At the Baltimore Farmer’s Market today (yes, I’m in Baltimore visiting family, and I’ll try to work in a few interesting posts about the local flora and fauna) I ran into a woman a few years older than me who worked at a fabric importer’s, and was going to India in a few weeks to visit where the fabric came from. It was going to be her first time out of the Northern Hemisphere.
Now, I’ve never been to India, but I told her a few short ground rules about off the beaten track travel from my African, Haitian, Russian and Balkan experiences that might be of use to anyone and everyone:
1) Go with the flow. A lot of things don’t start at the announced time. A lot of buses don’t leave until they fill up. A lot of lines have a logic only people who have been in the same line before can understand. A lot of lines don’t move, because whatever the line is for hasn’t opened yet. Is a life at stake? Are you missing a true once-in-a-lifetime experience? If not, then laugh it off. Go with the flow, it’s not worth getting all hot and bothered about.Cf. Ryszard Kapuscinski on “Soviet logic.”
2) Take dire warnings with a huge grain of salt. Don’t be paranoid. Don’t let vague warnings stop you from talking to local people or tasting local food. “Oh my God, you’re going to die of food poisoning!” means “Wash your fruit carefully and watch out for uncooked dairy or meat or anything that’s been sitting out too long.” “Oh my God, there are muggers around every corner!” means “Be vigilant, don’t carry valuables on your person, try not to move around at night alone in an area you don’t know well.” “Oh my God, you’re going to die of mosquito-borne illness!” means “Take your malaria meds and sleep under your net.” Relax, enjoy, don’t be afraid to get close. This goes for men and women.
3) Do some basic research including finding out what the local language is, down to the region where you’ll be. Hindi isn’t spoken in all of India, but in a lot of it. Cameroon is a francophone country, but in the southern part they speak English. Portuguese, not Spanish, is the official language of Brazil. Swahili is not spoken in all of Africa, but very widely spoken in east-central Africa. In Quebec, people speak French. Once you’ve figured out what the languages are where you’re passing through, learn the basics. “Good morning.” “Thank you.” “Yes. No.” “May I have some coffee/tea?” It’s the principle of the thing.
4) Have no expectations, or at least as few expectations as humanly possible. That way you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll be able to live deeply the experience in front of you instead of longing for the (name of country here) you dreamed about that doesn’t exist. This bit me particularly hard in Russia.
Any travel suggestions you might add to this list, mes cher(e)s nomades?