Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Uganda and Dubai

My wife and I took a long vacation to Uganda with a short side trip to Dubai.  In addition to the standard tourist things, we did some volunteer work with Conservation Through Public Health, a Ugandan/US non-profit that protects mountain gorillas and other wildlife by resolving conflicts with humans, particularly disease transmission and family planning issues.

CTPH is exploring a new kind of volunteer vacation experience where it utilizes the professional skills of short-term volunteers, rather than have them do the unskilled work that other volunteer vacations offer.  I highly recommend the experience to anyone who's interested.  We were the guinea pigs, so they're still working it out, and I'd be happy to talk to anyone who's interested.

As for seeing Uganda and the gorillas, I'll steal from Richard Dawkins who said of our California redwoods, "see them before you die."  Same is true with the gorillas.  It's right up there with the chance I had to see orangutans in Borneo in terms of seeing something of ourselves.  We also saw chimps in Uganda, but it's not the incredibly up-close experience that we had with the gorillas.

I've occasionally written about the Great Ape Project and how I distinguish that concept from animal-rights arguments for chickens and other unintelligent animals that I mostly disagree with.  These gorillas we saw were mountain gorillas, only 700 left in the wild, a breeding population much smaller than that, and no reproductive success in captivity.  It would be a tragedy to lose this relative, so I'm hoping for the best for the efforts of CTPH and others.

As for the rest of the tourist experience, Uganda was a great place to visit, people were extremely nice, and it doesn't have the unsafe feel of rampant crime of some other places, like the big cities in Kenya.

Dubai was a strange place, but worth a short visit.  I wonder if human mobility will mean that much of the world will be like it a century, where 90% of the residents in the country are non-citizen expatriates.  I tend to think of a country as being "for" its citizens, while expats on work visas are just in a commercial relationship with the country.  But when the expats are 90% of the people, have been there for decades, and have done at least 90% of the work of building the country, the question of who the country belongs to is a little muddled.  Anyway, if you go, check out the Sheik Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding and their "cultural breakfasts," where you can eat excellent food, hear a little about the culture, and ask the women who run the program any questions you want about life and religion in Dubai.

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