Imagine traveling for over a year on your honeymoon – exploring family history, traveling off the tourist trail, and making a difference by volunteering long term. How would that affect your new marriage? In Sutay and Josh Berman’s case, everything.
RPCV and educator Josh and his wife, RPCV and nurse Sutay, ventured forth for 16 months on an extended honeymoon – traveling to places familiar (the village in The Gambia where Sutay lived during her time in the Peace Corps) and new (the college in Pakistan where Sutay’s great grandfather, Dr. R.R. Stewart, was a director for decades). His new book, Crocodile Love: Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon, shares those travels, and gives readers a glimpse into a different way of traveling – and starting a marriage.
Not many people would travel to places off the tourist trail for their honeymoon, let alone volunteer for months with placements in India, Sri Lanka, and Ghana, made through the American Jewish World Service, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing nonsectarian humanitarian assistance and emergency relief to disadvantaged people worldwide. They might not do high-altitude long distance treks, or take a bus down the Karakoram Highway. They might not cross rivers in several continents, touch a crocodile for love and fertility, help others, smile, dig deeply into a culture. Not many people would do those things, but maybe we should.
Josh volunteering in Ghana
We should figure out a way to travel and volunteer – to truly make a difference in the lives of people all around the world. We should help more, travel to places that aren’t lauded on tripadvisor, meet people and try to understand them – for that is the only way to promote peace.
Sutay volunteering in Sri Lanka
It wasn’t easy, and the challenges were as difficult as the joys were rewarding. Josh notes, “It had not been easy nor had it always been comfortable. It was as if for every epiphany-laced, rainbow-colored travelgasm that The Gambia had to deliver, it had exacted a toll…this skinny little country had bottlenecked all the intensity there was left in our trip, wringing it out in bursts of rain, sweat, and tears. I’d never had such an experience in my travels, and never will again.”
Josh heard a song, sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, with the lyrics, “To love is not easy; it is a river of fire and we swim in it.” Josh and Sutay swam strongly through that first patch of river on their honeymoon, indeed through sickness and health, and emerged from it with a much clearer idea of themselves and their partnership than most of us will ever have. Berman’s thoughtful writing, insight into cultural nuances, intercultural sensitivity, and care translate into one of the best books I’ve ever read. Highly recommended.
Crossing into India
We were lucky enough to catch Josh, in between classes and parenting, and ask him about his new book. Here’s what he had to say…
Please tell us about your book, Crocodile Love: Travel Tales from an Extended Honeymoon…
Crocodile Love is a collection of 36 travel stories from the trip of a lifetime. My wife and I spent a year and a half visiting 16 countries, and the book focuses on four of them: Pakistan, India, Ghana, and The Gambia.
What inspired you to write this book?
After publishing five guidebook titles with Avalon Travel, I wanted to try my hand at writing a travel-fueled memoir. Crocodile Love is the result. I published it as the debut title of my new imprint, Tranquilo Travel Publishing. It’s also the result of 10 years of work, mostly editing, as I chiseled the stories out of hundreds of thousands of words worth of blog entries and road-tattered Moleskine notebooks from our original trip in 2005–2006.
It’s a journey from no kids to kids. How did your travels affect your decision to start a family and how has it trickled down into the way you are raising your daughters?
Fertility was a theme throughout our trip, whether it was stumbling upon the giant golden phallus of Shiva at a temple in Bangkok, or visiting the sacred baby-granting crocodile pond in The Gambia. We knew we would be going home to start a family after our trip, so I wasn’t surprised to catch Sutay shopping for baby outfits at African markets, or bargaining for pot-bellied, bead-studded fertility dolls. Needless to say, it worked. We have three daughters who are starting to explore the world with us, beginning with our backyard in the Rocky Mountains.
Your Peace Corps experiences influenced your lives deeply. What advice do you have for people considering joining Peace Corps?
Do it! Maintain an open mind throughout the entire application process and two-year service, as nothing ever happens the way you expect it to in the Peace Corps—from the intensity of training, to the actual focus of your work assignment, to the strange logistics of trying to fit in, to the challenges of returning after your service—it’s one learning experience after another and will change your life. Or not. It’s not for everybody, so research it well. There are many books and resources about what the experience is really like. Start with peacecorps.gov.
Sutay back at home in The Gambia
What might people be surprised to read about, in your book?
That it is, in fact, possible to travel to “dangerous” places. We spent over a month in Pakistan and though it was edgy at moments, it was also sublime and one of the pinnacles of my entire traveling career. As I say in Crocodile Love, a place is never as bad as people make it out to be. Never. Dire warnings are simply part of the act of travel and are usually overblown, untrue, or both. (We hoped.)
Do you have any tips for readers on planning an extended journey? And how – and why – to include volunteering?
Save the money, do the research, and buy the tickets—you’ll never regret it. Volunteering is one of many ways to bring a purpose into your travels and I highly recommend it—but only when it is with a well-established, community-based organization. Some programs look for unskilled labor, others put your professional skills to use. If Peace Corps seems too long of a commitment, do a search for “alternatives to the Peace Corps” and you’ll find a range of options to begin looking into.
Volunteering on a public health intiative at tea plantations in India
What’s up next for you?
My next book, Colorado Camping, is a guidebook to nearly 500 campgrounds across the Centennial State, including four national parks, eight national monuments, and 42 state parks. The book is being released in April as part of Avalon Travel’s Moon Outdoors Travel Guides series. I’m also always writing my “Around Colorado” column in The Denver Post and exploring the Rocky Mountains with my family, one campground at a time. Join me at joshuaberman.net.
Want to learn more about Josh’s book? Read my interview with him over at Transitions Abroad.
This article was originally published at Wandering Educators.
All photos courtesy and copyright Joshua Berman