What are you doing here?

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Two days after the last email we caught a flight to Miami, transferred to Fort Lauderdale, flew to Kansas City then on to Seattle. Who knows why we decided to do it – when people ask us why, Azure and I end up giving totally different reasons – but we’ve decided to rearrange our trip. Instead of 3 months in Central America and 1 month in Europe, we spent 3 weeks in Colombia and are now getting ready for 3 months in one place – Southern France – visiting wineries, improving our French and traveling by scooter. It’s a vision that completely lacks the grit and adrenaline of non-Western travel, which must be what we want if we’re choosing this path.

Colombia was, we found, stunningly beautiful and totally undeserving of its dangerous international reputation. It’s silly that people in the US repeatedly warned us about a place they’d never traveled. It was, though, tiring to travel as a backpacker and that’s what ultimately persuaded me to take off and look for another method of travel in a different kind of country. My biggest regret is that we got so much good advice from people who were genuinely excited for us to go to Central America and we won’t be using it this time around. Thanks to everyone who did help, though. Neither of us believe we’ll never go to Central America, but it’s not going to happen this year.

We’re finding that in our short Colombian time we faced tons of political issues that we’ll still be thinking about years from now, so read on if you want some political rants:

– Race has to be the most powerful social force in our human world today. This was hammered home on our last day when we went from the mixed-race, dark-skinned streets of Cartagena to its airport, where every single traveler (those who could afford this method of transportation) was light-skinned. It was a different world just in the airport. Only the airport workers were darker-skinned. But we’ve seen this everywhere – in Thailand some women used makeup to look whiter, and all over the world we’ve seen advertisements that feature more people who look like Azure than like a local woman.

– What can a person actually do about poverty? Is it OK that we’re tourists where such poverty exists? Azure definitely had a hard time with this one and it’s a very, very complicated subject. Say we spend $10 on a meal for two of us. We see this as reasonable or even thrifty, but a local guy may see it as a grotesque waste of money. So then out of respect we decide to eat rice & beans and a piece of chicken for $1.50 for two. But one reward for accumulating wealth is that we don’t have to eat crappy meals, and a different local guy may wonder why we’re riding a bicycle instead of a motorcycle if we can afford it. Basically, how should one take advantage of their wealth? When I heard that Mariah Carey has a $10,000 shower curtain I thought, “I could travel for a year on that shower curtain.” An obvious answer is to not be concerned with money, but you’ve got to eat, and eating is a political act.

– We are lucky to be born in the US/West, where the government was originally built on a foundation of human rights (for its own people, anyway) and – most of the time – tries to do right by its people. The US has immense flaws, but the American & European poor have a much higher standard of living than the poor in most other places. Clearly some practices (minimum wage, food handling standards, taxation and redistribution) are good for the human population at a basic level, if done right. Development is only justifiable if a majority of people end up with a higher quality of life (when the moral standard is individual human happiness)… but…

– The trade off: we visited an indigenous tribe at 10am on a Monday morning. Where are you at 10am on a Monday? I’m usually at my first window washing job of the week. The tribe was sitting next to a stream, hanging out as a family. I’m not saying I’d trade my life for theirs right now, but I’d sure as hell trade if I were on the losing end of development. But even on the ‘winning’ end of development, our culture’s knowledge of nature has atrophied. American culture fetishizes working, and workers are lead to believe they have to stay in relationships with employers that are downright abusive when viewed from an outside perspective.

– Our (global, developed) culture decidedly values human rights as the most basic foundation of morality, the source which justifies a decision or policy (and individual rights have bled to other realms, as vegetarianism, for example). But two other moral foundations are affected when we make human rights most important. What does our culture look like if we put the health of our species (Human) above all else? What does our culture look like if we put the health of the Earth and its natural systems above the individual and above the species? “Good” does not always overlap.

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