Monday, September 21, 2009

Lessons from my trip

I'm back from my trip. I think everyone should take some time off and do something for themselves. This long-ish break was a b'day present to myself, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I love traveling. There is SO much to be said for the education one receives while on their travels.

There is also a level of appreciation I feel for being back in the US (of course, the in-your-face advertising, and constant level of activity here quickly drained that out). Its nice to finally be in a place where I am understood immediately, rather than the wild gesturing and slow, repetitive speaking I've had to do. Where I can browse the magazines and books, and instantly understand what is written. And I like that everything generally works efficiently, sometimes 24 hours a day. But I do miss the European way of life; there is a tremendous emphasis on living well and a little more respect for human life there. People take care of themselves there, something that is completely missing here. Salaries aren't high there, but people seem SO much happier...continually reinforcing my belief that life isn't about money.

I generally have 3 rules when I am out traveling:
  • Eat locally.
  • Limit gadget use to 10-30 mins per day (I stick to the lower end usually).
  • Use as much public transit, and walk as much as possible.
This allows me to be quite away from my life at home (a true vacation), and be fully immersed in another culture. This is how my greatest learning happens.

From a "Tworque" point-of-view, most of my education came from understanding the points-of-view of colonial powers. I am continually curious about what prompted Colonization, their later cessation, and generally where these "Powers" are now as a result of their past actions. Are they really better off?? How do the citizens feel about their past? And where did their methods of governance come from. Being the product of a former colony myself, has allowed me a great understanding of why my country is the way it is. It also allows me to forgive and move on, and figure out the best way to deal with the current situation. 

Of all the places I visited this time (France, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany), Belgium was the most fascinating. 

Belgium is utter chaos now. And I was shocked that such a small and chaotic country could have have colonized a significant part of Africa. Probably not so surprisingly, looking at Belgium today reinforced the fact that chaotic colonizers tend to transfer their chaos to their colonies (Portugal is another perfect example of this). No wonder former Belgian African colonies are still in a state of extreme and violent chaos (Rwanda, Central African Republic, and Congo).  I would highly recommend reading the book "King Leopold's Ghost" further on this subject. 

Knowing England, France, Portugal, and Belgium as I do now, I'm glad I came out of a former British colony. I can honestly say that their high-nosedness, and class-based governance combined with their interest in advanced science, technology and education (ironically) created better colonies than any others. If you look at colonies that have best survived the tests of time, former British Colonies are probably most stable.  Of course there are exceptions, and I want to make it clear that colonization, British or otherwise, did TERRIBLE, terrible things. I do not sanction the act at all, but it did happen, and it sometimes needs to be analyzed at a distance.

Finally, its a pleasant change to finally have people think positively of the US. Obama has significantly "upped the ante." The past eight years were a particularly miserable time to be traveling around. I heard every kind of anti-American sentiment (quite rightly so) when I was out-and-about, particularly in the developing world. But it does get tiring, and it is SO refreshing to not have to deal with it any more.

No comments: