I was lured to Myanmar by tales of a countryside littered with Buddhist pagodas and vermilion-clad monks going about their daily alms. But, like many Westerners before me, I struggled over the fact my tourist dollars could go to an oppressive government that bans citizens from using web-based email and forbids them from talking to foreigners about politics. On the other hand, my visit allows me to mingle with people who are otherwise isolated from the outside world, giving them a glimpse of life beyond their country’s borders.
Travel writer Pico Iyer (my new crush!) says it beautifully in his essay, “Why We Travel”: “…we carry values and beliefs and news to the places we go, and in many parts of the world, we become walking video screens and living newspapers, the only channels that can take people out of the censored limits of their homelands. In closed or impoverished places, like Pagan or Lhasa or Havana, we are the eyes and ears of the people we meet, their only contact with the world outside and, very often, the closest, quite literally, they will ever come to Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton. Not the least of the challenges of travel, therefore, is learning how to import -- and export -- dreams with tenderness.” Amen!