Celebrating May Day: Images Of Workers Around The World

May Day, Bolivia
Today is May Day, when the world celebrates the struggles and sacrifices of the common worker. Like this cheese seller in Tupiza, Bolivia, photographed by Gadling’s resident cheese expert Laurel Miller. After some hard hours making her product, this woman comes to the market hoping to sell it all before the day is through. She uses a plastic bag on a stick to keep the flies away.

A range of unions and workers’ parties declared May Day a workers’ holiday in 1898. The date commemorated a three-day general strike in the U.S. that started on May 1, 1886, during which workers demanded an eight-hour day. Police fired into a protest by employees at the McCormick-International Harvester Company and killed three. On May 4, workers staged a protest against the killings at Haymarket Square, Chicago. A bomb went off and the police charged into the demonstrators. At least a dozen people died that day, including seven officers. Eight activists were sentenced to hang for the bombing, although there was widespread criticism about the lack of evidence.

American workers eventually got an eight-hour day, but it took several more major demonstrations and lots more people getting hurt. Many countries still don’t offer the benefits we now take for granted. Traveling around the world we come across people in lots of different lines of work. Some jobs are good, some are bad, and some are downright grueling. I’ll never forget a man I saw on a construction site in Damascus, Syria, back in 1994.

A crew was digging a deep trench into the sidewalk near our hotel, and every day my travel companions and I would pass by. Most of the men were down in the trench digging, but one guy had the job of sitting on an upturned bucket at street level manning a pump to take away water from the trench. He pulled on a rope attached to a pulley overhead, which yanked a crude pump at the bottom of the excavation. He’d set up a rhythm and sat there pulling all day. We saw him, every morning, noon, and evening, for days on end. We dubbed him, “The Man With the Most Boring Job in the World.”

I regret I never talked to him. While I’ve had my share of soul-destroying jobs, I bet he could have taught me a thing or two about what it means to work for a living. So Happy May Day, Man With the Most Boring Job in the World, and Happy May Day to all the other workers photographed in this gallery of shots by Gadling bloggers and members of the Gadling Flickr pool!

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Happy International Pretty Brown Girl Day!

International Pretty Brown Girl Day
Today is International Pretty Brown Girl Day, a movement launched a few years ago that seeks to “address the harmful messages about skin tone and beauty in media” and is “for little girls of all ethnicities to send the message that brown skin is indeed beautiful.”

Knowing a couple of pretty brown girls who are facing racism here in Spain, I understand the reasoning behind this, but I don’t think it goes far enough. Instead of merely aspiring to be pretty, girls are better off aspiring to kick ass, so by the power invested in me by myself, I hereby declare today to be International Kickass Brown Girl Day.

This is inspired by a little Nepali girl I met many years ago. I had just come back to Pokhara from trekking the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp and needed to return some gear to a rental shop. As I entered I saw the proprietor was gone and had left his daughter, who could have been no more than 10, in charge.

Two burly young Israeli guys were there arguing with her. They were returning some gear and didn’t want to pay for that day, even though it was early evening. The girl insisted that they pay an extra 100 rupees (a little more than a dollar) because the shop was about to close and there was no way she’d rent that gear that day.

The Israelis didn’t see it that way.

“No, we don’t have to pay!” they shouted, towering over her and acting aggressive. They actually puffed out their chests and clenched their fists… at a little girl.

Shit, I thought. I’m going to have to jump in and protect this kid and there’s no way I can take both these guys. Hopefully the neighbors will come in time to help.

Turns out she didn’t need me. She furrowed her little brow, stuck out her slim little hand with the palm up and said in the most forceful voice imaginable, “NO! You pay me 100 rupee!”

They backed down.

It’s one of the most impressive things I’ve seen in 25 years and 36 countries of travel.

Little brown girls have it tough. Disproportionately poor and discriminated against, many still play sports, go to school in underdeveloped areas, and kick ass in various other ways. So check out the gallery for some inspiring images, and be sure to celebrate International Kickass Brown Girl Day …

… because girls who kick ass are automatically pretty.

This photo shows girls in a rural school in Ethiopia. Most don’t have electricity or running water at home and have to walk several miles to get an education. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero, a kickass pretty brown woman who used to be a kickass pretty brown girl.

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The world’s most ethical tourism destinations

ethical tourism destinationsEach year, non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of the world’s developing nations, analyzing their progress toward promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and developing a sustainable tourism industry. The study, run by Ethical Traveler’s all-volunteer staff, factors in country scores from databases like Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the World Bank, then dives into actions that governments have taken to improve circumstances within their countries in the previous year.

The top countries are celebrated in Ethical Traveler’s annual list of the Developing World’s Best Ethical Tourism Destinations, with the hope that increased tourism will help those countries continue to improve. “Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change,” they say. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel is a net positive for the planet. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our role as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

This year’s list includes Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau, Serbia, and Uruguay. Explore these countries more in the slideshow below.

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[Flickr image via Lisandro M. Enrique]

Africa’s new middle class benefits travel

Africa, EthiopiaAfrica’s middle class is growing.

The African Development Bank says one in three Africans are now middle class. While the bank’s definition isn’t comparable to the Western definition–the African middle class makes $2-$20 a day–the lifestyle is similar. Middle-class Africans tend to be professionals or small business owners and instead of worrying about basics such as food and shelter, their main concerns are getting better health care and getting their kids into university.

The bank says the countries with the biggest middle class are Botswana, Gabon, and Tunisia, while Liberia, Mozambique, and Rwanda have the smallest. The BBC has an interesting photo gallery profiling members of this rapidly growing class.

So how does this affect travel? With an growing middle class you get more domestic tourism, good news for non-Africans traveling in Africa. More regional airlines are cropping up, and comfortable buses provide an appealing alternative to the bone-shaking rattletraps familiar to travelers in Africa.

It also makes consumer goods easier to find. This generally means cheap Chinese exports of even worse quality than what we’re accustomed to in the West, but in bigger cities quality goods are readily available. There’s also an increasing number of nice restaurants and cafes geared towards locals. Internet access is also improving.

During my Ethiopian road trip and my two months living in Harar I benefited from Ethiopia’s middle class. Mobile phone coverage is available everywhere except remote villages and the wilderness, and although the Internet is slow, there are Internet cafes in every town. Improved education meant there many people who could speak English and who could help me learn some Amharic and Harari. Often I could take a more comfortable “luxury” bus rather than be stuffed in a local bus with an entire village of passengers. Self-styled budget travelers may turn their nose up at spending an extra two dollars to be comfortable, but the middle class buses are quicker and you’re more likely to meet someone you can talk to.

In fact, I made some good friends on the luxury bus to Harar. A group of Ethiopian pharmacy students showed me the town and gave me insights into their lives. University education is free in Ethiopia if you pass a rigorous entrance exam. The government even pays for your room and board, and you pay them back by working a government job for some time after you get out. The students I met will be setting off to villages to provide basic health care.

Nearly all these students, and in fact nearly all middle-class Africans I’ve met, yearn to go to the West. One even called her country “a prison”. While heading to the West may be a good career move, it hurts the continent. As one African pointed out in the BBC photo gallery, the money it takes to get to Europe can start up a nice business in Africa.

Ethiopia tops list of African nations improving quality of life

Ethiopia suffers from a bad image thanks to the war and famine of the 1980s. As my series on travel in Ethiopia showed, however, this is a land of friendly people, beautiful nature, and fascinating historic sites. Infrastructure is slowly improving and the Ethiopians are making serious efforts to boost education, access to clean drinking water, and other improvements to the quality of life.

These efforts have been recognized in the UN’s 2010 Human Development Report. It ranked Ethiopia as number 11 in the world for improving human development since 1970, the highest ranking in Africa. The report was prepared by the United Nations Development Programme and measures progress in health, education, income, gender equality, and other areas. Researchers then formulate a “human development index” (HDI) for 135 countries.

Other high-ranking African nations include Botswana (14th), Benin (18th) and Burkina Faso (21st). All of these countries and some others have done especially well in the past ten years. Only looking at the past decade, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda all come out in the global top ten.

One of the biggest areas of improvement was in education. Literacy has almost tripled in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past 40 years to 65 percent. Also, life expectancy is up and infant mortality is down.

Sadly, not all the news is good. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were the only three countries in the world where quality of life actually went down.

Good news for Ethiopia is good news to travelers too. While the country is still an adventure travel destination, it’s not as rugged as many people think. I spent two months there and my wife spent three weeks, and in all that time we never got sick. Chalk one up for good sanitation and clean water! Also, Ethiopia scores well of gender equality, which meant that, unlike some countries we’ve been to, my wife didn’t get harassed by obnoxious guys. Good education meant we met lots of people who spoke English and wanted to improve it by chatting with us. Improved infrastructure meant there were more paved roads along our route than there were ten years ago.

When it comes to improvements in a country’s Human Development Index everybody benefits, even people who don’t live there!

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