May 31, 2009

Nicholas Kristof and the dread taxi drivers of doom

I like New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof a lot, but I take some issue with today's column, which is largely about how to avoid theft, kidnapping battery and murder while travelling in the developing world. Not that his tips are invalid: but too many non-travellers already think that the developing world is a hive of lawless anarchy full of desperate starving people who will treat you as if your clothes were made of hundred-dollar bills, and that column will only reinforce that belief.

But it ain't remotely so. OK, I've been mugged in Mexico City, pickpocketed in St. Petersburg, and had my bag stolen in Bolivia - but I've also spent more than a year of my life travelling in Africa and Asia, including a fair number of some theoretically very dubious places, mostly on my own and via local public transit, without once being robbed or feeling like I was in genuine danger. (I did witness a money-changing scam in Zambia once; not the same thing.) As for the risk statistics, I went to a great talk by Redmond O'Hanlon once, where he outlined the most common causes of death for Western travellers overcome by mortality while travelling in Africa. They went something like this:

(To be fair, Kristof does allude to this with his fourteenth point.)


Anonymous Daniel Smith said...

Such a good point.

The world is getting smaller all the time through technological advances that we could never have imagined, yet the majority of westerners I know would still worry about travelling to the 'third world'. It's undoubtably the media that perpetuate this perception.

I've had more problems in Western Europe than Asia or Africa (where, in fact, the people have tended to be far more hospitable and helpful, despite their poverty).

10:41 AM  

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