Greg, you’ve taken the time to make your point very clearly and politely, so I want to take the time to respond to it in that same spirit.
This article skipped over a lot of the personal relationships I’ve talked about in my other travel pieces — my relationships with my friends and students in the countries I’ve visited, and the efforts I’ve made to “fight the system” in these countries, and share what resources I can with the people I care about, and help solve problems that just seem to get bigger the more we dig into them.
I can completely see how this article gives the impression that I’m a patronizing Westerner who doesn’t take real-world problems seriously. When I first started traveling, I was that Westerner you describe — the tourist who gawks at everything and generally makes a useless fool of himself. I’m not proud of those days.
As you say, the “fun” is such a minor part of why these countries are worth visiting — and it’s only been one aspect of my experiences in these places — but it was the aspect that I chose to focus on in this article. That’s because, for me, the “game” aspect is a good motivator to go visit these places; to make friends there; to try to understand the problems and come back to tell others about them. That doesn’t make the problems any less serious, nor is it anywhere near the totality of the experience. It’s just a reason to start the journey.