Friday, December 21, 2007

Season's Greetings

Last night two white women came up to my host brother and I and immediately started shouting in what sounded like US American English, the name of their hotel and motioning with their fingers. My best guess is that they were asking for directions to their destination without any sort of considerate effort to ask in Spanish. Despite our response being made in fluent English, they chose to listen with their eyes rather than their ears as they continued to raise their voices, dribbling incomplete sentences composed of incoherent words to express their inquires. Apparently common courtesy is not part of their native tongue either.

Earlier that day, I overheard another traveler spouting some ignorant garbage about Guatemalans not understanding the benefits of healthy dining, thinking that the excess of unhealthy food is due to the people's glutenous attraction to "what tastes good" rather than maybe taking into consideration the simple equation that unhealthy food is easily movable and cheap, so therefore impoverished countries have an abundance of cheap, unhealthy food available to them, not because they are uneducated or inconsiderate of their own well-being.

Around the holidays I've heard that armed street robberies go up two, sometimes threefold. I don't even know how to feel about that. Most of the culprits commit crimes to give presents to their families, so maybe they don´t feel like a piece of shit the midnight of the 24th and their kids can be welcomed by a wrapped gift rather than an bumbling apology. Some of the victims tend to be travelers as they are assumed to have more money, which often times they do. For some, I feel bad for, like my new Danish friend Carston, who was robbed two days ago at gunpoint. The type of gun, he doesn't know, as I'm sure the possibility of death doesn't specify what caliber firearm is being shoved into your abdomen. From the little I know about the man, he's a good guy, and I feel horrible this would happen to him, yet part of me still feels none of us are ever purely "victims".

I really hate myself for thinking this, more so, fear myself for thinking this, but for others, like those whom I mentioned above, I wouldn't feel a hint of remorse if something similar were to happen to them. Stealing implies ownership which inevitably raises the question if these travelers really ever owned their belongings in the first place. Most come from places where the economic infrastructure is dependent on exploiting countries like Guatemala. People tend to forget that often times crime is driven by the surrounding conditions and ignore how those conditions are created. I'm sure many foreigners earned their keep honestly, but would that opportunity to earn an honest buck even exist if this exploitative relationship didn't?

Travelers take so much from countries they blaze through on their self-absorbed backpacking treks. They appropriate culture, burn through resources, and often times give nothing back. And rewards aren't always monetary. We seek stories, that, "I can't believe you did that!" reaction when we return home, and that is what we hope to acquire regardless of which society we harm in the process. People want to be so quick to say that they're not "that kind of traveler" or that they're somehow exempt from the global connectedness that we are all implicated in. Somehow people want to justify that the rules just don't apply to them. I only know this because I too once had these thoughts running through my head and am now confused as ever as to what I'm doing here.

Sometimes I think that travelers being robbed isn't always the worst thing, a small price to pay for the too often overlooked privilege that has been created by this crazy world. Sometimes I think things need to be taken back, because we've created a smoke screen of false justifications to keep what we really didn't earn. Sometimes I think we all need to know what desperation feels like, myself included.


Anonymous said...

Wow Nick. Those are some deep thoughts and i really enjoyed reading them. You have a beautiful way of expressing urself in words! Cant wait to read more! Stay safe and happy holidays!


sticky said...


Nathan Cermak said...

almost everything you've written thus far has been exactly why i want to apply for the bonderman in a year or two

Anonymous said...

i don't know if i like/dislike your opinion in this post. whether or not i agree or disagree. i'm just as confused as you are cuz there's really no way of criticizing our society without feeling a bit hypocritical. and i don't want to leave a hypocritical commentary to your post either =P but... happy holidays!! =] i don't know if xmas means all that much to you but i hope you have a less lonely one than i did last year.

my bday is two days after xmas. i want a present. present = a call/letter from you. is that allowed?

Alex said...

I remember that time, now, after one and a half years I read your post on it. Seemed like a whole lot of people got robbed these days, Carsten got the worst of it though. I really don't feel bad somehow, how can you blame someone who wants to just give a present to his kids? They took a couple of Quetzales and an MP3 Player, losing this metal didn't change my life that much, but maybe it has changed some families christmas. But why does that have to go through a robbery, I'm confused with my own opinion..;)