Blogs by Hilary Hopkins

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April 08, 2013 / What Can You Learn From Travel? - 1 - Humans’ Ways

It seems that there is a finite number of ways which humans can devise to solve the ancient problems of needing food and water, shelter and protection, and making the next generation.  And the more you travel, the oftener you may find yourself saying, with some chagrin, Oh, these folks are doing this kind of like the way those others did, in that other place.  In trying to understand something new, it’s only natural to think how it is similar to something you already know. 

For instance: in tropical places, like Indonesia, Namibia and Florida, people slather stuff on their faces to protect against insects and sunburn.  In Indonesia it’s a kind of clay; in Namibia, ocher; and in Miami, maybe SkinSoSoft Plus.  On a recent trip in Indonesia I was gaping albeit discreetly at a village woman with some yellow stuff on her face; upon learning what it was for, I realized I had used the same solution, more or less, to the same problem, before leaving the ship that morning.  Not that different.

Are there undesirable creepy-crawlies on the ground, and does it frequently flood too?   You sensibly build your house on stilts, which is what they often do in Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the beach-front on Cape Cod. 

If you need to catch a lot of fish to feed a lot of people, it is useful to construct a net to use on your fishing boat.   See fishers doing this in Nova Scotia, in Viet Nam, in Mali or Tahiti.   There are some intriguing differences, but the solution’s the same really.

Not a big selection of suitable mates in your small village?  Throw a big party once a year to which everybody in the whole area is invited.  That’s how it’s done on the Rio Negro in Brazil (only they call it a party for the village’s patron saint).  In the far west of Mongolia, nomadic Kazakh families all get together for the Golden Eagle festival once a year.  Of course, the nominal purpose is to show off your trained eagles, but you can bet that young people are showing themselves off, too.

The more you see, as you travel, the fewer sights seem exotic.  This keeps you from being patronizing, as in, O, how quaint the natives are!  Instead, you can wonder, How do I myself solve this same problem?  How is my solution his, or hers, or theirs? 

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