Street kids and philosophy
May 22, 2005
I don't know where to start here.
The good old United States of America spends approximately $30 billion in foreign aid each year. We spend the same amount, $30 billion, on pornography.
I've been traveling for so long that I've truly forgotten what life in America is like. It often makes it difficult to write as I often leave out critical details because I forget how different life is out here.
Only once in a while am I reminded. My friend George sent out a group email, which listed the items for sale at his garage sale. I was shocked. I could not believe that anyone owned that much stuff. And, that was just what he was selling.
No offense intended toward George - this just shows the difference between the typical American and the typical African.
For the last year and a half, I've lived with one small backpack. Some of the people that I've encountered have owned far less, like the kid who worked in my hotel in the Omo Valley. He owned one pair of boxer shorts and nothing else.
And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
I grew up cold-hearted in Oakland. I never gave money to panhandlers. Perhaps once a year I'd buy a burrito for someone on the street. But in Addis, I began giving to the beggars every day. I started giving for the simple reason that the locals did too.
I gave embarrassingly small amounts; just a few pennies. But it's a complicated balance between generously giving what you can afford, and upsetting the economic balance. In some countries, educated people like doctors stop being doctors because they can make far more money hustling tourists on the streets.
I did my best to give like a local, and soon I started to feel like I was being treated like a local. The beggars stopped hassling me. They'd just smile and wave when I walked past. If I had change in my pocket, I'd give them some.
But a bigger change came over me. I began to really see the beggars as people. We create whole sets of rules for whom we should give money to. Don't give to able-bodied men, as they should be able to get a job. Give to women with children... but be suspicious because she might just be renting someone else's baby to get more money begging. Never give to children because they should be at school.
When I arrived in Addis, I was thrilled to find a program that sold meal coupons for the homeless. For US$0.50, you can buy 8 meal tickets and give them out to beggars. I bought some and immediately regretted it. I felt incredibly condescending handing out these coupons. I am no better than these people. I should not be forcing them to spend the money that I give them in the way that I wish. They should be free to do whatever they want with anything that I give them. If they want to spend it on booze or drugs, so be it. I myself have wasted far too much money on alcohol. Who I am to judge others?
But it was the beggar kids who really touched me... as they probably touch everyone who spends a while in Addis. It was hard not to laugh when the 5th kid in a row repeated the exact same script, "mother father dead - give money." It was overwhelming, surreal, and there was no way of knowing if they were telling the truth or not.
But slowly, I learned that they were probably all telling the truth. I learned this through becoming friends with some of the smiling beggar kids who hung out on my street. And on rare occasion, the script and tragedy would be slightly different like the girl who told me, "mother dead, father very old, sister sick." I gave her some money.
The view from my balcony looked down upon brothels, but on cold nights it also looked down on a pile of kids huddling together in an attempt to stay warm. It was occasionally tough going to sleep in my nice warm bed knowing they were out there. I regularly gave them small amounts of money. I did consider giving them a large amount of money on my way out of town, but did not think that it would make any long-term difference. The one bright spot was one day seeing staff from my hotel's restaurant giving these kids a big bag of leftover scraps. Those scraps are the only thing that gave me any hope that these kids will make it through this winter, the next one, and the one after that.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.
There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give when unasked, through understanding.
Let's shift our discussion from possessions and giving to security.
If you're reading my journal then chances are that you'd like to travel. What's stopping you?
The answer is usually security. Most of us need our steady incomes, our houses, and our routines. The emphasis is on 'need'. That security is also a cage. It prevents us from doing what we would really like to do, and truly living our lives.
I've come a long way since I used to sit behind a desk at Sapient. I have dumped my career, my apartment, and most of my possessions. But I still require too much security in my life. I'm still far from being truly free.
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters a house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.
The quotes are from "The Prophet" by Khalil Gibran.
Leave a comment! I'm much more inspired to write when I know people are reading.
Your stories are truly inspiring. Upon completion of Grad school in May of next year my girlfriend and I (a former Sapient desk jockey)plan on quitting our secure jobs and selling all of our stuff to travel the world. We both check you site every day and look forward to new postings. Keep up the good work.
Hopefully some day we will cross paths somewhere in the world.
Nicole - Sept 17, 2005
My partner and I have discussed giving up our security for a chance to be doing what we really want. Hopefully some day we'll actually just do it.
- Sept 17, 2005
Pat - Sept 17, 2005
You are an inspiration.
Cheryl - Sept 19, 2005
I think about that all the time - the obscene heaps of possessions I have that have long since stopped giving me any real sense of happiness, and on a daily basis are really just a nuisance of storage and organization.
But they alone don't limit me - paying for my car, student loans, and the debt that bought all my crap is really what's holding me back now. And some day, when I don't owe any more money, I'd imagine it's a more realistic dream to set off for a while with Ben, my dog and whatever it is that will transport us, and really disconnect for a while.
Tim Meier - Sept 22, 2005
Sorry Adam, but I feel like your missing something: The will to create. Don't get me wrong, I love to travel, but travel in and of itself is just another form of comfort.
After a while you begin to feel like you need to accomplish something. You've got your writing for instance. For others, maybe healing the sick, publishing a new scientific discovery, or perhaps creating a non-profit is the way. It of course depends on the individual, but in the end, I think most intelligent humans find themselves with this urge. And for many, to fulfill the need requires study, discipline, hard work, time, and dedication, which unfortunately are not always conducive to travel.
Maybe field biologists know more than all of us.
Sebastian - Sept 23, 2005
great article! your remarks are something more that temporary thoughts, they should be an inspiration for people living in so called "western" communities. it was pleasure to read it. i met many poor kids in southern Egypt. maybe the word "poor" is not right. some of them hadnt even family, hadnt home, hadnt anything to eat... like that kurdish, 5years boy living on the streets of Aswan. i saw in his eyes biggest happines ever, when we bought for him some cakes, juice, bread.. he was almost crying when he was carrying the food .
barce - Sept 26, 2005
I cancelled my Playboy cyber club account, and am now channelling my sexual energy into my writing and yoga. One of the forms of yoga I practice is Karmic Yoga, which involves an act of kindness a day without regard to the consequence.
I wrote down a few core beliefs that are not materialistic. Here's my favorite one so far:
"You, and only you, are your own guru."
Hopefully, when I've got enough money saved, I can join you in your journey. I'll ditch you as soon as we get sick of eachother. ;-)
alfons - Nov 13, 2005
Michael Hayes - Dec 19, 2005
Your journals are very much informing.I have read the lonely planet boook (2003 edition) about Ethiopia since i intend to travel there on a reseach project. Could you recommend any budget hotels in Addis Ababa, without bugs and "guides"?
Thanks in advance
The Baro and Taito (cheap rooms in back) hotels are both good, bug free, places to stay. The guides will find you in the streets though.
Rederator - Dec 30, 2005
You have seen alot in your journeys...
Something that is obviously not wasted on you judging by your writings.
Thanks, I had forgotten what it was like to really live. Instead of the daily scramble.
Good fortune and Health to you.
Cathy - Jan 16, 2006
Your trip i sincredible and your thoughts and actions with the street kids very honorable. You may have left your sdesk job, but when youa re ready .. you have your other job.. travel writing.. books and ?? As you know, most US and other citizens do not tak etrips of htis type. My little tripsa re short adn though they include a bit of volunteer work.. I can not yet leave for longer.. right now I am attached to an aging but vital 15 year lold cat and my need for being here. Even in this cold witnter
Good Luck to you.
PS no disagreements on tribe.. though
to me no is still no! :)
jen - Jan 22, 2006
I'm Chad's sister (the photog you met in Ethiopia). Your website is great and my hat's off to you and Chad for living the life you truly love.
It's nice to meet you.
I just have to ask. If you're not living the life that you truly love, why not?
It's nice to meet you.
I just have to ask. If you're not living the life that you truly love, why not?
Laura - Feb 05, 2006
I read this page on your website while we were in dahab, egypt together, at the end of a long trip around egypt u were truely one of the people who have inspired me to continue travelling and see as many places and meet as many people as possible!! It has been a real pleasure meetin you!! Good luck on the rest of your travels, i'm sure we'll all meet again somewhere down the line!!
BJ - Jun 08, 2006
Americans annually spend $35 billion on pet food.
Albert - Jun 11, 2006
I've read your site many times simply because I enjoy reading an honest, current, description of these far off places. Your writing is fantastic, and you live a fascinating life. In my travels, I have discovered travel is not for me, and I enjoy reading about it much more than actually doing it :]. You are an inspiration to many people. Please keep updating the site!
TalaGangster - Jun 24, 2006
The only responisble govermets when it comes to aid are: Denmark,Finland,Iceland,Nederlands,Norway and Sweden.
Isen`t a little bit patetic that Norway gave more to the sunami victims than US???
Norway have just 4,9 mill citizens...US 350+ mill...
Im proud to be norwegian!
I give the street children food, but never money.
Because money can buy drugs.
One time I brought street children to a uperclass resturant in Manila, they had what they like to eat and drink, it was my Chrismas gift for them, its the best gift I ever gave!!!
Next day they saw me again, so I treat them one more time, he he he...
I lived with 10 people in a bambuhouse last year, I payed all the expencives ofcourse...
"My son" wher a 100% poore guy, now he has his own apartment and motorbike.
My daughter(Filipina) goes to Montesorri school, when the mother lets lets me handle tings...
If you think Im rich, your wrong, I had my turn sleeping in the streets of Europa, until a friend saved me...
Adam - Sept 11, 2006
I echo all of the sentiments above - your trials and tribulations are equal parts entertaining and inspirational. I just arrived back to the U.S. myself after a year of travelling and working in South America (primarily in Argentina), and, being just a year and a half out of college, I'm struggling night and day to discover my true path - i.e., what is it I really should be doing with this life I've inherited. Clearly this *cliched* theme has already been harped on and then some, but if I may, I'd like to inject a tiny bit of debate into this topic.
The above poster, Tim Meier, made the point that travelling pretty much precludes one from creating anything substantial, personal growth and enlightenment clearly excepted. I'm inclined to agree with this; the most profound discoveries and achievements of mankind - from the invention of the wheel to the discovery of astronomy - couldn't have possibly been created by a species in constant transition. As the saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." Really, what is anything (architecture, scientific theory, even literature) if not just an aggregation of time and experience?
To truly develop something, and for mankind to "advance," an infrastructure had to be put into place that could incubate and implement new ideas. Thus explains the exponential growth of human discovery and convenience tactics after the hunter-gatherer stopped pitching his tent and put a more permanent roof over his head.
Whoa...I've just wasted entirely too much time at work! If my boss only knew...Anyway, if you haven't dozen off by now, I assure you there is a point to be made from all of this rambling nonsense. As an indefinite traveller, how do you reconcile all of this? I suppose in the 21t century, through guidebook writing and blogging (which is what I do), someone who is permanently on the move has a slightly greater capability to leave behind a legacy, through writing. I also don't mean to disavow any volunteer opportunities or short-work gigs (I did them both while I was in South America), but in terms of impacting, structural change or augmentation - for better or for worse - it just seems like a person constantly on the move is fundamentally incapable. Which, if this is the case, begs the question - is a grand, lifelong trip just one prolonged exercise in self-indulgence? But if it is, just what's so bad about that?
Just some food for thought. Would love to hear your comments on some of this.
To Tim and Adam,
This is a very interesting topic, and I'm sorry that I'm so late in responding to this.
I think that there is far too much creation going on, and not nearly enough philosophizing.
We have the nuclear bomb, soon we might have worse weapons. Are we, collectively as human beings, wise enough to have such things?
Maybe all of mankind should stop focusing on profound technological discoveries for the next 10 years and instead spend that decade focusing on the meaning of life. I think that the world would be better for it.
If we cannot have that, then I think we need some people focusing on progress and others focusing on understanding in a philosophical sense and on ethics.
We are on the verge, on many fronts, of a breakthrough for true technological miracles (cloning, teleportation, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, etc) Is this hate-filled world ready for them?
Adam - Oct 24, 2006
Thanks for your response. Much appreciate hearing your thoughts on this most interesting, if not agonizingly open-ended, topic. Hope all is well in Germany, and take care.
Jonah - Nov 07, 2006
I know what you mean Adam about the whole over consumption problem. I work a as mover, and everyday I how people accumulate so many belongings and waste lots of energy trying to maintain what they own. I moved an old lady's stuff today, she'll be moving to an old folks home and won't be able to take any of her belongings with her so she's selling off all of her stuff, shedding her posessions. When we die, everything we own will be sold off, given away or thrown out, - we can't really hold on or keep anything forever, not even our bodies. Keeping and maintaining possessions prevents us from focusing our energies on more productive uses like adam is doing such as travelling.
The whole consumption mantra is way too over rated, I say LESS is MORE!
Norman Miller - Nov 14, 2006
Greetings! My name is Norman Miller. I live in Michigan. I have also lived a vagabond lifetsyle for quite a while. I toured following bands such as the dead or Phish since the early 90s' but it wasn't enough. I have been looking for inspiration in all the wrong places until I came across your journal. I am going to start this truck driving job only because I want to live on the road and have plenty of money to travel when I get older. It's good to know that there are people like you in the world who do exactly what they want regardless of what other people think. I know that when I am ready to retire that I will probably be going to a lot of the same places in much the same way-the shoes on my feet and the back pack on my back. Keep it up and remember you are an inspiration to people who discover you. Peace
Maybe someday I'll regret the choices that I've made in life, but I hope not.
Why are you waiting until to you retire to travel?
Traveling when you're young is a lot riskier as you might not have a safety net when you get old, but I think it's worth the risk.
Head over to lonely planet's thorntree or elsewhere and ask around. Find some expats and vagabonds who are wandering the world. How many of them regret the choices they've made?
Truck driving is one possibility. But really, you could probably hop on a flight to Bangkok or Cairo and get a job there teaching English as soon as you arrive.
Sayo ajiboye - Nov 24, 2006
I got on your website because I was dreaming. How could I bring attention to the plight of girls from poor homes in the colleges of Africa? I know especially about those from my home country Nigeria. I thought maybe I will travel through the Berring Straight into the Caucaus and then into Europe and bring attention to this desperate need. Or Ill go through South America to Brazil or Argentina and then by Sea to South Africa and then by land up to West Africa... So I went on google and type in Journey through Bering Straight and your Infor came right up.
As I read your writtings I was so challenged, but I realise I must be dreaming. I live in St Louis you see, the "comfortable" life of a professional immigrant student. I have a wife and three children, how can I ever leave them for such a long aimless trip.... Just musing and very sad you see, I'll most probably never go on your site again, it is way too dangerous to dream this much. But tell me, do you think it can be done? Travel by land and a short portion by Sea from America to Africa. You have my email.
In St Louis
Ara - Dec 24, 2006
Wow. I'm not sure how I stumbled on your site now after reading through it for about 30 min but it doesn't matter. I'm glad I did.
You've been to alot of countries!
I love travelling but alas, don't get to do it much for the reason you mentioned at the end of "street kids and philosophy" bit. I use to work on cruise ships for a couple of years and those were some of the best years of my life. I still miss it sometimes and wonder if I should go back. I'm working full-time now at an Engineering company in the IT department.
what do you mean when you said "...But I still require too much security in my life. I'm still far from being truly free." ?
You should visit Armenia! oh and I hope the people in Iran are friendly to you when you visit. I've been to both of those countries and it's really not what the west makes them seem to be. But maybe I'm being biased...only you can tell for yourself.
keep on travelling!
Steve - Jan 27, 2007
Just do it is my advice! For those of us with the wanderlust.....the freedom of travel and the pleasures of new experiences, new friends, new tastes is just heaven. Wandering is what we were meant to do.
Western society has made us believe that we need to live our lives in a certain way....and the truth is we don't.
We have the choice. The choice to experience what most will never experience. We have the opportunity. The opportunity to travel a road less travelled.
But don't think too long.....carpe diem...."enjoy the day" and seize the opportunity ....
Good Luck & Bon Voyage (from an old traveller!)
ben - Mar 24, 2007
i found your site because i was searching for some information about ethiopia. i share your dreams and in 1 month i'm flying to eth. for 9 weeks. keep on writing about your impressions and thoughts... greetings from austria, ben
ronda - May 06, 2007
Thanks for creating this website, it is truly inspiring as I want to be a travel writer and photographer also. Your pictures are awesome and I love your photos of the people! Where are you now? I am dying to know...
I'm in Dahab, Egypt right now.
There's a "Where's Adam?" box on the homepage of the site. I do keep it updated even when I'm now writing
Noel - Dec 16, 2007
I enjoyed this entry very much. For years I've been looking forward to my own adventures in traveling, but more importantly, my adventures in life. I'm in the army right now, but I'm soon to get out and sell all I have to go traveling. Thanks for the inspiration and keep up the traveling and writing.