“Where are you going?” The airport taxi driver—a recent immigrant to New York from Egypt—was in a chatty mood when he’d picked me up for the trip of a lifetime in 2004.
“Antarctica,” I’d said excitedly.
“Oh. Are you from there?”
I’d shut right up. I find it tough enough to talk to adults about geography but how, I wondered when writing the 3-D World Atlas and Tour, was I to talk to kids? And more importantly, how could I make inappropriate kid-jokes about Lake Titicaca, Djibouti (pronounced jih-
booty), and the animal known as the dik-dik when I only had 96 pages?
In the end, my editor helped me learn to talk to kids, but the worst (best?) jokes—along with large chunks of the world—had to be sacrificed for the sake of brevity. I did get the chance to say that astronauts CANNOT see the Great Wall of China from space, the Sphinx did not lose his nose to the French, and that Africa is a vibrant, culturally mixed continent, not just a place with wars, disease, poverty, and lions. But so many details had to be cut out. Like did you know that in Laos, some people consider rat-on-a-stick to be a tasty treat? Or that there are more than 90 pyramids along the Nile, and the Giza ones are just the biggest? Or that there is a huge ice skating rink…in the desert country of Kuwait? I didn’t get a chance to talk about the time I was chased by a hippo in Uganda, or about when I hosted a fried bug-eating contest in a China hotel room. And I certainly did not get to describe when a train conductor used my phrasebook to ask me for a massage, somewhere in Kazakhstan!
I make it my business to demystify the world outside our borders whenever possible. It’s not so different than home. People everywhere have essentially the same hopes and dreams. And traveling outside our borders can be a lot easier and cheaper than we often assume.
But for those of us who cannot get away, there’s the atlas. And if you crave more…I’ve assembled a few of my favorite photos that didn’t make it into print.
Every morning, hot air balloons fly above the fields and ancient ruins of Luxor, Egypt. March, 2007.
Remote-controlled robot jockeys ride the camels at the Kuwait camel races. April, 2007.
I got too close to this Ugandan hippo while taking its photo at a Nile ferry crossing in September, 2005. He chased me all the way back to my vehicle.
Antarctica does not have any full-time human residents, but its penguin population numbers in the millions. March, 2004.
-Marie Javins, author of 3-D World Atlas and Tour