the world beyond our radar


A few things in the last 12 hours have reminded me how little I know, or at least how what I know is mediated by the media I chose to utilize / consume.

1. This morning, in the ‘boarding-to-seatbelt-light-off period’, I read last week’s Economist feature on Africa. Fascinating. I had no real appreciation of the development progress that has occurred on the poorest continent. My work with various international development agencies has not really helped, as most discussions I’ve had tend to relate to ongoing need rather than progress. My stereotypical image of Africa continues to be informed by last centuries headlines: famine and dictators. Yes, war and hunger are a long way from being banished but I was struck by the hope expressed in the correspondent’s report after having travelled 25,000kms by surface transport around the continent.

2. The trigger for this post: we just flew over Gladstone. We urbanites know there is a mining boom happening. But from the vantage point of an inner city café it is a long way away. The future of the real Australia is defined by left leaning hipsters. Then you see 40+ freighters anchored off the port and you begin to wonder. The regulars in the airport lounges in QLD are not suits of the south, but the boots and safety jackets of the FIFOs. You can know it in your head but even a sniff of the reality is confronting.

3. And then on the ABC News last night I see a project I am closer to, but still reminds me of how small my world is. The Boardroom where I spend much of my time in PNG (with some of my work in the background) is the backdrop for an interview with a researcher who has just conducted exploration along the Hindenburg Wall. This is an amazing landscape which includes 50kms of vertical cliff face up to 1km high, deep in Western PNG. It reportedly has eight times the bio diversity of the already incredibly diverse PNG wilderness. Giants rats and mini wallabies are among new species discovered, alongside plants and the largest butterflies in the world. Exotic is an understatement.

I think about this and it reminds me how much we stunt our thinking because we consume ideas with which we already agree, or we diet on knowledge that simply extends rather than challenges. It’s a natural thing and ‘expertise’ depends on it, but there is no excuse in this information age for not expanding the reach of what we appreciate about the world; whether that is the stories associated with others (Africa), the corners of the economy that are pretty much out of sight (where are all those ships going?) or the natural world in all its wonder and beauty (The Hindenburg Wall).

We have finite time to soak in the wonderful world in which we live. Let’s live expansive lives that continually extend the domains of our experience.

travelling and learning


This blog has been brewing slowly. I posted it yesterday here, but it fits on this site too. What are we doing here in remote Morocco? Is it worth the expense in time and money and the cost of being away from family and business? Is it not bourgeois luxury this phenomena of travel?

Allow me a little latitude as I try to articulate some thoughts in response to these questions. I’ve been thinking about how travel helps us ‘learn’ really important stuff. I’m not talking about learning as the memorising of a fact, but the ability to adjust, to be agile. Learning, in this sense, is about equipping ourselves with an expanding repertoire of insights, tools, etc from which to interpret and respond what we encounter in everyday life.

Becoming more rooted, more deeply competent in existing sets of insights, or ‘polishing our current repertoire’ if you like, while immensely worthwhile, is not learning in the sense that I am using it here. If a person fails to learn (life skills) they become stuck in childlike ways of behaving through adolescence, or adolescent ways of behaving as young adults etc. Learning is about the capacity to live appropriately and effectively in the fluid circumstances of life.

It is about expanding our toolkit of insights, frameworks etc, so as to be better equipped to live well. If we fail to expand our insight toolkit, and simply become more deeply competent in existing knowledge, we become a parody of ourselves.

It’s an oldy but a goody, but it is rarely possible to learn within our comfort zone. Learning requires a new experience, one that forces us to process things differently. Grief or ill heath for example are great teachers. In fact the best teachers are often experiences we might class as negative. I recall sitting toward the back of a church many years ago listening to a young enthusiastic preacher wax lyrical. At the conclusion, my wise older friend beside me said, “he’ll be good once he’s suffered a bit’.

Intentional learning is about choosing to put ourselves in places where existing responses will not suffice. Getting out of our comfort zone.

So Morocco for us was and is about choosing to challenge our view of what life is like. Watching a NatGeo Adventure show about Berber cuisine is not the same as engaging an artisan in the Fes medina in ‘conversation’, a medina which remains effectively unchanged since the middle ages. Driving through the Riff and Atlas mountains where sweeping valleys are completely devoid of trees other than olive groves, messes with the notion of countryside.

And as any traveller will attest, the challenge of language is also real. We’re never certain what will arrive at the table when we order food … we feel like such doofesses being monolingual.

Of course, one does not need to travel halfway around the globe to learn. But when travel is the go, choosing  a place that expands one’s repertoire makes sense from a learners perspective. And as I wrote about in the 3rd day, being in one place long enough to slow down and just be, is also critically important. Tours rarely offer real learning opportunities from what we’ve seen, if learning means seeking to see the world from an alternative perspective.

None of this means other motivations for travel are not fantastic and valuable. Indeed we have indulged ourselves and our yurting lifestyle of the last few years hardly expands our repertoire except in a single direction.

As I write I am sitting beside Maria and Johanna on the sundrenched rooftop of a riad in Fes, with our bellies full of breakfast. Hardly a challenging environment, and yet the sounds, smells and related lifestyles and beliefs of the community in which we are living this week offer a relentless invitation to think about the simple yet important questions of what matters in life.