Staring out over the broad, arid plains of the travel blogosphere, strewn with Twitter inanities and rehashed Google searches, a few eruptions of brilliance pour lava flows of inspiration into the barren surroundings. Alas, none of them are mine, destined as they are to remain muddy pools of indifference in the shadowy recesses of the genre. It is however, these moments of volcanic intensity which should remind us its time to up our game and strive, at least for a second to achieve a glow in the gloom.
One such piece, for me is, “The Logical Reaction”, by Martha Mukaiwa, that I have reproduced below. It is telling that she is not a travel blogger as such, rather someone who has blogged about her travel experiences, but all subjects benefit from the outsider’s view, to remind us that we are not bound by the conventions of the subject. Also, being African, she provides us with a perspective different to our own, one she has touched upon more specifically in Traveling While African, as a black African woman travelling in Thailand and Malaysia. Whilst my own experiences, as a white man traveling in Africa are by no means a simple mirror image of her own, it is these moments of dislocation, as well as shared empathy in a wildly different culture that are perhaps the most powerful buzz that travel can offer. Should you have any preconceived ideas about what Africans might be writing about, she, along with a multitude of others on the continent will soon oblige you to think otherwise. Her teenage reminiscing of a hugely anticipated Red Hot Chili Peppers gig probably being a case in point.
The Logical Reaction takes one of those little travel moments of realisation and explodes it out into a global perspective, as well as locating its coordinates in her own life. Surely, as travelers we crave those “moments”, when we come to better understand the world in a way we never would have done if we had stayed at home. Those of us who have chosen in our writing to take the next step, beyond just reporting to our friends back home, need to treasure those moments and endeavour to somehow encapsulate their significance in that cage of the written word.
It may not be your style of writing but I hope it demonstrates that travel bloggers need not be simple purveyors of facts and tips, basic narrative tales or online facsimiles of Sunday newspaper travel supplements. Also it shows that it is possible to take an experience a million of us could have shared and create something original with it. When you next read something that blasts through the mundanity, may it lead you to aspire to greatness in your writing and trying something new. No doubt many of us will be moved to pen a pompous opus to the glories of travel but what better learning experience can there be than the humbling shaming of our own preposterousness. Better to have aimed for the heavens and failed, only to bravely try again, than to have remained in the gutter bemoaning the injustice of our position.
Have you read any other work that has made you ask yourself, “what am I doing and why am I doing it”? Let me know and share it with the world.
The Logical reaction by Martha Mukaiwa
There’s no Israel on the streets of Bangkok at 4am.
The bombs are made with Jägermeister, Arabs have long since closed their restaurants and hookah joints and, if you look up at the stars, you don’t think of people being shot out of the sky because the lurid neon lights blink persistently in a reality-expunging promise of sex, spanking and depraved distraction.
James says it’s the only logical reaction.
We’re sitting at a sidewalk bar near Nana Plaza that is nothing more than a few lengths of wood hammered together, a string of fairy lights and three barstools and we’re throwing some cheap tequila down our necks before he has to catch a plane to Malaysia and I have to catch one of the same to Chiang Mai three days after flight MH17 rained down on the Ukraine.
As I cringe through the tequila shudder that runs down the length of my spine and curls my toes just short of breaking, I realize that he means Nana Plaza is the only logical reaction.
He means the three-storey red light district with all its booze, sex and impenitent hedonism, its endless parade of lady boys swinging their asses past men with girlfriends, mistresses and wives and its big fat finger held erect in a fine fuck you to morality is the only reaction to reality.
To the news, to that perpetual sense of helplessness, to death and the shocking realization that you can be the kindest, youngest, most religious and moral person on the planet but you can still be unemployed, disenfranchised, molested, kidnapped, raped, murdered or blown to bits as a casualty of war a world away.
It’s easy to believe him.
I’ve read the news and grappled with the helplessness I feel about the girls kidnapped in Nigeria, the homosexuals being persecuted in Uganda, the women endlessly battered and bludgeoned in Namibia and the Palestinian and Israeli children being laid in coffins that will be lowered into the land that has cost them their lives and it all seems like fiction.
As though it’s happening in another world far from this one where people don’t fill their lives with food and booze and sex and meditation.
They call Thailand ‘the land of smiles.’
Two months ago, I arrived amidst the happiest coup I could ever imagine and even the junta is quick with a grin at Tha Phae Gate, with directions and when asked to broker a monk’s viewing of a dragon on a ferry to Surat Thani.
People here just seem content.
From the lady selling you fried bananas from a road side stall to the Thai stripper teasingly whacking a man with an oversized foam glove in a club called Spanky’s.
For most people, the motto seems to be live and let live but as I look around at the moral and sexual liberty a women weaned on Western ideals, patriarchy and the Old Testament can only balk at, I still feel fleetingly superior to everyone within a 500m radius.
But only until I think of home.
Home where we’d get drunker if the liquor was cheaper and we’d stumble out of cars and bars more frequently if we didn’t have to get up to go to work at jobs that pay too little to put both food in our stomachs and a roof over our heads.
Home where women are selling themselves too but for the small sums of cell phones and Brazilian hair and with far more cloak and dagger than the Thai women walking around Nana Plaza half-naked at night but who send thousands of Baht home to their families living in houses bought for them by foreigners trying to escape their own lives in some where far flung, Christian and crumbling.
And only until I think of myself.
Cowering behind my sense of morality for 29 years and so fed up with myself so tightly shackled to myself that I have flown the coop to the oasis streets that for a split-second I am looking down on – the quintessential hypocrite as I tremble after my third tequila of the night turned into morning.
Like I said, it is easy to believe him.
Spending the rest of your days drinking, fucking and turning a big, blind eye while the world burns is certainly a reaction. And maybe it’s even a logical one.
Because people have guns and people have money and most people don’t have either to fight the people with guns and the people with money who are fighting other people with guns and money.
I suppose this is where plenty of people find themselves when they emerge from the fog of life, booze, sex and their fine-tuned diversion.
Wondering where they fit in.
Wondering about the best reaction.
The existence of continents and countries has made it a little easier on our conscience. There is a large chunk of international tragedy, injustice and inhumanity we feel we can summarily dismiss because it isn’t happening within our borders and our apathy feels excusable through sheer geography.
But what about what’s happening within our own borders?
In Namibia we don’t fear bombs raining down on our heads but we do fear thieves sneaking into our houses at night.
We fear graduating from high school and being slapped with the label of ‘adult’ in a country where less than half of us will find jobs and, despite this socio-economic reality, we will be looked upon as failures incapable of scaling the most unlikely odds.
We fear loving men who will see us as possessions. We fear getting into taxis whose aggressive drivers will charge us double the price and some of us fear hunger and the time of night when we will need to find a place to lay our head because the streets have become too cold to call home and any alcoves are filled with things far more wretched than ourselves.
For many of us, our reaction to all this is selfishness, denial and sanity-saving loss of sensitivity while drowning the guilt or horror of our circumstances in booze, religion or whatever we find is adept at gouging our own eyes out.
Maybe this is the only logical reaction.
Maybe we are too cruel, too jaded and too far gone. The truth is it feels great to forget the headlines, the reality and our responsibility in it all and it’s easy to rationalize and see the problem as too big for you, the next guy and a thousand of the next.
But maybe some inkling about our true nature and the beginning of the right reaction happens when you’re sober, when you’re walking down a street in Bangkok and a beggar asks for your bottle of water and you give it to him without thinking, without a hesitation and your friend says:
“He looks like he knows you. Why did you give him your water? Do you know that guy?”
And you say:
“Sure I do.
He’s a human being.”
Martha’s blog can be found at http://marthamukaiwa.wordpress.com/