Traveling through our Reality Tours  is not simply a trip, but rather a journey. We encourage you to immerse yourself into the ways of life of those surrounding you. We invite you to give way to all your senses and truly understand what it is to be a person living in the country you are visiting. We strive to make connections with others as a way to share stories, and grow our understanding of the world. Our trips challenge you to “Meet the People, Learn the Facts, Make a Difference” and move beyond stereotypes. The following is a story of how one of our participants found not only a new appreciation for a culture outside of their own, but understood the interdependence between herself and the people she met. Here is how she is making a difference. 

(Search for your next adventure through Reality Tours here!)

Afghanistan was a faraway land that I had never imagined traveling to until the summer of 2002. Of course, after 9/11/2001 it had become a location mentioned frequently in the media and I had become consciously and painfully aware of it’s importance in the unfolding history of our time. I was visiting a friend in San Francisco in July 2002. He knew that I had been to the Middle East several times during the past one and a half years, and thought that I would be interested in a talk sponsored by Global Exchange. There was to be a discussion about the situation in the Occupied Territories. I was very much interested, so we went and six months later I was on my way to Gaza. (Another story!) Now, I had an inkling that I knew nothing about what was happening in the world. In the spring of 2003 I managed to travel to Iraq. (Another story!)

Several months later I contacted Global Exchange again. This time I asked if there was a country in the region that I could travel to where I could work with an individual instead of a group. After several discussions my request was accepted by Najibullah Sedeqe in Afghanistan, and so this story began.

It was a short visit, three days in October of 2003.  I stayed in a small guesthouse and in a nearby park Najib and I would take a daily walk.  At that time there were still more donkey carts and pedestrians than cars on the streets. For a moment I felt like I had traveled back in time. There was little evidence of western influence.  Oh, how I long for those days!  It was a fast and furious tour.  We mad many visits including several schools that were recently opened for girls; something that had not happened during the previous decade because of the Taliban rule.

 It is difficult to remember a time before I knew Afghanistan and Najibullah Sediqi, the in-Country coordinator for Global Exchange Afghanistan delegations​.  After approximately fifteen to twenty journeys to that mysterious and beautiful land, Afghanistan, has proven to be a perfect teacher.  Each adventure “was the best of times and was the worst of times.” Each providing me with new insights and giving me great gifts for the soul. Photography, my work, especially in Afghanistan and the Middle East, has taught me many life lessons in the process of making great images.  The sheer cultural shock that often brought excitement of something new also brought struggle, and often I was faced with discomfort, anger and selfishness. With much patience and kindness Najib and others guided me to be a more humble human being. The humility and a heartfelt wanting to return something to Afghanistan has now brought me to a place of action. Over the course of the next year, and with the assistance of Najib and Global Exchange,​ I will develop four to five Indie go-go campaign projects, each to raise funds for one Kabul ​family to purchase a tool or product that would enable them to begin to be self-sustaining.  Each campaign will be in the amount of 300 to 800 US dollars.

Our first project is now live! 

This project will be for the family of Zalikha  for the purchase of an air  compressor to re-inflate flat tires. There are many  on the streets of Kabul.  Please check out the project page to read Zalikha’s  story and please continue  to revisit for updates and new projects.

– Gloriann Liu
To donate and take action now, visit Gloriann Liu’s project page here!
The Down Home Blues Club, childhood home of legendary blues guitarist D.C. Minner in Rentiesville, OK - one of Oklahoma's many historic All-Black Townships.

The Down Home Blues Club, childhood home of legendary blues guitarist D.C. Minner in Rentiesville, OK – one of Oklahoma’s many historic All-Black Townships.

The following guest post is Part V in a series written by Rachel Jackson who is Global Exchange’s ‘Radical Oklahoma’ Reality Tours Trip Leader, which is happening now.

From Tulsa, we headed to Rentiesville to visit the Down Home Blues Club and visit with Selby Minner. Generations ago, family members ran a thriving business out of the home selling corn whiskey and Choc beer (a type of beer attributed to the Choctaw). Today, the same home is now the site of the Down Home Blues Club and a yearly festival. We were honored by an impromptu performance by Selby, a couple of her students, and her new partner Dan “Oklahoma Slim” Ortiz.

Selby Minner sings her heart out for GX Tour Participants. Dan "Oklahoma Slim" Ortiz tears it up on the guitar in the background.

Selby Minner sings her heart out for GX Tour Participants. Dan “Oklahoma Slim” Ortiz tears it up on the guitar in the background.

Just outside of Rentiesville sits the site of the historic Battle of Honey Springs, an 1863 Civil War battle in Indian Territory.  What makes this battle so radical is that it was the first battle of the Civil War in which African Americans fought.  The First Kansas Colored Infantry fought for the Union army alongside the First, Second, and Third Indian Home Guards.  Native and African Americans fought together against the Confederacy for their own freedom and autonomy.

Our day did not end there.  We continued from Rentiesville to Okemah for the first night of the 2013 Woody Guthrie Festival.  A gentle storm rolled over eastern Oklahoma as we drove, and brought the temperature down considerably.  We spent a relaxing and enjoyable evening in the Pastures of Plenty, all freshly mowed and spreading out under the Oklahoma nightsky, swaying to the music of Ramsey Midwood, the Red Dirt Rangers, and Butch Hancock.

Memorials commemorating the participating military units of both the Union and Confederate armies in the Battle of Honey Springs, the pivotal, historical Civil War Battle in Indian Territory. P.S. The Union boys - red, black, and white - won this one.

Memorials commemorating the participating military units of both the Union and Confederate armies in the Battle of Honey Springs, the pivotal, historical Civil War Battle in Indian Territory.

It was a proper kick-off to an event that over the course of 16 years has become a microcosm of all that’s good and right in Oklahoma.  And the party’s just getting started.


Woody Guthrie Festival posterAttention Woody Guthrie fans, Oklahoma expats/descendants of expats, folk music fans and history buffs:  Global Exchange invites you to join us on a “Radical Oklahoma” tour culminating in the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in Okemah, OK, from July 7 to July 14.

Spend some time learning about the tumultuous events of the early twentieth century that shaped Woody’s politics and united white tenant farmers, native tribes, and African-Americans in a series of uprisings in the forested hills of eastern Oklahoma.  Then relax and enjoy 3-4 days of music at the folk festival. We’ll stay in pretty lakeside cabins in a nearby state park.

OK Red Flag copy

Oklahoma’s original state flag, banned 1917.

The 46th state has a reputation for being perhaps the most conservative state in the union.  In fact, it has a radical past unmatched for activism and racial solidarity – an activism exemplified in its most famous native son, Woody Guthrie, the radical Dust Bowl troubadour.  The “Okie” diaspora peaked during the Dust Bowl migration to the West Coast in the 1930’s, but it was also prompted by attacks on Wobblies and other radicals in the early 20th century who fled the state.  This diaspora of the left (and eventually of the right, as descendants became more conservative) has had a major impact on politics and culture throughout the US but most particularly in eastern California, eastern Oregon, and other regions where Okies settled.

Join us in exploring this forgotten history, meet some modern Oklahoma radicals, and celebrate with music on the weekend!

Photo by Paulette Hurdlik.

Photo by Paulette Hurdlik. Reality Tour, Vietnam, 2009.

The 2013 Reality Tours Photo Contest is almost at an end! The last day to submit photos is Wednesday, April 10, so submit now to be considered for both the Grand Prize and Popular Choice prizes.  Help us decide the Popular Choice winner by voting on our Facebook page until April 15th!

We have received so many stunning images so far, thanks for sharing your memories and photos with us of the beautiful places and people you have visited with Reality Tours.