Submitted photo##John Francis and Caye Poe riding an elephant in India during one of their many world travels.
Submitted photo##John Francis and Caye Poe riding an elephant in India during one of their many world travels.
Submitted photo##John and Caye during a vacation to Egypt.
Submitted photo##John and Caye during a vacation to Egypt.

Traveling with benevolence

My wife, Caye, and I like to travel, mainly to less developed countries where we encounter memorable situations:

* We saw a Maasai herdsman with his cattle on grassland in Tanzania “Ah! Timeless Africa!” we thought. As we watched, he reached into his traditional red robe and pulled out a cell phone.

Guest Writer

John Francis is a retired video producer living in Dayton with his wife, Caye Poe. They are active in civic affairs, as well as being outdoors enthusiasts.

* I was teaching middle-schoolers in India how to use a video camera. How about videoing your school football team? I suggested helpfully. “No, no!” they shouted. “We’re going to do The Matrix!” Soon they were videoing each other jumping off walls and racing down school corridors, much to the annoyance of teachers. (Their movie turned out to be pretty good, too.)

* We watched two lionesses lazing on a dirt road, ignoring our car, suddenly jump up, chase and kill an unlucky warthog who was passing in the brush.

* A friend in Thailand who spoke little English invited us to visit “animal hospital.” We expected dogs and cats, but instead found elephants.

* We were at the edge of Tahrir Square in Cairo a month after riots there forced the president to resign. A peaceful demonstration with crowds and flags materialized from a side street. Caye started taking photos. A policeman across the street began shouting at her: “No pictures! No pictures!” Caye cupped one hand behind an ear and shouted back “What? No Eengleesh!” surreptitiously continuing to snap photos with her other hand. The cop threw up his hands and walked away.



If you have the time, volunteer teaching is a great way to experience a country. Caye and I volunteered as teachers at a private school in southern India. We found ourselves exploring a whole new world. We befriended delightful people, explored ornate temples, rode elephants and encountered cows that would casually butt you off the sidewalk if you were in their way

Try church, or charity schools of some sort, not anything official. If you have a specific skill, great. A school will often create a class to use it. Otherwise, the fact you’re a native English speaker makes you attractive in less developed countries.

A few hints: There are thousands of sites on the Web. Ignore those asking for money to place you. Don’t expect to be paid, but you’ll probably get free or cheap lodging and food. And being a volunteer, you can leave anytime if you don’t like the place.

A couple of good websites for teaching abroad are at the end of this article.



Only have two weeks but want an offbeat vacation? Check nearby service clubs, such as Rotary or Lions. They often run annual projects. For instance, a local Rotary club makes an annual medical visit to villages in Guatemala. You need not be a dentist or doctor; these projects need lay people as well.

Churches, too, often have projects. Caye and I took part in a Dayton church’s project helping a church in Mexico build a schoolroom. It was fascinating to live, eat and talk (haltingly) with the villagers for 10 days. All the villagers worked with us. A few of the Dayton people were experienced amateur builders and showed the rest of us what to do.



You might consider developing a project of your own. We did, and it has worked out well.

A few years ago, Caye and I heard a talk by a Salem doctor who had recently returned from Africa. Women in many rural villages had no way out of poverty, he said. Sewing machines would be a great help, as the women could make clothes both for their families and to sell.

Caye likes sewing and seized the idea immediately. We would take sewing machines to some rural village in Africa and help women set up a sewing center, she decided.

And we did it. Twice, actually, and we’re planning another.

After much searching, we found a school in rural Madagascar run by a Canadian woman with support from many churches. A Dundee woman donated the money for six manual machines, as there was no electricity.

We stayed six weeks. The children were lively, and the teachers and mothers who used the machines, along with some of the teenage students, were keen and grateful.

The next year, we heard about a Portland woman who had opened a small orphanage in rural Tanzania. It had a craft center and could definitely use our sewing machines.

We flew there with six machines. We each had a large suitcase with two machines, and a second suitcase with one plus clothing.

The orphanage was in Maasai country in central Tanzania and we had the chance to see elephants, zebras and lions.

One amusing incident: a man parked his car at a national park office and got out without rolling up his window. Some baboons were watching, and as soon as the man was away from the car, one of the baboons leaped through the window and tossed out the man’s lunch and groceries, which other baboons seized and carried away.



A much less complex way to travel is with travel clubs. Our favorite is Friendship Force. Members of one club will visit two or three other clubs on one trip, staying in the homes of members.

There are some 360 FF clubs around the world, 95 in the U.S. including one in the Salem/Albany, and another in Portland/Vancouver.

Caye and I signed up for a three- club visit by our Salem club to clubs in Tokyo, Taiwan and Thailand. Staying in the homes of people from different culture who share your love of travel was wonderful. Mr. Okada, our Tokyo host, took us for short strolls around the city while his wife and sister prepared elaborate meals of unfamiliar dishes, including different kinds of seaweed. Each day we joined our fellow club members for trips arranged by the host club.

We belong to a couple more traditional travel clubs as well. With these clubs you aren’t part of a group but just connect with a member who lives at your destination.

Our favorite: Affordable Travel Club. Our flight home from Madagascar included a plane change in Paris. We contacted an ATC family and stayed with them in Paris for five days, at almost no cost.

The same happened when we returned from Tanzania. We changed planes in Amsterdam and stayed there five days with a charming Dutch couple.



We’re cheapskates. In March, 2011, a newspaper story reported how the Egyptian tourist industry had “collapsed” because of the riots overturning the government. Prices have been cut drastically to lure tourists, it said.

Two weeks later, we’re on a plane to Cairo, with a small Egyptian tour company from Seattle.

The Egyptians were proud of their revolution and marketed it enthusiastically. They took us immediately to Tahrir Square, the heart of the Arab Spring revolution. We walked over pieces of broken pavement that had been thrown at police, and we looked into burned government buildings. And, of course, vendors had stacks of Revolution and Arab Spring t-shirts.

Egypt was actually better than normal for tourists. The tombs and ruins were uncrowded. Normally, you’re jammed shoulder to shoulder.

Egypt confirmed what we already knew: don’t be unduly fearful. We learned it in Mexico in 2004. We were traveling around southern Mexico in local buses and stopped for a few days in the beautiful state of Chiapas. We found tourists from Germany, Italy and Britain, but no Americans. “The Americans are afraid to come to Chiapas because of the Zapatistas,” a guide explained. The Zapatistas had fought the Mexican government in Chiapas some years earlier. The only evidence of them we saw was Zapatista dolls in the drugstores.

We’re sure readers could add many more travel ideas. The main thing: Travel any way that suits you, and don’t be bound by convention.



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