Thursday, August 24, 2006

Random (and Very Personal) Observations and Some Tips for Operating in "Developing" Countries

I admit the title of this post is awkward. The following observations and some tips are based on recent experience (meaning early 1990s to the present day) traveling in what some might still call the Third World, some call "the Gap", and some call "developing countries". The last thing I want to do is lump all this countries into one big pile. Each country (and each region within each country) is unique. I might narrow down my focus to particular areas in the future, but for now (partly due to OPSEC) I want to stay way from mentioning specific countries. My observations are based on "official business" and vacation trips, informal interviews with colleagues and some perspective that comes from growing up outside of the US. For the most part, these are not hard and fast rules and variations apply depending to where you go. These observations apply to areas where there is no actual combat, but where warfare is never far in terms of time and space.

FX-Note: One of my favorite activities is scuba diving. When you dive, you always need to keep in mind that you are operating in a foreign and potentially hostile environment. Look at yourself: you are clumsily swimming wearing fifty pounds worth of gear while all the fish are swimming freely and without gear. You and your other human buddies are the only ones that need air tanks down there and you are vastly outnumbered by the fish, other sealife and, possibly, sharks. No matter how fast you can swin, you can't outswim a shark. He will get to you. The shark has been there since he was born and will probably die in the ocean. You are there for only a few minutes and you probably don't want to die there. Most sealife will not attack humans if you treat them with respect. Don't poke sticks at the fish and they probably won't bite you. Sharks are usually loners and very independent creatures, but once they smell blood in the water, they will all go after the blood together as if they have been planning the attack for years.

FX-Note: If possible have an "undercover interpreter", a trusted guy in your group who knows the language but fakes ignorance of the language. He might be useful in letting you know of any inconsistent translations if you don't really know your guide that well. Also, he might get a chance to listen to the locals speaking among themselves thinking that nobody knows what they are saying. What they say among temselves might be vastly different from what they are telling you.

Other stuff:

Excellent post. You should repost it at SWC.

Thanks for the compliment. It might do that, even though it might look like undue self-promotion.
Wow Sonny. Quite a load of useful advice. Well, when I read all that, actually I'm lucky I won't need it - except the first paragraph maybe. Going to Scotland next week. Anyway, I keep it in mind - just in case.
I added Sonny's post to the SWC - before reading the comments. I'd say great minds think alike but...

Sonny - good stuff.


Have fun in Scotland.


Thanks for the link back in the SWC. I know there's a lot of different experiences out there. It would be great to read about some of them while keeping in mind that there are security concerns that sometimes prevent us from telling the whole story. Also, as you know, it's not all doom and gloom out in the frontier, there's always humor, and hope, even under the worst situations.
Great post, more than a few of these observations was reaffirmed on the ground in Thailand the past few days.
Very sound advice.

I know you're coming from a military perspective, but your points read seemlessly from the point of aid and emergency workers. In fact, quite a few American tourists in _any_ country would benefit from your counsel.

CF Ellmaker
Peace Corps Volunteer (Morocco)
CD, American Refugee Committee (Malawi/Mozambique)
CD, Center for Victims of Torture (Guinea/Sierra Leone)
Fascinating, Captain.

Now how's about some new posting?

Hope you're doing well,

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