Great American Road Trip: Travel books for the road-3 of 4: So Many Enemies, so Little Time

#3. So Many Enemies, So Little Time: An American Woman in All the Wrong Places–Elinor Burkett

When I chose this book as one of my road trip to Montana books, the title caught my attention. As an American woman, also hooked on travel, I wanted to delve into someone else’s experiences. What I found is a book that taught me much–always a delight when on the road.


But as I trudged to school each day and ambled through the markets, I couldn’t find the face of hatred. I saw worry that a flood of Afghan refugees might flee north, washing extremists across the border. I heard fear that homegrown fundamentalists might be emboldened by the fires lighting Manhattan’s night. Mostly, I sensed the same resignation that had engulfed everyone I knew, all across the plane, that we were captives to forces we had not yet begun to dissect.

Elinor Burkett is a woman who is not afraid to take chances when she travels, but is not fool-hardy. As a journalist, she knows how to make and use her connections to help her access people and places.

When she and her husband Dennis traveled to Kyrgyzstan to live after she received a Fulbright to teach journalism at a college there, their purpose was to shake up their lives a bit so that they didn’t settle into complacency. They wanted some more adventures under their belt. After September 11, there was worry across the globe for what exactly that might mean, but the two of them decided to stay put.

Since I was pregnant living in India at the same time, wondering what my family and I should do when faced with a few of the same questions of safety, reading Burkett’s take on her decisions and what was happening in her world added depth to my own experiences.

Burkett’s book has several storyline threads. One of them is what it’s like to teach journalism in Kyrgyzstan when students do not have questioning authority is also part of their make-up. This also reminded me of my own working in another country experiences. I felt better about my own reactions after Burkett’s account.

Burkett tidily weaves together details about Kyrgyzstan’s history, politics and topography with her musings and observations about the people and her experiences about what it’s like to set up house there.

Along with her time in Kyrgyzstan, Burkett and her husband traveled to Afghanistan after 9/11 where she interviewed several women about the effects of living in Afghanistan. She also spent time in Iran, Iraq, Mongolia, China, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. As an aside, which really isn’t an aside, but one that Burkett doesn’t rest on too often is she is Jewish.

One of the things I really, really, really liked about this book is how much I learned and came to see the places Burkett traveled as those filled with engaging people who are nuanced and, for the most part, good. Burkett is has an authoritative voice that I trust. I believe that her impressions are not histrionic and ones developed to make a sale. This is one smart, on the ball woman who is not all full of herself.

I was also touched by how close she became with several of her students and they with her.

Burkett also doesn’t sugar coat how complicated it can be to be from one culture with different values trying to understand other cultures. She also sticks to her own convictions throughout, although this does not mean she changes her perceptions. It means she knows who she is and stays true.

For book 1 of 4, click here.

Book 2 of 4, click here.