Travels with Dad

I have been a little more remiss than usual of late in posting to the blog. My dad is visiting from Canada and we have spent the past week touristing it up to the max. So far we have visited Table Mountain, Robbin Island, the V&A Waterfront, Camps Bay, the Cape of Good Hope, penguins(!!), Camps Bay, the Slave Lodge, the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the aquarium, and all about Cape Town’s wonderful city center. We are both exhausted! The weather has been wonderful, apart from one day where we had a kick-ass storm that truly demonstrated the power of winds that blow unimpeded across the ocean from Antarctica.

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The view from Table Mountain

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Dad at the aquarium

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Nobel Square

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Mandela’s cell, Robbin Island

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Trying to avoid killing the penguins

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The Cape of Good Hope, from Cape Point

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Standing at the edge of the world

Our travelling about the city has also included some time spent in the Townships. I was eager to get back to reconnecting with people after my segue in Thailand, and Dad was curious to learn about the places that I was aspiring to work in. We arranged to join a tour that was being offered through a local not-for-profit organization. This was the first tour that I have encountered here that was a side project whose stated objective was to support the community building efforts of the NGO, as opposed to being primarily about tourism. The tour took us to three different Townships and four community projects: a community garden, a women’s economic empowerment collective, a creche (pre-school), and a senior’s group.IMG_4138IMG_4143

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The kids really enjoyed Dad’s bionic knee

IMG_4148 This is the audio of the senior ladies singing us out. I thought we were going to have to drag my Dad out of there.

I think Dad had a really great experience in the Townships, and has been talking a lot about how startling it is to see these communities and the degree of poverty that is visible as you drive down the highway from the airport, and then to contrast that image with the warmth and welcoming nature of the people that we met.

For me, it was great to get a chance to reconnect with the people that I hope to work with over the next few months, and I was able to give five cameras to people who have agreed to take photos in support of my research project! Back in Canada, friends and family donated ELEVEN digital cameras to me before I left to give to people in the Townships. People are so awesome 🙂 The idea is to ask Township residents to take photos of their experiences of tourism in their communities, both good and bad, and then tell me about the photos they have chosen to take.

I am VERY excited to see what people will choose to share with me. I have explained my objectives as clearly as possible, I think, while also trying to not proscribe what I want people to tell me, and I’m trying not to stress about ceding control of what information gets produced.

One young man said to me the other day, “I wonder what they [the tourists] think about us.” This is exactly what I wonder too, only from the other side!!! We are going to have some fun chats he and I. Can’t wait to see where we go from here.

So, only a few days left with Dad, and then back to work full time. We’ve been cooking a lot in the Mouille Point apartment that Dad rented for his visit. Tonight’s dinner consisted of an oddly-gendered beer (am I allowed to enjoy it, seeing as how I am neither a champion nor a man?), South African staples of samp, spinach, and sausage, Dad’s dessert, and a sunset over the ocean 🙂

Feeling like a boss

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The view from my new abode in the Township

I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty good about life these days. I had a wonderful trip to Thailand, connected there with some truly inspiring and fun people, and now I’m back ‘home’ in South Africa, ready for whatever lies ahead. And I came home to friends! My dear friend Jane, who was my boss when I was an intern in Tanzania back in 2008, was travelling with the new crop of interns and I was lucky enough to get back in time to spend the day with them before they flew home to Canada. The first part of the day involved a lovely stop at a vineyard, including an oddly gendered lunch:

Then we decided to drive down to the coast and look at the penguins. Penguins!! I saw them once before on Robbin Island, but these guys were just waddling around right next to us. Penguins!

They’re such funny little things. We capped off the day with a gorgeous sunset over the Cape and a fantastic seafood dinner on the ocean. IMG_3996IMG_20160414_190501756[1]

I loved being able to spend the day with my friend and to get to know the interns, who are so full of ideas and energy and I was invigorated just hearing about the work that they are initiating in Durban and Dar es Salaam. They reminded me a little bit of that first crop of interns from so long ago 🙂CIMG1743

And I came home to mail!! Honest to goodness, in the mail, stamped and everything mail!! I am a lucky human.On that note, I dig once again into The Greatest Gift, feeling pretty classy 😉IMG_4002

IMG_4003.JPGAhahaha, so wonderful! Thank you again and again Kimberly!  You’re right – no one would ever mistake us for classy, but we do have more fun than ‘normal’ people, whoever they might be! xox

And this is now my room 🙂IMG_4004

 

A detour within a detour: Addis Ababa edition

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What’s life without a little drama? After a very long delay in Bangkok with a broken plane engine (take all the time you need with that one), I arrived in Addis Ababa 30 minutes after my other flight left for Cape Town. *sigh* This has never actually happened to me before. So I stood in an unmoving line for a lifetime, remembered how to use my elbows, witnessed some very undignified adult male tantrums, sat in a shuttle van in the parking lot for another lifetime, then arrived at my (comped) hotel only to wait for my room key to be fixed and for someone to know how to connect to the wifi.

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The view from my hotel room. I enjoy the bus.

But yay! I was sad when I booked my flights and saw that I would not have time to get out of the airport and explore, so surprise trip! The guys in my hotel are awesome and they connected me with a taxi driver/tour guide who would drive me around and show me the highlights. He’s a pretty cute young guy, if I may say so 🙂

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My new friend and his Lada taxicab. I have no idea how he keeps it running.

I tried to explain to these guys that what I would really like to do is to go to some central part of the town (my hotel is near the airport) to just be able to wander around for a bit, maybe have a bite and some coffee, and actually feel like I spent some time in the city, but I don’t think this translated very well. I decided to just roll with it – there’s something to be said for learning about what people think you want to see, after all.

My young friend kept taking me to these wonderful Orthodox Ethiopian churches – which I had had no idea was a thing – and while they were beautiful, enough is enough with the church thing. Outside of one he stopped next to a vendor and asked if I would like to have a Aksum cross. I awkwardly mumbled a ‘no thank you’ and we started to walk on, but after a few steps he turned back and bought me one! I was so blown away. That’s when I realized that his showing me the churches isn’t about the buildings (I think), but rather about trying to share with me how much they mean in his life. He must have thought I was a proper heathen because everyone else seemed to make quite elaborate gestures of respect and genuflection upon entering not only the church but also the church grounds, but I did behave myself.

We also visited the bones of Lucy in the drab little national museum and I was again struck by how much he wanted me to learn about his culture and history. To me the museum was dull – I would much rather sit in a bus station all day and watch the people go by – but I might be a weird tourist like this.

My favourite part of our interaction this afternoon, was how often my host asked to take photos. At first I thought he was asking me to take photos, when I wasn’t taking the requisite tourist shots, but then I realized that he himself wanted to be taking the pictures! He has a wonderful eye and we spent a bit of time talking about how the camera works.

He also caught this video, which I love. The little fella at the end was so curious about the camera and I was hoping to let him play with it for a bit, but my new friend thought I was looking for someone to take a photo, rather than looking to let that specific kid have a go.

Then, at the end of the afternoon, my host asked if he could take me out for dinner and a beer! Yay! We went to the cultural center, which reminded me very much of the restaurant where we had the conference gala dinner in Chiang Mai – lots of ‘traditional’ artifacts and ‘traditional’ dancing and LOTS of tourists, and it was a wonderfully fun evening. The dancing completely blew me away. This is me embracing the liminal ‘third space’ of tourism, lol. And shiro mmmm. I embraced lots and lots of shiro!!

A brief detour to Thailand

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I realize that I haven’t posted in a while, but I have been in Thailand for the past 10 days and I have found it difficult to find the time. I realize that this is meant to be a blog about my experiences in South Africa, but it’s also a travel blog so what the heck. It’s also my travel blog, so I think I should be able to do what ever I want with it 😉

I am here for the Tourism Paradoxes conference, which is a small gathering of people who like to think about tourism and the ways that it shapes our world. I presented about my work in South Africa which was very well received and I got lots of great questions and suggestions for how to engage with shame productively in my work. And Hazel Tucker was there! Hazel Tucker came to my presentation – eeeep!!

It has been a wonderful experience travelling around Bangkok and Chiang Mai. It is funny because I have had very little interest in travelling in Asia in general – I have been too smitten with Africa in recent years, but also because I feel as though Thailand has been ‘done’ in a way. Like, it was the hip happening place to trip to when I was about 20, but it’s been done (even if – like myself- you’ve never actually been before). And of course there are lots of implications of this. What happens to a place when everyone and their brother decides that it is the ‘it’ place to check out, and then, in turn, what happens when that same demographic decides that that scene is played out and they move on to a newly discovered locale?

At any rate, I have had a wonderful time checking out the temples, I have had a borderline obscene number of massages, I have eaten myself silly, and I have loved reconnecting with old friends and meeting thoughtful and inspiring people who share a real passion for changing the world for the better (Salut Emmanuelle!). The scenery and the people are beautiful and warm (actually, the weather has been hotter than the seventh ring of hell) and I have thoroughly enjoyed my vacation.IMG_3647

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I have thoroughly enjoyed the signs:IMG_3848

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And  I am also getting a kick out the phone booths. They’re like a funky blast from the past:

I am less enjoying all of the middle-aged white men accompanied by young Thai women. Although it is possible that my Western feminist perspective is imposing a lack of agency on women in the developing world, constructing them as being less empowered than myself :-/

I will say that something really did surprise me about this conference this week. Despite the fact that everyone there is involved in the study of tourism and most, if not all, are concerned with social justice and the impacts of tourism, the touristic activities that we participated in were very much run-of-the-mill. Take the location for our gala dinner, for instance. This was a beautiful outdoor restaurant and the food was wonderful, but over the course of the dinner we were entertained by ‘traditional dancers’ performing specifically for our group. There is nothing wrong with this, I don’t think, but seems to me to be exactly the sort of commodification of culture that we theorize about so extensively.

Likewise, the following day a group of us loaded up into a large coach bus and went on a handicrafts tour. At each site (an umbrella making site, a silk making site, and a silver shop) we descended from the bus, were trouped through to see how the products were made, and then bought the handicrafts that were on offer. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this – income is created for local people and we learn something about local craft skills. And I also want to say that I in no way wish to critique the organizers, who planned this entire event from multiple different countries (not Thailand) in their ‘spare time,’ and the experiences were lots of fun. I just found a bit of a disconnect between what we research and critique, and then what we choose to do when we gather as tourists.

We did also have a brief visit to an organic farm, where some local guys had a good laugh, presumably at Juliane and her melon:IMG_3804

“I carried a watermelon?!” came up frequently after this 😉

The other thing that sort of blew me away was that there was a stack of pamphlets with tour options for us to sign up for on our free day, and one of the conference participants approached myself and another woman and showed us an ad for a tour featuring stops at 5 different tribal villages in one afternoon, including a stop to see the so-called ‘long-necked’ Karen people. Again, we’re critical tourism scholars. Both myself and my friend were a little horrified that this person would be interested in participating in such a tour, as these kinds of tours don’t allow tourists to engage with the people they are visiting or share in any kind of mutual exchanges, but seem to involve little more than descending on a village, snapping the obligatory photos to show the folks back home, then loading back onto the bus. It is particularly troubling in the case of the Karen whom, I am led to understand, have little (if any) legal status in Thailand, do not have access to passports, and many villages have seen a significant exodus of younger adults who do not want to be part of the tours (if you’re interested, check out Malia’s great blog posting about having visited the Karen and reflecting upon it afterwards on Twenty-something Travel). Again, I’m not trying to be judgmental or tell people what they can and can’t do as tourists, but I think that it is often easy to get swept away in an exotic new locale and forget that there are real people who are impacted by the choices that tourists make. And elephants. And tigers. I found a good resource, if anyone is interested, for how to try to make sure that your visit with tribal people is done in a respectful way at All Thailand Experiences.

And because I hate to end on a negative note, the food here is marvelous (as if there was ever any doubt!). I’m participating in a cooking class tomorrow morning and then (hopefully) jogging back to my hotel room afterwards.