Welcome to Elsewhere

Greetings, and welcome to the first posting of Elsewhere.

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog about my travels and writing – and the writing and travels of others – for quite some time now. Today, just hours before I head to Algeria and Morocco to begin research for a new book, seems as good a time as any.

I am very excited about my new project. I want to write about ‘walls.’

I traveled to Jerusalem last September and had the opportunity pass through the ‘security barrier’ that surrounds the West Bank. The building of ‘The Wall’ has conjured international debate, but it is not unique. There have been similar barriers constructed around the world for centuries. The Chinese built the Great Wall. The Romans divided Britannia with the Hadrian and Antonine Walls. The Berlin Wall split Germany in two. Human civilization has always been preoccupied with keeping people out and holding others in.

I am most interested in contemporary walls. These days, ‘fortress’ India is building security barriers along its borders with Burma and Bangladesh to ward against smugglers and illegal migrants, and another wall along the Pakistani border to protect against militants. There is now a wall along the Pakistan-Iran frontier built to foil cross-border drug traffic. Minutemen in the southern U.S. are not waiting for the government to build a security fence along the Mexican border. There are barriers going up along the borders of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen, and a security fence now protects Sharm el-Sheikh tourists from terrorists. The world is seeing a genuine building boom of walls.

All of these barriers are controversial. Some, such as the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier and the proposed U.S.-Mexico barrier, divide members of minority ethnic groups. Others are seen as racist barriers, and their stated aims are often suspect. Is the barrier going up between Brazil and Paraguay really meant to stop smuggling, for example, or are Brazilians afraid of the radical leanings of the Arab communities that reside in the border areas?

My plan is to travel to walls around the world and write about the people who live in their shadows. I will visit with the Bengali Indians who find themselves cut off from mainland India by the Indo-Bangladeshi barrier. I will speak to Baluchi desert traders along the Iran-Pakistan border and find out how the new wall affects their business. I will visit the Sahrawi refugees who wait for statehood on the wrong side of the Moroccan ‘Wall of Shame.’ I will seek out Glenn Weynant, an Arizona ‘sound artist’, who is using the U.S.-Mexico border fence as a musical instrument. I will relate the history and politics of each of these walls, but it is people and their stories that excite me.

This project is terribly ambitious. The research will bring me to the borderlands of at least thirteen countries on five continents and will require much time and expense. If you are interested in following along with this project – and others, and random musings about travel writing – you are welcome to tune in to Elsewhere.

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