Crabs, bats and communists, in Cuba's greatest Soviet souvenir.
Tuesday 16 June 2015
You don’t tend to hear a lot about tourism in Haiti. During my visit there in 2014, I can’t remember spotting a single tourist outside of my own little group. At least in part, this could be put down to the lack of tourism infrastructure provided by this impoverished Caribbean nation – but there are also some serious stigma surrounding Haiti, and many travellers are put off by concerns about cholera, crime and even the rumour of ritual human sacrifice (which, by all accounts, does still occasionally occur in remote provinces of the country).
In reality however, Haiti feels like quite a safe and welcoming country to visit. The only issue that raises uncomfortable questions is the abject poverty and dire conditions in which many of its citizens now live.
Haiti was the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, even before the disastrous earthquake of 2010. Right after that, UN aid workers brought cholera into the country with them, a strain that has been traced to UN operations in SE Asia. The hospitality of the Haitians, even in despite of their pretty awful luck, is a credit to them – but as a visitor in the country I found myself wondering where the line lay between tourism and voyeurism. While ‘street photography’ may seem perfectly tasteful anywhere else, do the rules change once you enter a recovering disaster zone? There were certainly times during my trip when I felt inclined to put my camera away, out of respect… though no one told me to do so.
A lot has been written about the practices of so-called ‘slum tourism,’ or ‘disaster tourism,’ and when I get round to writing up this essay I plan to offer a fairly critical look at my own experience and behaviours in Haiti; analysing the existing tourism infrastructure, and discussing the ethical pros and cons of sending gawping visitors into a disaster-struck third world country.
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