inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #101 of 161: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 30 Mar 07 09:24
    
I have a very general question about poverty.  

My third world travels have been limited to parts of rural Mexico 
and the Dominican Republic.  In the Dominican in particular the 
poverty and social breakdown was very hard to take.  The lack of street 
and home lighting and other basic services was disturbing.  Anything 
in the public sector is trashed.  Little indicators got to me.  The 
lightly visited national museum in the capital city had termites 
visibly destroying artifacts and ancient Taino treasures scrawled 
upon with recent grafiti.  That shocked me. 

The rich (5% of the populace, I read) have gorgeous cars, homes, all 
the international amenities of wealth.  the booming tourist industry 
keeps most of the good beaches cordoned off from local use so European 
and North American middle class tourists who pay for "All Inclusive" 
resorts will have what amounts to a cruise vacation on shore, and never 
venture into the countryside or perhaps not even to the oldest city in the 
Western Hermisphere, where evidence of suffering might be encountered.
 
I like to travel to places where I learn, where the world is different, 
where I am challenged.  But I have a hard time with the extremes of 
the third world economies, where I can been seen so easily as a part of 
the colonial tradition, never fully replaced with a new relationship.  

All this is a rambling preamble to asking about being an outsider with 
the time and money to travel, however modestly, in a deeply poor country. 
This probably relates, in this time of war, to being an American 
in Muslim countries, too.  

What is your take on "representing" your home country to others, and 
on personally encountering such extreme poverty as an individual, too?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #102 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 10:39
    
You are what you are. At home, I squeak by. But out there, I'm rich. 

There's no pretending that you're a poor rural Ethiopian when you are
helping to blaze a trail that will be in next year's update of "Lonely
Planet Ethiopia." In East Timor, someone once asked me how much my
backpack had cost and I mumbled some lie, because I was too embarrassed
to tell her the truth. It was probably more than a half-year's income
for her.

But tourists can fight the guilt-monster and the pity-monster. Deal
with people as people, and accept that they are not so different. I
have met a lot of people who live in mud huts and have plastic barrels
that catch rainwater, and nothing but a three-sided shack out back for
a toilet, and they can be as happy and fulfilled in life as someone in
a developed city in America. They want the same things out of life as a
wealthy person--a satisfying job, good health, education for their
families.

I do not go to Africa to fix it. I go to enjoy it. Interacting with
people as people is my goal. I'm not a walking ATM, and I am highly
suspicious of development projects that do not have a local sponsor. My
poverty-solution of riding local transport, engaging people en route,
and buying local produce/goods is not a global solution, nor will it
change much, but a bigger solution seems daunting and formidable in the
face of how the world's economy works. All I can suggest is to buy
local, engage people one on one, and not judge their situation too
harshly. And then go home and tell people that actually, they should go
interact as well.

I wish I had a real answer for Gail. Of course there isn't one. My
face implies a certain something to someone in East Timor, Zimbabwe,
Nairobi, and Egypt. It does the same thing at home. A lot of
invading-gentry have taken over my neighborhood. Property values have
skyrocketed. So have muggings. What am I going to say to the mugger,
"No, no, I know I look like the invading gentry, but I've been here for
years and my income is so pathetic that you'd give me money if only
you knew!" No, I'd just hand over my wallet. 

All I can really do is be polite and treat people as equals. And
actually, in their own countries, where I bumble around cluelessly,
they're more than my equals. They are frequently my rescuers. 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #103 of 161: paralyzed by a question like that (debunix) Fri 30 Mar 07 11:28
    
Going local is a good motto for a whole philosphy of travel.  But
going local may have some unsavory consequences, or so I've read...

I love the idea of going to foreign markets and buying the produce
directly from the person who grew it--I get the real thing, and they
get the whole cost.  But I have traveled very little and really don't
know how strong my gut is.

You mentioned only a couple of times where you got sick during your
trek, and you seemed to blame meals at restaurants.  Have you had much
trouble with local produce?  Is your gut pretty well resistant to a lot
of traveler's ailments by now?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #104 of 161: Scott MacFarlane (s-macfarlane) Fri 30 Mar 07 12:27
    
I admire this last post of yours, Marie. Very eloquently stated!
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #105 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 13:24
    
My gut is nothing special, believe me. I've been downed by food
parasites a few times, and by a few other interesting things as well.
But if I adhered to the old traveler's adage of "if you can't boil it,
peel it, or cook it, forget it," I don't think I'd be real healthy.
Because that is great advice for a short trip, but on an extended trip,
you really start to crave your veggies after a while. And you start to
take risks. You get ice in your drinks. You gobble up lettuce. You
lick sidewalks. And usually, you're fine.

And then sometimes you're not, but that's another story.

The problem with buying produce is not having a kitchen in a hotel
room. Hostels and backpackers are good for shared kitchens, as are some
campgrounds in southern Africa (and incidentally, across New Zealand).
Most of these will have a source of clean water, and you can wash your
produce. And if you are cooking with it, even better. 

Overland trucks, as part of the experience, make tourists shop in
local markets and then cook for the group.

I carry a tiny vegetable peeler around, so I can eat apples and
carrots in hotel rooms. 

And I do blame restaurants for the times I was sick. Once, in China, I
was violently sick in the middle of the night after having eaten
dinner at an upscale place the night before. And in Uganda, I am pretty
sure it was the carpaccio at an Italian restaurant.

Not to say that upscale restaurants cause food poisoning. That's only
twice out of... who knows how many meals. 

There are no hard and fast rules about avoiding sickness. Some tiny
street stalls are your best bet, because you see fresh food cooked
right in front of you. Other times, the safest place in town to eat
caters to tourists. And in the two cases I mentioned above, both places
looked really clean and safe. Just bad luck, I reckon. And frequent
power cuts don't help.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #106 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 13:34
    
Thanks, Scott. Much appreciated.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #107 of 161: Erik Van Thienen (levant) Fri 30 Mar 07 17:53
    
> Most of these will have a source of clean water, and you can wash your
 produce.

You don't carry a water filter? I remember seeing those Katadyn Pocket
Filters in the display window of the old store for Congo colonials in the
Rue des Colonies in Brussels. Those silver impregnated ceramic filters could
filter out most bacteria and protozoa. They now even have Katadyn filter
bottles and those water filter pens.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #108 of 161: Michael Zentner (mz) Fri 30 Mar 07 18:19
    
We ate all over Kenya. Bought stuff from the main market in Nairobi.
Ate at some really weird restaurants way out in nowhere, nothing but
bony chicken. Had some incredible street lamb kabobs in Malindi. Some
weird stew a Masai village treated us to. Ate some store bought "chili"
that was more like dog food. Smoked pot we bought from some pygmies in
Naivashu . No problems.

Flew back through Madrid. First night ate at a downtown restaurant,
and was bedridden for three days with the worst food poisioning
(spinach) I've ever had.

 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #109 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Fri 30 Mar 07 21:52
    
I'm with MZ on this one. Eat often and eat well. It's part of the fun.


And no, I don't carry a water filter. When I first left home for the
year around the world, I had "travel clothes," one of those wire covers
for my pack, and a water filter. Then I discovered that every ounce
counts, that the best travel clothes were your normal comfortable
clothes, that wire pack covers are heavy and paranoid-looking, and that
there are plenty of shops everywhere. There was no need to be
self-sufficient, as on a rural hike. Just run over to the convenience
store or gas station and buy a gallon of water... 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #110 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sat 31 Mar 07 09:29
    
Marie, how did you learn Amharic? (Wikipedia tells me that it is “a
Semitic language spoken in North Central Ethiopia by the Amhara. It is the
second most spoken Semitic language in the world, after Arabic.”) And how
easy are it and Arabic to learn for a reasonably flexible English speaker
who knows other languages?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #111 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sat 31 Mar 07 10:00
    
Wait, I don't know Amharic! I had a phrasebook and butchered the
language on a regular basis. (Helpful to point to a phrase and the
other person can read it in Amharic.) But people appreciated the
attempt, badly executed though it was. Unfortunately, my lame attempts
did not help me once I got into the Tigray province, because it isn't
spoken there. 

I don't speak Arabic either, but I know a lot more of it than I do
Amharic. I wouldn't say learning Arabic is easy, but it isn't
impossible. The key is mastering the alphabet so that you can at least
sounds words out. I haven't gotten there yet. I've learned a few
phrases, some pronouns, some letters, and of course a few swear words. 
Not that I need the swear words, since everyone knows the English for
those. 

I took classes for a while back home, and forgot most of the phrases
(things like "My name is Marie" and "That is a dog" and "I would like a
pancake"). There were a few guys at work who would teach me a word or
two every day. The "tea boy/office boy" (who of course is probably 27
years old and not a boy at all) was a Nubian Egyptian who made it his
business to get me to ask for what I wanted in Arabic.  

In Cairo, I wander around speaking pidgin-English-Arabic. It's
bizarre, but people are used to foreigners speaking bizarrely so no one
seems to mind. If I'm in a taxi and the taxi driver doesn't get what
I'm saying (usually due to my appalling Arabic accent), he just pulls
over and accosts passersby until he finds one who can translate. 

Arabic has three different versions of each letter, depending on if it
is in the beginning, end, or middle of a word. And it's written
right-to-left, though numbers are left-to-right. And vowels are
determined by little tick marks.

Cairo is the center for Arabic language learning. But that still
didn't get me to school any more than signing up for the gym got me to
yoga.

Oh, and last, Arabic numbers aren't the kind of number we have. They
are different. Which is funny, since we always call our numbers Arabic.
But they aren't.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #112 of 161: Joe Ehrlich (static) Sat 31 Mar 07 10:15
    
Been enjoying the book and doing my part to pass the word.

I started a new "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik" topic over at
http://www.bootsnall.com (where I am a moderator) and included a link
to the book at Powell's Books. BootsnAll had already mentioned the book
previously in their sister website http://www.writtenroad.com.

You had mentioned that you pack weighed about 40 pounds, which seems
about right to me. Can you tell us more about the pack and the gear
that you carry?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #113 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sat 31 Mar 07 13:23
    
And was it consistently that weight through most of your Africa travels?
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #114 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sat 31 Mar 07 14:01
    
Thanks a LOT, Joe. I had a few travelogues on bootsnall in the really
early days. I once wrote a story about digital travel and people got
all riled up about it! My point was that (at the time) digital travel
wasn't up to speed yet. This was before wi-fi, back when you had to
carry bunchs of plug adapters AND phone jacks in your pack, and even
then there weren't global ISPs. So how were you supposed to get the
info OFF your laptop? Especially when only the rarest internet cafe
would let you pop in your floppy disk (the drives were usually covered
in tape)? Now we have wi-fi and USB, and we don't need to put drivers
onto host computers to get photos off our camers, and we can even pop
into photo stores and get CDs made in a flash. But then, I just
resorted to pen and paper, film and scanner, and typing really fast in
internet cafes (and there was no blogger then either). And people got
so mad about what I'd written!! "I'll have you know that I have carried
my laptop and digital camera all across the USA in my RV and never had
any problems."

"Congratulations," I'd say. "That's great." What else is there to say
to an irate person?

Little did I know that within a few years, I wouldn't even need
drivers or phone jacks. Wa-hoo! The laptop is heavier than the notebook
but oh-so-convenient. But I still have to take extra plugs.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #115 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sat 31 Mar 07 14:40
    
Now, about that pack. 

It has always been pretty much 40 pounds around the world, give or
take 5 pounds. 

The items that vary include: 
-iBook that I carry these days, along with a CD-RW, USB stick,
mini-Wacom (the job, you know) and--when I go to live somewhere--the
iPod.
-SLR went across Africa, along with big lens and lots of film. Just
used point-and-shoot in the rest of the world.
-These items went across Africa, and also across the US and NZ on
camping trips, but didn't go around the world: sleeping bag,
Thermarest, mini-pillow. (these attach outside the pack, in stuff-sacks
hanging from carabiners)
-For the overland truck part, I took a tent acquired in Nairobi, but
gave it away at the end so I never actually carried it anywhere. I gave
away the Thermarest too.

The standard stuff in the RTW pack: 
-lightweight fleece.
-plastic raincoat. (Wear these two together on cold days.)
-one pair of jeans (for cold places and for "smartening" up a bit).
-hybrid shoes that go from gym to hiking to casual wear.
-Tevas (sport sandals).
-flat black sandals for looking decent in a city.
-pack cover (works against dust on the top of a bus as much as rain).
-clothes--these are all neatly tucked into packing cubes, the
equivalent of a shirt drawer, socks drawer, pants drawer.
-toiletry bag (full of toiletries).
-travel journal. (as it filled up, I'd post it home and buy a new
one.)
-plastic zipper bag of odds and ends such as mini roll of duct tape,
foldable scissors, swiss army knife w/can opener, veggie peeler, Lexan
utensils on a keychain, lucky frog emblazoned rock (surely the reason I
made it), scrub brush for laundry, flat sink plug, two clothespins
that hang from hooks, coffee press that is in its own mug, coffee.
-tiny ultralight microfiber towel.
-mini-medical kit.
-one book for reading on the bus.
-one guidebook to where I am.
-tiny phrasebook for the region.
-and if there is space left in the pack, I fill it with bubble wrap!
Because you never know when you will want to mail home that wooden
giraffe you didn't mean to buy, but somehow did. 

I did laundry nearly every night for a year, using the hotel soap, the
scrub brush (a plastic shoe brush or a nail brush), the flat sink
plug, and the hanging clothespins. I'd wring out the laundry in a towel
and then hang it under the ceiling fan. This isn't because I like
doing laundry--it's because I could only carry a few articles of
clothing.

I'm probably forgetting something. The key to packing for extended
travel is to buy and shed along the way, so that you don't end up
carrying so much that you can't lift your pack (or worse, hurt your
back--the swing when you put it on is also important, as is getting a
professional fit for your pack). I didn't take a winter coat, for
example, but I was going to Siberia and Mongolia. So I bought one of
those fake North Face parkas in Beijing, wore it as far as Moscow, then
posted it home from Estonia. (This gets smushed at the bottom of the
bag in a vacuum pack when not in use.)
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #116 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sat 31 Mar 07 14:45
    
Frako, I went past your Cleopatra Palace Hotel tonight in a taxi! I
thought of you. (What a crazily busy area that is.)
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #117 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Sat 31 Mar 07 15:05
    
Is it? I guess it is more serene along the Nile or in your neighborhood.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #118 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Sat 31 Mar 07 22:29
    
Oh yeah, it's a major center! That's where it is all happening,
students, government, tourists, minibuses, touts, people going to work,
the metro. And when they happen (not that we're supposed to admit this
happens), the protests. ("Let's meet for dinner Tuesday unless there
is a revolution on Monday, okay?")

The Egyptian Museum if moving from there to a new site (in theory) as
is the American University of Cairo. Supposedly Mugamma is moving too.
That's the huge gray government building on the southern end of Tahrir
Square. Once all of these move, I suppose it will just be an important
transit point for traffic and metro. I wonder what will happen to the
small hotels all around the area, as once the Egyptian Museum moves,
there is no reason to stay in that area. Also that is the site (outside
the river side of the Nile Hilton) of the taxi driver groping my leg
at the end of Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik. Or would have been, if I
hadn't ended the story at the previous afternoon at the other end of
Egypt.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #119 of 161: Monica Brady (monica) Sun 1 Apr 07 18:59
    
Marie, thanks for answering my questions.  I can't wait to hear about
your trip along the western coast of Africa.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #120 of 161: Cynthia Barnes (cynthiabarnes) Sun 1 Apr 07 23:20
    
Hello Marie! I've been away from my email for a few days and just
found two pointers to your discussion. I look forward to picking up the
book when I'm back in the States later this month.

I agree that in West Africa, the street hassle was a toubab (white
person) thing, and not gendered. Men got hassled non-stop, too. Cairo
I've heard is just leagues away in terms of harassment.

Anyway, cheers from Bangkok and thanks for being here!
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #121 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 2 Apr 07 03:18
    
Monica, thanks for your interest in my West Africa project. I'm
feeling quite lazy right now--and while lots of people told me that
once I had a book out, it would be easy to get an agent or publisher
for the next one, I'm starting to get that this simply isn't true--so
it seems an impossible dream at the moment. That it is utterly
far-fetched. And do I want to get up again and strap on the old pack
and get on the bus? Yes and no. I mean, of course! But I also want to
do normal things like normal people, something that gets sacrificed by
mobility. 

Or maybe it's just that I only slept three hours on a plane last
night. 

And then here we have someone who has done the West Africa trip.
Cynthia Barnes, who I believe tangled with the best of them in Mali.
Isn't that right? 

Anyway, it's funny how gender is so relevant in some places and not so
much in others. In my experiences in East and Southern Africa, it
wasn't too important. Equal opportunity hassle and respect both. But in
Egypt, gender is important because of sexual harassment.

One thing that struck me as odd was that "white person" did not just
mean a light-skinned person like me. It also meant Japanese backpacker
or in some cases African-American. Perhaps "foreigner" would be more
apt, or "westerner." 
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #122 of 161: David Kline (kline) Mon 2 Apr 07 12:10
    
>One thing that struck me as odd was that "white person" ...also meant
Japanese backpacker or in some cases African-American. 

I know an African-American woman who did a lot of work in Southern
Africa and when she first started, she was really disturbed by the
locals, as she put it, "questioning my blackness."

I too would love to hear tales of a trip across West Africa.  Ghana is
my favorite country ever to have had the privilege of working in.  The
only other W. African country I've been in is Nigeria, which from my
very short stay there seemed a world away from Ghana.

(Gail you mentioned having traveled only in Mexico by way of
developing countries.  Time for me to trot out a factoid: The US is ten
times richer than Mexico (per capita GDP).  Mexico is ten times richer
than Ghana.  Ghana is one of the better-off countries in W. Africa.)

Talk of Zamalek makes me nostalgic, btw.  I used to stay in the
Marriott when in Cairo on business, which put me WAY inside the
parachuting-foreigner bubble.  But I've walked all over that end of the
island.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #123 of 161: Gail Williams (gail) Mon 2 Apr 07 12:19
    
(I said rural Mexico and the Dominican Republic, since I think of Mexico as
a whole as being relatively prosperous, too!)

But yes, Africa is like no other place.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #124 of 161: Marie Javins (mariejavins) Mon 2 Apr 07 13:35
    
David, when were you in Nigeria? I've heard so many horror stories
about crime there. I'm kind of worried about it. I need to get opinions
from people who have been there.
  
inkwell.vue.295 : Marie Javins, "Stalking the Wild Dik-Dik"
permalink #125 of 161: mother of my eyelid (frako) Mon 2 Apr 07 14:03
    
I was hoping Cynthia Barnes would stop by!

Marie, you say you’re starting to think that, just because you’ve
published one book of travel writing, agents and publishers are not beating
down your door to put out another one as you’d been told. So let’s talk
about travel writing as a livelihood. Did you start traveling thinking you
would be a travel writer, or did that come after you were traveling for a
while?
  

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