When Our Path Impedes on Others’
In the noble quest to find oneself through traveling is it possible to overlap, even infringe, on the paths of others? I read an article today about the detrimental effects photojournalism has had on indigenous tribes in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley. The locals there now limit their own development and cheapen their culture for the forgettable benefit of any journalist or tourist with a buck to throw their way once the headdresses are off. Their lives now revolve around sustaining an image of a tribe that has essentially ceased to exist.
Now, I’m not one for sob stories. I have little patience for those who are portrayed as the alleged victim when they, themselves, benefit and enter by their own free will. I pledge with the un-alleged. But it upset me when this article called the happenings of photojournalism in the valley a “human zoo”. This is the stuff of creepy movies and human centipedes.
My travel has always revolved around me; I want to go so I do. I want to better myself, so I take pictures, write in my diary and get to act pretentious at my next cocktail party. I travel for myself. But if travel is truly for the benefit of only one then how can it justify any sort of harm to another? Surely if good (for 1 person) = bad (for 1 person) we’re right back at point zero. Might as well have stayed home and watched TV.
The guise we serial travelers stand behind is that in the course of awakening our own minds through travel we inspire others, challenge them. Some of us even have half-hearted blogs to condone our toe-stepping. But what do we really do? Does travel actually benefit anyone other than she-with-the-ever-glittering passport? Do we travelers do any sizable good?
Oh no. Don’t give me the whole volunteer-at-an-orphanage for a week schpeel. Rather send the check and get your useless bod out of their way while the real work happens.
On a less annoyed note, all the good intentions of travelers are not in vain. Plenty good has come about thanks to the amateur wanderings of those like me and their big, persuasive mouths. We spread the word. We encourage others to travel. We help document the world as it is right now. We create jobs through travel promotion. But, in this more-happy mindset, is travel worth any more to the common good than just being a nice person at home?
Maybe it’s time we bragger travelers get off our (frequent-flier mile) high horse and realize that travel might just be primarily for our own enjoyment. Maybe it’s time to stop needily defining ourselves by our plane tickets and realize this is just a hobby, same as the universally hated Cross-Fit. Maybe we need to put away our travel snobbery and stop taking pictures of those we might inadvertently be harming. Even if they’re asking us to do so.
Good points. One of the very worst/best examples of travel with questionable motives is the tour bus through ghettos and other impoverished places. I just wonder if there is an real upside to that kind of voyeuristic travel. Do any of the tourist dollars spent seizing how “the other half” lives actually trickle down to those disenfranchised people?
Good point, Jocelyn. I hope there is an upside!