Exploring Developing Countries

I have made 5 trips to Uganda, east-central Africa.  I love going there; I love the people.  Ugandans have greeted and treated me with warmth and respect.  But I occasionally have the feeling that I’m being too much of a poverty voyeur.  And to a certain extent, I am.

A few years ago, when the movie Slumdog Millionaire was a surprising hit and did well at the award ceremonies, some critics accused it of being “poverty porn.”  While this was harsh judgment, to a certain sense it is true.

In the recent Time magazine (14 Mar 2011), James Poniewozik discusses the issue of slumming in regards to chef Anthony Bourdain travel TV show called No Reservations.   Poniewozik describes one scene from the show:

The chef, author and “Top Chef” judge is visiting an open-air restaurant in post-earthquake Haiti.  There are pots of stew bubbling and, on every table, hand sanitizer to ward off cholera.  As he sits down to callaloo and chicken creole, a crowd of kids gathers and stares.  “One plate of food would be a good day for any of them,” Bourdain says. “And here, I am painfully aware, I’m eating three.”

Bourdain and his producers buy out the stand to feed the kids.  But the feel-good decision turns feel-bad as fights break out.  “Hungry people everywhere behave like hungry people,” he narrates.  “Because we thought with our hearts and not with our heads, it all turned to sh!t.”

 A similar event happened to me at a gravel pit in northern Uganda (https://rogerdhansen.wordpress.com/2010/06/14/hell-on-earth, see the first comment).  My intentions were good, but my execution left something to be desired.

According to  Poniewozik:

. . . The trip “No Reservations” takes us on is not about easy answers or giving up.  It’s about seeing the world with open eyes, stepping outside your comfort zone and taking the bitter with the sweet.

This entry was posted in Social Justice, Travel, uganda. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Exploring Developing Countries

  1. happypoppeye says:

    Hey, live and learn. You try to do something good, and sometimes thats all you can do. If it goes bad, well, that wasn’t your intention, so you just do it differently next time. As far as “poverty porn” and slumdog millionaire goes, that is ridiculous. It’s life. Any movie can be called the same thing to some extent. Terminator is future porn. Gladiator is roman porn. Whoever said that isn’t too bright…

  2. happypoppeye says:

    PS: not arguing or anything like that.
    Just imagine if all the money here in the US just vanished and all sudden food was short in supply …same thing would happen, but worse probably. You’ve been to Africa. In many parts it truly is a different world. It’s survival of the fittest, and the weak get left behind or die. There is no one to help them or coddle them along…

    I’m gonna have to read that Time article. Personally, my favorite countries are most often the monetarily poorest. The word there is “monetarily”. It seems to me that the less money the people have, the nicer and happier, as a culture, they are. I like that. I think the richer countries of the world could learn alot from them.

    Good article. Although I’m not sure what your opinion is on the subject, as you sort of just put some statements up there. Reading it though, it really leaves one feeling they should put their opinion.

  3. rogerdhansen says:

    When I travel to Uganda, or Bolivia, or Indonesia, or the Philippines, I always get depressed. I will be leaving and going back to my confortable life in the USA. The vast majority of people living in developing countries can not.

    But you are right, many do seem happy. I just wish they all could be just a little more confortable.

  4. dorothy deasy says:

    We have so much privilege here it is hard to keep in perspective.

    Global communications are a blessing and a curse. On the one hand they allow us to see, to bear witness, to the pain and suffering both near and far. And, as Rifkin pointed out in his TED video (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jeremy_rifkin_on_the_empathic_civilization.html), modern communications let us reach out and help.

    But seeing things on TV makes us think we know something, that we understand. That can lead to a kind of “poverty porn” when someone else’s suffering becomes our entertainment. We get used to it and poverty is not something we should ever allow ourselves, as Christians or as humans, to get used to. (I don’t recall who said that.)

    You, though, are not a voyer. You go to Uganda and other places and you go go to help. I strongly suspect (perhaps I don’t know you well enough to say this, but I would bet money on it), you also go to be changed yourself. At its core, that is what mission is about. It is not to make the world like us, but to make ourselves like the world so that when we see the poverty we do not remain distant.
    And that makes all the difference.
    Blessings to you and for you

  5. rogerdhansen says:

    I travel a lot. I’m currently on the Navajo Reservation in southern Utah. The Navajos here are wonderful and it’s fun to hang out. But the little bit my colleagues and I do to help is only a drop in the bucket of what is needed.

    But it is important that the USA maintains the Navajo culture (including language which was so valuable during WWII) as long as the Navajos want to maintain it. The Navajo culture may someday disappear into the history books. But America will be the poorer when it does.

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