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Deep in the Sahara, listening to “Feelings”

Perhaps it’s a sign of ambivalence about Development that one periodically wants to flee the most developed places and go to the least developed place on earth.

One candidate for the latter is the Sahara desert in southwest Libya, around the Akakus mountains. The few local inhabitants are the Tuareg, with apparently very traditional ways (including great courtesy and hospitality). Bread baked in the sand with hot coals. On foot from one place to the next, with navigators who follow unknown traditional methods, who never get lost. Going six days and five nights without electricity, without roads, without water except for drinking (yes, that DOES imply no bathing for six days).

Hours and days without seeing another human being. The never-altered beauty of dunes and mountains and pitch-black nights under the stars.

Ancient paintings of giraffes on the rocks that date from 8000 BC when the Sahara was still green, before the failure of the 5000 BC International Summit on Climate Change.

Of course, the forces of globalization are not stopped that easily. The Tuareg guide wears Nike sneakers. Toyota 4WD Land Cruisers can bring even the least mobile tourists to see the rock art. And one guide has brought along a tape of Western pop music played over and over again at camp every night, including the official Worst Pop Song of all time mentioned in the title.

It’s still good to get away from Development on occasion, but you can never completely get away.  Indeed, don’t forget about all the planes and automobiles and a thousand other products, services, and communications technologies that make a trek in SW Libya possible. It’s only Development that makes it possible to get away from Development.

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  1. T Adkins wrote:

    No snarkiness here…maybe just a bit of trip-envy.

    Amazing how the the navigators can just make a ‘turn’ in the middle of nowhere and somehow end up exactly where you wanted to be. While out in the Eritrea-Sudan no-man’s land, our Beja friend and navigator could take the Toyota across miles of scrubland, at night, and then land us right at the gate of the next village.

    Just to keep the comment development related: As we were building a water catchment basin in one of the Eritrean villages, the school teacher, with all courtesy and kindness, says, “You know, we really don’t need foreigners coming in doing stuff for us, we just need to acquire the knowledge so that we can do it for ourselves”.

    Posted January 13, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  2. Vivek Nemana wrote:

    It kills me every time you make one of your aid summit jokes.

    Posted January 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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