The subject of slum tourism has at least one thing in common with the crushing, appalling poverty that the slum tourists pay to gawk at.
Neither is going away.
The latest to weigh in on this subject, courtesy of the New York Times, is Kennedy Odede, executive director of the Shining Hope for Communities organization in Nairobi, Kenya.
Like many before him, he rips the whole notion of other people’s poverty as a tourist attraction. But unlike sanctimonious pontificators like me, Mr. Odede comes at this from a unique perspective.
He’s has actually served, reluctantly, as one of the “attractions:”
”I was 16 when I first saw a slum tour. I was outside my 100-square-foot house washing dishes, looking at the utensils with longing because I hadn’t eaten in two days. Suddenly a white woman was taking my picture. I felt like a tiger in a cage. Before I could say anything, she had moved on.”
Read the entire text of Mr. Odede’s opinion piece here.
There are some of us, born to a life of paved streets, flush toilets, indoor water taps and electricity, who seem to think that human dignity depends on how much money you make. It doesn’t.
At the same time, I have witnessed the other side of Mr. Odede’s humiliating coin, namely the indifference of tourists from developed countries to the tragically horrid living conditions of their fellow human beings. And I’ve seen it right here in San Diego.
Long before Mexico’s drug violence prompted gringo tourists to stay away, there were hordes of San Diego-area residents who wouldn’t dream of setting foot across the border in Baja California, particularly in the city of Tijuana.
Why? Because they couldn’t stand to see all that grim, soul-crushing poverty staring down on them from the hills above. How do I know? Because they said so — always freely, often unprompted and many, many times.
I get no joy out of witnessing anyone’s poverty, either. But somehow, that attitude struck me as indifference of the ugliest sort, as if their living conditions made the people living in those hills a lesser form of humanity.
Mr. Odede’s message about slum tourism — or “poorism,” as it’s sometimes called — is painful, powerful and on-point. But like poorism itself, it falls short of what is needed.
Coming away from scenes like those in Tijuana, Mumbai or Kibera can leave even the best-intended person feeling utterly overwhelmed — to the point of paralysis. I have no doubt that there are at least some slum tourists of genuine goodwill, but those who are willing to act on what they see they need a venue, encouragement and proper guidance on how to do it.
One thing that might help would be if more such tourists could connect with the people whose communities they’re touring, talk to them — or better still, listen to them — before they start snapping pics or shooting video. First, form that human bond.
Few such tours make that possible. That being the case, what realistically can we expect from even the most well-meaning slum tourist?
I should probably make it clear that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I don’t operate a slum tour anywhere on the planet and would never want to. Still, I can’t help but feel that both sides can, and ultimately must, do better.
If it is not enough for the slum tourist to feel he’s “done his bit” by paying to see someone else’s poverty, neither is it enough to condemn the slum tourist without giving him a viable means to help change the image he’s just seen.
Where poorism is concerned, those on both sides of the lens need to “come correct.”
To see what we’ve done on this subject before, click here.
Powered by Facebook Comments