Tuesday, 7 December 2004

The Amazing Race 6, Episode 4

Stockholm (Sweden) - Dakar (Senegal) - Kayar (Senegal) - Lac Rose (Senegal) - Gorée Island (Senegal)

En route to Africa this week, the producers of The Amazing Race start off with an enormous editing gaffe: a product placement photograph of an American Airlines plane. Memo to CBS television (and American travellers to Africa): No airline based in the USA flies to anywhere in Africa, although several attempt to mislead travellers into thinking they do by putting their flight numbers on codeshare flights to Africa actually operated by European or (in fewer cases) African airlines.

But the producers rapidly recover by making the racers' first task in an unfamiliar continent something that should be recommended, if not required, for all foreign tourists, if they haven't done it before they arrive: familiarize yourself with the key people and concepts of local history and the local worldview by reading at least one book by an influential local writer.

In Senegal, that's especially easy, since the most important person in national history is also the most famous literary figure of the region: Léopold Sédar Senghor .

Like Nehru, his contemporary in India, Senghor may be more significant today for his literary, intellectual, and ideological legacy than for his track record as the first president of his native country. At the airport in Dakar, the racers are given a copy of one of Senghor's most famous poems, "Femme noire", and told to identify the author and make their way to his grave. At the cemetery, next to a surprisingly modest monument to a hero who might have been expected to become the focus of a personality cult like those of some other post-independence political leaders, the racers each receive a copy of one of Senghor's books along with their next clue.

No one will hold out a million-dollar reward to you as a real- world traveller for familiarity with local literature, but if you arrive in Senegal without having read it already, a book of Senghor's poetry, or one of his philosophical and ideological volumes on "Négritude", would make an appropriate first purchase to read during your visit -- and to give you something to pass the time, and to talk about with the local people around you, during the inevitable periods of waiting, especially for transport, that seem to characterize African travel.

None of the racers appears to speak French, I didn't get enough of a look to tell whether the poem and the book were in the original French or in English translation, and the racers can be forgiven if, for reasons of weight and money, they give away their books when they leave West Africa. But as long as they are in the region, they should hang onto them. People treat me very differently when they see me reading, or even just see me carrying, locally written books -- especially books expressing those aspects of local people's perspectives on the world that they are most proud of and most want foreigners to understand -- than when they see me carrying or reading a guidebook or a travelogue by a foreigner. I've found no better starter for the conversations about, "How to you and other people in this place see themselves and the world?" that I always hope to have with my hosts, and that are often the high points of my trips.

Reading lists for travellers tend to emphasize travelogues and other writings about the place as a destination for foreigners. I prefer to read what the people who call the place I'm going "home" have to say about it. I'll find out what it looks like to me as a foreigner when I get there. Seeing it through the eyes of other foreign travellers who have gone before me is likely only to reinforce my biases, and compromise my ability to see and experience the place I'm visiting on its own terms. Many of my favorite travelogues are those by people exploring, and trying to understand, their own countries: Rehman Rashid's Malaysian Journey , Marat Akchurin's Red Odyssey , Eduardo Galeano's Days and Nights of Love and War , or the book I'm reading now, Ma Jian's Red Dust .

Fortunately for those visitors who seek them out, these sorts of books that tell foreigners what local people want them to know are, for exactly that reason, among those books by locals most likely either to have originally written in English, or to have been published in English translation. Don't be unduly discouraged by people who tell you few locally-written books in English are available where you are going. Most tourists aren't looking for books, least of all local nonfiction, as souvenirs, and you may have to leave the tourist district to find them. Try academic bookstores, or the neighborhood around a university, if you can't find them elsewhere. But I've not infrequently been in places where the handful of readily-available books by local authors in English were exactly the ones I would have chosen.

The contestants on The Amazing Race , of course, didn't know they would be going to Senegal. But what if you are planning a trip, and want to be better prepared than the racers?

Because Americans have -- as measured by sales -- such slight interest in what people are saying and writing in the rest of the world, especially outside the First World, new books published in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are still hard to find in the USA. I list some of the dealers in imported books from these regions in the resource guide in "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World", but unless you are certain you want a specific new book, you may be better off making a field trip to a research library with a good area studies collection.

Fortunately, many of the classics of Third and Fourth World thought -- such as the works of people like Senghor and Nehru -- are easier and cheaper to find these days than most books newly published in Africa or Asia. Almost anything you can order from Amazon.com you can also find at, or order through, your local bookstore. The real breakthrough in Internet bookselling is the Advanced Book Exchange, abebooks.com or abe.com , a joint listing service for independent used-book stores and other sources including dealers in library discards. Most used-book stores in the USA, and a growing number in Canada, the UK, and elsewhere, list their catalogs with abebooks. If there are 3 copies of an out-of-print book available for sale in the USA, at least one of them is probably listed with abebooks. If there isn't a copy currently listed (I read some pretty obscure stuff, and it's only happened to me once or twice) you can register what you want, and they'll notify you as soon as a copy comes into stock in some bookstore anywhere in their network.

The Practical Nomad says, "Check it out!" -- and start reading up on what they are saying and thinking in the places you want to visit next.

Link | Posted by Edward on Tuesday, 7 December 2004, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | TrackBack (0)
Comments

I love the "Amazing Race". It's a fun show to watch, not just for the excitement, but for the interpersonal relationships. But not all of the contestants deserve the attention.

Hayden in the December 13th episode showed her true colours. What a racist, ignorant woman. She showed no respect, understanding or compassion for the locals in Senegal.

I find it sad that someone with the immensely privileged opportunity to visit such a unique, faraway land, chose to be so condescending to its culture. Was it easy for Hayden to be judgemental because the country is comprised primarily of blacks? Or was it because of the poverty consuming the locals? Either way, her comments were shallow and disturbing.

In fact, at one point she equated the Sengalese people to animals, referring to them as "breeding" despite their poverty. What an ignorant viewpoint. Perhaps she should consider the fact that educaton, lack of funds, and cultural differences may all play a role in family planning among the locals.

How sad it is, that she couldn't see the richness of a faraway land, and its culture. Or, at the very least, respect the struggle these impoverished people face on a daily basis.

I expect more from people carrying the badge of the most powerful, influential, and richest nation on the planet.

I'm Canandian, and love my American neighbours. I'm a journalist, and would even like to work there some day. But even I, a North American, realize that to some, the U.S. is seen as barbaric. Remember, it's the only nation in the world, where executing children is legal. No other country allows its youth to receive the death penalty for serious crimes.

Whether or not you agree with capital punishment is irrelevant. To some, the U.S. is, as Hayden put it, "disgusting".

People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Posted by: anonymous, 15 December 2004, 02:25 ( 2:25 AM)

The comments made during the December 13 episode were both racist and ignorant. However, they were made by Kendra, not by Hayden.

Posted by: steve, 15 December 2004, 07:04 ( 7:04 AM)

Thanks for the correction Steve!

You're right, it was Kendra. I was so inflamed at the time, I attributed the wrong name to the perpetrator.

Posted by: anonymous, 15 December 2004, 13:25 ( 1:25 PM)

Since Kendra made those horrible remarks, what can be done about it now. Comments like hers should not be tolerated and CBS is just as wrong for editing in her remarks along with supporting images.

Posted by: Scott Williams, 17 December 2004, 03:54 ( 3:54 AM)

As an African American, I found that Kendra girl's remarks to be utterly disgusting, reprehensible, vile, and despicable. She sounded like the ultimate airheaded, immature, rich-girl racist. As one of the other viewers previously noted, at a very minimum, you should have respect for other cultures and your surrounding environment, vs. condemning them by looking through your own narrow, zenophobic lense. And we wonder why so many people around the world see us as "ugly Americans".

She's a disgrace to us all. CBS screwed up royally too by editing this in. Or maybe they didn't. The camera doesn't lie, and she exposed herself for the true racist that she is.

Posted by: George Eddings, 18 December 2004, 09:05 ( 9:05 AM)

You know, as incensed as I was hearing Kendra's airhead remarks, I mostly felt sad for her. The level of ignorance she displays is astounding, but not surprising. The Western World still looks down upon the rest of the world. I personally refuse to use the term "third world", as it is condescending. Having African parents and growing up in the States, it really gives me insight into just the sheer stupidity in this country and abroad. It is unfortunate and will only be resolved when people decide to educate themselves, instead of looking down their noses at "ghetto third world" countries. In some ways, I am glad that CBS aired Kendra's ugliness. You cannot make this stuff up.

People's true colors emerge without provocation. Perhaps when she and Freddy return to the States and the barrage of strongly-worded emails pour in, she'll have a clue. Maybe she will also realize that she is not as 'worldly' as she thought she was (*since when did traveling in Europe make you 'worldly'? It's a big world out there.)

I pray that she grows some brain cells.

Posted by: ronke, 25 January 2005, 00:33 (12:33 AM)

Mr.Hasbrouck, while I enjoy your blog, I still encounter the problems with this Third World reference. And to boot, Fourth World??

When will the elitist attitudes end?? (I am not saying you coined the term; however, you usage certainly keeps these terms alive)

Posted by: gis, 25 January 2005, 00:36 (12:36 AM)

The comment signed "gis" was left without an e-mail address or other means for me to reply or seek clarification. I'm not sure whose attitudes "gis" considers elitist, or why; whether they consider the terms "Third World" or "Fourth World" inherently elitist; or what alternate terminology they might prefer.

In "The Practical Nomad: How to Travel Around the World", I include a lengthy discussion (pp. 23-32 of the 2004 3rd edition) of the major divisions of the world -- as they relate to travel -- and the various possible terms used to refer to them, concluding in part:

"Were this a book about politics rather than travel, my strong preference would be to use "South" except where making specific distinctions between the Third and Fourth Worlds. The danger of "South" being misunderstood by nonspecialists in a geographic or directional sense has induced me to refer instead, in many cases, to "the Third and Fourth Worlds," and where I'm talking about something that is similar in both I have often, for conciseness, used "Third World" as shorthand for "Third and Fourth Worlds." I beg the indulgence of political scientists, economists, and other academics, offering in my defense that readers will undoubtedly hear all of these terms used somewhat interchangeably, without definition, in books, newspapers, and conversations throughout the regions thus described."

Posted by: Edward Hasbrouck, 25 January 2005, 21:43 ( 9:43 PM)

I was very disturbed to learn that Kendra's team won the amazing race. But, having thought about it more, I'm glad she and her wonder boy boyfriend (well he is handsome) won because it revived this important discussion about how we US-Americans (Canadians, Mexicans, Chileans, etc. are also Americans right?), need to learn more than how to take and pass standardized tests just so we can get into Stanford and Harvard. We need to learn and appreciate the lessons of history--the lessons of imperialism and slavery, and how it has shaped our present world order. We also need to not only appreciate the struggles and poverty of many African nations, but we (the wealthy nations of the world that have benefited from the destruction of Africa) must also heal the wounds caused by the imperialism and abuses Euro-centric countries who now look away in disgust at the mess they've caused. Now our children, like Kendra are merely reacting to how they have been taught to react--with distain towards historically victimized people for continuing to exist. If these words ever reach Kendra, let me say only that you don't need to go to Senegal or any other African nation to see shocking poverty. Go visit places outside of the "red states." Go to Chicago, Detroit, East St. Louis, or even some poor sections of the red states. I think you call them "bad neighborhoods." You'd be surprised to learn that they too have hopes, dreams, and a desire to marry, have children, and live in peace and prosperity. They--and we--are all humans and children of one creator. May God bless you with more than a million--or half-a million dollars.

Posted by: David Flowers, 9 February 2005, 12:58 (12:58 PM)
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