did more than work: they got education. Well, I
didn't see that. All I saw was 3 kids acting like they were weaving a rug.
How practiced were they at it? I don't know. I've never seen kids weaving a
rug before. How many hours a day did they have to do it? What kind of
compensation did they get for it? Did they get time during the day to play?
Where were their families? I asked all these questions, which
(conveniently?) they couldn't answer in English. Returning to the car, the
guide gave me a look that I see on all my travels: the "you didn't buy
anything" look, which seemed to imply "why did I bring you this far for
nothing?" I responded with a "Why did you bring me here? I wanted to see
pyramids" look.

A question like "How can I be of use in Darfur?" is a much more intense and
immediate question, and it needs to be answered definitively by someone on
the ground before a foreigner even starts making plans.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #77 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Tue 27 Mar 07 13:13
    
> All that said, Swakop is a weeeeird place. More German than Germany,
 in some ways, and yet distinctly Namibian.

Boy you said it. I found Swakopmund and much of Windhoek to be fairly creepy
in the mix of German-African language and German-African humanity. It seemed
like every white person was in a car, every black person was walking along
the side of the road. I never saw a white person with a black person. At a
photo shop we were treated with extreme deference by the white clerk, who
then started barking at the black customer behind me ("Well, do you want
that or not?"). Black people offered to watch your car while it was parked.
White people let you into their office with the push of a buzzer. I (half-
white, half-Asian) got asked by a hotel security guard what my business was
going into a hotel with a white man (my husband). All I could get to eat was
potatoes and sausage. I was there for only a few weeks so I can't say what
was going on there either (like you who were in Swakop for a month). But it
didn't feel good like it felt in Victoria Falls or other parts of Botswana,
where black people seemed less restrained and less categorized into certain
occupations and certain postures.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #78 of 161: Joe Ehrlich (static) Tue 27 Mar 07 14:42
    
I was interested in your comments concerning folklore shows. It seems
that wherever I am, there is an effort to get me to see a folklore show
and they always reeks of phoniness to me. I figure that it is just a
job, and any lack of authenticity/skill/appropriateness is lost on the
rubes fresh off of the bus. 

Now granted, it would take serendipity to arrive at the right time and
place for the "natives" to do their thing in front of tourists, so
there is a demand and a supply.

(This is still fresh in my mind as I was recently dragged along to a
village where ethnic tribal folks stood standing perfectly still and
looking intentionally photogenic)

I was also interested in your comments about the conundrum of being on
the overland truck vs. being off the overland truck, and how it can be
balanced so that one gets to interact with locals but still doesn't
have to spend months doing "hard seat" travel.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #79 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Tue 27 Mar 07 23:45
    
I don't remember if I mentioned this in Dik-Dik or not, but I had a
guide/driver friend who complained that the search for authenticity got
so ridiculous that he would call ahead to tribal villages in Kenya to
say "Take off your T-shirts and put on your blankets, I'm bringing a
group of tourists by in an hour." 

And what's wrong here, that tourists think all Africans must live in
mud huts and wear barely anything, or that some Africans choose to wear
T-shirts? I'll tell you what I think. Globalization may be good or bad
and the reasons someone wears a T-shirt complicated, but it's pretty
rude for me to tell someone how to dress for my "authentic" photos.

The same guide did later find a Samburu village project, where a
Samburu group had taken control of their own destiny. They'd created a
campground and they'd rent it out, and then they'd stroll over in the
evenings and do a dance. Then in the mornings, the tourists were
invited over to the village. And this is great, because it is a working
village and this is how the Samburu lived, and everyone profits. And
for the tourist who feels queasy, well, this is it, helping locally.
The money goes right to the tribe, and why shouldn't it?

There are also some great projects near Masai Mara. I went on a trip
with one upscale safari company where their camp was on Masai lands.
The Masai rent the space to the operator. The operator sends a manager
and a few helpers out, and they hire Masai from the tribe to help with
camp operations in exchange. Each safari vehicle takes a driver (who
may or may not be Masai), a Masai game spotter, and a bunch of
tourists! The people who work in the camp are all Masai, and they are
not used to this kind of service work, so there are a lot of blips and
patience is helpful to bring along, but you don't mind because it's all
so delightfully surreal to begin with.
<http://www.porini.com/gamewatchers/safaris.html?http://www.porini.com/gamewatc
hers/home_index.html>


And getting back to that T-shirt thing... the cloth-making industry in
Africa has suffered due to the glut of cheap, second-hand western
clothing. We pat ourselves on the back when we give our old clothes to
Africa, but wait... are we killing two local industries with our
generosity, one a cloth industry and the other the tailor with the
pedal Singer? Oh, damn, this doing-the-right -thing stuff is so darn
complicated. 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #80 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 28 Mar 07 00:01
    
"I was also interested in your comments about the conundrum of being
on the overland truck vs. being off the overland truck, and how it can
be balanced so that one gets to interact with locals but still doesn't
have to spend months doing "hard seat" travel."

Strangely, sometimes you get a more "local" experience from going with
an operator. Obviously, you would need to have chosen a responsible,
involved operator, but there are groups that have cultivated strong
relationships with local tribes, and that goes for both Kenya and
hilltribe country in SE Asia! I love Intrepid Travel for their projects
<http://www.intrepidtravel.com/> and you feel good when you trade a
sack of flour for a tribal home visit, instead of going to a "folklore"
show at a major hotel, where the performers are paid a pittance of the
door receipts.

In Egypt, taking an Intrepid trip (or one by the many similar
organizations: Explore Worldwide, Imaginative Traveller), means
avoiding the guilt-paralysis of the "papyrus" shops and carpet schools.
These organizations have people on the ground in Egypt. They have done
research and forged relationships with reputable organizations. And it
takes the haggling hassle out of the trip. They have felucca operators
that they work with, donkeys that they rent, and the tourist isn't
then wandering around blindly trying to work out a fair price. 

I know it sounds like I'm pushing organized trips. And I am (for
some)! But I'm talking about trips for tourists who have a week or ten
day's vacation. Sometimes it doesn't make sense to spend half that time
haggling and chasing train tickets. But the trade-off is that you
exist within the tourist bubble, a very comfortable place, but you miss
the rawness of the road, where you end up blubbering at a bus stop
because nothing is going right, and you miss that chicken in your lap
on the local bus. I wouldn't recommend going on an extended organized
trip, because the group dynamics invariably take precedence over the
actual sights you've come to see, but the shorter trips can be
marvelous, cheap, and convenient.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #81 of 161: Monica Brady (monica) Wed 28 Mar 07 09:37
    
Marie, I read your book this weekend and enjoyed it so very much that
I think I'll just reread it this coming weekend and go from Capetown to
Cairo myself.  

I do have questions, but they seem rather silly, but yet I'm curious

What about waste management?  How is that handled?  Do people litter?

Have you ever been a victim of crime in Africa?  What happened?

Did you carry around a compass, a GPS?  

Has your book sold in Africa?

I was going to ask if you have done hiking & camping in the northeast
U.S.A., but since looking at your blog (I think it was your blog!), I
see you have written books about it which I'll definitely check out.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #82 of 161: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Wed 28 Mar 07 09:49
    
I did read your blog about the arrogance and elitism of the traveler
(cool)/tourist (cattle-prodded) dichotomy, and somewhat agree, but,
ironically, all the openness and grassroots engagement you've described
in this great discussion convinces me that this is not a matter of
kind, but of degree.  Specifically, when whomever it was made the
distinction 25 ought years ago, it was driven by observing the levels
of insularity exhibited by those on the road.  These following comments
reinforce for me that, yes we are all tourists, but that not all and
perhaps most don't know how to also be travelers. You said, here, what
I am trying to say:  

"But the trade-off is that you exist within the tourist bubble, a very
comfortable place, but you miss the rawness of the road, where you end
up blubbering at a bus stop because nothing is going right, and you
miss that chicken in your lap on the local bus. I wouldn't recommend
going on an extended organized trip, because the group dynamics
invariably take precedence over the actual sights you've come to see,
but the shorter trips can be marvelous, cheap, and convenient."  
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #83 of 161: Joe Ehrlich (static) Wed 28 Mar 07 10:10
    
It is all shades of gray, in my opinion. We are all tourists when
traveling, and some travel more than others.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #84 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 28 Mar 07 16:26
    
Hi Monica--I'll try to answer your questions. Not at all silly.

--What about waste management?  How is that handled?  Do people
litter?--

It varies from place to place. I have seen people just toss plastic
bags on the ground, but there are also areas where people have a real
sense of pride in their environment. It might be directly related to
public education about litter. And plastic water bottles are a real
problem all around the world. In some rural areas, homes have waste
pits, which can also attract baboons. In the cities, businesses have
professional pickup, and the others have to carry to the dump, but I
never figured out where the dump was. One thing in poorer or rural
areas is that much waste is reused. When I lived in the national park
in Uganda, it was guaranteed that someone would sift through everything
I threw away. This led to all kinds of hijinks as I tried to hide
things in the trash, inside of milk cartons or juice boxes. People can
actually make things out of old cans or water bottles, so they recycled
things I threw away. And in rural areas, plastic bags are used again
and again. But yeah, in some places there is a disappointing lack of
awareness of litter.  

Oh, and they reuse soda bottles. Coke bottles are returnable, glass,
and have deposits, I mean. It seems to be a good idea to me.

--Have you ever been a victim of crime in Africa?  What happened?--

Nope. I had my bag slashed in Mongolia once, and had it sewn back
together in Nairobi, but nothing in Africa. While I've had plenty of
tout-hassle and taxi battles, I've never had anything stolen or been
robbed or mugged. In most places I've been, this isn't really
surprising as many places have extremely low crime rates. But in the
big cities (Nairobi, South African cities), I've been cautious but
probably also lucky. 

--Did you carry around a compass, a GPS?--

I do have a tiny compass on a hook in my bag, but I don't know that
I've ever used it. I don't go hiking or driving alone in rural areas
and in cities. I've actually never missed having a GPS. I had one
briefly (as a gift) earlier this year, but I couldn't make heads of
tails of how to work it, plus it was not compatible with my Mac, so I
stuck with my maps. I think it could be useful if you had your own
vehicle, but in my case it's just another thing to carry around that
adds weight to my pack.

--Has your book sold in Africa?--

Sadly, no. It can be ordered from upscale bookstores who get it from
overseas (Shawn from the second chapter got it this way in South
Africa). And I think it can be ordered from amazon or similar online
sellers. And one copy is on its way to Uganda now with an e-pal, who is
going to give it to Celsius, who is mentioned in the book.

And yes, I've camped all over the USA and love it. That is really the
way to go back home as you get to sleep in the middle of the national
and state parks. And for people who don't like tents, there are lots of
campgrounds that have basic cabins.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #85 of 161: David Kline (kline) Wed 28 Mar 07 19:02
    
This was great fun to read through.  I remember Cairo fondly from a
number of visits there for work a few years ago.  How are you enjoying
it now?  What part of town do you live in?  What's your neighborhood
like?  Is there still broken pavement every ten feet on every single
block of the city?  
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #86 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Wed 28 Mar 07 22:44
    
Cairo surprised me. Before I came here, I was not looking forward to
it because (based on prior visits) I expected it to be a polluted city
full of terrible traffic, where I'd have to fight  with taxi drivers
all the time and where I'd get hassled by annoying pervy men. And guess
what? It's exactly that.

But Cairo is also a lot of fun as it is a huge city full of
interesting things to do and look at. Art, cinema (though censored),
bookstores, restaurants, and the odd pyramid or two keep me out of the
house, which is a small apartment in Zamalek. That's the island in the
center of the Nile. It's full of embassies and foreigners--in this
case, I wanted to be where the foreigners were since it's not common
for a woman to live alone in this culture. So I wanted to go where lots
of women live alone. My neighborhood is an oasis of calm in comparison
to the surrounding areas. It has trees and some sidewalks you can walk
on. Well, it has sidewalks outside embassies because embassies are
charged with maintaining their sidewalks. The rest of them are still
pretty much broken every ten feet.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #87 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 29 Mar 07 12:57
    
Garbage dumps in Africa--that reminds me of one of my best experiences on
our photo safari. I think it was in Savuti that our guide, an Okavango
native and self-taught naturalist who told us to call him Seagal (yeah, like
Steven), took us to a garbage dump. He said he wasn't supposed to show us
garbage dumps, but it was such a great gathering of hyenas and baboons and
other creatures that he couldn't resist. Sure enough, there was lively
animal activity there. But the fact that it was taking place in the middle
of a huge pile of human-generated plastic waste made us really ambivalent.

What made our safari so great was Seagal, a tall, calm, good-looking guide
of 27, of the Bayei tribe of Okavango. He says his grandfather hunted
hippopotamuses (not sure what for). Seagal knew the Latinate names of all
the plants and animals we asked about--he said he used to pore over book
illustrations. He was a great resource for learning about Botswana and
nature--the trouble was that whenever he started talking about it, another
member of our group would change the subject to a "Seinfeld" episode or his
favorite brand of beer. The people we were with simply weren't interested in
Africa. They were there to witness predator chases and hairy moments of
animal interaction. Even then, they couldn't keep their damn mouths shut. I
got so sick of hearing them talk, but I couldn't wander off very far. One
night Joe and I were able to leave the campfire where they were discussing
some American subject and we sat in the darkness listening to elephants
bathe for a few hours. I wish Seagal had come with us.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #88 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 29 Mar 07 13:08
    
We spent only a few nights in Cairo, at the run-down Cleopatra Palace Hotel
near Tahrir Square--I think it was 3 stars. We were exhausted from our
southern Africa stay so we weren't too patient with the hectic tourist
experience in Egypt, so my impression of Cairo and the pyramids wasn't
great. But I would LOVE to live there and feel its daily rhythms. It's got
to be a great exerience, Marie--I envy you.

By the way, can you respond to some mundane questions like: How far from
where you live is work? How do you get to work? Are you there all day long,
and if so where do you get lunch? Do you cook a lot at home? Is it hot year-
round? How do you dress most of the time out in public?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #89 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Thu 29 Mar 07 14:10
    
Okay, first, I have to admit that I am leaving Cairo soon! I don't
live here year-round. My job is a bit nomadic. Last year I lived in
Kuwait for three months, then worked out of New York area for 9 months,
then came to Cairo for two months.

The comic book company I work for is based in Kuwait, but we are
moving our production and editorial work (well, some of it) to Cairo. I
haven't been much help in this process, though I'm good at advising.
"Marie, what does it mean when it says Wolverine has adamantium bones?
I can't find adamantium in the English-Arabic dictionary."

Next, I'll go to New York for a while, maybe six months or so, then
will take a leave of absence (unclear yet whether this will be
temporary or permanent) to go and work on another book. Provided
someone will agree to publish it, I mean.

I don't live that far from the office. It's in Dokki, by El Behoos
Metro, on a 12th floor next door to a Citibank and around the corner
from a Pizza Hut. Unfortunately, my local metro (Zamalek) is still
about two years away from being built. It's probably three miles to the
office, but traffic here is so bad that I sometimes take a taxi
(halfway) to the metro and use public transport from there.

Taxis are cheap--about a dollar to work--but it's so annoying to sit
in traffic.

When I go on the metro, I ride in the women's car. 

I usually work at home until 11, grab a takeaway salad or sandwich
from Cilantro (an upscale Egyptian coffee shop) and take it to the
office with me, and then leave at 5 for home. I had a few interactions
on the way home that were unpleasant--one that stopped me from walking
when a young man exposed himself to me and another where a taxi driver
attempted to set up an appointment to, um, oh never mind--so a
colleague from Kuwait who also moved here now makes it his business to
see me into a taxi after work every day. He checks out the driver and
tells him in Arabic where to take me. It seems to work.

I struggled to find an apartment with a nice kitchen. It's small, and
has only two burners and a microwave. I sometimes cook pilau rice and
put pineapple, peppers, onions, cashews, and red curry in it. I scoured
Cairo supermarkets for baking soda, so I can make pancakes in the
mornings, and do sometimes. But most of the time I just go downstairs
to the cafe two flights down and buy dinner while using their wi-fi. 

It is NOT hot year-round in Egypt, nor in the Gulf. It can get chilly
in January and February. I knew this from last year and so brought
sweaters. Winter is the best time here, very much like spring in the
Northeast U.S. 

I wear long pants and long sleeves at all times, and always put my
hair up. I call this style "frumpy modest" and I'd like to brag that
I'm being culturally sensitive, but the truth is that I dress "frumpy
modest" at home too. You could call it lazy, or impoverished, or just
too lame to bother with fashion.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #90 of 161: Michael Zentner (mz) Thu 29 Mar 07 14:38
    

My next (second) trip to Africa will be Botswana. I have always wanted
to go there.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #91 of 161: Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 29 Mar 07 14:43
    
I'm intrigued by the seven new national parks in Gabon. 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #92 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 29 Mar 07 16:54
    
mz, where in Africa was your first trip?

stevebj, a cursory search of Gabon national parks shows "elephants on the
beach" and "surfing hippos" are a big draw. Marie, do you know anything
about Gabon?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #93 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Thu 29 Mar 07 16:54
    
> colleague from Kuwait who also moved here now makes it his business to
 see me into a taxi after work every day. He checks out the driver and
 tells him in Arabic where to take me. It seems to work.

How laborious though, every day. Was it much different in Kuwait? Is being a
blonde an especial hassle in either place?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #94 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 05:00
    
MZ, I like Botswana a lot,though it is not set up for the
cheap-and-cheerful set. Budget travelers are not exactly encouraged,
and diamond-rich Botswana has the luxury of trying hard to limit impact
on its national parks, which brings up interesting questions of access
vs preservation. I pretty much agree with Botswana's policy-makers,
since there are lots of other options nearby where the masses can head.


I've heard that some of the upscale safaris there are quite wonderful.
For the budget traveler, there are accommodation options near Chobe
(Kasane) and in the Okavango Delta. Buses and trains are available
throughout the country, though information on them is a bit sparse. You
just have to go on the assumption that "Where there is a road and most
of the population doesn't own a car, there's got to be a bus."  

There's a good book on Botswana called "Botswana Time" but Will
Randall, about him living in Kasane and teaching school.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #95 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 05:02
    
SBJ, Gabon is keen to get visitors and I would like to be one of them!
I haven't been to West Africa at all and that is in theory my next
destination. I want to go from London to Cape Town via the West Coast,
starting in September. Kind of tricky, though, looking at the map.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #96 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 05:08
    
Frako, I don't think it's the blond thing. I'm not sure what it is.
This happens in Egypt like nowhere else (in my experience). I've been
leg-groped, catcalled, flashed, and propositioned here, but never in
Kuwait or UAE or Bahrain or Iran or Turkey or Pakistan or Jordan or
Syria. Just in Egypt. I thought it was a foreigner thing, that there
were some crazy urban myths that foreign women are sexaholics keen to
hop in the sack with anyone, but then I heard from my Egyptian female
colleagues about the hassle they have also encountered. 

Maybe it's just such a big city... I don't know. Apparently there is
at least one book written on this. 

All begs the question of the chicken or egg, of course. Are the sexes
separated because some men cannot control themselves, or is that why
some men don't know anything about women except what they see in the
movies? I definitely don't have the answers, or know why it happens
here unlike so many other countries, where it is more on par with the
likelihood of being hassled around the world. But I sure wish it would
stop.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #97 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 05:10
    
Also, I'd like to make a point that this harassment of women is not
the norm here. I know plenty of Egyptian men who have hit crude men who
hassled women in public, and a lot of other Egyptian men who simply
cannot believe the stories I tell them.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #98 of 161: Michael Zentner (mz) Fri 30 Mar 07 08:49
    
My first (and only) trip was to Kenya in '86. My friend Steve had
lived in Kenya and Uganda for two years during the late 70's and had
traveled extensively during that time, so he was our guide. I went with
him and two other of our best friends. We rented a small Suzuki and
drove around on our own for 5 weeks. Hit most of the major spots,
mostly camping, although we did splurge at Governor's Camp, including a
hot air balloon ride. Then spent the last week at Lamu hanging out on
the beach and eating lobster. 

Always planned to go back, but I really want to visit Botswana and
South Africa.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #99 of 161: Michael Zentner (mz) Fri 30 Mar 07 08:51
    
>>> I want to go from London to Cape Town via the West Coast,
starting in September.

On our trip we met a crew that was doing Alexandria to Cape Town via
ultra light (with a support truck of course).
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #100 of 161: Michael Zentner (mz) Fri 30 Mar 07 08:52
    
Oh, and we got to see Halley's Comet over Mt Kilimanjaro, although I
didn't know enough night time photography to get a decent picture. 

Still, pretty cool.
  

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