cultural idioms

Cultural Idioms – Every Culture has Something to Say

No matter where you travel around the planet, every community, culture and country has insider language. These are the cultural idioms that every traveller needs to learn if they want to sound like someone “who knows the score”

So as a traveller if you want to “hit it out of the park” then all you need to do is “buckle down” and “put your nose to the grindstone” for the task ahead. Are you the “one in a million” who can understand each one of these cultural idioms. “Don’t pass the buck” give it a shot and see if you can ace this test!

Here is a great list

check out all the various world idioms  – see how many you can get from the list

Cultural idioms fade and bloom

Wherever there are human beings who talk to one another, we form poetic and short-form language. It is easier to say “we made it by the skin of our teeth” and not going into a long explanation about traffic backup. Our idioms sound normal to us, but to a visitor, they sound foreign and sometimes a little crazy … After all, what kind of teeth would have skin on them?

If you are working hard to be a polyglot, you need to excel at language. It sure helps if you listen to and learn the local idioms.


Did I miss any of your particular favourites?

Where should I donate

Where Should I Donate? Ask a Charity these 5 questions

After Black Friday, Grey Cup Sunday, and Cyber Monday comes the latest and greatest day, Giving Tuesday is a way to rebel against commercialism and greed. It is also the time when charities ask you to help out. Unless you are under a rock, it probably means that someone has recently asked you for a donation. Are you asking yourself  "Where should I donate?"


There are plenty of good options: Are you supporting socks for the homeless, christmas gifts for kids, or are you buying a goat for someone on the other side of the world?


How do you choose where to give?

There are thousands of charities, most of which you havent heard about.  You can probably ignore those. Don't try and sift through too many options.

Simply focus on what is in front of you.



Where should I donate

Once you have narrowed it down from the thousands of charities you need to think about what you want to support, it helps to ask these 5 questions:


1. What difference are they trying to make?  

Any charity should be able to answer this question in a single tweet.

If they don't know then don't feel obligated to help


2. How do they do it?

There are many ways to do something.

Do you like how they choose to work and are their activities all directed to the same goal?


3. How does the charity keep score? 

What do they use to measure their success? Are they making a difference and how do they know?


4. Where are the stories?

Everything sounds great in planning, but what does it look like in reality.

Vague plans are not as helpful as real stories from real people.


5. How much do they spend on overhead?

Be careful here.

 Too much is terrible, but too little might be worse! All great organizations hire great people, they can't work for free or their families starve. Rather than asking "how much overhead" ask "what is the impact".  That helps you decide if the overhead is worth it.


So who will you support?

Around here we are interested in the work of New Hope Schools Society. The plan for smokeless stoves in Haiti is simple and will change the #1 killer for kids under 5.  

[find out more about NHSS] or  [donate to NHSS]


Wherever you are tomorrow, plan to make a donation. Use the 5 questions and put your money into something great. Be Awesome! Make a difference!


Happy Giving Tuesday!

Where are you inspired to give?

Harry Potters Mom Hates Orphanages

I hear that J K Rowling is upset about orphan tourism. She started a tweet battle and let everyone know that we need to stop seeing orphans as a person you should go travel to hold. She has a point. There are terrible things that are done to orphans both in magical make believe worlds and more importantly in the real world we share

Rowling tweeted: “Globally, poverty is the no. 1 reason that children are institutionalised. Well-intentioned Westerners supporting orphanages…perpetuates this highly damaging system and encourages the creation of more institutions as money magnets,”

She is taking a stand – and it is a good one. She has a certain perspective –  a good perspective … but her good intentions might hurt more than they help.


Here is the problem

Her opposition to an outsiders sweeping generalities because of good intentions for the care of children is (wait for it) sweeping generalities by JK Rowlings good intentions as an outsider.

(It could be ironic that I probably just stated a sweeping generalization about the good intentions of JK Rowling …)

Again – I think she is right.  Institutionalization of children is a practice we have basically stopped in the developed world, why do we import this practice internationally?


Opposition doesn’t change much

The problem I have with her tweet is the focus on demonizing the very people who are most interested in solving the problem.

Complaining that well-intentioned westerners who support orphanages is the major source of the problem is wrong. It is too easy to pick on someone who at least is trying. A lot easier to play quarterback from the couch

Everyone loves to talk about how they would do it if they were in charge, but few take charge.

By blaming and focusing on well-intentioned westerners, she re-inforced the stereotype that nothing works and we should just get everyone out of the development business as quickly as possible.

Another conversation about orphan tourism is possible

What if we didn’t just focus on the good intentions of people involved in orphan tourism?

What about focusing on badly intentioned westerners who take resources from nations that need them desperately

Or more importantly

What about focusing attention on oblivious and uninterested westerners who have no idea that the very resources that power their cell phones are part of a globally unequal trade. That some places on the planet are unliveable for the people who were unfortunate enough to be born there.


Try this instead

Asking hard questions to the people who are trying and suggesting we should pause before we start a project to help.

That’s good.

If you blame people who are trying, and tell them how they are doing a terrible job long enough, eventually those people might just decide it’s not worth it. They give up.

That’s terrible.

I think JK’s tweet is a challenge to the idealistic who make mistakes (huge ones!). But to much of a challenge is discouraging. I would rather push hard to encourage better engagement.

Let’s joyously lead people who want to hug orphans and show them to engage in much more informed ways.

There are better ways – Even for Harry’s Mom.


Mark Crocker


What development 2.0 models should we celebrate more often?

I knew people would be upset, but you will NEVER guess what made people mad.

Last week I started up a war. I wrote a controversial post about the country of Africa and said that due to bad press because of the Ebola media hoopla, I was going to share some “lesser known facts” so people could understand the ‘real Africa’. I wrote a blog post. A lot of people complained when I said Africa is a country. It struck a nerve.

The Country of Africa

So why did I say that Africa is a country when I knew it was not true? It was all a joke of course. I know that Africa is an ancient city-state stretched along an enormous archipelago of 15 large and hundreds of smaller islands just off the western coast of India. For reference purposes, I have included a quick sketch of that fabled land (not to scale):

Africa is a country
A map of the Country of Africa

Why did I write the post? I had some noble reasons: I wanted to break stereotypes, stop the ‘poor African’ storyline, and to share a conversation with a wide audience, the same conversation I have shared with plenty of Africans  over the years.

I also wrote the article to have a little fun and I figured more people might read it.

There was a method to the madness, but if I am honest, it wasn’t until I saw the comments on Facebook or Twitter that I really understood what I had written. In the middle of the backlash one small niggling fact really stuck out for me. I learned a lot from it.



First of all, if you missed it, go read it and then come back here. I can wait.

In my post I tried to give plenty of cues that I was writing satire. I kept repeating that Africa is a country, and then wrote something else equally silly. Most caught the hints. If you were just skim-reading you may have missed what I was trying to say. Here are the clues I tried to leave:

  • I gave my article a sensational over-the-top title like the headlines that flood my Facebook stream.
  • I made sure that every single sentence I wrote was ridiculous or wrong, or both.
  • I made up absurd facts. Some were so crazy I thought that I had gone too far.
  • I used the most condescending language I could think of
  • I made up senseless quotes from imaginary people.
  • Each of my links in the post actually told the exact opposite story.
  • I kept the ruse going. I played an arrogant jerk or a clueless idiot in my Facebook responses when people reacted.
The Country of Africa
“up to your usual jackassery”

Africa is a Country: The reaction

I got a lot of confusing “WTF!?!” type responses. A number of people tried to correct my uninformed facts. But I must say that I was personally surprised by one little thing. Most people would only scold me about the error of my title. Again and again I was told:

“Africa is a continent, not a country!”

I was surprised that with all the dumb things I said about Africa, people were mostly concerned about my geography. They ignored the bigger picture. No one questioned my condescending tone about the needy people in Africa waiting for a brave hero from the west. People were fine with the thought that volunteers should go to Africa to hold babies and give away stuff. Or that an African’s favourite sport was war. No one challenged those statements.


I am not sure, but I have suspicions. Most people got the joke of course (many Africans loved it!). But for others I wonder if it has a lot to do with how we have grown up thinking about Africa, or maybe it is about reverse racism where we elevate people unrealistically. I don’t know. All I know is that I am sure glad I wrote the article. I loved the reactions! It has definitely given me some ideas for future posts!

Enough serious reflection. Back to the funny!

One of my favourite recent videos comes from a  group of students in Norway. SAIH has made some hilarious videos about this way of thinking. Do yourself a favour and please watch this genius clip! Maybe Africa is a country you can visit to save a child?

Other videos from SAIH are here on their Radi-Aid page. They are so brilliant that the only fault I can find is that I jealously wish I could have made them.

Know any other great videos like this? Share the link-love and post them in the comments below!

Mark Crocker 

5 things that you might think taste like chicken but really don’t 

“Tastes like chicken” – thats what people say when they try something new. In my travel I have eaten plenty of unusual stuff – much of which certainly does not taste like chicken!

One of the best and worst things about travel is eating all kinds of strange and wonderful new things. Once you get off of the plane and away from the abomination that is airplane “food”. I try to eat local.

Nothing gives your tastebuds a workout quite like local cuisine. My favourite is the roadside stall. Since I do this a lot, I have a quick internal checklist I follow to make sure I find the best place the first time. Usually a flavour-filled portion of something exotic and tasty! Read through for my hints on how to eat well!

In the meantime, here are 5 things I have eaten while travelling that definitely do not taste like chicken:

5. crocodile

This was on the menu at Carnivores Restaurant in Kenya, a great restaurant if you are ever nearby. Crocodile comes roasted on a sword-like skewer, you fill your plate with as much as you like, as well as Zebra, Impala and a few other local animals. A lot of people say that crocodile tastes like chicken – I disagree. I think croc tastes like something half-way between a fish and chicken, with a rubbery texture like squid. Not sure if that sounds appetizing or not, but I would eat it again.

4. emu biltong

Biltong is basically South African beef jerky. An emu, like a chicken, is also a flightless bird but thats where the comparison ends. An Emu is huge like an ostrich and is a red meat. It tastes a lot wilder. Like venison. Perfect for those long hikes through the African bush when you are tracking game

3. pigs ears

I ate them in China at a special Szechuan restaurant. Fish heads, green spicy peppers that numb the mouth, heaps of dry red chilies, and pigs ears. I am not sure why this fancy restaurant was serving pigs ears but I dug in with my chopsticks, took a bite, then surprised my hosts when I went back for more. i would compare the taste of Pigs ears to the tendon in a big delicious bowl of Vietnamese Pho. If you haven’t tried Pho you are missing out on one of the best meals on the planet.

2. caterpillars

I had heard that Zambians ate caterpillars and I was curious. I was staying overnight at a Zambians home and asked what they were like.  Luckily they had some in the cupboard!  The next thing I know is that the frying pan was out and caterpillars were popping in the hot grease.  The verdict? Delicious! Seriously you should try them if you ever have the opportunity. They tasted like a mixture of popcorn and peanuts. I can see them taking over the menu at hockey games.

1. chicken

I was in South Africa and the cook came out with some beautiful pieces of fried chicken. It looked great crispy, big pieces, juicy and hot. I took a bite and there was a sudden strange disconnection. I looked a little more closely, I thought this was chicken, but it sure tasted like fish. But what fish has a drumstick? It was only later that I found out that this chicken was raised on fish meal. A very strange combination and I must admit not one I wish to try again. The chicken tasted exactly like crocodile.

How to eat well when traveling to non-tourist destinations:

So if you stuck around through my 5 meals that don’t taste like chicken, here is my quick guide to getting great eats:
  1. Find the place that looks the busiest by locals.
  2. Ignore the place with the English sign in places that does not normally speak English
  3. Sit down elbow to elbow with a crowd on a rusty bench
  4. Look around you at the good looking things that other people are eating.
  5. Order one of those
  6. You will eat well, you won’t pay much money.
  7. Even if you don’t like it (rare) you won’t pay much money, so try something else!
  8. You may not want to ask for a translation of what you just ate

Share the exotic meal you ate that definitely didn’t taste like chicken?

9 simple hacks to speed your way through airport security

We stand like cattle, shuffling forward, penned in by keepers in blue blazers, turn and turn again, awaiting the next stop.

Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kris Krug via Compfight cc

As I walked towards the departures gate I saw a long line and a short line. The short line had the Global Entry logo and I knew my Nexus card would get me through. My moment of happiness turned bitter as the security guard pointed to the TSA pre clearance logo.

Confused? So was I.

Anyways the guard at the line certainly wasn’t letting me through.

I returned to my line-up and my novel. Everyone needs a book when they travel. The line shuffled a step forward. After twenty long minutes of snaking back and forth I heard an urgent voice over my shoulder.

“Excuse me. I’m late. Do you mind if I cut in front?”

He looked frantic. I let him pass. No big deal. Everyone else in line agreed with a few quiet grumbles “why didn’t he get here early like the rest of us?” He reached the head of the line. At that moment the gate agent, who told me off a moment before, began to strut his authority. Something he clearly enjoyed.

Sir.” He shouted for all to hear. “There is a line for a reason. Come with me.”

He beckoned, and marched the man back to the beginning of the line. The man protested. Explained he had an international flight in 20 minutes. Explained how he had asked each of us for permission.


I get it

The reality is that I have been in the latecomers shoes before. Sometimes I have been late due to my own forgetfulness – it happens. More often I have been late because my connecting flight was delayed, my bag was the last off of the carousel, or I was stopped at the police roadblock. Interruptions are as normal to travel as sushi in Vancouver and traffic in Toronto

The agent stood firm in his polyester jacket and laminated badge of authority. By then the crowd in the line had heard enough. Initial grumbles turned to shouts of support for the latecomer. A few in the line mumbled comments about the moral character of the gate agents mother. Sensing an uprising the agent relented and the man walked to the front of the line once more.

I hope he made his flight, but he probably hit another line up at his gate.

Lining up like airplane cattle is tedious. Here are some clues on how to make it through a security checkpoint as fast as anyone with a million aeroplane points.


Check out the tips!


1. Get a Nexus Card.  If you live in North American you might want to give a foreign government all of your information (Canada shares with American and vice versa) in order to get the card. You will feel like a travel princess as you are escorted to the front of the line in border crossings across North America.

2. Pack Carry-on Only. People who don’t have to wait for luggage get to the next line-up earlier. I can pack enough in carry-on for just about any trip. If you have clothes for 10 days or so, you should be fine, people in other countries do laundry too. Get yours done.

3. Pick the right line. If you have a choice, choose the lineup filled with businessmen and businesswomen. They have been there before and will often move more quickly than a shorter line (especially if the shorter line has children or people wearing flip-flops and shorts).

4. Wear light shoes. They are more comfortable on the plane, probably don’t have metal in them so you can wear them through the x-ray machine, and if you have to take them off it won’t take long to put them back on.

5. Get to know your clothes. Jackets and sweaters always must be taken off so don’t wear them if you don’t have to. Some belt buckles set off the detector and others don’t – if the line up is not long, keep your belt on and see if it will pass. It will save you time in the future if it does. Don’t wear a shirt with metal buttons.

6. Keep your fluids on the outside. You know that zippered compartment at the top of your carry-on bag? That is where you should put your 100 ml containers in their clear plastic baggie. A quick zip and you have them in the tray. No need to open anything.

7. Empty pockets early. Coins, phone, wallet, earphones, and everything in your pockets can go into your carry-on while you are waiting in the line-up. Don’t put it in the bin to be spilled as trays and passengers pile up.

8. Walk through the detector and keep moving. If you did not hear a beep you don’t need to wait for the security guard with the wand. Immediately walk over to get your stuff from the x-ray machine.

9. When security picks you! Don’t worry it is probably some metal thing you have in your bag that looks a bit unusual. Tell them: 1. “Yes, this is my bag” and 2. “Yes, you have my permission to take a look inside” and 3. if you know what the thing probably is “Can I show you what I think it is?”  Spend the time they are searching putting  back on your belt, and putting stuff back in your pockets. (If they are being power-hungry you can ask them to put your bag back together as well)

Granted none of these suggestions will save you a lot of time on their own, but all together they add up. Also, when you do these things, security will recognize that you have been here before and they might even treat you like a real human being!

What secrets can you share for getting through security as fast as possible?

Mark Crocker

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)


My favourite 5 places on the planet.

I have travelled to over 45 nations and I am frequently asked “where is your favourite place? Where would I go back?

There are so many great options that I find it tough to pick just one. That is why my usual answer to the question is:

“The next place I go”

Cop out? Still true. I love the new places I get to travel. Recently I was travelling into Cambodia and Thailand, I have been to both countries before and was excited to return, although I must admit, I wished I was able to see a new place. Then the layover in Korea happened.

Photo Credit: jackieflynt via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: jackieflynt via Compfight cc

I had just gotten off the red eye, and my next flight wasn’t for another 12 hours. I was not looking forward to spending it in an airport. As I walked through the terminal I spotted a sign in English.

Free city tour.

I checked in and soon found myself joined to a tour-group sponsored by the Korean government. A whirlwind day tour of a beautiful temple, the national palace, lunch and some free time in the shopping district followed. A day, I thought might be wasted in an airport, turned into a serendipitous opportunity to visit beautiful Seoul. I hope to go back for more someday!

I love the new places I get to travel, even for a day, but I also have a few fond memories of some other locations.

Here they are:

Kabala boys - (c) Mark Crocker
Kabala boys – (c) Mark Crocker

5. Sub-Saharan Africa. I know that Africa is not a country, and the continent is highly varied with a huge number of tribes and peoples, but I find it almost impossible to pick just one place. I have favourite memories of my visits to a local Zambian home. Playing floor hockey in Malawi. Visiting South Africa as apartheid was beginning to be dismantled. Meeting the statuesque Turkana people in northern Kenya. Gazing over the endless hills of Rwanda. And driving the mountain roads through the tea plantations in DR Congo. Each experience is unique, tremendously different from one another, and yet a common thread runs through. Once you are in the village, the language and staple food may change, but the beat of life follows the same African drum.

This is a life-giving rhythm.

Newfoundland Dory - (c) Mark Crocker
Newfoundland Dory – (c) Mark Crocker

4. The table-lands near Trout River, Newfoundland. Rock and Water: my favourite scenery is always some combination of the two. Maybe it is in the genes of every Newfoundlander? The wash of water over rock is visually stunning. The table lands are a geological anomaly in the area where my fathers family grew up. When he was a kid, there wasn’t a road in or out, you got around by boat. My grandfather knew this place as he carried the mail by dogsled through the gulch. That same gulch eased now by the highway into some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet. Few travel there. It is easier and cheaper to go to Europe. But you will not find a friendlier people to visit.

This is home.

Roadside in Morocco - (c) Mark Crocker
Roadside in Morocco – (c) Mark Crocker

3. At a roadside stall. I love street food. I know it is deadly dangerous and all, but all the same, I love it. I remember BBQ oysters steamed with a healthy heap of garlic while sitting with friends in an alleyway in China, banana pancakes and mama noodle stirfry in Thailand, sitting on rusty benches in the market eating plates of shrimp and rice in Cambodia, deep fried mars bars in the winter chill of Scotland, grocery store bread and cheese while watching the pope at the Vatican, plate lunches of truly massive portions in Hawaii. Each meal, simple, local, cheap and most important deliciously memorable.

This is satisfaction.

Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc

2. Spain. Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral and the warrens of small cafés in Barcelona. Learning how to eat tapas and going back for another helping of boiled octopus. Desert landscape punctuated by ancient communities along the Camino de Santiago. Renting a car and finding our way to that small town where John and I got lost for hours but eventually wound up at a bullfight – still the most stunning and surreal thing I have seen in my life.

This is exuberance and joy.

Elbow Falls (c) Mark Crocker
Elbow Falls (c) Mark Crocker

1. Kananaskis, Alberta. Travel down highway 8 off of the trans-Canada just 25 minutes from Calgary and you enter into some if the most spectacular scenery in the world. High alpine lakes, stark mountains studded by ranks of lodge pole pine. The wind whistles through the canyons and you could hike for hours without seeing another person. Banff and Lake Louise are just down the road and they are amazing, but locals go to Kananaskis.

This is peace

So, next time you ask, I may have a new destination in mind, but what do you think of my five favourite places on the planet at the moment? More importantly, where should I go next?

What’s your favourite place?

Mark Crocker

Don’t choose who to help

An entire village has been burned to ground due to war. You have been working in the region for a few years and have only found two trustworthy families. They work with you and help out whenever you are in the area.

The situation is desperate, but you have a big problem. You have some resources to help people out, but you only have enough to help 5 of the 50 village families, who do you choose to assist?










This is a normal decision I face whenever I am involved in a sustainable development project overseas. Who do you choose? My answer: (more…)

How a pile of compost taught this man’s wife how to write her name

I drove into the southern mountains of Haiti in the back of a Toyota Landcruiser, the vehicle used by most relief agencies. The sideways bench seats, as uncomfortable as they always are, still perfect for bringing us up into the hills. We arrived in Duchity, where over a few days with our partners from pcH we met with many farmers.

compost equals literary
The people in these hills have farmed forever. As outsiders, we were there to support their vision for two major goals.

1. Increased production, also known in less technical terms as “growing more food” – which means more to eat and more to sell.

2. The creation of a co-op. In nerdy MBA or development speak it’s called “improving the value chain”. Co-ops allow people to buy seed in bulk, share tools to reduce costs, and ship product in larger quantities.

The question was “did it work”?


Say Hello - Creole

How to say Hello in Creole

I am on my way to my 5th visit to Haiti and I am totally embarrassed to say that I don’t know how to say ‘hello’ in Creole.

Seriously. How lame is that?


I know how to say ‘bonjour’ of course, and knowing a bit of French can get me by. But in Haiti, the majority of people speak Haitian. A patois, partially French, partially local and all Haitian.

I have good reason as to why I don’t know how to say hello in Haitian. I travel to many different countries in my work. Much of my work is seminar style. I am in and out quickly. I don’t stay long in one place. Over the last couple of years alone it would have helped if I could speak French, Spanish, Filipino, Japanese and Swahili. I can’t learn them all!

Sounds convincing right?

The problem is that I can always find a good excuse not to learn some of the language. In doing so, I join myself to a special group of international workers. A group I am not proud to belong to.

Around the world I have met long term workers who have lived in their countries for years, occasionally decades, and they still don’t know the language. This, they assure me, is not a problem. There are plenty of local people who want to learn English. Translators are cheap. They have systems in place and look at what they are accomplishing. Ultimately, they tell me, they are too busy with their successful projects to stop and learn the language.

Still sound convincing?

I wonder, isn’t there more to life than accomplishing tasks and getting projects done. What about your evenings and weekends? Who do you hang out with then? Other expats only? The few who speak your language? Is this simply all about accomplishing tasks and getting projects done?

Knowing another language is more than understanding the code for your own language. It is a way to understand the soul of a community. Something different happens when you chat after the meeting. When you can walk through the community and discover your neighbours concern for their son. The grandfather who is ill. When you can come back on the weekend and hear what happened that week.

When Supriya and I travelled to Newfoundland soon after our marriage I found myself in the role of an interpreter. As the kitchen party went on later into the evening, my uncles grabbed guitars and sang the old songs, the stories of our history were trotted out again “Pops cup” gets told and retold, growing every time.

The dialect grew broader as the speech clipped along faster and faster. Stories evoked gales of laughter that I needed to interpret to Supriya as she was forced to smile and nod.

It was a lot more than than translating a few words. The language was the culture. The culture is the language. I need to be able to say hello, I know better.

By the way, “bonjou” is how you say hello in Creole.

Do you think learning the language matters that much?

Mark Crocker


Propaganda goes both ways

Very interesting video about propaganda.  It takes the idea of propaganda and uses it against itself.



Click MORE for the rest of the story …


Aid worker, survivor or journalist?

Bibles for Haiti
There are many tensions in Aid work – a significant source of tension is the desire to help the most affected in the best possible way as soon as possible. This tension will frequently test our resolve to great practice.

You may have the appetite for aid work, but do you have the stomach for it?

check out this interactive game representing the disaster in Haiti to examine your own capacity!

how poor is poor

How Poor is Poor? Comparing personal wealth

How poor is poor? It is a tough question to answer. Does it come down to an amount in a bank account or something else? I think that a meal I had in Sendai, Japan helped me understand what it means to have enough wealth to make a choice

I like to eat out. I love the variety of options. The ingredients I don’t normally stock in my kitchen. When it is time to head out, like lunch today I always ask the same question. “What do I feel like?” If I am in a new city with a friend, the question changes slightly, “what are my options?” That was the case when I was in Japan – I ate a tonne of great sushi, fantastic udon and katsu dishes, and of course some excellent beef tongue.

Tongue is not my normal ‘go-to’ meal, but I was in Sendai reviewing some of our work by ERDO and my host wanted to show me something special – in Sendai that is cow tongue.


Quite tasty – although I wasn’t sure who was tasting who!


This choice of mine is pretty incredible. Living in Canada, I can find and afford almost any type of good food I can imagine! It made me wonder about this word “options”


What if there were no options?

That is a pretty good definition of poverty. Being poor is not so much about a $ amount as it is about the ability (or inability) to make a choice.

Think about it for a minute. What are you able to choose regarding …

  • your next meal?
  • your career?
  • your home?
  • your childs school?
  • your footwear?
  • your sense of style?
  • your vacation?
  • the colour of your car?

I wonder if it is in these options, that we find out how poor is poor. It is in the differences in the ability to make a choice that wealth and poverty are defined.


Levels of wealth:

There are many ways to define our wealth – we can compare bank balances, or perhaps we can compare what kind of choices our finances will allow us to make.



Many parts of the world has not reached this level.

This is a precarious place, a flood or hurricane, a long cold spell or lack of rain can turn a year deadly. Of course, like all good neighbours, others will help, but the majority of the people who live around you are at the same spot, so they too are affected by what affects you. If you are in trouble, chances are good they are in trouble too.

If you do not need to choose one child over another for education or tonights meal, congratulations – you have reached the first level of wealth!


The next level is MARGIN – you have access to support, medical care in an emergency.

If a flood comes and you lose your house, you have opportunity to access support


Future orientation:

The next tier to reach is to provide more for your children than for yourself.

You can think beyond a day, week or even a month ahead.  You can begin to think about the next generation.  Your child can be fed AND go to school.



The next level of wealth is one where you can provide a certain level of COMFORT, you can buy that luxury item – a tv, a personal car, a shelf of books!

Your resources go beyond basic needs.



Next we come to PREFERENCES. not only can you buy comfort, you can buy with a degree of personal choice in mind.

That used car you want can be either silver or red.

When you buy some entertainment, you choose between that game or this other book. Here you are able to choose what you wish.


Is the level of wealth where you can buy items out of bored choice.

You can make purchases  or donations on a whim.

If you spend money in a casual way, you will not miss it at all.


Where do you fit? and what do you feel like for lunch?

Mark Crocker

This beautiful woman has AIDS

When I think of HIV and AIDS the last image I normally associate with the disease is beauty, but this video turns that idea upside down.

Have you ever met a person with HIV or AIDS?

Mark Crocker

How to skip travellers diarrhea

Dukoral … I just took my first dose.  This is supposed to help prevent all kinds of intestinal parasitic problems, I hope so.  I leave for DRCongo again in about 10 days and I sure don’t want a repeat of my last flight home!

This time I head to Uvira, into a remote area.  I have been at the back end of nowhere the last few times, but Uvira is supposed to be really, really out there. In Congo I am usually in Bukavu, which is not on anyone’s top 10 list for travel destinations. I am really curious to see what people in Bukavu think of as remote.

Last year at this time I was in the middle of managing a $2.5 million dollar food aid project in the area. This time I am working with the people on the next steps. What do they want to do to stabilize future food security? Hopefully we will work out a project that will be a real and lasting benefit.

Hopefully the rebels don’t take it all away.

My second and last dose of Dukarol is to be taken in a week. This is also supposed to keep me safe from cholera, a water-borne disease, for three months.

I got caught by some bug on my last visit and spent an uncomfortable plane ride home in all kinds of (euphemism) ‘abdominal distress’. Contaminated water is a real concern so we are also looking at a well project in one of our project areas. It would be great to reduce illness without the need for a few thousand (expensive) Dukoral doses for the community

I will also be scouting for Mike and Amy Boomer who I am helping to the field this fall. This is a double-duty role for me – I will train and facilitate them through our Mid-Termer Process at STMN (check it out and I am also their project manager for They are a great couple and are inspiring many others to support them, check out their blog at (UPDATE: Wezesha project) maybe they will inspire you to head overseas – let me know, I will be able to help

What do you do to protect yourself when you travel?

Mark Crocker

Haiti Rubble and Rebuilding

Haiti RubbleDateline  Haiti. Feb 7, 2010 We have just completed four days of in country assessment for ERDO’s response to the crisis in Haiti.  We spent considerable time with PAOC’s global workers, Michel and Louise, Bob and Tammy.

Michel drove us through the heart of downtown Haiti.  We were left reeling by the complete destruction.  CNN images only supply a small slice of the reality.  Through the busyness of our documenting, observing, and evaluation; we stopped in the realization that people lived here, died here and still remain under the concrete.  We paused for a moment.  A child’s photograph lay on top of the rubble outside of a broken prison wall.  A Christmas tree, white with dust, lay wedged under the weight of two floors collapse.


Isn’t it time that the poor gave something to you?

I  recently heard this story from some friends of mine.  Jayme and her husband Lynn work in Southern Africa with HIV/AIDS orphans.  I find their story inspiring at the best of times, but this story shares a really valuable insight about how we need to receive from the poorest of the poor.

Lynn and Jayme Chotowetz
Lynn and Jayme Chotowetz

There are so many reasons why you cannot volunteer overseas – it costs a lot of money and time,  it will interfere with your career path, relationships and family – these are true.  But there are also reasons why we can.

Which choice wins? Whichever reason you listen to

Here is Jayme’s story:

We were asked to stand in a line, still, eyes shut. He told us there might be people putting things on us—dressing us—but we weren’t allowed to move, weren’t allowed to say anything.

Little did I know how hard this request to stand still, stand still and just receive, would be.

He told us that no matter what we must accept what they were going to give to us. We must accept it so that they can receive their blessing.

An amazing 3 days lead up to this point. A group of Canadians, mostly newly graduated doctors—some of the most highly educated people in the world—together with a group of volunteers from a slum in Zambia—some too poor to pay the $6 a year to send their child to primary school. Two groups thrown together by God, serving each other, learning from each other, freely giving and freely receiving.

It was the last night of this 3 day event together when James made this request of us, this small request: to stand still and receive.

Eyes closed, we heard singing, yelping, shuffling of feet, and when we opened our eyes they were standing in a line in front of us. Smiling widely, James started speaking again. He told us that they had talked about what they wanted to give us to show us their gratitude. This expression of gratefulness was a surprise in itself, they were the ones walking the hard miles every day in their communities, visiting the desperate, trying to encourage the broken, building a school and road to the school and gardens for the kids, and… They were the selfless ones that had taught us so much about loving our neighbor. And now they had decided to give again, from what they had.

They came forward and started dressing us.

Gertrude came towards me, took off her own Zambian cloth wrap and wrapped it around me. Then she took off her head scarf, and dressed me in it. Loveness followed her and gave me her shirt…it just kept coming. It was overwhelming I thought, too overwhelming… and then came the dress. Loveness who had just taken the shirt off her back, Loveness, a mother of 5, with no income, spending all her time and energy cooking for orphans in her community.

Loveness, who had the sincerest smile. She came to know love through this community program. She had turned her life around. Kicked out of her rented one room because she could no longer afford the rent after falling ill, almost to the point of death. Loveness made her living as a prostitute. She was found by James and Sukai through her starving and desperate children. Now she is not only healthy, she is beaming because of the love inside of her. Now she spends her days cooking for other vulnerable children. It is hard work with no credit. She said to me once that if she was doing this for man, she would have given up a long time ago, but she does this for God. I could tell by the smile on her face and the light in her eyes that she wasn’t just saying it—Loveness.

This was the Loveness standing in front of me now pulling purple silk out of the package tied around her waist. And with the most genuine smile and a special light in her eyes

like it was Christmas or something and she got the best gift of all

… she pulled this beautiful silk dress over my head. Could this be the most precious thing that she owned?

I felt like some one had just spilled the most expensive perfume on me. I will spend my life trying to give as much as she gave me that night.

Follow Jayme and Lynn Chotowetz (as I do) at

Mark Crocker

Blood River. Book Review

I just returned from a trip to the DR Congo and Kenya a few days ago. While in the airport I picked up the book ‘Blood River’ by Tim Butcher. This is an account of his trip across Congo following in the footsteps of Stanley (of ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume’ fame) This is a great book to describe the terrible and incredible history of one of Africa’s richest and poorest nations. I recognized many of the places in the narrative, and even wondered if some of the people he was referring to, are people that I also know … In any case, definitely recommended reading for anyone interested in Congo

Start Using Your Head

Today was market day, so everyone was out in full force.  The merchants and craftsmen carried their finished products along the long roads.  A carpenter walked along with the carefully balanced wooden framework for the couch on his head.

African heads, protected by a twist of cloth, are used to carry almost anything you can imagine.  They balance the large plastic water cans to and from home, children are often the ones sent running down to the well, to slowly and carefully picking their way home along the roadside, yellow jerry cans balanced high.  For everyone else, the black plastic bag full of the days shopping, countless bundles of firewood, long long lengths of lumber and bamboo, an unopened umbrella ready for the rain, ruddy woven baskets, trays of tiny fish, each sway perfectly balanced, atop men and women as they walk the red dust. The most unusual and incredible things can be carried on top of your head! (more…)