Travel Ban...

Its been a long time--hope you are well.  I miss the road.  The new road is family and its as beautiful and challenging as any journey I've been part of.

For those of you in the world who are frightened by the recent travel ban...

Please forgive the US for this mistake.

We are a country of dissent, we were founded on it.  This dissent has taken our country far and will continue to do so.  Many Americans are afraid of Muslims, these Americans are quick to blame a religion for terrorism that has made everyone fearful.  This may not be rational to many people, but I understand why a portion of the population feels this way.  Americans don't want to be afraid. Fear is like water and the path of least resistance is blame.  The fear they feel is founded in blame for terrorism and lack of understanding of other cultures.  More importantly, the minority of Americans who agree with this travel ban most likely have little connection with people from foreign nations and have likely done little traveling.  Its easy to lay blame or hurt a group of people when these people have no face or identity to the individual.  This is why this ban is so destructive.

Travel is the ultimate form of diplomacy.  It allows you and I to meet one another, to have a personal interaction and to establish trust.  For me, this has happened on countless occasions in nations that are majority Muslim.  In Morocco in summer of 2000, Kori and I were near Western Sahara on a bus that stopped in a small town.  A man stopped us and asked where we were from.  He was kind yet stern, tall and weathered, missing an eye, perhaps 50 years old.  He looked much older.  He told us overtly and with kindness that "you don't understand the world because you have everything you need and many things you want".  I remember him looking at us in the same way my grandma Dot would sit contently through chaos of grand kids running into her house with muddy shoes from playing on the farm.  Wise, patient and hopeful for understanding.  At the time, I had no idea that he was right.  I also had little idea of the fact that I was no better than him.  Even though I did have everything and I had done nothing to earn it.

There is no justification to locking out people from the US.  Our nation is not a white nation.  Our nation is not a hateful place.  Our nation is an amalgam of foreigners.  What started as Ragtag Irish, reluctant Britons and abused slaves from West Africa has become a nation whose ingredients are from every country and every religion.  This is the course of history and this ban cannot stop that.  The 1950s are over and to assume that we can reclaim some invented and fake version of America which never existed, is simply terrible.  America was never Norman Rockwell.  To assume that it was is to lie to yourself. To want it to be that again is an intention that puts you on the wrong side of history.  The ship left port long ago.  The captain may have been white, but the sailors were Black, Red, Yellow, Brown, Tan, etc...

As an American, I am sorry for this ban.  I am proud to be in Seattle, where the ban was blocked.  America will get this right over time.  In the meantime, if you are outside the US, please come see us.  Even the people who support this ban are generally kind.  Meet them and let them see that you are a human and that good people live everywhere.  Let them see that they shouldn't be afraid of a person who doesn't look like them.  Let them realize that the same fear that is gripping them is the fear that drives bad people to do bad things.  And that these bad people are not bad because of a religion, they are just bad people.

I will be taking my daughter to Cuba in April.  She will see, at 6 years old, that a place we were told was terrible for so long, is actually paradise.

Come see us and be hopeful.   We will get this right.



The Idea of Hunger

** Four new photo's added of the journey to Wajir. The photo above was taken in Ethiopia, days before our journey into the "Triangle of Death" described below.

The idea of hunger is nearly impossible to grasp. Hunger is being an hour out from Burlington on I-70 and obsessing for the next 72 miles on the impossible choice between Cheetos or Rye Crisps. Hunger is more akin to boredom than crisis for us. An inconvenience, a blip on our radar of mostly harmless afflictions that preoccupy the American spare tiredom of today. This morning, as I was in line for my tea at the local coffee shop I noticed a photo of the Somali boy on the cover of the Seattle Times. I looked away immediately, then looked back. Like walking by a dead bird on the sidewalk. Initially, I was disgusted. Sunken wide eyes and jutting teeth on a skull covered in drum tight copper black skin. As the barista placed my drink before me on the counter the disgust shifted inward. I looked again with empathy. I paid $4.08 for less than a pint of flavored milk and walked to a table thinking of my very brief experience in the "triangle of death"... Disgust, guilt, desperation. Misguided emotions? Absolutely. There is nothing we can do to save this child. Whether he is dead now or lives and ends up the next Achak Deng is outside our control. That, however, doesn't make it OK to shift our eyes away as I did earlier.


Hagadera Refugee Camp is about 120 miles south of Wajir, just across the Kenyan border with Somalia. Kori and I traveled through Wajir in transit from Ethiopia to Nairobi in early 2009. We had hitched a ride on a lorry convoy transporting grain, cattle and Southern Sudanese refugees. I could only imagine how terrible things were in the south of Sudan if all of these people were heading into Wajir on purpose. Picture red dirt and driving dust. Bare scratching tree's, ant hills and dry, dry heat. From the border of Ethiopia down, we seemed to be heading further into desperation. Much of this journey was through the night. I recall staring forward through the kicked up dust at the tailgate of the lead truck, the brake lights illuminating the eyes of crowded steer in the bed and Sudanese men and boys balancing on rafters above.

We stopped for maintenance in a village somewhere past Buna. The sun was rising, the heat of the day was already stifling. We were welcomed into a hut by a man who spoke some English. They sat us down and presented us with hot cokes and asked us for any medicine we had. A elderly man who must have been a chief sat in the smoky room and offered us food, biscuits and other drinks. We drank our boiling cokes outside and took in the surroundings. The homes were constructed of mud, branches and reused USAID metal boxes. USAID boxes were everywhere. Picture an oversized square Folger's can, easiler pliable. Such a vessel is very handy in a land that provides nothing. They were walls, livestock bins, wind guards, seats and tables. The USAID logo was as much part of the village's landscape as Starbucks is in Seattle.

Kids were kicking around a make shift soccer ball formed of bound plastic wrappings, likely from aid shipments. People were walking by and checking us out. Everyone was thin, some were emaciated. I have an image of this baby playing in the dirt. Grabbing handfuls of red dust and throwing it, wiping it on her legs and repeating. This may seem difficult to comprehend, but even inside the huts there were no floors. If you were to sit down, or put your baby on the ground, it would be on dirt. In a setting like this there is not place for worrying about getting dirty and no room for us to be angry at the mother of that child for placing her infant in the middle of the road. Worry's carry far more gravity here. Will the well be dry tomorrow? Will the "Mazunga's" drop more shiny cans with food? If they do, will the chiefs' horde the food or spread it among the people? How many of that woman's children will die this year? Its that bad.

When grappling with the concept of hunger, consider what the people of southern Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya are dealing with day to day. Look at your child and imagine if you had to force them to skip just one meal. One day of meals. Two weeks of eating. Imagine your faucet's turned off, no A/C, no chairs. 120 degree heat, flys. Imagine looking into the eyes of your daughter, your brother or neighbor and genuinely wondering if they are going to die today. Imagine not having the energy yourself to even pick them up. Imagine all of these things happening around you and still going forward with the will to smile.

I was reminded today that shifting my eyes away from that image of a living skeleton is far more than inhumane, its a disservice to myself. Even in the worst of times, we live in abundance. If I were reminded of that more often, I would likely start each day with a wider smile and fervent want to enjoy each passing hour as if I am lucky to have it.

Map of our travels...(almost..we ran out of space on google maps..)

Trip Calendar