Political awareness in travel
Part of the totality of a place is its politics, and in long-term travel you’ll likely pass through a variety of political landscapes that affect the lives of the people who call a place home. The Egyptian man above, for example, challenged the legitimacy of his President’s 30-year-old rule and on February 2 of this year had a flying rock rip loose part of his lip. (Interestingly, if you were to walk about 60 seconds to either his right or left, you’d find several travel agencies offering deals on Nile cruises, desert excursions, and Sinai beach resorts; they were, however, closed this particularly day, and most travelers were packed into the Cairo airport trying to get out of the country.)
Political situations are worth paying attention to, but not only in order to gauge the stability or safety of a potential travel destination. Understanding the basics of Thai politics, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the Colombian civil war will go a long way in helping you understand a country and will help you make the most of a visit there. Sometimes, of course, we go to a place knowing next to nothing but, once there, experience something that alters the course of our lives. A powerful example of this is the life of Sean Carosso, who while traveling in Africa in 2007 wrote the following in his journal:
I yelled at thieving monkeys and saw Nelson Mandela yell from stage. Cried in refugee camps and laughed during moonlight dances. Saw a baby born and parents buried. Went south to scream from the bottom of the world and made my way north to see Ugandan children become visible. Slept in mansions and huts, ate porridge and gazelle, swam with otters, fended off pickpockets and rarely showered, stopped, or stood still.
For two months, there was death and destruction,
failure and fear, adventure.wonder.motion.
But all around was a pervasive hope moving steadily
toward what could only be described as progress
Stories of change everywhere to be found. Until I walked into the chaos of Congo.
The so-called Democratic Republic of Congo, home to one of history’s deadliest wars.
Strange circumstances led me to her doorstop, but there I stood ready to see
what she might show my western eyes.
The following is what they saw.
You can read the rest of his entry and learn about the organization that emerged at www.fallingwhistles.com/story. It’s a powerful site.
The U.S. State Department’s Background Notes is one source for a quick political overview of a country. Idealist.org is a popular site for checking out volunteer opportunities, including ones that might intersect with political issues. For example, Bustan Qaraaqa is listed there; it’s a community permaculture project based just outside the West Bank town of Bethlehem.