In 2007, not needing much of a reason to travel anywhere (as I’m sure most of you can relate to), I hatched a harebrained idea: What if I looked at the tag of my favorite items of clothes and went to the countries and factories to meet the people who made them. Most people thought I was a bit off, but the folks at BootsnAll didn’t. They liked the idea. They named me to their Rogue traveler class of 2007 and agreed to host my blog.
The quest took me around the world and eventually became the subject of my book, Where am I Wearing? It’s about more than my clothes. I’ll give you a sneak preview.
Ninety-seven percent of our clothes are made overseas. Yet globalization makes it difficult to know much about the origin of the products we buy – beyond the standard "Made in" label. So I decided to visit each of the countries and the factories where my five favorite items of clothing were made, and meet the workers. I knew the basics of globalized labor – the forces, processes, economics, and politics at work. But what was lost among all those facts and numbers was an understanding of the lives, personalities, hopes, and dreams of the people who made my clothes.
In Bangladesh, I went undercover as an underwear buyer, witnessed the child labor industry in action, and spent the day with a single mother who was forced to send her eldest son to Saudi Arabia to help support the family. In Cambodia, I learned the difference between those who wear Levi’s and those who make them. In China, I saw the costs of globalization and the dark side of the Chinese economic miracle. Bouncing between two very different worlds – that of impoverished garment workers and my own Western lifestyle – I put a personal face on the controversial issues of globalization and outsourcing. Whether bowling with workers in Cambodia or riding a roller coaster with laborers in Bangladesh, I bridged the gap between impersonal economic forces and the people most directly affected by them. For anyone who wants to truly understand the real issues and the human costs of
globalization, read my book.
That’s how traveling is, isn’t it? You take off for any reason and find yourself wrapped up in a world filled with unanswerable questions, colorful characters, harsh reality, and unforgettable moments of connectedness and hope.
BootsnAll is full of such tales written by folks who love to travel, just like you and me. I’ve scoured through the Boots archives of the countries that I write about in my Where am I Wearing and selected a few gems. They’re listed below along with a short summary of what they are about and why I like them.
If you’re interested in learning more about my recent quest, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject titled “Boots Offer” and I’ll send you the first chapter.
Kelli Sullivan’s experience volunteering at a hospital in Honduras leaves her “hunched over a miniature school desk, forcing (her) head between (her) knees, focusing on breathing, hiding (her) glossy eyes, and punishing (her) weakness.”
Experiences like hers are what keep me traveling and writing. They aren’t experiences of thought taking place in the mind, but of emotion filling the gut.
Past a Bangladeshi bus with “a wild ragamuffin kid who hangs out of the door at a suicidal angle,” and around rickshaw wallahs that “heave their iron vehicles onwards, like mediaeval soldiers,” Andrew Morris takes us on a journey from Bangladesh’s capital into the countryside where “huge rivers…cut Bangladesh into ribbons.”
Andrew’s narrative, rich in description, transported me right back into the world’s most densely populated country where, like Andrew, I spent more than one night “writing under a naked light bulb speckled with insects.”
Catherine Mojsiewicz, a volunteer at the landmine museum in Siem Reap, helps clear a field with a machete for a unique game of soccer where “crutches are something of an advantage".
Catherine’s piece is a prime example of the wealth of great writing at BootsnAll. Her article is worthy of being in any glossy magazine that focuses on travel or volunteering. She takes the subjects of landmines and amputees, which are inherently dark and depressing, and presents us with a piece of laughter and play. I related to this because, whether with a soccer ball or a Frisbee, I always try to engage local children wherever I go. There’s no better way to bridge the language divide than an afternoon of hooting, hollering and high-fives.
Whether her singing of Yankee Doodle to a packed classroom – “Not only am I singing, but I am also marching in place” – or taking a leak in front of her hostess – “audiences scare me” – the author of “Hospitality the Chinese Way", Parts 1 and 2 reminds us that bumps in the road and unwelcoming hotels often lead to unforgettable experiences.
Many tourists think of China and subways where pushing is required to enter or exit a car. They think of the hustle and bustle of China’s mega-cities. But beyond the mega-cities and off the streets, the hospitality of Chinese hosts is a pleasure. I visited the village of the husband and wife who made my flip-flops and spent two days walking through quiet fields, being wined with tea and dined with pig heart. I even played a few rounds of the drinking game and took China by storm – guess which hand the cigarette butt was in.