During a walking holiday in Peru, writer and hiker Nancy King found that her most powerful and memorable moments occurred in quiet solitary interactions far away from the tourist throngs at Machu Picchu.
We pull up the Land Cruiser next to a petite man walking along the road. He is wearing a sarong-type skirt; his hair is coiffed in mud and feathers. He is distinguished.
“It is Wolle!” cries Mageru as he gets out from behind the wheel. “He is the Chief of Chiefs for the Hamer people.”
They greet each other in the traditional way for Ethiopian men – clasping each other’s backs with the left hand, shaking right hands while butting right shoulders three times. Wolle’s head feathers stroked Mageru’s mustache.
In the Hamer language, Mageru introduces me as his wife. Wolle looks me over and absent-mindedly undoes and reties his sarong. He wears nothing underneath.
“We should invite him to camp with us,” suggests Mageru. “It is a long way back to his village.”
Wolle is happy to do that but insists on supplying dinner and so we swing the car off the road and bump our way across the scrubby, dry savannah. A landscape so formless, I cannot gauge how many miles we have travelled before reaching Wolle’s family enclave, a few cone-shaped huts made of sticks and grass and encircled by thorn bushes.
As I get out of the car, I am immediately surrounded by dozens of naked children and, standing back, shy semi-naked women. The women and I smile uncertainly – not knowing what is expected of us.
Meanwhile, under Wolle’s direction, Mageru and a few other men are playing chase with a small goat. The goat loses, and is manipulated safely - but not quietly - into the back of the Land Cruiser. He is wedged in tight and I pray that he will not pee, poo or upchuck on our gear.
It surely is the goat’s first car ride and it will definitely be his last. And by the time he bleats all the way back to our campsite, I am not feeling even a smidge remorseful. Our cook hustles him off (out of sight of my tender ferenj sensitivities) and disposes of him quickly; within a few hours he has become a tasty stew called figel wot. It is a pleasant camping evening; the men’s Amharic/Hamer murmurings around the fire are like soft ambient music to ears that don’t understand.
story and photos by Christopher Clark
As the bus eased through the gears, through the green corn fields and farther away from the small terminal in the town of Kitale, I tried to cast my mind back to the beginning, to figure out what it was that had drawn me to the wild and volatile Turkana region of Kenya in the first place. I guessed that the people I would meet once I got there might want to know. But the truth was that I still didn't really have an answer.
I could at least have said that it stemmed from books by long-dead explorers; and that I was looking for something very different; and that Turkana seemed a long way away from pretty much everything I had previously known. At 28 years old I had grown bored of and disillusioned with much of what I had previously experienced. Wasn't that enough reason?
Either way, it was too late. I was on my way, heading north, already half way there. Soon the bus rose out of the the Rift Valley and gradually left the rich, thick vegetation behind as we entered a place of sparse open space and scorched earth.
The rumours about the poor quality of the dirt road to Turkana were by no means exaggerated. At times the bus seemed to defy physics, leaning precariously to the side, the ground suddenly almost within touching distance of the window. Many of whom I assumed were the more seasoned passengers whooped, laughed and slapped thighs as though it was all part of the fun. I held on to my armrests for dear life.
A few hours into our journey the bus passed a group of five or six men slouched on the sand with T-shirts covering most of their faces like balaclavas and AK-47s slung over their shoulders. As I stared out of the window at them, one of them saw me, stood up, lifted his gun aloft with one hand and waved at me vigorously with the other, and then they were gone.
We arrived at our destination, Lodwar, at a little before 11 p.m., roughly five hours late. Patience is a must for travelling in Kenya.
“Promise you will stay one more year. We are so happy with how you relate to us. And you are happy, yes? You are getting fat.” Looking at Mama Ami, I know she is quite serious. How would she know that where I come from, being called fat isn’t exactly a compliment? My mind jumps full speed into a rapid analysis of how much I may have changed in the months since my arrival in Nigeria – a diet primarily of okra or bitter green soups with starchy porridges; the occasional dish with beans and crayfish but general deficiency of good protein; the dearth of fresh produce in our market, the lack of refrigeration and my waning interest in learning the labor intensive traditional methods of preparing their dishes – anything was possible. Snapping out of it, I let myself simply feel pleased that they are comfortable with my presence.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure how comfortable I would be here – a country of over 200 different ethnic groups, a mixture of Muslims and Christians, an international image well ensconced in corruption and scams. But here I was, living in a small town, working for a local organization whose office was housed on the family compound. The business’ fish tanks and hatchery edged one side of a large dirt yard otherwise surrounded by the homes of the cousins, their families, and the elder mamas. Sitting on the porch with Mama Ami and her husband Joshua, I know she is right - I am happy. The contentment has been unfolding so slowly I barely noticed it; made up of hundreds of tiny milestones of recognition and inclusion.
I tell lies when I travel. My mother would call them “little white lies” and I only tell them to spare the feelings of others.
Oh, alright. That wasn’t exactly honest. I tell lies when I travel in order to spare myself the piteous looks I receive when I tell the truth. A woman traveling alone is not as rare as it once was but, depending on where she goes, there is still a curiosity factor. The farther afield she wanders, the more curious the local folks will be.
“Where is your husband?” That is the first question.
Now, I never mind admitting that I am single – I am an optimist and the inquirer just might have some terrific friend I could meet. Of course, if I answer truthfully and admit to two divorces I could appear to be a poor risk. So I hang my head, and in a tragic voice, I whisper, “Gone.”
Which is not a lie, not really. They are all gone, those husbands.
I am in love...with Tunisia. When I close my eyes and think about the kindness, hospitality and open-heartedness of the Tunisian people, I want to jump on a plane and go back. I've been to Tunisia seven times, lived there for six months, made two films about the country. But I hardly expected what has happened over the last week: there has been a grass-roots revolution. The Tunisian people have risen up against their tyrannical leader, and said no to repression. They have risked their lives in their fight for freedom.
In my lifetime, the Solidarity movement in Poland catapulted to power. The Berlin wall fell. The Soviet Union fell apart. And now, in a small Arab Muslim nation in North Africa, a despot has been deposed and the people are demanding democracy.
READ why I think the revolution and the country should be on your radar in my RECENT ARTICLE FOR THE HUFFINGTON POST
And maybe, this year, if the stars are aligned correctly, you'll JOIN ME FOR A TRIP to the new Tunisia. If you're game, drop me an email.
words + photos by Don Mankin
Our narrow wooden boat churns upstream powered by what looks like a motor from a small lawn mower. The wide, almost empty river is straight out of “Apocalypse Now.” I feel vaguely like Martin Sheen looking for Colonel Kurtz as I scan the sparsely populated river banks. The small boat has barely enough room for the four of us -- my wife Katherine, our guide, the operator and me.
We are heading to a small, isolated village buried in the jungle about 45 minutes up a tributary of the Mekong River, deep in the heart of Ratanakiri province, a mountainous region in the far northeastern corner of Cambodia. This is as far away from our home in Los Angeles as you can get in this world -- geographically, culturally, and in pretty much any other way you can imagine.
The village we are visiting is home to the ethnic minority people known as the Tompuon, one of the most isolated groups of people I have ever seen – no TV, internet, electricity, or modern sanitation. They survive by cutting timber, growing rice, raising pigs and chickens, and selling trinkets to the few tourists who come their way.
by Judith Fein
Photo Slide Show by Paul Ross
“What country you from?” two young men shouted at me from the stalls where they sold clothing.
“United States,” I answered.
“America! We love America!” they replied, grinning broadly.
The stalls were in the souk in Aleppo, and Aleppo, which has been inhabited by our species since the llth century B.C., is in northern Syria. Yes, an Arab country. Where cautious Americans are not supposed to go.
In Damascus, the capital, I was picking food from a sumptuous buffet and piling it on my china plate when the restaurant owner approached me.
“Where do you come from?” he asked.
“The United States,” I said. “And it’s my birthday today. This is my celebration.”
“Your birthday? Come with me, please.”
I followed him over to a large, standing, locked glass showcase which displayed jewelry and antiquities. He unlocked the case and withdrew a stone.
“Here, for you,” he said. “It’s a rock from the moon. May you have a wonderful day.”