Revolutionary Designs

2 04 2008




“The House of Che”


“Why is the t-shirt guy on your money?” she asked, while closely scrutinising a 3-peso note.

“That’s Che Guevara,” the guide patiently explained. “He’s one of our revolutionary heroes, and was also the president of our bank.”

“Oh, I thought he was a fashion designer or something.” she answered before casually strolling past me to take another photograph of Havana.

In a perfect world all meadows would be emerald green and filled with fluffy bunnies, weekends would be 5-days long, restaurants would distribute free glasses of classic single malt scotch instead of water, and everyone who travels would be forced to take a little written examination before they head overseas. Just simple questions like: Do you know where you’re going?

You can always get so much more from any trip if you’ve taken a bit of an interest beforehand. You don’t have to memorise an encyclopedia or attend evening classes on “The History of Terracing and Rice Cultivation in Bali” before you travel, but having a very basic knowledge of any destination, its culture or even just its most current events can heighten any experience and certainly make local interactions much richer.

In 1994 P.M. (ie: pre-Madonna), I was travelling through Malawi just a few weeks after their first-ever democratic election. Their independence leader and long-time dictator – Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda – had overstayed his welcome and been asked to leave office earlier that year. During his three decades of rule he had utilised his powers by banning such things as travel books that said nasty things about him, female visitors wearing pant suits and male travellers with long hair. He had been a rather discerning despot.

The election had gone well and the people were still celebrating their new rights. Everywhere we went, they would whistle and hold up two fingers to signify their recent introduction to two-party democracy. Whenever we stopped or walked down the street, they would come and share their happiness with visitors from fellow democratic countries, bubbling with enthusiasm and elation.

It was only luck that had me in Malawi at such a momentous time in their history, but I will always regard it amongst my greatest travel highlights…even if I couldn’t buy a commemorative t-shirt!

Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008