Postmarks from a Political Traveler

Postmarks from a Political Traveler

Cover of Postmarks from a Political Traveler by Phil KarberPostmarks from a Political Traveler is a collection of four travel essays confronting roots and racism, polar bears and climate change, anti-Americanism and the war in Afghanistan. The opening essay, Down at the Blue Lagoon: Reflections on the American South and South Africa, tells of the author’s experience of growing up in the Jim Crow South, traveling in apartheid South Africa, and living in the post-apartheid South Africa of 2009 and 2010. It explores the United States and South Africa’s not so dissimilar roots and racism as well as the cross-fertilization of ideas between our two countries.

Polar Bears, the story of two trips to Churchill, Manitoba, where the planet’s largest population of polar bears congregate each October, recounts the dramatic changes within only a decade in the human and polar bear community. With global warming at full throttle, the bears have become an Arctic version of the canary in a coalmine.

An Anti-American Age reports the author’s journey back to the United States on a German freighter captained by a rabidly anti-American. Woven into this account of life aboard a freighter are threads of his travels and anti-American encounters over a decade of living in Africa and Asia.

The final essay, Return to Kabul, chronicles trips to Afghanistan in 2004 and in 2012, describing the effects of war and conflict zone politics on women, education, refugees and aid workers.

“I have crossed famous rivers” is the Xhosa expression (often used by Nelson Mandela) that says a man gets a leg up in the realm of facts and knowledge by widening his gaze beyond the perimeters of his ancestors. My own transcontinental rambles have not only taught me to seek out people of different backgrounds and to be critically aware, but to return home with the news of what I have experienced and learned. That polar bear experts are projecting that we could lose two-thirds of the world’s polar bears by mid-century, or that Afghanistan has had the highest child and maternal mortality rate in the world, is worthy of bearing witness. But giving voice to the voiceless is not to say that my journey has been one of redemption, rather more like an adventure of the imagination: aiming beyond my comfortable reach, and at times going forth aimlessly like the dog who broke the leash and then sniffs out a tangled trail.

The trick about Phil Karber’s travel writing is the trick about Paul Theroux’s travel writing. Or the writing of Chatwin, Bryson, or Krakauer. The trick is there is no trick. You go, you look, you push, you study, you talk, you listen. You get arrested, you get dirty, you get lost, you get drunk. In a word, it’s exploration. And Karber, at his core, is an explorer, looking close, pushing hard, and writing it down.”

Mark McDonald, foreign correspondent, International Herald Tribune

The author is owed a debt of gratitude for bringing forth the experiences recounted here. His revelations help us understand that indeed strides have been made in racial understanding and yet we have a ways to go.”

Henry W. Foster Jr., MD, Professor Emeritus of Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University and former Clinton nominee, US Surgeon General

Taken a decade apart, Phil Karber’s two trips to Churchill highlight the startling effects of global warming on the Polar Bear Capital of the World. Fewer polar bears, less ice, less wildlife in general—his keen observations record the need for action before it is too late.”

Krista Wright, Executive Director, Polar Bears International

From Arkansas to Vietnam, from American racism in the southern US to American war-making in southeast Asia, Phil shares his fascinating journey through continents, cultures, and conversations, never straying far from an underlying quest for understanding and genuine peace that most of us seek. Phil’s Vietnam connections—with the US military during wartime, and decades later during peacetime—shape his skepticism about the likelihood of workable solutions from the same worn policy formulas. Yet there is some hope in the stories of ordinary people, their resilience, and their wisdom. We’re fortunate that he’s invited us to share the journey.”

Chuck Searcy, Vice President, Veterans for Peace Chapter 160 (Hoa Binh)

Postmarks from a Political Traveler is out now and available from Amazon by clicking on the image of the book at the top of this page.