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The Koreans
By Gregg - 10 Aug, 1999

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The train chugged out of the Kayes station bound for Bamako. We settled back into our cushy but dirty seats, damp and browned with years of accumulated sweat. A short time later, Lee arrived at our compartment door. He asked if we'd be willing to get in front of the camera and be interviewed about our travels. We said sure and followed him to the dining car. Joo was waiting for us there. We chatted a bit first before rolling the camera. Lee was an experienced traveller and TV producer having made numerous trips in this capacity throughout Africa and South America. His English, while heavily accented, was quite good. For Joo, such travel was a first. The plan was for her to take part in the first half of the four month journey. After two months, another actor would meet Lee in Kenya and take Joo's place. Joo didn't speak much English so Lee would set up each interview question and Joo would then ask it in Korean. We'd respond as if we'd understood.

The questions were basic at first—things like where have you been, where are you going and how much money will you spend? But then they got more interesting—Evelyn talked about travelling as a woman and we discussed how we'd chosen West Africa as a place to travel. They wanted to know how we were getting along and then asked if we were married. Not yet, came Evelyn's reply and Lee—obviously knowing how to spice up an interview—then suggested that I propose right there on camera. (I claimed to be camera-shy.)

This whole time Lee was doing a kind of dance around us with the camera. Apparently there was a third member of this team—the cameraman. But he'd become ill in Dakar and thus was skipping the train journey, flying to Bamako instead. So Lee was behind the camera, juggling tasks. Besides directing and shooting, he had a train official to contend with. This guy would raise a stink anytime Lee's camera appeared to be pointed down the length of the car. Travelling this part of the world with such a big camera is a constant hassle of getting permits and paying bribes.

The more we learned of Lee's trip the more amazed we were. It had started out much like ours—at least in regards to route. They'd flown to Casablanca from Seoul, travelled in Morocco, and then gone south to the Western Sahara. They'd crossed the Sahara in Mauritania and continued along the coast to Dakar. Where their travels differed from ours was in logistics and pre-planning. They were working, after all. Unlike our convoy experience they'd arranged to have Korean military personnel stationed in Morocco escort them. Once in Mauritania, someone had come for them with a car from Dakar. Racing to make the ferry crossing at Rosso, they swerved to avoid a camel in the road and landed in a sand dune. What lay ahead was even more incredible. In Bamako they were to be met by a truck, driver and translator coming from Tanzania—through Kenya, Sudan, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and finally, Mali—to meet them. A vast distance and a route that I thought was impossible due to civil wars and closed borders. They would attempt the return to Tanzania by a similar route, then continue on to South Africa. Among other things along the way, they would try to find Lee's Pygmy friends in the Congo—no small task as Pygmies are nomadic people. If they were stymied at any border crossing, they'd turn around and try another way. With our plans to fly over a large part of Africa, our journey suddenly seemed banal.

Once in Bamako, Ev and I got ourselves a room at the Mission Libanaise. Our second day in town, we went to visit Lee and Joo at their hotel. Joo was tied up with her daily phone call to her boyfriend back home. Lee wasn't busy, so we spent a couple hours talking and eating Malian capitaine on the hotel's terrace. We talked of the ýDogon people of Mali, and of the Pygmies in the Congo. Lee had made good friends in both these groups during previous trips and is quite knowledgeable about them. We were particularly interested in hearing about the Dogon as we were planning to visit. Lee told us about his friend, Philippe, son of the Dogon village chief of Nombori. (A week later, Ev and I would visit Nombori and bring Philippe news that Lee was on his way. This would earn us a rather ecstatic welcome from Philippe replete with hugs and kisses.)

We expressed some envy that Lee had a job that afforded such adventurous travel. With a smile he demured. He loves his work but it's becoming more difficult for him to be away from home. His wife is expecting their first child in September. He'll be home just in time. But his next trip is already in the planning stages—a world tour starting in South Africa, zig-zagging north and south and north again, eventually reaching South Korea (hopefully via North Korea) in time for the World Cup 2-1/2 years later. His wife is sympathetic. They met in the industry. She's an accomplished travel writer having sold four million copies of her latest book.



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The Koreans
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