The Traveler’s Dilemma

BY Lisa Lindblad

April 4, 2011

I was 21 when I went to live in Maasailand, an anthropology student, and thoroughly grounded in the 19th century classic fieldwork training of anthropologist as a neutral observer.  I failed on that score instantly, but not without many hours of soul searching and deep conversation about the moral responsibility of a visitor to the local, often needy community, in which he finds himself.  In Maasailand, I made the choice to bring in human and veterinary medicines for my neighbors knowing that, when I left, they would slip back in to their former lives of scarcity.

It was a heartbreaking dilemma, yet it is one that faces all travelers who dip in and out of rural, poor, culturally diverse communities around the world.  The question of how involved to become applies not just to human beings, of course, but to animals as well.

Today, I leave my house in the village of Garzon for my home in New York.  Every time I come to Garzon some charming, big personality creature sneaks its way in to my heart.  This time it was a small, gray, voiceless cat – six months at most – who arrived and sat patiently at my door.  I decided to feed her and, by week’s end, the wound on her head had healed, her belly was nicely rounded, and she enjoyed the stroking and attention I gave her.  I reasoned that, well fed, she could rejoin the dog eat dog world of Garzon better equipped to make it through the coming winter.

My sister, who loves animals as much as I do, had a young black and white cat appear at her gate.  Sleeker and already sybaritic, they called her Precious.  But Annie would not feed her, not because she has a hard heart, but because she couldn’t bear to set Precious up for the inevitable letdown when Precious would find them gone.

The deep answer, of course, is to work to make sure that all people and animals are cared for.  But while we do that, travelers are still left with the dilemma of how involved to become and the heartbreak that follows.

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John Derian Goes West