These are a few of my favorite things…………♫
Very occasionally, when I’m talking about upcoming travel, I get met with ‘you always go to ‘weird’ countries’ or a personal favorite ‘one of my friends went there and came back with (insert horrific exotic disease here)’.
Firstly, I’m not sure why some people categorize any country outside the G20 as ‘weird’. Secondly, who are all these people that contract malaria, dengue, yellow fever, giardia and rabies all at once on their trips to Bali and Phuket? Some of the symptoms recalled to me, sound suspiciously like a hangover.
With all the horror stories that float around (not to mention classic late night television series like ‘banged up abroad’; another personal favorite), I thought I would reflect on the things I love about the developing world. From my experiences, here is my top 5 (obviously not applicable in every single developing country).
Photo: Jack Koci
- The ‘yes we can’ attitude. And I’m not talking about the Obama election campaign. I’m talking about the transportation of people and cargo in developing countries. Can we fit our whole family of 6 people on a motor bike? Yes we can. Can we fit 70 people, 5 goats, 3 pigs, 14 bags of rice and 10 chickens on a bus designed for 30 people? Yes we can. 4000 eggs stacked on the bag of a bicycle? No problem. All the farmers coming to the meeting on a single tractor? Of course.
- The enthusiasm and innovation of goods and service delivery. If there is a place where someone might like to buy something, it’s there. I’m talking about the corner shops….on every corner. I’m talking about a ‘mobile ATM’ service, seen recently pulling up to a Lao university. Honestly, a truck pulled up with an ATM on the back to be greeted with a queue of eagerly waiting students, bank cards in hand. When all the students had made their transaction, the ATM was loaded back onto the truck and moved onto its next location. Don’t even get me started on the solar panel mobile phone charging services on road sides in Africa.
- Give everything you have. It seems that the less that you have, the more that you give. I think many of you will have been in that embarrassing situation, where someone with not much, provides you with an extravagant meal or tries to give you an elaborate gift. The next week, you briefly recall that moment when you are at an expensive restaurant in Sydney, tuning out whilst your investment banker and doctor friends scrupulously split the bill down to every last item.
- Waste not, want not. Nothing is more horrible than cleaning your house and trying to get rid of furniture and clothing you no longer need. Not in the developing world, it’s not. When I left Laos, I invited every Lao woman I knew to see if they wanted anything from the house. Everything was gone in 3 hours. In the next few weeks, I kept seeing friends and colleagues walking around in clothes of mine that they had altered to suit their own figures. I’m embarrassed to admit, I can barely sew a hem.
- Know thy neighbor (at least in rural areas). Many of you will be familiar with obligatory trips to the village chief’s house or the village office prior to undertaking development activities in rural areas. What always impresses is the level of detail known about every person in the village. The way the village leader can list every household, how many people live under each roof and how many cows, chickens and goats each person has. I don’t even know my next door neighbors name. Not to mention every one raising everybody else’s children. I was about 20 before I ever held a baby. In these villages I see kids of 15, looking after 4 children from 3 different families.