New York Times features Bill Kizorek
As a video producer, mostly of films about global charities, I travel all the time. In the last 10 months, I worked in Jordan, Ghana, Cambodia, Thailand, Congo and Rwanda.
According to the Travelers’ Century Club and its “official list of countries,” I have been in 150 countries. But according to the “official list of nations,” published by International Travel News, I have been in only 108.
While I am on the ground doing my job, I can get absolutely filthy. And I unfortunately often get up close and personal with various insects, including tsetse flies, malarial mosquitoes and fire ants. My wife demands that I don’t bring any of those bugs home in my luggage. She doesn’t want me to get sick from their bites, either.
To help keep my marriage blissful, I take precautions. Last year, I got $750 worth of inoculations, and could have broken the $1,000 mark if I opted for polio and rabies shots and a couple more shots the travel clinic wanted me to get.
I also wear special pants, shirts and socks that repel insects. On a recent five-hour trek through the Congo to see the silverback gorillas, those bug-resistant clothes saved me from the jaws of some aggressive Congolese ants.
Safety is another issue. In Ghana this year, my taxi was rear-ended by an out-of-control semi truck. We landed in a drainage ditch, and I had to kick out the rear window to escape.
I have also been the target of pickpockets. In Argentina, some thieves tried to use the “squirt mustard, let me help you wipe it off” ruse. That entails one thief, usually a woman, squirting mustard on your shirt, while another female thief immediately approaches you with tissues to help you wipe it off while poking her hand in your pocket.
There have been some wild travel moments. Once, before taking off from Rangoon (now called Yangon) to Bangladesh in a Boeing 707, an ashen-faced lady in front knelt on the seat, as if in prayer. She said she overheard the co-pilot tell the captain they should not try to fly the plane. According to her, the captain replied that they had no choice since there were no parts available in Burma (now Myanmar) to repair the plane. We flew under 5,000 feet all the way to Dhaka, and, fortunately, landed safely.
On another flight, I subdued an out-of-control female passenger who hit two attendants in the face. She wasn’t psychotic, but she was dehydrated. I made her drink three big glasses of water. She promptly fell asleep, only to awaken one hour later asking to be my girlfriend. My wife would frown on that. She went back to sleep, and woke up again as I was handing her over to some F.B.I. agents in Anchorage three hours later.
I often witness poverty and the human desperation that comes with it. Many people in other countries view America and Americans as boorish and insensitive. But I beam with pride that so many Americans are changing that view by helping those less fortunate, either by donations of money or services. In my own small way, I hope that I am helping to foster a positive perception of my countrymen. That’s important — so important that putting up with dehydrated passengers, subpar planes and those insects becomes just part of a day’s work.
By Bill Kizorek, as told to Joan Raymond. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.