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Missed Part 1 of my Q&A with Gringo Trails director Pegi Vail? Read it here.

AA: The section on Timbuktu, Mali dealt more with the power structures and privilege inherent in travel rather than environmental impact. The woman interviewed finds the Malian landscape beautiful but her local guides disagree because the land offers no practical purpose. She mentions that she had nothing to offer local people; she just always wanted to see Timbuktu. Her experience forced her to think about her ability and desire to travel for traveling’s sake. My wanderlust has guided me plenty of places. I don’t see anything wrong with her behavior as it was presented in the film. Can (or should) we make allowances for honest curiosity in a discussion about travel’s impact on culture? (This may or may not be code for “Please make me feel better about my somewhat compulsive traveling.”)

PV: I share the same wanderlust! I think traveling is among the best ways we can all get to know one another around the world and be more aware of, respect, and enjoy both our similarities and differences. Especially as a young person just setting out— discovery and curiosity drive our journeys, as they should! I encourage travel as early as possible and as much as possible.

AA: All things considered, which countries are promoting tourism correctly?

PV: I don’t think there is any one country who can do it all and there are so many countries with locations in them that are really working to control/manage tourism in a sustainable fashion. Even in Thailand, long visited and featured in our film as a cautionary tale in terms of Haad Rin beach on Koh Pha Ngan Island, has many great locations. I love Thailand! Now that they’ve had over three decades to see the transformations brought on by tourism, they can better plan for the future.

Thirty years ago, no one could have anticipated such rapid growth with the rise of what I’ve been calling “tourism globalization.” Individuals like Potjana Suansri and her group Responsible Ecological Social Tours (REST) for example, work with fishing villages and hill tribes to consider what to expect from a tourism influx. They do this by asking community members what they want out of tourism experience early on, before it’s out of control, and to strategize how they will embrace and manage tourism once it grows. Many new initiatives like these have been and are flourishing.

International action, Bolivia, and Looking ahead

AA: Do you suggest international action of some sort to address the rapid change caused by the tourism sector? For example, an initiative of the United Nations World Travel Organization?

PV: Look at the role of UNESCO in preserving cultural heritage, or the creation of national parks in protecting the environment (and hence culture). These regulations have made a tremendous difference. However, any international action should be truly inclusive of a diversity of voices from around the world versus any top-down approach.

There are also awards that celebrate sustainable travel and best practices in tourism through rigorous on-site evaluations, including the exciting, newly launched World Legacy Awards, a collaboration between National Geographic and ITB Berlin [world’s largest tourism trade fair] or the Tourism for Tomorrow Awards established by the World Travel Tourism Council. The UN WTO, as you mentioned, has long provided major research studies on locations, as well.

Salt Desert in Uyuni, Bolivia

AA: The salt flats in Bolivia have been on my bucket list for quite some time. After watching the film, I am now aware of how the landscape is changing… but I still want to go (I know, horrible, but honest). What should the conscious traveler do? Are there places that should just be off limits, at least for a bit of time to allow recovery?

PV: Online you can find out what the best, sustainably conscious companies are doing right now in the salt flats and elsewhere. It’s such a beautiful destination but everyone takes the same route. See which companies are by passing that path and doing things differently to lighten the load on places, including Incahuasi Island. The same can be said for elsewhere.

For a slight splurge (from US$88 for single/double to US$129 for quadruple per night, depending on time of year), there is a remote eco-lodge hotel in a remote village within the salt desert that incorporates sustainable practices, where the community also has a stake in the development of tourism. It’s called Tayka: Ecological Community Hotels. They have other locations in Bolivia as well.

AA: The film focuses on “Western” travelers but the growing middle class in Asia, Latin America and Africa means travel is an option for more people than ever before. The tourism industry will only grow. What do you think a “Gringo Trails 2” look like?

PV: Interesting you should ask now! Gringo Trails is about opening the conversation. We’re in development on a trans-media, online platform that addresses that very question. It will be collaborative in nature and travelers will be able to participate while on-the-road. Look for our launch soon on


Gringo Trails is an official selection of the 6th annual Environmental Film Festival at Yale. The film will be screened on April 6 at 1:30pm. The event is free and open to the public.

You can watch the film at Media Arts Center San Diego on April 19, 20, 22, & 23.

For more information on future screenings and the transmedia platform in the works, sign up for email updates here.

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I know, I know. Yet another “First Kiss” parody. But it might be only one you need.

To make sure we’re all on the same page: The original First Kiss clip brought twenty strangers together and asked them to kiss. Friends from around the world shared it on Facebook saying it restored their faith in humanity, was poignant, life-affirming, etc. etc. etc. And they weren’t the only ones. The Internet was beside itself. So far, the video has a staggering 74,244,401 views.

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I wasn’t convinced. First of all, how are 20 strangers ALL un-offensively attractive? Secondly, for New York City, this was quite a… monochromatic, if you will, selection of “strangers.” Turns out it was a clothing ad and everyone was a paid actor or model. Viewers were crushed. Their disappointment aside, it’s both the least and most successful ad ever because after watching, I still don’t know what clothes I’m supposed to buy.

This was begging for a parody. Thankfully, my good friend from college, Ashley Denise of Nuanse Entertainment, agreed. Actually MANY folks agree. This was our take. We hope you enjoy it.


You can follow Nuanse Entertainment on Twitter at @nuanseent. Want more? Subscribe to the YouTube channel. Good stuff awaits, including the director’s cut and the webseries “Anthology.”

If you liked what you saw, you can follow the cast and crew on Twitter. Check the About section of the YouTube clip for their handles.

And of course, please Like, Share, Tweet, Pin, etc. Thanks!

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Well then.

This drawing by the artist Shoteka (Sveta Shatekova) has lit up Russia’s popular social networking site VK. Doesn’t take much to see the symbolism of a mama bear shielding her bear cub from an aggressive eagle and flipping the bird (ha, just saw what I did there) in the process. If you still don’t know who is representing who (really?), there are flags to help. According to Shoteka’s profile, the image has well over 100,000 likes and she’s understandably excited. Full disclosure: I do not read Russian. I used context clues and exclamation points. And then I realized I could use Google Translate (imperfect I realize).

Her status when she shared her artwork: “All day long puzzled over what to draw. Here’s what happened … Hold on Ukraine, Russia with you. We will not give you this white-headed chicken.”

Meanwhile, on this side of the Bering Strait, social media has exhausted all “Crimea River” jokes.

A tale of two social media reactions? Not quite. According to a Russian friend of mine, there are also funny Russian memes about the Crimea crisis that would be lost on a non-Russian speaker. That being said, I haven’t seen the reverse equivalent of Shoteka’s work created in the U.S. Maybe blame the “ambivalent millennials” but it appears this issue does not inspire meme generators to produce an artistic representation of “America F*ck Yeah” (for good historical reason). However if you have seen a meme of a white-headed chicken clawing out a bear’s eyes or something of the sort, do let me know. Happy to be corrected.

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My op-ed “Africa Sees Lazy Headlines- And Should Call Them Out in 2014″ was originally posted in The Huffington Post in January 2014. The result: the creation of the #AfricaSees hashtag and a Twitter-based media watchdog group that calls out lazy and incomplete coverage of the continent. In light of the current, I, Too, Am [Insert Higher Ed Establishment Here] campaigns at Harvard, Oxford and other schools, I’ve re-tooled the title. The good news on the continent, too, is news- and worthy of being covered by more than just African-focused media outlets.

UPDATE: I learned as I was posting this that the BBC’s Komla Dumor has died. Considering what you’re about to read, this is a great loss.

I was doing my daily news reading when I came across the headline, “Africa sees violent, deadly start to 2014.” … Deep sigh. I clicked in spite of myself. The article detailed the conflicts in Central African Republic, Congo, Kenya, Somalia, and South Sudan. Now these conflicts are tragic but five countries do not a continent make. Did the whole Africa see a “violent, deadly start to 2014” or did five countries in Africa see that? Unfortunately because this is an Associated Press story, many outlets (including this one) picked it up. How is this still a legitimate headline in 2014? I was going to comment on each article (I was that annoyed) but then I figured wait- why not a Twitter hashtag instead? I’ve been both inspired and amused over the past few months by what some call “BlackTwitter.” Perhaps it is time for the pan-African version to respond.

Here’s my idea: Tweet at the Associated Press using #AfricaSees. You can use photos of the sights rarely seen (i.e. not babies and animals), links to positive news stories not often told or often buried, or my personal favorites, sarcasm, wit, and humor- and judging by the trending topic #AfricanNationsInHighSchool, there’s plenty of that to go around. Tweet using #AfricaSees at the outlets and authors of the other shortsighted headlines to come this year that describe “Africa” yet don’t reflect the different truths that exist in a continent home to over fifty countries. For those of you in the Arabic, Lusophone, and Francophone sets, translate and spread the word.

Consider this: would North America’s start ever be judged as crazy or criminal by the first week of 2014 in Florida? If you want to judge a continent by a country within it, your best bet is Australia- but even that is a bad idea. I’ll let others who are more qualified explain the conflicts going on. I’ll let others delve further into how inaccurate this headline is. I’m here to say that this headline is worse; it is lazy. If you don’t know how “lazy” could be worse than “inaccurate,” then you haven’t been raised by African parents.

Why does this matter in a golden age of web media spaces for Africans by Africans or Africanists? Unfortunately the coverage that these African-focused outlets provide are rarely picked up -like this AP “Big Story” was- by the Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Kansas City Star, The Denver Post, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Sacramento Bee, the Huffington Post (where I first saw it); the list goes on and on. African-minded outlets do a great job of preaching to the choir and some outside it. Many of us who have been to the continent in the past few years have seen the progress made and journey ahead. We already know about the new music, the stirring films and literature, and the stunning fashion that the rest of the world is getting more hip to, and in some cases is wasting no time in appropriating.

This type of reporting will not change unless we demand accountability. I’m not saying don’t report on conflicts. That would be irresponsible. I’m not saying focus on journalists and forget about holding elected (or not so elected) leaders accountable. That would be foolish. I am saying don’t report on conflicts under the guise of telling me what is happening in all of Africa. I am saying exercise caution when picking up an article that says “Africa” in the headline, especially if you have barely there Africa section to fill.

The article later uses the term “sub-Saharan Africa.” While one could argue that is better, five countries do not even a sub-Saharan Africa make. There was no comparably violent, deadly start in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, or Rwanda but the headline wasn’t “Africa sees a peaceful, stable start to 2014,” was it? Is it easier to use “Africa” in a headline? Of course. The word uses fewer characters; I get it. That being said, this laziness is what continues to perpetuate a single (incomplete) narrative. #AfricaSees and demands better.


To escape lazy headlines, try the following (and this list is by no means complete): Africa Is a Country, Think Africa Press, The Africa Report, Another Africa, Africa.Com, Applause Africa, OkayAfrica, Arise, How We Made It In Africa, African Business Magazine, Ms.Afropolitan, Naked Chiefs. French: Jeune Afrique, RFI, Terangaweb. Portuguese: Africa 21, Macauhub, RTP Africa. In Arabic, French, Portuguese and English: Panapress. See photography at How I View Africa and Everyday Africa. Merci/Obrigada to Luci, Joanna, and Hannane for the Franco/Lusophone leads.

Below are photos I took during my time in Mombasa and Addis Ababa in 2011.

Addis Ascendant Injera and wot Yankee fandom in Ethiopia A taxi in Meskel (Church) Square city meets country, Addis a crowd watches a car rally in Dukem, just outside the capital South Beach, Mombasa local architecture Monday morning in Mombasa Coca-Cola sponsorship in Kenya
a crowd watches a car rally in Dukem, just outside the capital

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I’m the first one to admit that I’m a city girl. Born in NYC and raised just outside DC. But for whatever reason I’ve wanted to go to Iowa since I was a kid. Not really sure why, just the same instinct I suppose that led me to China, Nicaragua, Spain and other places. My first foray into the Midwest* as an adult was a memorable one. Looking forward to sharing.

* A good friend from Ohio just told me Iowa doesn’t count as the Midwest- only Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Wisconsin do apparently. The “MIIOW” as he put it. My East Coast ignorance/privilege is showing. Apparently I have a lot to learn. Or he’s wrong. That’s also possible.