‘I Am Not Trying to Change the World’

A look back at some of this year's most read stories

By / December 2013

What to make of 2013? It was a bumper year for movies. It was a dreadful year for American politics. A royal baby was born. Francis became pope. Selfie and twerk and Bitcoin entered the lexicon. War raged in Syria. Nelson Mandela passed. Nairobi and Boston and the Philippines reeled. We tend to gauge our years by highs and lows, victories and defeats, buzz words and standout performances. But we also make appraisals based on the places we’ve traveled, the ideas we’ve encountered, the people we’ve met, the meals we’ve enjoyed, the pictures we’ve taken, and the stories we’ve heard, read, told, and recommended.

This year at EthnoTraveler, we published pieces from Rome and Rajasthan, Kashmir and Kuala Lumpur, Colonsay and Chechnya, Denizli and Tangier, Concepcion and Lijiang and Grotte de Font-de-Gaume. We met Turkish geese herders and Chinese fashion dissidents. We visited a Somali communal wedding, a remote Indian military outpost, a Laotian cave, and a Djiboutian funeral. We got the skinny on iconic pictures from great photographers and learned road lessons from British bands on tour. “I am not trying to change the world,” one of our contributors recently wrote, “just to make people happier in small moments, to give them dignity, compassion, to show that I care about their happiness, their plight, their families, and their world.” In that spirit, here’s a sampling of some of our most read posts from 2013.



Photograph by Catherine KarnowI have been shooting in Vietnam for over two decades. I first went in 1990, curious about a country I had known of since I was a child, but had never visited. I grew up in Hong Kong in the 1960′s. My father the acclaimed journalist Stanley Karnow was at the time bureau chief for Time-Life and was covering both the Cultural Revolution in China and the Vietnam War. Vietnam for me as a child was like a nearby threatening rumble. I didn’t really understand what war was, but it was scary.
— Catherine Karnow, from A Certain Truth about Saigon


Photograph by Ron StehouwerThe Thar, which blankets the entirety of western Rajasthan with 77,000 square miles of stone and sand, is the dead edge of India. Friends had told me it was one of the few places where it was still possible to find solitude. During my writing-related wanderings across the Indian subcontinent, I had never once been alone.
— Chris Watts, from Searching for Solitude in the Indian Desert


Dagestani brideIn the West, the groom and his groomsmen don tuxedos and take photos together. In Dagestan, they carpool to the bride’s village in hopes of kidnapping her. “Whoa, now! We’re not really going to kidnap anyone, are we?” I asked. Osman, the groom’s cousin, laughed.
— Dave Hayton, from A Wedding Kidnapping in Dagestan


Photograph by Christi GereckeFor the past two summers, Águeda, a city of 50,000 people in Portugal’s wine-rich Bairrada region, has played host to a festival dedicated to color. Benches, lampposts, and steps get a polychromatic makeover. Potted flowers of sundry hues deck the promenades. But by far the coolest trimmings are the umbrellas suspended over the city’s narrow lanes.
— Christi Gerecke, from The Umbrellas of Águeda


InnerHebrides_-2011-10-25_11532-1200x796Scotland entered my life in 1994 while on my first assignment for National Geographic. But it didn’t become my obsession until I started pushing out into the edges, the dramatic and wild territories like Muck, where the Scots and Vikings once vied for dominance, and where the crown still seems to be kept at bay.
— Jim Richardson, from More Grit Than Glamour


Photograph by Rachel Pieh JonesIn Djibouti, unemployment can look like a variety of things including a dauntingly large number on a list of a statistics. In Amina’s case, unemployment looks like entrepreneurship and relationships, community and networking and, quite simply, like hard work.
— Rachel Pieh Jones, from The Hard Work of Unemployment


HaimEach foreign gig was something of a surprise. The girls never quite knew what they were going to find. “We played one show where everyone was standing in silence,” said Este. “When we have shows, I tend to stir things up. I like to have a dialectical relationship with my audience.”
— Nathan Martin, from Beyond California: Hitting the Road with Haim


The streets leading toward Vatican City were at a standstill. People abandoned their cars, leaving them sitting in the middle of the road, heading off on foot for St. Peter’s Square. I saw shop owners desert their stores, and nuns hike up their dresses and run toward the peeling bells.
— Chris Watts, from Rome Gone Wild


hyacinthI wanted to talk to Kenyans who made their living on the lake about how the hyacinth invasion was affecting them. My questions brought me to Nyakech, a small fishing town an hour’s drive down good roads from the big city of Kisumu. My guide was Tom, a local legend with an encyclopedic knowledge of the lake.
— Kim Siegal, from The Prairie in the Lake


Great Wall MarathonFor those who want to tick two items of their bucket list—visiting the Great Wall of China and running a marathon—the Great Wall Marathon could be just the ticket. These 26.2 miles are some of the world’s toughest with super steep ascents and just as sharp descents. Competitors literally have to race across 5,164 steps, some of which require crawling to traverse.
— Emily Halonen Bratcher, from The World’s Most Inspiring Marathons


Photograph by Aaron GocciaThe tray contained ash, a small flame, a betel nut leaf, turmeric, and a red powder called kumkum. Uncle told me he uses these materials to invoke the spirits of Hindu gods into the kavadi carriers. The gods, he said, then take possession of their hosts, imbuing them with the mettle needed to successfully wield the kavadi.
— Aaron Goccia, from Carry That Weight: A Rare Look at Thaipusam


Photograph by Nevada Wier
Some might consider it a risk to stand on a rock amid the stampede of some 50 horses in spirited pursuit of a headless goat carcass. But, after about an hour of photographing a game of buzkashi from among the vocal spectators on the perimeter, I knew I had to get closer.
— Nevada Wier, from Better on Dirt Than Concrete


Photograph by Brian McKanna
In the village of Cakmak, just beyond the old castle walls of Kars in far northeastern Turkey, the tradition of herding geese goes back centuries. Throughout the unfriendly winters of the southern Caucasus Mountains these birds have long been a means of survival. By October’s end their bodies will drape from rope and rafter in every village. The birds are winter’s store.
— Brian McKanna, from Herding Geese in Kars


Drew Bratcher is the editor of EthnoTraveler.