Monday, August 29, 2011

The point of travel...

... is not only to see the bad in every place you see in order to make you feel grateful for what you have. The place that you come back also has its flaws, and a little discomfort in a "Third World" country like not having a consistent source of clean water or having to poop in an outhouse should not reduce your gratitude to only for the basic necessities (although it's a good level to start with, haha.). Then what would you make of the good you see?

... is not to search high and low for the same food and shops that bring you comfort, like McDonald's or The Body Shop. Sure, the food tastes (disgustingly) the same, and the products are alike but sold at a cheaper price, but the price of your plane/train/bus ticket probably made up the difference.

... is not to blank out all memories of sights and interpersonal interactions with alcohol or drugs. Intoxicant tourism is young men from Norway and other countries in Europe with a less-than-liberal drug policy coming to the Netherlands to smoke marijuana in the coffeeshops, English youth fresh from their GCSEs taking a gap year in Southeast Asia drinking their livers to cirrhosis with cheap beer in every town they go to, repressed Asian men and women enjoying the 'freedom' of Europe to do, wear, and sleep with anything.

... is not to take photographs without the permission of the people you meet, in artistic (and often black-and-white) ways in order to fish for compliments on your photographic abilities. These are whole people, not only a face or a smile or a financial transaction for you to immortalise and sell prints of, beyond their control.

... is not to generalise about whole populations based on some spectacularly negative experiences with some (men). A farmer's handful of plums tumbling into your palm or the opportunity to help someone you cannot even speak the same language with will surprise you and strengthen your faith in humanity and God.

The point of travel...

... is to make genuine contact with the faces and hearts of inhabitants, eat their food, walk their paths, take their buses/trains/motorcycles and if possible, understand how and why they live. They have entire lives of which the ritualistic, religious or recreational parts are often romanticised and repackaged for your neverending touristic consumption. You may not like people asking you why you're not married with no children but respect and try to understand that worldview; don't be smug about your 'modern' lifestyle and social norms.

... is to be socio-politically aware of the consequences of your presence and actions. Taking pictures with little girls in their 'traditional' costumes for some coins, and buying bracelets off child vendors is sometimes too lucrative to put or keep them in school. At the same time, bragging about saving monkeys while you remain oblivious to begging children and women is not quite getting it right either.

... is to leave a place cleaner than (or at least as clean) you found it. Bring plastic bottles, sanitary napkins and plastic sheets into a rainforest or beach and you must bring them out. It's tempting to throw one little biscuit wrapper into the deep grass, but don't. God made us stewards of the Earth, and every little bit of God's creations - trees, mountains, children, grown men - help us to understand ourselves and everything else a little bit more.

... is to be appreciative with modesty and stillness of all that you've heard, seen, smelt, tasted and touched. Friendship that remains over years is my personal favourite way to live out God's reminder to us in the Qur'an:
"O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is Knowing and Acquainted." (49:13)
A reflection and reminder to myself. 

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