Thursday, December 31, 2009

Colonial Tourism

(The sounds of frogs i think, in a pond outside of our lodging)

CRASH!  A wayward frisbee thrown by me lands on the table set out for us on the deck and knocks over a glass which shatters.  Sadly, this is the 3rd piece of dishware that we have managed to break.  Maria unintentionally placed a platter over hot stove top causing it crack, Saeed dropped a bowl, and now i shattered a glass with a frisbee.  Not long after the glass shatters, one of our Malawian stewards comes out and and with a big smile on his face helps cleans up the glass shards.  Earlier, the other Malawian steward prepared tea for us, and had cooked us a breakfast of sausages, fried eggs and toast.
Earlier today, the three of us took a horseback ride through the estate. It was a gorgeous ride and we were led by a white woman (from Mozambique).  Now Maria and I were not comfortable riders, so we had two Malawans help us by leading our horses for us.  To be clear, without Jeremiah's help, i would not have been able to ride at all, as my horse was far more interested in eating the grasses along the way then paying attention to his asian rider.  Jeremiah was friendly, and the ride was at a slow pace, in the shade and didn't take more than 45 minutes.  Nevertheless, i couldn't help but feel guilty, and i must have thanked Jeremiah at least 20 times through the ride.  If he had asked i would have gladly traded places and let him ride the horse while i walked beside him.
 It is certainly not lost on me that we are staying in a lodge built for the British Colonials, and that we have, not one, but two Malawan stewards attending to our various needs.  Aside from my middle class uneasiness of having any sort of servant, I do wonder what Jeremiah, Enock and Mavuto think of this entire arrangement.  They all are unfailing welcoming and are always smiling.  Naturally this makes me worry that they must think i am some asshole westerner.
But i am not sure whether this colonial guilt--a guilt that i am pretty far removed, is even proper.  I wonder whether i would feel bad at all if Enock and Mavuto were white.  Would i feel bad at all if Jeremiah was leading the ride, and it was a white man who was leading my horse during the ride?  I doubt it, and herein lies the tricky part.  If my guilt comes from the simple fact that they are natives, and more specifically because they are black, than how can it be justified?  No doubt, the historical context is important, but the actual economic reality is more relevant here.  There is a huge difference between actual colonialism and having people eager to tend to our needs because they are paid to do exactly that.  Enock, Mavuto, and Jeremiah take pride in what they do, and it would be a different form of arrogance to assume otherwise.  As i mentioned earlier, from what little i can tell, the workers here are treated well, are not exploited and seem sincere.   Tourism can be an important economic resource for Malawi, and while i may not care about whether i wake up to the smell of fried eggs, fresh juice and sausage, plenty of people do. (Not that i object to those smells in the morning...)  Now if this all sounds like rationalization, well, then i'll make sure to get Enock to write you a letter explaining otherwise.

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