Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thoughts before March 2009 Mesopotamian trip

I’ve really given a lot of consideration to this trip. I suspect more than I gave to the Kabul tour, but then I felt Global Exchange wouldn’t be sending us over to Afghanistan without precautions. This Mesopotamian tour is run by a guy who is into archaeological expeditions, is very familiar with the area - also, Afghanistan and environs -and is co author of Bradt’s Iraqi travel guide. So, I trust.

But this trip partly motivated my enrollment in Centurion's five-day Hostile Environment and First Aid training course. And that turned out to be everything I hoped for: upgraded my long outdated First Aid practices and prepared me for unfriendly territory. Well worth the $3000 cost.

Most interesting has been the reactions of two experienced travelers. One spent four years orbiting the globe and another has worked in Iraq and trekked in Afghanistan. Both were amazed/appalled. The first one bought me lunch as he tried to figure out what made me tick while the second gave me his Emil address and cell phone numbers to contact if I got into trouble.

Then there was the tattooed Marine vet at the surplus store: he had been in Iraq along the Syrian border during the 1990s and also in Afghanistan during the time the US was aiding the Taliban in their resistance to the Russians. While he was proud to have been a Marine, he would never re enlist. He was embittered by the politics involved and certainly, was bewildered why I would go into these countries voluntarily.

The only explanation I can give: I go because it’s there, I am curious and it is accessible. I can wait, sure, but then I’m not convinced it will became any safer a year or two from now. If I wait until it’s safe, I wouldn’t have wandered into Afghanistan, Yemen, Lebanon, Mali, Ethiopia - all places where outsiders have been at risk.

One of the travelers asked me where I would not go - my response: where there was active conflict and I would be endangered or get in the way, e.g.: at the moment, I am not planning to go to the southern part of Afghanistan or into Pakistan’s Northwest Territories.

At this time of my life, I can afford to take some chances. High on my list are Algeria, Libya (assuming acquisition of a visa), Palestine, North Korea. Kashmir, Kosovo. Serbia and the Baltic states. I’m thinking of taking off for nine weeks, from October-December this Fall, spending time in North Africa and the Middle East. I would do several tours, participate in a dig and rumble some on my own.

I tend to travel on the cheap though short of sleeping “rough”. And as a gray-haired female who speaks only English, I am limited. So, for some trips, I do British/Australian budget tours though at times, I’m on my own. I’ve gotten braver as I’ve become more familiar with the areas. But there are still places where I want the structure of a group, especially the first time around.

And Mesopotamia is certainly one. Though it seems to be getting a bit crowded. A current Email from the leader reports our Security contingent is being increased from two, upwards. Soon, more Security than participants (nine have signed on). Which increases the cost to us and the income to the Iraqis. And the advice of my HEFAT people to become a “gray person” goes down the tubes.

In both Ethiopia, Bangladesh and Yemen, there were Security people. The Ethiopian guy didn’t know how to manage his weapon safely; the Bangladesh bunch seemed ok as they followed us around but the Yemeni soldiers didn’t appear too reliable as they chewed khat while checking out the AK-47 mounted on the Toyota pickup.

Oh well, it will be a trip, any way you look at it!

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