Welcome to New Guinea


 

I think I can safely say that no travel experience offers absolute predictability. But cruise the islands of Papua New Guinea and you will encounter one immutable certainty. You will visit a predetermined number of  picturesque villages, and you will be greeted at each by a performance of traditional dance.

These cultural displays are as diverse as the islanders themselves. Papua New Guinea has some of the greatest variety on earth. The people you visit today will likely speak a different language, have different traditions, and offer different items for sale once the festivities have concluded from those of the day before. Some of the dancers are children, some are adults. Some of the performances are accompanied by singing, others are not. Some simulate recognizable activities such as rowing, fighting, or, in at least one case, copulation. But given the relentless pace even the most attentive and ethnographically astute traveler will find that the experiences start to run together, and begin to ask him or herself, “Now was that the village where they suspended the babies in woven bags?” or “Was that where the women had facial tattoos?”

So should you ever have the opportunity of visiting these wonderfully exuberant and welcoming people, I offer the following quick reference guide:

Garove, Witu Island Group:



Bien, Sepik River:

 


Environs of Madang:



Tuam, Siassi Island Group:




Sanananda:



Buna:



 Tufi Fjords:



Kuiawa, Trobriand Islands:

 

 

 

 

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Travel Moment: Lounging Lemur


When you’re worn out from all that leaping, I guess…

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Here We Go Again

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Today I rummaged around until I found a 2008 Obama for President campaign button, and proudly affixed it to my battered day pack. No repeat of the Bush years for me – I want to deflect as much awkwardness as possible when interacting with foreign locals on my future travels.

Going abroad as a U.S. citizen during W’s years in office I was often aware of a certain wariness on the part of others, and of a hesitation to fully engage – no questions, and certainly no hostility, just guarded looks suggesting that people were evaluating my likely voting record. I got in the habit of trying to work subtle references to our unfortunate election outcome into conversations, and the dynamic would shift perceptibly. People relaxed, and despite whatever reservations they might have about us for other reasons, that particular sticking point was removed. Now, of course, it has returned in spades.

However history evaluates him, there is no questioning the fact that Obama was an inspirational figure to much of the world, and one that travelers could be proud to own. I was in a Korean truck stop in 2008 when its big screen TV broadcast his electoral victory. Locals cheered and, realizing there was a group of Americans in their midst, gave us high-fives. It felt at that moment as if the whole world had breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Nowhere, I suspect, was his ascendance to the highest office in our land more celebrated than in Africa. The photos accompanying this post were taken in Ethiopia, where I experienced the twin novelties of having strangers approach me to express their good will, and of seeing my president’s name in the unlikeliest of places.

 

Lalibela

 

Addis Ababa

 

Axum

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Poetry Interlude: Departure

 

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My bags are packed and sitting by the door. The car awaits.

Whether the destination is Kalamazoo or Kuala Lumpur,  I pass through my house in silent reflection

Visiting each room
Grateful for our common experience
Thankful for the people who have shared it

I beseech it to remain safe and strong until my return.

Every departure is an intimation of the last.

 

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Reconciliation: For Bosnia

 

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Sarajevo

In a week that saw both the forty-year sentence handed down to Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for his role in the massacre at Srebrenica, and the decision of Bosnian Serb authorities to name a school building in his honor, I was moved again to reflect on the difficult and contentious path Bosnian citizens must walk towards their goal of reconciliation.

Here’s a joke that was making the rounds when I visited the country in 2015:

Three friends – a Serb, a Croat, and a Bosniak – go to a bar. After one beer, everything is OK. After two beers, everything is still OK. After the third beer someone asks “So who really started the war?” After a hasty fourth beer things are OK again.

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Travel Moment: Slovenian Spiral

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Sometimes you can visit a country justly renowned for the beauty of its mountains, lakes, and castles and when you get home your favorite picture was taken at your hotel…

Ljubljana, Slovenia

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On the Beach in Benin

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This striking assemblage of folk art on the beach at Ouidah, Benin illustrates two ever-present themes of the West African experience: the terrible legacy of slavery, and the fact that nothing ever goes to waste.

The setting was the annual Voodoo Festival which, to this uninitiated viewer, looked like a massive meet-and-greet. The beach marks the point of no return from which slave ships sailed for the new world or, as the sign so eloquently puts it, the beginning and the end of history.

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