Like many relatively privileged Westerners visiting foreign lands I spend a lot of my time searching for something I already know about the place, rather than being swept up in the things I don’t. But the known “something” will be exotic, while the unknown “nothing” mundane. My emails home will be about famously strange customs rather than unexpected similarities, recognised examples of “the other” rather than common threads; my photos will be of red earth and barefooted children, not the bar where I sat and checked Twitter.
If the country in question falls under the category of “developing nation” then it’s time to get on the trail of what one might call academic tourism, eschewing typical hotspots (like the source of the Nile in Uganda’s case) and going on the hunt for examples of poster-boy globalization, usually poetic juxtapositions that could double as a metaphor for our muddled era – the prize being a collection of smug little snapshots depicting rickety huts next to international logos, that sort of thing. It helps if you have one eyebrow raised when you take the photo, that way you can hide behind a veil of irony if questioned by the locals.