Thursday, April 3, 2008

On This Day Last Year...

Ngorongoro Crater; Hippos; lions in the shade.
Let me take a moment to qualify these photos: I was in Africa for ten months, three of which were spent in the Siwa Oasis in Egypt, less than thirty kilometers from the Libyan border. The rest of my time in Africa was in some of the poorest countries like Malawi and Ethiopia or the most ravaged, like Rwanda. I was also in Namibia and South Africa, both with their shattering history of Apartheid not far in the past. Burundi, Tanzania, Zanzibar too held great lessons for me.
But to say that conditions in one country on the continent are better or worse than another is to fall into the statistical justification of human rights efforts and errors, the soft media pieces that parlay limited knowledge into tacit complicity, the well-meaning but fruitless endeavors from both inside and outside these locales. That Tanzania is one of the better off countries in East Africa meant little to the hungry and optionless Tanzanias living outside Congolese and Burundi refugee camps in western Tanzania, literally watching food pass them by.
This little safari expedition taught me a lot about how the tourist industry is conducting itself in Africa. From the Hemmingway days until now, only those with the money are able to tool around in expensive vehicles and see the remaining big game animals of Africa. It was a splurge and a lesson for me. As you can see from the photo of the lions in the shade of a touring 4x4, these animals may still be dangerous but they are not exactly wild.
Enjoy the pictures. I was able to take them only because I could muster the couple hundred dollars necessary. What percentage of the world population can do so? I don't know exactly, but almost every one of the tourists I saw was white and American or European. Yes, I feel better knowing I was bringing dollars to these economies, these tourguides, but the reach of such income is not at all far. Some say that these animals are only protected because of the tourism industry (wait until I get to the gorillas of Rwanda!) but even that argument side steps real discussions of western conscience, true preservation, and local economics and custom.
Once this safari is over, I hope I can show you images of the Africa that I fell in love with, the real people, the friendliness, the removal from westernization. But I also hope to further expound on what I observed of tourism, the aid "industry" and ideas of poverty and corporate globalization as the days carry on and the photos allow.



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