Flying Home After 13 Countries, 21 Cities, in 38 Days

Category: Weekly Columns

Modern Abu Dhabi

                                  All photos in this column by Bruce Sallan

I am sitting on a full flight, flying home from Johannesburg, South Africa to Atlanta, Georgia on the world’s longest non-stop flight at 17 hours, give or take. We have to go through Customs in Atlanta and then another flight to Los Angeles and my adventure will be over. I just finished watching “Rush,” the movie about the Formula One racing rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda. It was powerful, but the baby won: the baby that has been crying for much of this flight.

Workers in Dubai

We went from Dubai in the UAE to Johannesburg in South Africa. We went from the richest of the rich in Dubai and Abu Dhabi to the poorest of the poor in Mumbai and Gao, India. We went from Lamborghini’s and Ferrari’s to dung heaps, surrounded by took-tooks (the three-wheeled ubiquitous taxis all over much of India and Africa) and carts laden with rotting fruits, vegetables, or buckets of water – open to the air – being pulled by very tired and thin men. They looked 60 or older, but were likely much younger.

We went from drinking and dining on the roof of the Raffles Hotel in Dubai, overlooking the world’s tallest building – the Burj al Arab – to drinking and snacking with the setting sun on the Phinda Game Reserve, two hours drive from Richards Bay, South Africa. Along the drive to Phinda, we passed homes without electricity or running water and outhouses shared by several families.

Poverty in Africa

We left home from a country where the life span is soon expected to reach 100 to countries where the life span has declined from 48 to 44. We went from a country that is wrestling with health-care reform but still has among the best health-care and living standards in the world to countries that are still losing tens of thousands of their people to AIDS. All over Africa, we saw dispensers in bathrooms offering free condoms. All over bathrooms at home, we see dispensers selling flavored ones.

Birth control and Aids Prevention in Africa

The reason I chose to write this column while in transit home is simple. I am truly in the moment and overwhelmed. I was fascinated by everything I experienced, from the horror of the poverty to the wizardry of the future planned for Abu Dhabi.

Poor woman in India

Yesterday, we visited Soweto in Johannesburg and saw where much of the Apartheid resistance began and eventually succeeded. We saw the site where – JUST 37 years ago, 600 students were horrifically slaughtered protesting at a school. And, we visited the museum that honors Hector Peterson, who was the first victim on that horrid day.

One window in that museum revealed the perspective of the Afrikaans’ police as they viewed the gathering students and made their assault plans. You could still see the abject poverty throughout Soweto from there, but my imagination was more stirred by the black and white photos, that mirrored that window, of young white police, decked out in riot gear and carrying rifles and tear-gas grenade- launchers. The photos reminded me of KKK assemblies from the Civil Rights Era in the United States.

Old man in India

In 1996, South Africa ended Apartheid and adopted a brand-new Constitution. The progress in the short time since is remarkable but the overall sense of despair and corruption still pervades the atmosphere.

Yet, as I write this column, I am sitting next to a 19-year-old Naledi, a black woman on her way to the United States on a student exchange program. She glows with excitement and expressed no personal memories of those horrible times. She has optimism for the future of South Africa and, ironically, is studying political science.


When I expressed some of the things I’d learned about the risks and fears that still encompass South Africa and all of Africa as the future beckons, she agreed with all of those pessimistic possibilities. Yet, she is optimistic that “The Miracle” that brought forth the end of Apartheid and the renewal of South Africa will continue.

Our guide to Soweto yesterday told me – matter-of-factly – about when he was a seven-year-old boy and one of eight children, how the white police beat his father to death. His father committed the crime of having an anti-apartheid pamphlet in his possession. The police came, herded the children and his mother into their matchbook house (as they are called), and proceeded to murder this father of eight.


Our guide is the father of a 3-year-old boy. He has been with his son’s mother for many years. He said he can’t marry her until he has enough money. Continuing centuries-old tradition, he has already paid her family money upon the birth of his son because they weren’t married. But he needs more money to marry her in lieu of the dowry-cows that the Zulu and other tribes customarily required upon marriage. In the meantime they both live near one another, in Soweto, with their respective families.

Kago, the taxi driver who took us to the airport and so articulately discussed the future of her country, and all the people I met throughout the trip moderated the otherwise bleak feeling it was impossible to escape and feel deep inside. Teaching the kids visiting the Taj Mahal to “Gimme Five” and the joy on their faces as I went down the line of them doing just that was what I’ll take away from this trip.

Poor child in Madagascar

The human spirit is truly indomitable. My trip was about the people. They lifted me up at the same time as their circumstances saddened me. Yes, I saw incredible wild animals and even met Hugh Jackman at one of our safari stops, but it was Thogo, Abiat, Vijay, Naledi, Kago, and all the children that made the journey for me.

Women in Africa

  • Christy Garrett

    Thank you for sharing your trip, I love seeing other countries and how they live. I know that we are spoiled in American and are considered rich according to other country standards.

    • Bruce Sallan

      You are welcome @christygarrett:disqus – we are the richest AND best country – overall – in human history.

  • ginavalley

    Great photos!

    It is amazing how our perspective and attitude is changed as we spend time with people from other cultures.

    I’ll never forget what a woman visiting us from Uganda told me. I asked her what was the most striking to her about our very different worlds. She said that the most mind boggling thing to her was our pets. She told me that they didn’t have pets where she lived. The way we treat and care for our pets as though they are people was laughable and a bit disturbing to this woman who had struggled to find enough food for her children. Gave me, and continues to give me, great pause.

    You are right on target about it all being about people. Perhaps I would add that it’s perhaps all about how all people have such similar needs, no matter their circumstances.

    • Bruce Sallan

      @ginavalley:disqus – so true and you ain’t seen nuttin’ yet (as far as photos). You can see some of the 56 videos I’ve made so far on my video page here:

      My biggest memory like yours with the Ugandan woman was about refugees from Africa that came to Israel. They didn’t understand all the soaps. Why soaps for dishes, a different soap for your hair, your hands, your car, your clothes, etc. Think about it – they had ONE soap for everything!

  • David W.

    One of your best columns ever. Well done!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Coming from you, Professor, that is high praise indeed – TYVM

  • Lisa Ladrido

    What a wonderful trip! Thank you for sharing a piece of it with us. The photos are amazing. I can’t wait to read more in the weeks/months to come!

    • Bruce Sallan

      Oh, there’ll be tons more @lisaladrido:disqus – 61 of 62 videos are here on my YouTube channel:

  • Dan Dad Does

    Sounds like an incredible trip. How different would this country be if every person was required to go on a trip like this? Just to see different cultures, different worlds. Love the photos of the kids, always so interesting to see children from different cultures. We are different in some ways, but at a core level – really the same. Kids love to play are curious…I could go on and on…but just a great column.

    Can I also just say, with so much meaningless stuff floating through FB and all the social media sites (much of it done by me) it is great to read a thoughtful piece about an incredible experience!

    • Bruce Sallan

      I couldn’t agree more @daddoes:disqus that a trip like this or ANY meaningful experience with hardship and struggle would be so helpful for EVERYONE, especially many of our spoiled kids! And, thanks so much for your kind words – this literally wrote itself!

  • Pamela Morse

    You captured some excellent images Bruce. I can’t believe you went on such an ambitious trip. I used to travel a lot, but this was a true travel marathon. Welcome back and expect some heavy culture shock..

    • Bruce Sallan

      @pamelamorse:disqus – “Culture Shock” is an understatement! It’s been two weeks and I’m still a bit out of whack and my wife is still (literally) rocking…

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  • It was so long journey and I hope you enjoy it so much. We are very lucky that you share your felleings with us and I think such kind of experience help us to travel.