Thursday, December 1, 2011

Citizenship Tourism for Peace, Sustainability, and Enjoyment

     Mass tourism, which I call glass bubble tourism, does little or nothing for peace or sustainability. I don't know if anyone ever thought that it should. Glass bubble tourism may even hinder the causes of both peace and sustainability. This article is mainly about what some people call new tourism (not the same thing as sustainable tourism, though there is some overlap), and which I like to call reality tourism—or, less abrasively, citizenship tourism. It's important to explain the difference.
     With glass bubble tourism, you travel to a famous place and limit your travels to spots that are set aside for tourists. You stay in a hotel or other place that is atypical of the surrounding culture. You eat foods that are carefully selected for international tastes.  These foods may have local-sounding names, and they're prepared to seem exotic without tasting unusual. You look at things, you're told some superficial things about them, and you're usually allowed to take pictures.
     Sometimes you have your picture taken with people who dress funny; and, if you feel bold, you may dress funny yourself. In fact, you don't even have to go near them; you can have your picture taken with the locals in the background, as though they were just part of the scenery. If the locals are non-white, a group of them will probably dance. You buy souvenirs that you'll never use—souvenirs that may have been made in China, and which you probably can buy more cheaply at a discount store at home.
     Then you go home, thinking that you've gained an understanding of a culture that is different from your own. The truth is, you could have gained as much or more understanding of other cultures by watching the Discovery Channel.
     Not long ago, I read an article in which a feller said that he found Disneyland's version of New Orleans and the Mississippi River more interesting than the real places. No, thanks; I prefer reality.
     I'm not knocking traditional dress, handcrafts, or dances. Let's take Yap, Micronesia, for example. In dress, they work with nature rather than against it. As for handcrafts, I'm far more impressed by people who are able to make their own handbags from all-natural material than by people who waste hundreds of dollars on a high-polluting, high highfalutin Gucci bag. I'm fascinated by traditional Yapese dances, especially the stick dance. Stick dancing is both an art form and a thrilling form of athletics. 
     For what it's worth, the clothes that Yapese wear for those traditional dances are handmade from local, natural materials. Even the colorful dyes are all natural. 
     Having dissed glass bubble tourism, let's turn to the more sustainable citizenship tourism. In this article, I'm focusing on volunteer tourism. While a home stays are another option, the civic value and other benefits of a home stay need no elaboration. At left is an illustration of how different types of new, or citizenship, tourism may be related.
     Suppose you wanted to see wildlife in Africa. If you were a glass bubble tourist, you might take a tour by protected jeep or bus, whereby you can use your camera and telephoto lens to take a long-range photo of wildlife. As a citizenship tourist, you might volunteer a couple of weeks to work at an African wildlife preserve—in which case, you may assist a veterinarian in treating a sick or injured animal.
     Earlier, I mentioned Yap, Micronesia. A student of mine, after watching a video of a stick dance, asked, “Do they really dress like that?”
     My assistant immediately said, "No.”
     After some thought, I responded, "Do American men really wear tuxedos, and do Taiwanese women really wear chi paws?” Of course, the correct answer is, they wear them when the occasion calls for wearing them.
     What the student wanted to know was, “How do they live when tourists aren't watching them?” In very many places in the world, young people have volunteered from a few months to as many as two years of their lives to living among the people, learning their languages, practicing their customs, and working as teachers or in other capacities.
     Imagine yourself as a glass bubble tourist in Iran or Pakistan. Then you return home and read in the papers that Iranians are terrible people or that Pakistanis are just abstract numbers that were struck by drone attacks. Your attitudes toward Iranians and Pakistanis will be more influenced by the newspapers than by your visit to those countries.
     Now imagine yourself staying two weeks in the home of an Iranian or a Pakistani. Then you return home and read in the papers that Iranians are terrible people or that Pakistanis are just numbers that were struck by drone attacks. You're not likely to see wars of aggression in the same light.
     Imagine yourself as a volunteer for wetland preservation. All of a sudden, the gray herons, mud skippers, and other living things are no longer just words and pictures in a magazine. You find yourself understanding them and caring about them. They seem real to you because they are real; your perspective has adjusted to that reality.
     In most cases, citizenship tourism can be called "tourism on a budget."  At far less expense than glass bubble tourism, you can enjoy a richer, fuller travel experience than you had thought possible. You'll also be less susceptible to government or corporate media propaganda that objectifies or vilifies people of other cultures, encouraging you to stand by and do nothing when your tax dollars are used to finance unjust wars.
     To find these citizenship tourism opportunities, you can use your favorite Internet search engine and key in the words volunteer tourism organizations, volunteer tourism jobs, sustainable tourism, eco-tourism, or any other relevant terms that come to mind. If you don't have the time or freedom to commit two weeks or more overseas, you can plan your own vacation with people-to-people opportunities.
     If you don't have the wherewithal to cross the sea, there are plenty of opportunities at home. Opportunities for building a better world, and to have fun doing it, are limited only by your imagination and commitment.

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