I stood at the spot of the murders

During this time of national mourning in Rwanda, I have listened to more of the stories of incredible pain, survival and forgiveness from the victims and the perpetrators of the 100 days of horror. I was there, I saw the sites. I remember again.


I have been to to many genocide sites, My first international trip from the UK to the Ukraine where we stopped in Poland at Auschwitz  “Work Makes Free” written in bold lies across the gates. Inside the discarded glasses, children’s toys and the cloth made from the hair of the victims each told another chapter of the inhumanity.

I have kicked up the dust to find human bones in Cambodia. Years ago, When I took my wife to the killing fields for our honeymoon, I made a video about my thoughts. You can find it at this link 

I I have visited the Rwandan churches where the bloodstain from the bombs thrown through the windows (that picture above) still wait as witness. Here is the link to my blogpost after that day

I have talked to the Sierra Leone farmer who was asked if he wanted a long sleeve or a short sleeve shirt. Bewildered, he replied “long” which meant he kept his forearm as they hacked off his hand.

Never Again.  Again and Again.


5 differences between travellers and tourists – which one are you?

I don’t hear anyone saying that they want to be known as a tourist. If anything, when I find out someone has just got home from a cruise, they sometimes feel the need to explain themselves. They explain that they got away from the group every chance they got to have a ‘real local’ experience. What is a real hard-core traveller supposed to do, with travel so easy and cheap, it seems like everyone is doing it.  Don’t fret! Here are the top five tell-tale signs to separate the hard-core traveller from the cruise-line tourist:

Traveller or Tourist






 photo by Ian T. McFarland

1.  Tourists go and buy travel gear at travel stores before they leave – Travellers go and buy the more expensive travel gear at travel stores before they leave.

2. Tourists learn a few phrases of the local language before they go. Travellers explain that they could not possibly learn a few more phrases since they travel to so many other places in a year. The tourist is grateful when a traveller helps out, not with a few words in the local language, but with an iPhone app.

3. When walking down the street in a new country, tourists make eye contact with other tourists when they see one another. Travellers will pretend not to see each other.

4.  Tourists say, “Where are you going on your next vacation!”  Travellers respond with a world-weary sigh and suggest “When you travel as much as I do you don’t always know where the road may lead …”  Travellors know that eager desire to see new places is not cool – Yoda-like pronouncements are cool.

5. Travellers call themselves something funky like “expats” or “temporary nomads” – tourists call themselves ‘travellers’

What do you think? Are you a traveller or a tourist? Is the word ‘Traveller’ just a newer hipper word instead of ‘Tourist’? Got any more to add to the list?

Who Creates Dependency? The answer may surprise you.

While enroute overseas, in a hotel room late one night, I pulled this video together for a class that I was training. While the camera work (my iPhone) and the editing (none) are poor, I believe the content is helpful

A distillation of content I have been developing over the past 20 years of international travel, and more specifically over the past 10 years of Development work. I borrowed the title from a recent popular book by Corbett and Fikkert (consider the title an homage).

Session 2 of 4

The 11 people you meet in the boarding lounge.

Sitting in the boarding lounge before a trip to haiti.
We are on travel time. Not real time. A portal to elsewhere.

Flight crew saunter in and wait in the no mans land between the gate agents desk and the security doors. Flight attendants read People magazine. Captains and first officers brightly chat as they carry and ferry Starbucks to flocks of flight attendants.

Wheelchair porters stand ready. Chatting quietly with one another until it comes time to push a passenger forward. Then the appropriate charm or chill will come out according to some internal barometer of passenger patience.

Gate agents try to create order of the mass of people. Continued calls for various passengers to approach. Facing down the horde who lie in wait for the hint of upgrade. The list grows ever longer. Super elite. Elite. Sapphire. Gold. First. Business. Emergency row. Plus. Group one. The crush forward. Older annoyed passengers exclaim ‘we are all getting on the plane – no use in rushing to sit down!’

STM team members wear matching tshirts. Comic sans font proclaim team name and English scripture references. The groups resting on and around luggage piles. Members smile and chat as middle aged men share the finer points of culture or travel advice back and forth with one another as Haitians listen on.

Young Aid workers wearing jeans and fashionable scarves sit hunched over macbook pros. Older more jaded NGO workers wearing wrinkled quick dry long sleeves sit hunched over beaten-up windows machines with stickers of their aid agency stuck on the back. Both read from spreadsheets, graphs and endless email.

Black men, affable and portly in clerical collars walk by with cheap luggage. smiling at everyone and no one alike, slightly baffled at the intricacies of the airport.

Mixed race couples with children sit together even as they are casually separated by various I-devices. Familiar with the routine they amble forward at the call for business class passengers.

White women with Haitian babies held protective and close. If you catch their eye they look a little longer. Willing you to ask them a question.

Business men in blazers on cel phones. Those with Bluetooth gadgets in their ear at some point in the call announcing the fact that they are in an airport, credentials as an international traveller appropriately noted, they continue with the more banal news of collegial deadline and meeting – the gossip of the office.

The modern backpacker – Hipsters rest with their girlfriends. Sharing screens and earbuds. Carry on luggage artfully aged in vegan dyed leathers shunning the convenience of handles and wheels.

Young men dressed in dark jeans, loud t-shirts and gold chains sport bright red Beats headphones. They point at friends greeting and meeting their way along to the gate.

Then my group is called …


We are on travel time. Not real time.


I recently saw this video – it seems to be making the rounds.  While amusing, interesting and intriguing, it also makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.  How are all of the people in the video portrayed? Would you want to be portrayed and shown in this way?

Does it promote conversation and respect for the capacity of others, or just pull on heartstrings? What do you think the intent was?

love to hear what you think …

The #1 Change That Haiti Needs

I recently had lunch with a friend and we talked, as I often do, about international relief and development work.  He asked about my travel over the next year and I mentioned that I was planning another trip to Haiti in about a month. He asked, as most people do whenever I mention Haiti, “So how are things going there anyways?”

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

I have found that the unspoken question behind this question is this, “Is all of our efforts, goodwill, intentions and resources really making a difference? Are we able to change what seems like a fundamentally broken place?”

Are we making a difference?

I responded with some of the success stories, and suggested that it takes time to change social patterns, thoughts and behaviours (worldviews), blah, blah, I started to bore myself. I realized as I spoke, I knew the most critical, most difficult, #1 change in attitude that is absolutely necessary in any successful development project.

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I didn’t understand a word, but I understood everything.

Ever wonder how you could communicate with someone if you don’t speak their language? It is difficult to introduce ourselves and share our stories when we don’t speak the same language. It is also amazing just how much we can understand one another. When we enter a new culture we all start from the same place – ignorance – this can be intimidating. People who succeed internationally jump in as learners despite that awkward feeling!

Here is an interesting experiment in cross-cultural understanding. Click on this video, then turn OFF the closed captioning at the bottom of the window (click the cc button), watch the video and see what you understand what is happening without a shared language.

How will you be learning the language?

p.s. Don’t forget to rewatch the video with the cc button on as well!

Do You Want to Work in the Philippines Disaster?

After every disaster, I will often hear from people that they are interested in helping out during the disaster, many are hoping to find an agency that will pay for their trip and they will volunteer in turn. Aid agencies are usually hammered with volunteer requests when a disaster strikes.

Not all Aid Agencies work at the initial point of the disaster. Initial response efforts require trucks, airplanes, security, specialized personnel, warehousing and tonnes of commodities. Large aid agencies are first responders.

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