Ingo demonstrates going local with the women at the well in Dangeremou, Mauritania
I had first heard of AFAR magazine back in the fall of last year. A couple of different friends contacted me simultaneously - including Smash - with an email, subject heading: YOU'VE GOT TO CHECK THIS OUT. Nearly everyone sent simply a link with a quick note, WHY DIDN’T WE THINK OF THIS!?!? After checking out the website and finally getting my hands on a copy of the first issue of the magazine, I replied, "We did think of this. But now someone is actually doing it!"
It was bittersweet. How many times had WE sat in a tea house, by a temple, in the middle of a market, in the back of a pickup truck filled with 50 people, one ton of rice and seven goats - and discussed the same thing that AFAR founders Joe Diaz and Greg Sullivan did - experiential travel is not about a good deal on a fancy hotel or ticking sites of a "100 places to see before we die" list. It's about the journey and the journey is about the characters you meet along the way, the conversations and the unexpected encounters with people and events that cause you to think about things that you had pretty much taken for granted in an entirely different way.
A publication, a platform, a network of like-minded individuals who love spontaneous journeys, who strike up conversations with the old men in the café, who poke their noses into the hausfrau's kitchen, who opt for the local rickshaw rather than the new air-conditioned taxi, whose favorite souvenir is not a purchase but a memory.
And thus began my crush on AFAR Media and Magazine.
So when I was informed that the prize for third place in the Grantourismo monthly travel writing competition for March was a one-year subscription to AFAR - with all due respect to the other prize-givers - I felt as though I had placed first.
Living in Germany, I tend to get my English-language magazine fix when I am traveling i.e. the newstand at an international airport. I have tried to do international subscriptions and given up - frustrated by the long wait or by never seeing some issues at all - somehow lost in the mail. So when the big manila envelope arrived last week I was like a kid on Christmas. I tore it open and then put it into my satchel - preferring to wait until I had at least 60 consecutive minutes of time to really dig into it.
Reasons I Love AFAR
Having recently traveled to Guadalajara to visit my own expert in Mexican soul food, i.e. Smash, I drooled over Lygia Navarro's descriptions of taquitos de chapulines and escamole. I mean, you know you're a good food writer when people drool over your descriptions of grasshopper tacos and white ant larvae.
But more than making my stomach grumble, the article made my feet itch. Smash has always been more of the foodie in "smashandsniff" - having studied at the California Culinary Academy and worked in fine dining. But I learned to love food through travel. How much have I learned about a new culture, how many friendships solidified, while working together in the kitchen - often with a cook who spoke little to no English. My "host moms" in Mauritania critically observing as I tried in vain to slice the bean leaves as painstakingly thin as they did for my favorite dish, hakko, a mixture of greens, peanuts and spices served over millet; my landlady in Phnom Penh teaching me her family's recipe for amok, delicious fish in coconut sauce, chillies, khafir leaves and lemongrass wrapped in banana leaves while telling me about losing her husband and sons during the forced evacuation of the city under the Khmer Rouge in 1975; my good friend Horia, human rights activist, wife and mother, making kabuli pilau in her Kabul kitchen as she told me about her flight from the 1980s civil war in Afghanistan across the border into Pakistan; Khatir, an Algerian Frenchman who used to work under legendary French chef Bernard Loiseau teaching me how to do a perfect confit de canard in his slaughterhouse in Hamburg while bemoaning what he considers a lack of passion in German kitchens.
Eating is a biological necessity and the preparation and sharing of food is a language that is spoken in every culture. Taking a sincere interest in another's proud culinary traditions, techniques and history breaks down most cultural or linguistic boundaries that exist and offers a window into much more than food. At smashandsniff we like to consider ourselves "foodthropologists" and Ms. Navarro's article proved that she does too. This piece, along with the other features, "The New Face of South Africa" by Chris Smith and "Chasing Shadows" by Jeff Greenwald were so rich in their story telling - in all three cases due primarily to the fascinating characters (especially Thami Nkosi in Jo'berg and the fascinating and, as the author puts it, "wacky" individuals who chase solar eclipses) in each of these articles - which is what I love most about AFAR magazine.
Characters are again prominently featured in each of the opening sections, "See", "Connect" and "Go". I love how each of these sections is broken down: In "See", a quirky photo comparison of school lunches around the world in "Mix"; interesting and sometimes lesser known events in the "Calendar" and the detailed shorter articles in "Afar List/Where to Go Now". In the "Connect" section, an excellent profile of Bangkok resident Dtong and through him, his neighborhood; the writer assigned to a spontaneous and random destination - this time Susan Orlean went to Copenhagen in "Spin the Globe" (hey AFAR - ever thought about sending a BLOGGER on a sponaneous random journey? If so...); and the introduction to fascinating individuals living a global lifestyle in "Nomad" (coincidentally written by Sally McGrane who I know through mutual friends while we were both living San Francisco. Sally and I often compared notes on Germany - I was in love with a German and she was in love with the German capital. She waxed poetic about Berlin and was plotting her return - glad to see she made it).
In "Go", the smashandsniff personal favorite is "Feast". "Caribbean Melting Pot" features Janera Sorel, a former classmate of mine from Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs. Janera founded and runs www.janera.com, an organization that "curates global conversations" with the goal being to explore human stories behind world affairs through events that connect "gamechangers and influencers". And here she is in the AFAR "Feast" section, serving up keshi yana in her native Curacao. "Good Trips/Travel with a Purpose" is an excellent resource for travelers looking for volunteer opportunities with local and national organizations - a focus I imagine AFAR readers are especially keen on. In "Stay", the article titled, "Yurt So Good" made me laugh out loud (you can imagine, living in Germany, what kind of cringe-worthy word plays I subject readers to - they are the "wurst" hahahaha) and also made me want to call Tseren Tours to ask for more information.
Thank you Grantourismo and HomeAwayUK for my subscription to AFAR. And thank you AFAR for doing what you do.