Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hesitant Acceptance

I finally decided to wave that white flag and accept who I am. "Yes I am just another tourist. Yes I am looking for a tour. No I don't want to buy any sourvenirs. No I don't have any spare change for you."

It actually felt good, or at least, easier. But I guess that's what bothers me; how we can see someone like a handicapped mother ask for something to eat, and most likely mean it, then turn out heads, walk past, and pretend the whole episode never happened. I always wonder how other tourists interpret interactions like that. I wonder if those things creep into their mind well after they return home or if they just pack it as slight inconvenience in what overall was "another lovely trip".

So where does tourism stand? This past week I kept trying to be tolerant of it, to just accept it. "Most people are on vacation," I kept thinking. "Most people deserve a vacation, and people come to experience and learn of a culture they didn't know much of before. Isn't that already enough?" Maybe changing what we see isn't our responsibility.

But somewhere between one tourist complaining about how Machu Picchu "fucking sucked" and "wasn't impressive" (as if the world was built to impress him), and the fashion show of traditional Inca garments to ABBA's "Dancing Queen" on the train from Aguas Calientes, did I feel my critical juices bubbling again.

Something just didn't feel right about the whole thing, having two Peruvians parade down the isle of a train to an 80's hit and the passengers viciously snapping away photos. I could see the distaste in the "models'" faces. Hell, I dread doing Quiz Night at the hostel due to the verbal harassment and physical projectiles, I can't even imagine what it's like to dance around for people's entertainment.

But perhaps it should be viewed as an opportunity for cultural exchange, only the problem is that it isn't reciprocated. If Peruvians were allowed to travel to places like the US, in the same volumes as the amount of foreign tourists that come to their country, have us dance around in our traditional garments, and let them ignore our poor and hungry, then perhaps it would be okay. Maybe they too would make the same insensitive comments and assumptions we do. In fact, if we believe in the equality of the human design, they would. The thing is, that opportunity to be ignorant isn't there, and that's the problem.

Contrary to what others have told me, there is some value in being critical. You can't always be agreeable. Because if we are, we all march to the same cadence that the crowd dictates and not our own. Soon enough, traveling through the same motions becomes monotonous. Soon enough, snapping photo after photo becomes redundant. Soon enough, you start telling yourself that there's gotta be something more than this.

No comments: