Travel: Delusions of Tourism
Words: Nataša Cordeaux
Photography: Nataša Cordeaux & Hersey Liu
The Tourist's Deluded Notion
The expectation of some tourists has become exceedingly high and spoilt. From volunteers to business trips, it seems that those who do not experience a big Ghanaian ‘akwabaa’* feel as though they are not getting their moneys worth.
Young yet assertive, the body home to the over-confident American teen expected itself to be greeted and treated with a holiday receptionist’s smile as she walked over to the brown wooden bus-ticket hut in Takoradi, Western Region Ghana. Having been directed by a local man to the booth earlier, on her way over now, she omits eye-contact or acknowledgement of the other men whose speaking tongues and gestures try to catch her attention. She assumes the worst of them. The barbed wire coiled around the ticket hut’s open window, firmly drawing the line between American girl and Ghanaian woman, buyer and seller. For everyone could see that when a Ghanaian man reached the ticket hut for Beyin, the wire and the sharp metal in ticket seller’s eyes no longer surrounds the booth, it was never there. Then the encroachment of three travelling, the woman assumes, friends seeking a bargained price. They, she thinks, believe they are above our cedi, they want further unearned privileges. Their presence there, their ability to leave their homeland and travel, to carry their digital cameras hoping to capture and own moments of the woman’s home country, already exhibits their privileges, and now this desire to haggle with her? Why have they come to battle with her prices and system, it is 5 for each but they ask for three persons – 5 cedi total!** The woman does not even laugh, she mocks them, “5 cedi total!” and shakes her head refusing them. The man behind prepares to purchase his journey, counting his crinkled red and green cedi notes. “She is being ugly” says the American (does she forget that the ticket-seller is not deaf?) The surprise of hostility and not hospitality shocks the three girls; they walk off assuming they are being ripped off.
The attitude that our flight ticket is supposedly a pre-paid pass into the hearts of the locals is a ridiculous and absurd notion. Without being aware of this deluded notion, we fall victim to feeling as though we have done something wrong if we are not welcomed. We cast ourselves as an outsider, and then the tourist falls into one of two traps: (i) s/he’s discomfort creates a guilt and thus produces superficial attempts to please everyone (ii) s/he decides that it is due to the country and its culture which is inferior and hostile. Neither of the two are pleasant roles to either inhabit or meet.
The modern (or not so?) tourist is born, who is the falsely kind and condescending whilst desiring to experience an “authentic” adventure, an “authentic Africa” – i.e. there money’s worth. They will interact through a closed smile and not haggle whilst purchasing goods from the local market women; signs that they feel will demonstrate their own kindness, signs which function to encourage their welcome. However, this tourist is saturated in suspicion and caution when interacting with locals, refusing to fully engage on a friendly, one to one, human to human level. They stick with their Western notions and decide to trust fellow tourists over the helpful man who has worked and lived in the area all his life, who knows his country better. The tourist pack second guesses each action, especially of unexplained kindness; they accuse locals of exploiting them in order to re-cement the wall between themselves and the indigenous population, between the rich tourist and the poor “native”.
By keeping his defences up, the tourist fails to really appreciate his surroundings and one begins to wonder – why does he spend his earned money to visit a country he believes is beneath him? Is it to reassert his country’s greatness and modernity through comparison? Why spend the money to travel out of the continent to a specific country if simply to spend it by a pool and within an “all-inclusive Western buffet” package? Why travel so far when one shields their eyes and hearts from the local culture and people? A “third world” country is not just a background for your luxury week off.
Haggling Abroad: The Double Standard
Paying for a ticket to Africa, does not entitle us to underpay locals in the hope to boast about our “haggling” skills when relaying and over-exaggerating our “exotic adventure in the third world”. By all means though, I am not suggesting that we should pay non-local prices just because you may be white or from a developed, Western country. For example, many who have travelled to Ghana are not there for luxury beach holidays, but rather have earned and saved their money in order to donate time and effort into Ghana’s society through voluntary work. But then why do these volunteers often take on the mask of the modern tourist?
However, that being said, we should acknowledge and re-evaluate ourselves when haggling abroad in under-developed countries. For example, saving that one Ghana cedi (0.3 of the gbp) will not ultimately dent your finances, especially considering that we would buy a Pret salad often without second thought. A salad, that is, costing over £5 (the equivalent to 15 cedi. Or rather, spend £7 on a Sex on the Beach cocktail (21 cedi). Try not to undercut the local workers when buying something you know you can afford at asking price. It will release you from the chains of hypocrisy: you will no longer be the Fair Trade, organic shopper at home but the exploitative and capitalist tourist abroad (the blind child of the money driven co-operate companies, buying beneath its value and selling it for more at home). Get your principles in order, and stick to them wherever in the world you are.
It was whilst living in Cape Coast earlier this year that I was also struck was the attitude of some volunteers as well as tourists – complaining about the lack of hot water, missing “home comforts” such as marmite – what exactly where they expecting? And further to the point, they seemed to be oblivious to the point that they would return home within the next month where those “little luxuries” would be obediently waiting for them. Unlike many of the locals however, who will remain with no hot water, the slum dwellers in Accra with no sewage system, NHS, nor wardrobes full of designer labels. Yes, I do not deny that it is natural to feel home-sick and experience a slight culture shock, but volunteers/tourists who find themselves in third world countries thinking like this must remember: you chose to be here, you paid to be here and you will return. Enjoy what is in front of you and immerse yourself in the place whilst you can, rather than complain about what is not there and the slow food service.
So for those who really want to experience an authentic, “off the beaten track”, Africa do expect a world different to the middle class setting of skinny lattés and embrace it. You will not regret it.