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2013 October — The Meaningful Traveler

October 2013

It’s a smaller world – Part 2

by Alan Noble on October 30, 2013

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a three part series written by my friend Alan Noble regarding how travel and technology have affected his life living in Nairobi, Kenya.

Last time I wrote about how advances in the world, particularly in travel and technology, have made it a smaller place. Often, those advances are good. But not always.

The joys we experience through travel and technology can and do often blow our minds. We marvel at new sights and feel “right there” through satellite-enabled video that puts us into the heart of someplace we’ve never been before. The flipside is that the same technology that makes our amazement so real likewise makes the horrors in our world – our increasingly small world – equally real. What I’ve come to learn, especially by living in another country, is that advancement doesn’t always equal progress.

The ability to watch the tsunami thrashing hotels and homes doesn’t necessarily mean that I should. This past summer I found myself gripped by the video that a witness taped of the crash of the Asiana Airlines airplane at San Francisco International Airport. I watched it over and over before I even was aware of my fixation. That advancement in technology, though an extension of our access to our world around us, is not what I would call progress.

The same applies to the recent events at the Westgate Mall, not far from my new home here in Nairobi. Many people ask if we were surprised by the attacks at the mall. We were not. We’d been given regular warnings about that place being a target due to its prime location for both Westerners and locals and its easy access. However, we were surprised and even sickened by the brazen, calculated, and brutal disregard of all people, including many women and children—who are typically left alone in assaults like these. Every bit of the focus by the attackers was on taking advantage of the sensational media attention that they garnered in the process. The technology that I so love, actually fortified the attackers with the massive attention that they sought.

Ironically, I didn’t have to travel far to experience all this. It came to me – who now lives minutes away from the scene – in the same way it came to my friends back home in the US. In this case, it didn’t matter where in this small world you lived. Technology created a level playing field for the messages and images to get out.

Having said that, what I am finding is that the repercussions of the event are radically different for those of us who are physically present in this city where the attacks occurred. In the next installment we will look at how insecurity in light of the attacks now impacts our thinking and changes how we view the world in which we live…especially our own corner of it.

To be continued…

If you haven’t done so yet, read Part 1 here

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It’s a smaller world – Part 1

by Alan Noble on October 24, 2013

Editor’s Note: I’ve asked my friend Alan Noble to share some of his experience of living in Nairobi, Kenya. Alan and I worked together years ago at World Vision, the international Christian relief and development organization where Alan still is employed. This is the first of three parts.

Airplane Wing and Clouds

How does one write about an event that is both tragic and life-changing—especially if it is being written for someone else’s blog? The best approach, it seems, is to ease in slowly, delicately. So, here goes.

When my son, Kyle, was young I shared a set of Seattle Seahawks season tickets with a colleague. The seats were located in the “nose-bleed” section: second to the last row, back corner of the end zone, at the top of the Kingdome. It was a long way up. Carrying food, seat cushions, drinks, backpacks. It really was a long, long way up.

Even if it was a long, long, long way up, it was awesome—every game. Win or lose (and they often lost), it was a great time, shared together. Kyle wanted to be a football player because of those games. I resolved never to let him play football because of those games. We still discuss that conflict periodically. Kyle is mostly happy that I prevailed, especially since he now knows what a concussion feels like—twice!

Spring forward a dozen years, and those memories still remain—sitting with my son, eating hot dogs, sometimes even seeing the Seahawks move the ball in the right direction. Enjoying the moments together. Missing the opportunities to experience those moments again.

You see, Kyle is married and now lives in North Carolina. I live in Nairobi, Kenya where my work has now taken me. Two points on the map, two continents. Yet, though many miles separate us, we find that it is a small world.

Modern travel has shown us this new reality. In a very short time, one can fly for a few hours and arrive halfway around the world to see a family member, discover a deserted beach, visit a famed museum—or click on a website or a TV button and enjoy English Premier football, sample a selection of island homes for purchase, or arrange for your next travel adventure. And like Kyle and me, one can even experience technological advances like Skype and Google Hangouts, or relatively cheap phone call rates, that enable us to stay connected—almost as if we were next door or down the hall.

In the small world in which we live, the advances in travel and technology have effectively eliminated the reality of distance and accelerated the pace of communication. I like both travel and technology. But for all the positives they bring, advances aren’t always indications of progress. Sometimes advances can lead to abuse and ill will towards others.

I found this out a few weeks ago during the terrorist attack on a mall here in Kenya. It has forever changed how I perceive both travel and technology.

I’ll explain this more next time, but for now, let me leave you with this question: How has access to travel and technology changed the way you view your world?

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The best trip

by Steve Brock on October 16, 2013

Smith Rock State ParkMy grandfather was apparently asked on multiple occasions – usually over dinner since that is when such questions tend to arise – what was the best meal he’d ever eaten.

“This one,” he would inevitably reply without irony.

Many professional photographers are asked by novices what the best camera is. The usual response?

“The one you have with you.”

A year ago, if you had asked me what was the best trip I’ve ever been on, I would have rattled off a list of trips – perhaps not whole trips, but moments:

  • Descending into the underground cisterns in Istanbul, Turkey
  • Fly fishing at dusk right before a thunderstorm on the Firehole River in Yellowstone
  • Enjoying a spartan picnic in the Stone Forest near Kunming, China
  • Dining with my wife in a special, unexpectedly good restaurant in Kenmare, Ireland
  • Witnessing a body being cremated near Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Stumbling through a wedding in progress in Lima, Peru
  • Family time on the central California coast
  • Being charged (no, not as in credit card) by an elephant in Swaziland
  • Running like the children we all are through a maze of castles with my sons and father in Scotland

These and many other moments would have defined for me “best trips.”

But now, after an extraordinary trip to Europe this summer, I would answer differently. I cannot yet state in words what changed on that trip, but travel – in particular this idea of meaningful travel – feels different.

In upcoming posts, I’ll try to explain that difference, one that conversations with other friends reveals is not limited to me alone.

For now, let me give a brief illustration. Last week, I traveled with my family for a long weekend to central Oregon. The general Bend area is somewhere I’ve visited before, but we discovered new places (for us), like the rock-climbing paradise of Smith Rock State Park (shown in the photo above). But while there, my whole perspective shifted. It’s as if the big trip to Europe helped me see anew the value of being present to the small moments all trips offer. Be content with whatever comes my way. Nothing more.

If you’ve read The Meaningful Traveler for some time, you’ll recognize this as a familiar theme. Be present. Enjoy the journey – any journey – and experience it fully. But actually doing that? Not so easy…usually. Not so this time – and hopefully well into the future. We shall see.

But for now, if you ask me what’s the best trip I’ve ever been on, my answer will be simple.

“This one.”

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