While I traveled to a couple foreign countries with my family as a teen, I really started traveling when I took 2.5 months to travel Europe between college and starting my job at Expedia.com. Looking back at the emails I sent along the way, it was clear that an addiction was acquired within the first couple days of being exposed to foreign cultures, lifestyles, and personalities.
Since then, I’ve made a habit of saving up my vacation time and petitioning for unpaid leaves so that I can explore the world. Every year or so, I take a month or more to visit the opposite corners of the world. My travel interests quickly drew me to places where lifestyles and environments were as different from my normal life as I could find. Or, as Herman Hesse wrote in words that ring true to me: “His sympathy and curiosity lay only with people, whose work, troubles, pleasures and follies were more unknown and remote from him than the moon.”
Implicit in the notion of a lifestyle opposite of my own is experiencing a world without privilege. The lesser developed and the greater the hardships, the more likely I want to visit there. In my first trip to Asia, I literally disguised myself so I could spend a day in the slums of Saigon undetected. As I accrued more stamps in my passport, I became increasingly fascinated with people’s labors. I traveled to Bangladesh specifically to learn about and photograph shipbreaking, to Sierra Leone for diamond mining, Sri Lanka for gem mining, Indonesia for sulfur mining and oil drilling.
With over 30 countries in my passport now, my idea of a perfect day on vacation involves slowly walking through a town and spending my time conversing on front porches and in small shops. A tea with a seamstress, a Coke with a butcher, a coffee with a rice importer, a joke with a fishmonger. Through these interactions, I’ve continued email relationships with developing-world entrepreneurs from all around the world. I’ve even named a woman’s small shop in Freetown after we brainstormed together while I ate my lunch.
The more I learn about others’ work, troubles, and pleasures, the more I want to help the people I meet. A coworker turned me on to Kiva because he knew it was right up my alley. Since then, I’ve enjoyed being a lender, and have even built a system where I license use of my travel photography in exchange for Kiva gift certificates: www.adamcohn.com. It’s my way of giving back to the people where I was privileged enough to take their photos, while giving in a way that I believe in: supporting people who want to do the work to better themselves. A Kiva fellowship would be the natural next step for continuing the small changes I’ve been able to affect already.
Coincidentally, a day or two after I started drafting this application, I met a local small-time entrepreneur and learned his story. It was so inspiring that I photographed him and wrote an article about him for our neighborhood blog. I nearly cried when I read his mother’s response. It occurred to me that my normal job doesn’t make me feel emotions like that. I have a feeling a Kiva fellowship would. It would be a perfect extension of my passion for the developing world and helping others help themselves.