Traveling without knowing the destination

One of my favorite parts about traveling, especially if I am staying for more than a few days, is that inevitable moment when you realize some daily practice or activity is missing or is profoundly different in the country you are in. Let’s call it a Well, Duh moment. I’m not thinking of something as obvious as language or what side of the road to drive one.

Walking in downtown Maputo is like being in an obstacle course; the pavement disappears sometimes for several blocks and you walk on the red earth instead. Except the red earth is covered with all sorts of litter. Worn-away sidewalks are understandable; Mozambique has other more urgent budget priorities. However, that Well, Duh moment arrived when I had a Coca Cola bottle I wanted to throw away while I was walking. Only I realized that there were NO trashcans. The reason the street was full of trash among other things is that there were no public trashcans and very few dumpsters. Trash is not just an aesthetic problem. It attracts insects like mosquitoes that carry malaria and attracts rodents which carry lots of other diseases.

Just last week while walking to work, I wound my way through the maze of parked cars at every intersection. Double parking is virtually a requirement as there are far too many cars in this city, especially considering the size of the streets. The Well Duh moment arrived when I realized there are no parking meters in La Plata nor are there any painted lines or signs defining when and how to park. Parking tickets are a minor annoyance in most American cities but they are also a source of revenue for the city. Given the admittedly pathetic budget of the municipal health department, I do not think anyone would disagree with more city revenue.

I saw this TEDTalk with Hans Rosling that is just one big Well Duh moment.

Why does the developed world expect the developing world to accomplish in 50 years what took the developed world 100 years to achieve? Is the end goal of international development that all countries are like those of the developed world? The development model in this respect may be too linear and rigid to account for the history of countries like Mozambique and Argentina. Developing countries are not “there” yet but their destination may look different than that of a developed country.


2 comments so far

  1. […] Vanessa Mason Traveling without knowing the destination 08.18.08 Print This | Email This One of my favorite parts about traveling, especially if I am […]

  2. BethP on


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