April 2, 2004

A picture is worth a thousands words. To view the ten new photos from my February trip to visit Tony in the Philippines, please click here. To read my 10,000-word account of the trip, please click here.

The May 1-15 window for submissions to Phase Two is almost here. Please pass this news along to anyone you think appropriate -- any past, present, or future traveler, any foreign correspondent. For complete details of Phase Two, please click here.

I know that many of us feel horrible about the people of Iraq (and Spain, and...?), and for the soldiers and the families of the soldiers who are losing their spirits and their lives in yet another hideous war. Many of us feel that our governments are not doing a very good job of portraying our true feelings. I hear from many people who desperately want peace, and who want Backpack Nation to succeed, and I'm hearing suggestions as to how we might best employ the $10,014 available to us. By the time Phase Two is completed I intend to have a worthy Phase Three designed.

Last week I telephoned a San Francisco radio station that was conducting a live interview with travel writing icon Paul Theroux. Theroux was in town to publicize his new book "Dark Star Safari" about his recent trip from Cairo to Cape Town. I asked if he had any thoughts about what individual Westerners can do to affect the world's current situation. Theroux's reply:

"I think there's a lot you can do. The main thing, the first thing you should do, if you're reasonably fit -- doesn't matter how old you are, if you're reasonably fit -- is go to the place you wish to help. Don't put money in an envelope and send it. Maybe Afghanistan ain't a great idea, but let's say you want to give money to help people in Kenya. I would say go to Kenya first, walk around. Have your b.s. detector finely calibrated and then go to a village, go to villages, travel around, talk to people, ask questions about the government. In other words, before you do something, pre-ramble the territory and see what they need. Actually, I think what people need doesn't come from the outside, it has to come from the inside, but if it makes you feel good to give something I would say go -- be a traveler first, a reader, a traveler, an investigator. Research the whole question, and then you might say that someone needs a cow. Buy that person a cow. You might want to find a little individual and give him some money to go to school, adopt someone. I wouldn't give money to a charity, I wouldn't give money to an NGO, I would not give money to a religious organization, I would give it person to person. I would go, find the person or the situation, and then adopt that thing to make myself feel good. I would not give money personally. When I left Africa after this trip I stopped giving money to panhandlers, I stopped giving money to aid agencies, and I started decrying the IMF and the World Bank throwing money at problems. I thought: It's the worst thing I've ever heard of, because in 40 years nothing has improved, nothing in Africa has improved because of money. But if personally you want to make a contribution, I would say be a reader first, then a traveler, and then maybe... give something."

Last year travel writer Jeff Greenwald developed a unique and inspiring monologue with travel at its core. The show -- "Strange Travel Suggestions" -- is now back for a third run at The Marsh in San Francisco -- every Wednesday evening at 8 pm until the end of May. I can't recommend this show highly enough. (Reservations: 415-826-5750 or visit www.themarsh.org) Also, I've read all Jeff's books and I thought I had heard all his stories, but the one he wrote in Don George's recent anthology The Kindness of Strangers left me speechless. (On Wednesday, May 5, the featured speaker at the Wild Writing Women's monthly salon is Mark Bittner, author of the new novel The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. These salons are always fun, always free, and begin at 5:30 at the Monticello Inn, 127 Ellis Street, San Francisco -- (866) 778-6169. That same night Jeff's show will begin at 8 p.m. just three BART stops away -- 1062 Valencia, near 22nd Street. See you there?)

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