If you only had $2 to help the poor this might be the best way to use it. 

I was training a group in Toronto. All of them were on their way overseas to go work in countries where poverty is a daily reality in many people’s lives. That’s when I surprised them with a strange task.

Photo Credit: Problemkind via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Problemkind via Compfight cc
I asked the group to do a crazy social experiment where they were to give away a toonie at a time to three unique people. They were not allowed to explain why, they simply had to give $2 to three separate people. To make it interesting they had to:
  • Give $2 to a person who is obviously economically poorer than you
  • Give $2 to a person who looks like they are at about the same economic level as you
  • Give $2 to a person who is obviously economically wealthier than you
Laughing a bit nervously, they fanned out across the city and bravely attempted. Later when we debriefed the experience I asked them how it went, I thought the responses were surprising!

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How to reduce the threat of militants who are trying to kill you

My brother was working in Pakistan, in an area where terrorist attacks have become commonplace. He was there to aid the local people rebuild after some devastating mudslides had torn up their homes, communities and lives. While he was helping, militants were actively looking for ways to kill people who look like my brother. It was and still is a dangerous place. Thankfully he made it back home safely and I recently asked him what he considered the secret to his safety.

Photo Credit: gfairchild via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: gfairchild via Compfight cc

I too have felt the results of war a few times – In the Palestinian territories as I talked to the soldier in Bethlehem square, blocks of concrete whistled past my head at a guard post. The soldier clicked his gun off safety and ran towards the youth. Later that same trip as I walked up a hill to find a moment to myself, my persistent guide began to shout for my attention. I ignored his cries until I heard him say “They are shooting up there!” I decided to turn around. Continue reading

They Don’t speak English Here.

I was talking with a volunteer and our talk began to literally revolve around talk.

Photo Credit: B Rosen via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: B Rosen via Compfight cc

Language learning.

I asked and he confessed that he was finding it a pain to learn a new language. He could understand a lot of what people were saying, but when it came time to replying, he was stuck. He didn’t know how to say anything.

I understand, I have taken many beginner Spanish courses over the years and still feel completely inadequate. I would way rather do something else that feels really productive and makes others admire how much great work I am doing.

A post by Donald Miller inspired a thought. Donald suggested when faced with a tough goal, instead of focusing on the unlikable tasks – focus on one key image. Continue reading

The Biggest Travel Etiquette Blunders

This might be the most offensive post I have ever written. So far…

Photo Credit: daystar297 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: daystar297 via Compfight cc

Have you ever offended someone and you didn’t know until it was too late? When I was about 20 years old, I remember driving down the Deerfoot in Calgary with a few other friends.  We happened to drive along a police car and noticed that the cop in the passenger seat was chatting with his partner, he was relaxed and had his finger casually hooked into the window frame. The funny thing was that it was his middle finger and so he looked like he was flipping us all off.


We did what we thought was right. All three of us in the car likewise returned the favour. We flipped him the bird. We gave him the Trudeau salute. We showed him the finger.

Brave or stupid, we were about to find out

He finally noticed us and he frowned. We quickly pointed at his own finger, smiled broadly, and began to sweat that this was probably not a great idea after all. Luckily the officer noticed what we were doing and had a great sense of humour. He split up laughing and pulled down the offending finger.

When I travel I also find myself in similar circumstances. I may think I am simply relaxing, calling a kid over, or saying “great job!” and be completely unaware of how much I am confusing or offending any number of people who pass by. Thankfully, most of the time they will also laugh along with (at) me as I obviously don’t know the local rules.

Curious how you would do? Here is a great fun way to find out!

(if the story already offended you, don’t check it out)

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Want to know a poorly kept secret?

Wells have been installed all over the world by organizations that collected donation money from people just like you. A lot of pictures are sent back home of the big celebration, unveiling of the plaque and congratulatory speeches. This is usually the last we hear of the well.

Job Well Done!

The problem is that the pumps were broken by some local kid and haven’t worked in years.

IMG_2492The first time I saw this kind of thing (and it is not that uncommon) I thought, what is wrong with these people? They have to walk for kilometres for water, often to polluted streams, and this pump is just sitting there at their doorstep – Why don’t they fix it? Continue reading

There are Some People You Shouldn’t Take Care Of

We were up a mountain.  Our truck had made the nearly vertical track upwards in low gear We blew a tire, not uncommon, this was a difficult place to travel, the serrated volcanic rock slipped and slashed away at our tires in the attempt to hobble our progress. My host  mentioned that he had just bought a set of new tires for the vehicle and he was lucky to get 3, maybe 4, days of use out of them before he would need to fix another flat.IMG_7461

We weren’t more than a 100 kilometres from the city, but remote is not an odometer reading, remote is all about access, and this was remote.

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5 Secret Skills to Becoming a Travel Virtuoso

What is the difference between a tourist and a traveller? A traveller has learned how to take the stress of travel and make it work for them rather than trying to work against it.

If you want to understand how you can learn this yourself, here are the 5 skills you need to  become a Travel Virtuoso (a person highly skilled in an artistic pursuit)

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The rookie mistake people make when they try to help the poor.

A few years ago I was at a church that wanted to find some poor people to help.  We formed a committee that was focused on local poverty issues and began meeting to discuss what we might do.

Photo Credit: malias via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: malias via Compfight cc

Someone in our group had noticed a local social housing community close to us and we called a meeting to make some plans. People wanted to give and help out. Many gracious and innovative ideas to help out were shared at our meeting. People discussed what skills they had, and what they could bring. We talked about the source of the problems, the demographics and “felt needs” of the community. We came up with awesome solutions.

  • We could help with simple car maintenance for single moms.
  • We could help give people a hand with moving
  • We could put on a health clinic
  • We can give people rides
  • We can give away our used clothes and furniture.

All great suggestions – now the question changed. Where should we begin? Continue reading

The fatal flaw to understanding another culture

A few years ago I was in India and I met a travel writer for Outdoor magazine. We chatted about life, travel, writing. I was a little jealous of his life and work. I had overheard him talking to an Indian guy about his wife and so I asked about his family. He told me that he wasn’t actually married, but in Indian culture it made sense to refer to his partner as wife.

Indian Women with Headscarves

I understood why he did so. I was also there with my wife Supriya, although at the time she was my girlfriend. We had gone for a walk in Pune one night, we held hands and, looking for a place to buy water, made our way into a roadside pub. Almost immediately Supriya’s cousin Biyah appeared to ask why we were there? It seems we had violated a number of unspoken cultural taboos. Continue reading