Sunday, November 16, 2014

A Vacation to Afghanistan

The theme of my English 101 class is "Globalization."  Last week, we read an article by journalist Damon Tabor called "If It's Tuesday, It Must be the Taliban," which is about a guided tour/vacation that the author took of war-torn Afghanistan in 2010.  As you might imagine, Afghanistan does not have much of a tourism industry these days.  Foreign visitors and journalists are sometimes kidnapped by the Taliban, which tends to put a damper on the region's popularity.

But that doesn't stop Tabor and a motley crew of international tourists from signing up with tour guide Geoff Hann of Hinterland Travel, which specializes in giving tours of conflict zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.  In over 30 years of doing this, Hann has never lost a tourist.  So, off they go.  Tabor, who lives to tell the tale, shares his experiences of sleeping in police barracks, drinking tea with tribal elders, paying Taliban to cross checkpoints, and witnessing a real roadside bomb explosion!  (Thankfully, it only blows up a goat).  Hann, the tour guide, doesn't pay much attention to NATO or military reports.  Instead, he relies on a network of acquaintances (shopkeepers, local residents) whose information tends to be more up-to-date and reliable.

But all this begs the question--WHY?!  Why risk your life by visiting a war zone as a kind of "vacation"?  Tabor goes as a journalist who wants to see (and document) what life is like in a war-torn country.  The picture that emerges is complicated, unexpected, scary, and sometimes funny.  He's not on the front lines of any war on terror.  He's just a guy interacting with other human beings.  I think he is trying to cross the threshold and see Afghanis not as a distant "other," but as members of a global community.  I think this is the real eye-opener of Tabor's article.

Perhaps the most fascinating member of Tabor's crew is a 75-year-old Indian woman named Bithi Das, who walks with a cane and has lots of health problems.  This "conflict zone" tourism is not just a game for the young.  In fact, most of Tabor's group are middle-aged or older.  After this jaunt in Afghanistan, Bithi plans on visiting Libya and Uzbekistan.  When Tabor asks Bithi if she is concerned about the danger, she replies, "I will die.  We all will die.  It's OK."

Damon Tabor in Afghanistan

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