Friday, January 1, 2010

The 6 Month Mark

Today marks 6 months since I took that debauchery-filled first class trip on Etihad Air after spending a night on the cold, tiled floor of JFK airport with my bags tethered to me. The time has flown by. I could go on about everything I’ve learned relating to poverty, but you’ve already read most of that and it would probably bore the majority of you anyway. Instead, I’ll list a few random comments/things I’ve learned about myself and other countries in general. But first, before I do that, I want to thank everyone who has supported me up to this point: those who have donated money, people who have given me great contacts, locals who have provided me with amazing guidance while in my target country, and all my friends and family who keep me in the loop enough so that I don’t come back completely socially awkward. I also want to stress how much I appreciate the comments and the lively debates they create. I enjoy the learning. Oh, and I suppose I owe that Michael Keegan guy some thanks as well. I can’t do this without you all. Anyway, on to my thoughts:

Bashing your own country helps. Forget complimenting my country, bash your own! There’s few things that bring me closer to a person than when he or she bashes his own country. Like when my friend Zhang complimented my laptop and explained how Chinese computers were complete garbage – I wanted to go have a beer with him. I think it shows a sense of open mindedness, a willingness to accept one’s (country’s) faults. Americans could take a hint here. So, following this example, I’m more apt to propound the US’s faults, for example our terrible health care system or deterioration of the family unit, than to brag about our successes. When I tell people I’m from America, they often say (insert Borat accent) “#1 country!” I tell them, “Sure, something like that. But really it’s a boring place.” (which it is on an everyday level…you know things will probably go as planned…in India, for example, you might get one thing done during an entire day because of some freak marriage parade in the street or stranger taking you to his house in the slums…not that those happened to me…)

You’re more likely to regret the things you didn’t do than the things you did. Like any good college senior I put this adage to good use last year. However, I think as post-grads a lot of us (myself included) tend to forget this. We take fewer chances. Things are less interesting. I’ve fallen back to this default on occasion during my trip, but I keep pushing myself to take chances. And it doesn’t have to be big things either. Just yesterday I broke the ice with a Kenyan couple who I’d seen for days at my hotel but never talked to. We ended up chatting for a good while, and later that night they invited me dinner, where we enjoyed pasta while nit picking all the things we find ridiculous about Mozambique. It was great fun.

The availability of toilet paper = level of development of a country. One easy way to judge the standard of living in a country is the check a stall in the nearest public bathroom. The more often you find TP, the more developed a country is. If even the company or NGO office doesn’t have any two-ply, then by God do not drink the water. Chances are you are in a really backwards place. There should be an index to measure this – I bet it would roughly in line with GDP per capita. You could even break it down to quality of TP, like number of ply, softness, etc.

Staying with the bathroom realm, finding a public toilet is like finding an oasis in the desert. It’s a beacon of hope. I say hope because even if you find it, you may have to attempt to sneak in (for example, at Pizza Hut), it may be closed down or locked, or you might be asked to pay when you don’t have any money on you. But at the end of the day, as long as it’s not #2, pretty much anywhere will do.

Does sarcasm exist abroad? I still find myself asking this question. I don’t know. My foreign language skills aren’t strong enough in any country to pick up on it if it does in fact exist, but I don’t think it does in Asia. Asian humor, from what I can tell, is over-the-top-not-funny humor. I think Africa might have a fighting chance. People in Mozambique seem to have a drier sense of comedy. Anyone have an idea?

I miss my family and friends more than I thought I would, and I feel closer for it. To be sure, I’ll hate my brothers within a week’s time of being home, but right now my ears are itching to hear one of their tasteful “that’s what she said” jokes after every sentence at the dinner table (or maybe that was my friend Matt).

I’m more excited about my travels now than I was even at the beginning. This is a bold statement, because anyone who talked to me before my trip would tell you that I would have tried to get a pilot’s license if it would’ve put me overseas any quicker. As geared as I was then, my excitement has only escalated. Assuming some freak accident doesn’t drain my bank account, not only do I not plan on coming home in under a year of travel, it could be a good bit longer. I think I’ll be riding this out as long as I can.

And, today also marks the day before my 23rd birthday, so if you’re still feeling thirsty after New Year’s, tip one back for me!


  1. Happy Birthday Rob!!! Josh will drink a cold one for you. We love you and love reading your blog. Hope to talk to you again, it was great to be able to see and talk to you. Love Megan and Josh

  2. I'm glad you remain so excited, Rob. This will be like no other time in your life. You are often the topic at the dinner table and always, always in my thoughts.