Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Surrounded by the Third World

     One more byproduct of travel in the Third World is the incredibly low price the shopper pays for intricate, artistic and representative artifacts in areas where workers are horribly underpaid and most appreciative of any cash they can get for their creations. That is an unfortunate and painful situation for the craftsman who commands so little reimbursement for his or her time and labor and talent. In some places, workers join in cooperatives and can get a fairer price for their goods but such arrangements are relatively rare. Whenever we shop, we seek out cooperatives for our purchases. Even then, the cost of interesting items is extremely low compared to the industrialized West. Bargaining over prices in the markets of the Third World is also fun so long as the traveler remembers that money means more to the sellers there than it does to the visitors.

     Yet we all want to bring home with us memorabilia of our travels, items which help us recall regularly some experience in another culture or which contribute to an interest we have developed along the way. Our own home is almost entirely decorated with artifacts we have bought abroad. Our walls feature batiks from Africa and Indonesia, weavings from Laos and Bolivia and Mexico, and, most of all, a fascinating collection of masks from just about every place where they are made. We have metalwork from tribal villages in India and from the skilled artisans of Western Africa, carvings from Ecuador, China and the Philippines, embroidered pillow cases from Thailand and Vietnam and India and old pieces from the Silk Road decorating our shelves and mantels. Each one of these items reminds us of the place it comes from and often we recall the experience of purchasing it or the craftsman we met who created it. These artifacts are constant catalysts for conversations and recollections that we enjoy immensely. You can see what I mean at  http://articles.philly.com/2011-05-01/news/29493351_1_diamond-home-travel-airy-couple

      Perhaps the most significant aspect of this shopping is how inexpensive it is for us dollar or euro carriers. Western currencies are valued in the Third World so the exchange rates tend to be very favorable. Aside from a lovely rug we bought in a store in Pakistan, our most expensive item is a wood and paper mache elephant from Kashmir painted in gold with a rat's tail brush. That finely crafted and unusual item cost us $150.00. These rewarding and attractive items have not added much to our travel costs. Our home is our travels. I can sit in a chair in my living room and look around me revisiting the world I have traipsed through. The Philadelphia Inquirer, our local newspaper, found the decorations in our home so intriguing that they just featured our house in the home section. It was probably the least expensive place I have ever seen written up in that feature. Much more importantly, however, is the joy we have in looking around the house as we move through it and seeing one reminder after another of the wonderful adventures we have been fortunate enough to include in our lives. Do not neglect this aspect of Third World travel.

Aidkah Mosque, Kashgar, China

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