Faces Of Afghanistan: Why A Personal Connection Is The Most Important Part Of Travel

“The people are sweet, the country’s a mess.”

I had asked an NGO worker with a teaching and military background about his perspective of Afghanistan.

It’s always hard to sum up a place in a sentence, be it Australia or Afghanistan, but this one kind of said it all, in a particularly heartbreaking way.

Read a newspaper article and you get to know a place. Have an exchange with an individual in that place and you get to know a person. It is a lot easier to make assumptions about a place when we don’t have that personal connection. I am reminded of the Dagobert D. Runes quote, “People travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”

Ignoring is the easy route, facilitated by our illusion of being informed. In the day and age of the Internet and television we can know a lot about the rest of world, without ever leaving our homes, but how many of us stop to question how much we really know about the places that we read or hear about? If we do in fact “know” a place, do we take the time to do anything about it?

We travel because it’s the alternative to taking the easy route. It forces us to be compassionate. To make the kind of connections that are about more than what we have read about or heard on the news.

Numbers and statistics turn to an individual interaction. A person. A brother. A sister. A mother. A husband. A personal connection puts a face to a place, and in the process changes our perspective and attachment to that place.

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In Afghanistan, as I was offered cups of tea from strangers, taught words in Dari and asked about my own perspectives of the country, it was clear that for me this place of conflict was shifting from a far off war zone to a collection of faces and personalities. Before, when someone said the word “Afghanistan” my mind immediately went to suicide bombers and AK 47s. Now it goes to a handshake, a necklace given as a parting present, brunch in someone’s home overlooking a garden, an email asking if I am keeping up on my Dari.

We need policy and diplomats and humanitarian organizations to build a platform for positive change in this world. But we also need personal interactions – the kind that shape how we look at and understand a place.

At the end of October, Anna Brones spent two weeks in Afghanistan with nonprofit Mountain2Mountain working to produce several Streets of Afghanistan public photo exhibits. This series chronicles the work on that trip and what it’s like to travel in Afghanistan. Follow along here.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Galley Gossip: Improve your travel with Bruce Lee

The following quotes are from the book Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee’s Wisdom for Daily Living by John Little.

1. Something for nothing - “There is only something for something, never something for nothing.”

Think about that next time you feel nickel and dimed by an airline. Ticket prices are less than they were twenty years ago, so in the end you’re still paying the same price you were in 1992, maybe even less. Keep in mind the Barbie Glam Vacation Jet costs $119.99 at ToysRus. That’s more than most one way tickets.

2. Emptiness is the starting point - “In order to taste my cup of water you must first empty your cup. Drop all your preconceived fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is so useful? Because it is empty!”

Don’t let what happened on your last flight affect your next flight. Often passengers will board and immediately want to rehash the details of what went wrong on another trip. Things don’t usually go so well from here. How could it? I’ve just been linked to the worst flight ever!

3. “Is” vs. “Should” - “What IS is more important than WHAT SHOULD BE. Too many people are looking at “what is” from a position of thinking “what should be.”

To become a flight attendant one must be flexible. Being able to quickly adapt to change is essential on the job. If there’s one thing we can count on in the aviation industry, it’s something is bound to go wrong. This is why we always have back up plans A, B, C, and D. So next time something doesn’t seem to be going right, do what a flight attendant would do and instead of getting upset about what should be happening, focus on what is happening, and start making alternative plans – QUICKLY! Before all the hotel rooms are booked and the rental agencies run out of cars.

4. Anxiety - Anxiety is the gap between the NOW and the THEN. So if you are in the now, you can’t be anxious, because your excitement flows immediately into ongoing spontaneous activity.

I can spot a fearful flier a mile away. If they’re not asking about the weather, they’re clutching the armrest and sweating profusely. A little unknown fact is more people die falling off donkeys than they do in plane crashes. Remember that next time you start to feel anxious. Focus on the fact that you’re sitting in a somewhat uncomfortable seat and drinking the beverage of your choice. There’s probably even a very nice person sitting beside you. If that doesn’t work, tell a flight attendant what’s going on and we’ll do what we can to help. We’re trained professionals. That’s what we’re there for.

5. Not to think, but to do - Our grand business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.

You know the saying, life is the journey, not the destination? Well it’s true. Your trip starts as soon as you throw your bags into the trunk of your car. We only get one chance at this life, so why not make the most of it, even if you’re on an airplane or stuck in the terminal after a breach in security at Newark Airport.

6. Life is the effect of feelings - Life is simply what our feelings do to us.

This is the one I have to remind myself of when I start to feel guilty about charging passengers for food, drinks and headsets. Hey, that’s my job. And I love my job! I also have to remember this when I start getting all worked up over a passenger who was rude to me when there are 150 other really nice ones on board.

7. In solitude you are least alone - Loneliness is only an opportunity to cut adrift and find yourself. In solitude you are least alone. Make good use of it.

Passengers get all bent out of shape over the electronic device policy more than anything else these days. On a flight from Chicago to Oklahoma City I had to ask 16 passengers to turn off their cell phones after having told them three times already! Once the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude, passengers are free to turn most electronic devices back on. Until then why not relax or try meditating – while it’s still free of charge to do so.

8. Anger should be expressed - Any anger that is not coming out, flowing freely, will turn into sadism, power drive, stammering, and other means of torture.

There’s a difference between expressing yourself and throwing a hissy fit that results in getting escorted off a flight because you’ve been bottling things up for so long, you’re no longer rational and freak out over little things like a passenger reclining their seat or a kid who accidentally bangs the tray table. And you wonder why some flight attendants are no longer smiling. And why others become folklore heroes who’s stories last longer than their careers. Does JetBlue’s Stephen Slater ring a bell?

9. Happiness requires action - Everybody is capable of obtaining happiness, but the matter of going on, or taking action to obtain it, is in question.

There are two kinds of people; those who love to travel and those who hate to travel. Sadly there are more and more complainers in the world these days. Yes, travel is stressful, but it doesn’t have to be! For starters try arriving to the airport early so the stress of finding yourself in a long line at security doesn’t snowball into something worse, like a missed flight.

10. The importance of adaption - The inability to adapt brings destruction.

Flying today is like being on an episode of Survivor. Only the fittest – er, most prepared – will survive. If you pack light, bring lunch, buy water, have reading material handy, and wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off, how bad can it really be?


(Read more about Bruce Lee on his website.)

Gadlinks for Thursday, 1.21.2010

Can’t get enough travel news? Fear not, here is some more travel talk from around the web.


More Gadlinks HERE.

Travel quotations and underground philosophy

Travelers on the London Underground will soon get a dose of philosophy along with their overcrowding, noise, and proximity to body odor. The Evening Standard has reported that drivers on the Piccadilly line have been issued a book of quotations from famous philosophers to read along with their routine announcements. It’s supposed to make the journey go easier. Some of the quotes include, “Nothing is worth more than this day” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe) and “Man is in a strict sense entirely animal” (Blaise Pascal).

Good choices, but they could have picked ones that were more travel-oriented. Here’s a sampling.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” (St. Augustine)

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” (Lao Tzu)

“Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.” (Seneca)

“Wandering re-establishes the original harmony which once existed between man and the universe.” (Anatole France)

You can read more travel quotes at Quotegarden.