I’m not sure the exact origins of my obsession with travel but even as a child who got carsick, I just popped the gravol and waited anxiously beside the car waiting to leave my neighborhood behind. I used to spend hours exploring an actual globe planning all the places I would see when I grew up and was in charge of the agenda.
That globe is now politically inaccurate. I never imagined that world would change and borders would be redrawn and countries renamed. I thought that only happened in history. As a child, I thought the world was a static place and didn’t appreciate that you needed a historical date to understand if a map was actually correct.
As a modern traveller, it’s hard to imagine the wonder – and confusion – of the early explorers. We get there faster, with a much higher level of comfort and – hopefully – with a greater understanding of the history and culture of the place we are arriving in.
Of course, not every traveller does that. Talking about Egypt on three continents over the past few weeks has really illustrated the divide in the average person’s knowledge of what is happening in the world at large. I’m not sure if it’s the same of everyone but I find once I have actually visited a place I am more personally invested when I hear the name in the news. I have usually engaged with some of the locals and it’s now a place where I know someone and where I understand the culture. I have context to the information in the news report.
I was proud of myself in Amsterdam as I managed to figure out Oude Kerk likely meant “old church” in Dutch so looked for a tower that might be an old church and found the World Press Photo exhibit without having to ask for help at the hotel!
The exhibition is incredible. You can see photos on the website and the exhibition starts in Amsterdam and then travels the world so you might be able to catch it in some other locale. I had heard of World Press but didn’t know much about it. The headquarters are in Amsterdam and its goal is to celebrate photojournalism around the world. The exhibition I saw was the annual photo contest winners.
At the end I bought a few postcards as a memento and told the person at the register how great the exhibition was – which resulted in an interesting conversation about how we connect with and learn about the world. The photos were stunning. It was, of course, a contest to judge the work of the world’s best. What I hadn’t anticipated though was the impact of the story, the journalism part of the word.
One of the most poignant parts of the conversation was talking about Rémi Ochlik. He was the first prize winner in the general news – stories – category. The story that garnered him the prize was “The Battle for Libya.” You look at the photos and think – wow, there are a lot of big guns in those photos! I like my travel a little less dangerous. The reason we talked about him is because he was killed in Syria in February. A number of photojournalists were killed in the last year and there was a tribute to them as part of the exhibition.
I don’t have the personality to want to report from war zones. But I have a lot of respect for the people who do. Without them, information would not be exchanged and there would be little hope for improvement in so many parts of the world.
I don’t think it’s necessary to become a photojournalist and report from Homs to have a positive impact on the world. A few decades ago, I met a retired school teacher as part of a school assignment. She lived in a small prairie town but she had been to almost every country in the world, including communist Russia back in the cold war days. I was fascinated. She gave me great advice that I continue to use every time I travel. Know the local laws and customs. Follow them. Be friendly, curious and respectful. You will not come to harm. But you will learn about the world.
Last night I met a guy who has been to 68 countries! I was humbled. It was so refreshing to talk to someone from North America who shared my opinion that the timing of my trip to Egypt was brilliant. It was exciting to stand in Amsterdam at the World Press Photo show and see all the photos from Egypt… and know I was just about to step into history in the making, not just read about it later in a dusty textbook.
And getting out there in the great wild world and paying attention expands your world view and makes eavesdropping more entertaining 🙂 While waiting for the bathroom on the plane home, I overheard part of a fascinating conversation. A Dutch guy telling a very well-dressed African guy – “your countries are the future.” I’m not sure where the African guy was from. The Dutch guy was talking about opportunities in Namibia and how Africans are waking up to the economic potential of their countries instead of letting themselves be exploited by dictators and western multinationals. An “African spring” would be good for the entire world. Here’s hoping… 🙂