Monday, March 22, 2010

Being a Tourist Part VI: Resolutions

Now that I’ve said all these things that make me feel bad about being a tourist, I’ll say some positive things—because really it’s not all bad and it doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy myself. So I’ll tell you a little big about how to deal with it seeing as I am traveling and I am a tourist and things are the way they are.
But I mean just look at me! I cannot lie and say that I’m not having a great time.

I do think it helps to be aware that by being a part of this study abroad program I am supporting most, if not all, of these problems above--at least indirectly. I think that being aware can affect the way that I behave, because I am not here to see beautiful people in bikinis and sungas (speedos), or to just party and drink água de côco on the beach.
What I want to do is communicate with people, to open my understanding of the world, to have culture shock (hopefully a shift in paradigm), to be more understanding, and see more alternatives to what I’ve learned by my experience prior to this. The way it has helped constructed my view of life. I want to learn different people’s ways of living to possibly incorporate the parts that I really like into the way that I live. I love to make Brazilian friends (and my EAP friends I’ve learned so much from them too) and listen to their perspectives. Also to learn about histories and other people’s struggles.
And I think that although that doesn’t mean that what I do isn’t problematic, I do think that a different attitude can help because it generally leads to different behavior.

But it’s also not like I will learn different things from these people because they are Brazilian, and they’re supposed to be different from people of the U.S. Sure there might be distinct cultural patterns but I think it offers different experiences communicating with different people as they are different people, not just because they are different ethnicities. So try as much as you can to not homogenize any group of people and expect that what information you gather on the culture and history etc., be true for every single person of that community. Expect variety.

I am also conscious of not being a patronizing, “generous American helping these poor people of the Third world”. I know lots of better off people of the “first worlds” dream of this, but this is also problematic and can, understandably, offend a lot of people. If what you would like to do is not just travel somewhere and take advantage of everything while not giving anything back to the community, then there’s nothing wrong with that in the sense that you are wanting to participate in something that is beneficial to the community. I would love to participate alongside community members with what I can, but like I’ve said before, you need to know the history, culture, and politics of the community and much more in order to best participate. And very importantly DO NOT assume that people can’t know what their problems are and they need someone to solve them for them. People know what their biggest issues or problems are if they have them, and possibly they just need to get more organized or have more opportunity for discussion with each other to experiment and decide how to take steps. Make sure that if you are involved in this kind of thing that you don’t see it as a charity—I don’t know if I can really go deep into that issue as it’s a different one, in this entry. I might be able to in another one but it’s complicated stuff as well and if you do think of it as charity it can take more than reading to be able to change that mindset, but the point is that it is patronizing. It’s still taking that power position and undermining the community members’ agency. That they have agency, the ability to act and see results in other words.

Anyway, how else do I deal with it? I’m not really sure. Thinking in this way makes it a little easier, kind of just hoping I’m not the worst tourist EVER. However, I’m not sure that this cognitive dissonance will go away any time soon. And by cognitive dissonance (out comes my psychology) I just mean like a contradiction between different thoughts or beliefs that you have or differences between what you think you should do and what you want to do/ what you actually do. At the same time that I feel bad about it, I’m obviously still here, I knew most of this before coming and still decided to do it, but at the same time I love being here in Bahia. Again look at my pictures—even the ones in which I think I look like such a big tourist, I can’t say I’m not happy.

I love having met all the people I have and learning about things and seeing the consequences of historical events in person. I liked seeing that Quilombo community and seeing the striking differences between the Portuguese and the ex-slave church. I like going to Capoeira class, I love the sound of the Berimbau, and all the heavenly food that I’m eating. I love the sun and I do like going to the beach. [And I do wonder whether that is so “touristy” to go the beach for fun when all the locals that I’ve asked “hey so what do you like to do on the weekends or on your free time here in Bahia?” and most people despite being from different backgrounds here in Bahia will be like “ir à praia e os barzinhos” = go to the beach and bars. Without even asking them though, this is quite evident when all the beaches super crowded—and with locals, evenings and especially weekends. And I keep hearing everyone saying how they can’t wait till the summer to be able to go out to the beach every day. Which just left thinking “ummm…it’s soo hot already, does it really get much hotter?”]

The point of all of this incoherent rambling is that I try to do what locals do and really I am trying to be flexible. I don’t expect being catered to all the time. I do not want a constantly air-conditioned, English-speaking, American-food-eating Brazilian experience. I think it’s great that I’m living with a Brazilian family instead of staying at a hotel. (Well I can’t really afford a hotel but I like hostels you get a good mix of people in them.) I don’t take tour buses outside of what this EAP program already has but prefer to just walk around and check things out. Not just the regular tourist sites.

Tips I would give are:

To just kind of NOT follow a map, or tour book; have days that aren’t so structured, and see what you find. Preferably don’t go alone if you go very far in case you get lost, but sometimes it’s cool to just go by yourself so you’re not carrying around an English-Speaking bubble that flat out points you out as a tourist and kidn of keeps other out.
And really try to go in as informed about the community as you can, but don’t think homogenous dichotomous thoughts or stereotype just from that knowledge. Try not to have a set idea of expectations of people or situations. Try to be flexible, act wisely, be respectful, try new things! And really try to enjoy your experience as much as possible BUT with consideration.

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