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.