While in DC a couple of weeks ago with fellow Gadling writers, a few of us hopped into a taxi on our way to dinner. Our driver was an African man from a country he kept under wraps. He told us that if we wanted to find out which country he was from, we’d have to earn our way to the answer through his impromptu trivia. And so we tried to answer his questions.
“You have to exercise your anthropological and geographical versatility to comprehend my country of originality,” he teased us.
“I can guess the continent,” one of our writers chimed.
“Oh yes, guessability, no problem, Madam,” he cooed.
“West Africa?” she guessed.
“Well,” he drew out the word for a few seconds. “I will formally agree but I will formally disagree with you. I am an individual of complexity. You want a clue?”
“Yes,” we all answered in unison.
“OK. I am going to give you a complex geographical clue. Let me see. Name me 11 countries in the world that have four letters,” he began.And so we began: Oman, Iraq, Iran, Peru, Togo, Mali, Fiji, Chad, Laos, Cuba and Guam. Our geography scavenger hunt continued, question after question, until we arrived at our destination. The driver moved to DC from Sierra Leone.
After exiting the taxi in DC, I couldn’t get the ride and the driver’s questions out of my mind. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t definitively pinpoint Sierra Leone on a map. I found this to be both humiliating and humbling.
It’s been a loose lifetime goal of mine to learn geography as thoroughly as I can. To scratch the surface, my first geography goal is to learn the names of all of the countries in the world. This may sound ambitious, but it shouldn’t be considered a far-fetched goal for a writer who regularly writes about travel. I decided to finally begin learning geography the way I’ve always intended to learn it this past weekend. A houseguest showed me Sporcle, a website filled with quizzes, interactive games, trivia and other knowledge-based, time-wasting activities. When I saw “geography” listed as a section on the site, I knew I had found my resource for learning the world’s countries.
After spending an hour on the site, I knew all of the countries in Africa. I went back again the next morning to make sure I’d retained the information and I had. I’m now moving on to the rest of the continents. Never again will I lazily accept my fate as an American who hasn’t bothered to learn the names of the nooks and crannies throughout our world. Why should I think it enough to know the names of only 70 percent of the countries in the world? Why shouldn’t I know them all?
For a long time, I didn’t think it was incredibly relevant – not relevant enough to bother learning, at least. But I knew, like many do, the names of a hearty chunk of countries. These are the countries that come up in conversation, news and friends’ vacations. Moving forward, I am challenging myself and readers alike to learn the names of all of the countries in the world, at the very least. From there, let’s learn about the countries and their respective cultures in depth and begin travel planning, but first, let’s learn the names.
**Update 05.27.2012: I did it!**