I once wrote about meeting a man who lived in Malawi, who said, whatever you do, do not go to the Western World when you travel long term.
I now understand why. You can go to Europe any time you want. It’s Western culture. You don’t have to gesticulate to make your point, there are no one-armed beggar children, you don’t have to poop in a hole in the ground — you may see five hundred year old paintings, and ancient town squares, and have a great time, but it’s not eye-opening. You can go to Paris on your honeymoon, with your grand kids when you’re older. But while young, it’s important to take advantage.
There’s something to be said for traveling to places where the signs are in non-Latinate characters, where you don’t know anyone, not even how to say ‘hello.’ There’s something to be said for going to the armpit of the world, not to have fun, or rage with mushrooms and ecstasy, but to see how people live and understand how you’re the same.
I write like I know. But when I get to the mouth of the Ganges in a few months and write firsthand about the women washing their clothes just downriver from the funeral pyres burning, then I’ll really be able to write you a story.