Contributions to date:
January 29th $19,289
In a few hours I'm leaving for my first trip out of the USA since 1995. This will be a two-week sprint to the Philippines and back to visit Tony, and I'm as excited (almost) as when I was a 22-year old heading off for my first overseas trip. I will miss my wife and daughter dearly -- the last few days have been particularly poignant around my sweet seven year old, Sarah. But I'll be back before... before many of you even read this email.
I'll be taking to Tony the good wishes of all who met him while he was in the US during the summer of 2001, plus the good wishes of all who have read about him and our adventure together. I hope to see the rice terraces under the full moon, and to go hiking through the same places where we went hiking when we first met, 15 years ago. My goal is simply to visit with Tony -- the friendship we shared was powerful and, for me, absolutely unique -- and to see what sort of impact his visit to America has had on him and his family. By the end of February I hope to post an account of my trip and some new pictures on my website.
In the meantime, I hope you'll find time to consider the details of Backpack Nation's Phase Two, which is already fully funded with $5,000. In short, from May 1 - 15, 2004, Backpack Nation will be seeking stories that emphasize encounters, relationships, and acts of kindness between individuals who have met through travel. Twenty of these stories will be posted on the Backpack Nation website for the general public to vote on. The authors of at least five of these stories will each receive $1,000. Details of Phase Two are post below, and also at www.backpacknation.org, where new content was posted last month.
Thank you for giving all of this your consideration. I invite your participation, and request that you please pass this website address along to anyone you know who is planning a trip, who is already out traveling, who is a journalist, a teacher, or a travel-dreamer, or who simply has a killer story to tell.
If you have any questions, please email them to me, and when I get back from the Philippines I will try my best to answer them.
BACKPACK NATION - PHASE TWO
My intention with Backpack Nation in general, and with Phase Two in particular, is to promote the spirit of generosity and sharing that underlies and permeates the human experience but gets short-changed by the media. Specifically, I want to promote the phenomenon of Western travelers reaching out to share ourselves and our wealth with people in the poorer countries.
Toward that end, from May 1 to 15, 2004, Backpack Nation will be seeking and accepting stories that emphasize encounters, relationships, and acts of kindness between individuals who have met through travel.
Beginning May 16, 2004, a group of colleagues and I will read all the stories as quickly as possible (in one month at most), select twenty that we find particularly appealing, and post this "field of twenty" on the Backpack Nation website. Following their posting, members of the public can for a period of time (one month at least) visit the website, read all twenty stories, and vote for up to five favorites.
After the votes are tallied, at least five authors will each receive $1,000.
In General: I will be looking for two things: (1) a great read, and (2) a sense that the author understands the wisdom and value of sharing one's gifts.
I'm also looking for: Echoes of the "pay-it-forward" principle and the Good Samaritan parable...stories that reflect the magic of foreign travel... stories that shine light on individuals trapped in the world's worst political and economic situations...stories that capture the delights and difficulties of cultural interchanges...anything that touches the human heart...the personal "investment" of the author...knock-your-socks-off writing...
Writing Styles: The classic beginning-middle-end style is appreciated here, but not required. An eloquent essay will certainly not go unnoticed (particularly if written by a young, un-traveled person). For samples of writing styles and stories that have appealed to me, try any of the anthologies published by Travelers Tales ("The Gift of Travel" is a personal favorite) or "The Kindness of Strangers," edited by Don George of Lonely Planet. But there are no exact style specifications -- offbeat voices and offbeat styles have every chance of being included in the field of twenty.
Attractive story lines: Here are some (very condensed) examples of story lines that might get my attention (I'm making these up, but they've all probably happened):
Rickshaw puller: "I was riding in a rickshaw in Calcutta when the wheel fell off. The rickshaw-puller was distraught. He said his boss would be livid and might very well fire him -- his already impoverished family would be decimated. The man's anguish moved me and I bought him a new wheel. He was immensely grateful. He invited me to visit his family's home, and now I can say I have spent a night in one of Calcutta's worst slums. Now that I'm back home my friend and I correspond through letters. I'd love to buy this man his own rickshaw..."
Afghani village: "I was born in a poor village in Afghanistan. In 1979, when I was five years old, the Russians attacked. My parents helped us all escape by walking over the mountains to Iran. For the past fifteen years we have been living in London. Last summer I went to Afghanistan for the first time since I was five. I visited my relatives in the village. They asked me what it was like in the West. How could I tell them? They have nothing, but they threw me an enormous feast..."
Young person starting out: "I'm a 23-year old taxicab driver in Seattle. I graduated from college last year and have been trying to find my place in the world. Recently I read about a self-selected global ambassador named Marc Gold and realized that I can help redistribute the world's wealth the same way Marc's been doing -- and would no doubt receive from it an education superior to the one I received over the past 16 years. Plus, I just might be part of changing the world. I wrote a letter to all of my friends telling them that I'm traveling to Asia in September (I hear that's when the monsoons end) to perform the same sort of ambassadorship Marc has performed. So far my friends have sent me $1,000..."
Palestinian refugee: "Ahmed is twelve years old. Three years ago his uncle was able to help him move from Gaza to Los Angeles. I am the principal at Ahmed's school and have known Ahmed's uncle for ten years, and I met Ahmed the day he arrived in California. This year Ahmed's uncle has arranged for Ahmed to return to Gaza for several weeks to see his mother and those family members who have not died in the intifada. Ahmed's family has enormous difficulties, but recently when Ahmed and I were discussing his upcoming trip all he wanted to talk about was a problem that's been plaguing one of his boyhood friends who still lives in Gaza. I'd like to tell you the story of Ahmed and his friend, and what $1,000 would do..."
Random acts of kindness: "I'm a musician. Last year I went to a big indigenous music festival in the desert in Morocco. As I was walking near the Bedouin encampment I heard the most captivating singing voice I've ever heard. I followed the sound through rows of tents until I found the one where the singing was coming from. I could not tell if it was a man's voice or a woman's, but it had already stolen my heart. In front of the tent knelt a camel, and beside the camel squatted a teenage boy. I squatted down beside him and..."
Outrageousness: "I'm a 19-year old freshman at Morehouse College in Atlanta. While I was preparing for an upcoming trip to Africa (my first), a professor recommended that I research my family history. I was astounded to discover records showing that a slave ship brought one of my mother's ancestors from Ghana to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1805. In reading further about West Africa I came upon the writings of an incredible woman named Kira Salak, who just a couple of years ago traveled in the region and found that slavery is still very much alive. She managed to buy and free two slaves for $160 each. This gives me an idea..." [Brad's note: Ms. Salak stretches the phrase "intrepid traveler" -- her book "Four Corners" riveted me.]
-- I love stories that feature a Westerner donating cash to an individual in the poorer cultures -- either to address a specific need or to allow that individual to use as he or she sees fit. But a promise to deliver $1,000 is NOT a requirement here. Perhaps you've planned a trip to a place where $1,000 will go a long way, but you want to determine the specific situation later -- you could write about yourself, about why you want to travel and where... Perhaps you want to tell the story of an act of kindness you've already performed, or recount someone else's act of kindness... Please do.
-- If you do intend to deliver $1,000 to someone in a poorer country (highly encouraged), please consider just how you might accomplish that. Lots of people in developing countries lack reliable mail service, or have no reasonable way to cash a check or handle and protect that sort of cash.
-- If you are proposing to give $1,000 to an organization whose work you admire (or that you work with), please note: My experience is that $1,000 does not make a big difference with a big organization, but can make a huge difference to a small organization (or a village) and can even be life-changing money for an individual (or a family).
TILTED PLAYING FIELD
When shaping the "field of twenty" I will be looking to ensure that a variety of voices are included -- I will specifically include several stories written by younger people and by non-Americans, and at least a couple written by journalists working in the poorer countries. ("Journalists?" I often read touching, beautifully written profiles of poor people in faraway places, and I suspect that the journalists behind these stories, being human, reach into their own pockets on a regular basis. This is my small way of saying thanks -- and please don't stop!) But rest assured that no matter your age or citizenry or occupation, if you send me a great story it will have every chance of being included in the field of twenty, and every chance of being voted $1,000.
FORMAT: Submissions must be in English and must be delivered electronically -- either in the body of an email or in an attachment that can be easily opened by standard computer programs. Please do not mail hard copy.
WORD LIMIT: 1,500 words, including story title and byline. No exceptions.
BIOGRAPHICAL NOTE: Please include an additional biographical note of 200 words maximum, including your name, postal and email addresses, and a phone number (as possible). Please tell me your age as of June 1, 2004 (I want to make sure that at least a few people 35-and-under and a few 25-and-under are in the field of twenty). Please tell me your country (or countries) of citizenship. If you are a professional journalist please identify yourself as such.
REFERENCES: Please provide telephone numbers and (as possible) email addresses for three people willing to vouch for you. I will only contact references of people whose stories are included in the field of twenty. (All I care about is that you are who you say you are, that you're not fudging your age, and not fabricating your story. That would not be hard to do, but -- believe me -- the karma just ain't worth it.)
PHOTOS: Please do NOT send photos. If your story reaches the field of twenty you may (optional) at that time send one photo for posting with the story.
FOLLOW-UP: If your story is chosen among the final five, within three months you will be expected to send a follow-up story for posting on the website (plus other updates as appropriate) -- followers of Backpack Nation will want to hear the reverberations of your experience. If you are not agreeable to this, please do not send a story.
If I read one essay that moves me but is not voted into the final five, I may choose to send $1,000 to that essay's author. (Many readers of the Phase One applications reported being heartbroken that their favorites were not chosen. If any essay in the Phase Two field of twenty calls to you, I invite you to fund it in full or in part.)
In the case of a tie(s) or any other snafu(s) I will consult my circle of colleagues, take a long walk in the woods, and then do what seems to make the most sense.
Email brad at backpacknation dot org. I'm working up a "most frequently asked" section.
Thank you for giving all of this your consideration. I invite your participation, and request that you please pass this website address along to anyone you know who is planning a trip or is already out traveling, who is a journalist, a teacher, or a travel-dreamer, or who simply has a killer story to tell.
You can read Brad's dispatches from the month-long taxicab trip across America in the MONEY of 2001 by clicking here.