I met Graham Askey in the Why Not Hostel in Tbilisi Georgia in 2013. His type of travel intrigued me and he is a man I have a great deal of respect for. He avoids the obvious backpacking scene and gets to the heart of alternative destinations, some of which are torn apart by war or poverty. Graham’s stories from Africa are fascinating and he shares his tales on Inside Other Places. I also recently included Graham on my post on backpacking to Agdam in Nagorno Karabakh as Graham gave me some tips ahead of my trip there.
Who are you?
I am a former builder who has decided that there are better things in life than working for a living and before I get too old and decrepit it would be nice to get a better understanding of life in other places, particularly regions where the culture is markedly different to our own. Because of this I have developed a love for traipsing around squalid third world dictatorships and dysfunctional authoritarian regimes.
Where are you from?
Where have you been?
About 65 countries, predominantly Europe, Africa, Central and Southern Asia.
Where are you now?
Back home for a few weeks to give my friends the impression I still love them despite having been away for fourteen months and am itching to get going again.
I find it difficult to rank places which each offer, often totally different experiences but
– Bangladesh for its incredible friendliness;
– after which it’s a toss up between Tajikistan or the Sahara Desert for the scenery prize. No coincidence that they are all Muslim countries, where a culture of welcome for strangers is engrained into life and religion.
Comparing wildly differing experiences is problematic, how can I choose between: dancing on a rooftop to illegal Iranian pop music in the city of Bam, looking out at the moonlit ruins of the city destroyed by an earthquake; the majestic, icy beauty of the mountains crossing the Pamir Highway or that blow job in a cheap hotel in the Ivory Coast. All equally wonderdful but utterly distinct. If obliged to choose it would be the opportunity I had to do something genuinely decent for someone else. I made friends with a young man in Benin, West Africa, who later explained that he really wanted to go to the Ivory Coast to search for his mother and sister who he and two siblings had been separated from at the age of eight, when his ill father had to return home to Benin and then died. However he had neither the time or money to undertake such an adventure. So I promised to do what I could and several weeks later I found myself in a small Ivorian town putting up posters with his family details asking if anyone had any information. After three days and accompanied by a helpful tribal chief I followed up a lead to a little village at the end of a long dirt track where we found his uncle, aunt and grandmother and I was able to put my friend in touch with his mother. If I can be proud of one thing in my life it is that I had managed to reunite a family who had been separated for eighteen years and in all likelihood would have remained so. The blow job was just the icing on the cake. The experience taught me that we can use our relative wealth to help people in ways far more important than simply giving money.
The most recent one that springs to mind was waiting with a Bengali friend outside a community centre in Chittagong in Bangladesh to meet a guy we had talked to on the train and we were enthusiastically ushered in to the wedding that was going on and fed a sumptuous banquet, after which we discovered we were at entirely the wrong venue and had no connection with the wedding. When we finally got to the right place, where there was also a wedding going on and our acquaintance was the drummer in the band. Unencumbered by anything resembling talent I hit the dancefloor only to discover that my demented gyrations rocked the party big style and everyone went ballistic in response.
I have been fortunate enough to not get into any totally pant soiling situations and I have a defense mechanism which often leaves me slightly unnerved when I probably ought to be more scared, however Bujumbura (the capital of Burundi) was particularly dodgy at night as even the night club bouncers carry AK47’s. As for Goma in the Congo I didnt even risk staying the night. The standards of driving around much of the world are the scariest thing, I’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been on the wrong side of the road with some other vehicle hurtling towards us, while the driver is chatting on his mobile. One particularly memorable journey on a bus in Georgia we overtook an ambulance that had its lights flashing, racing to get to an accident, as it was deemed to be going too slow – we raced past the accident long before the ambulance got there.
An hour before my Rwandan friend’s wedding in Kigali I learnt I was to be a joint best man in the traditional ceremony.
In the past I have worked and saved like most people but now I rent out my house to pay for it.
A couple of months in Ukraine and the Balkans before studying Arabic for a bit in Egypt and then traveling around the parts of the Arab world that aren’t shooting at each other or being bombed by us.
Graham Askey http://insideotherplaces.com (follow via Facebook, email etc from blog website)
Thanks to Graham for being the latest in my series of World Travellers! If you travel the world and run a travel blog or are a travel writer, please get in touch, you can be featured (there’s a slight waiting list at present), either e-mail jonny (at) dontstopliving (dot) net or head to my contacts page and get connected! You can also subscribe to Don’t Stop Living by filling in the form below! Safe travels!