Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tourism in Haiti

CNN posted an article today about the controversy surrounding Royal Caribbean's decision to resume sending cruise ships to their private resort on Haiti. Many are criticizing the company for the move, saying tourists shouldn't be enjoying the high-life while people continue to die nearby. The company has defended its decision saying that bringing tourism to the island contributes to the health of the economy. They also argue that diverting the ship to another destination wouldn't actually help anyone on the island.

I must admit that at first glance the thought of enjoying a day on the beach just down from Port-au-Prince does seem tacky at best. But as I continued to explore the idea, it occurred to me that the discussion is really one of scale. Haiti has been and will continue to be one of the poorest countries in the world. People died of malnutrition and disease there long before the current disaster, and yet the cruise ships came. In ten years, people will still be dying of causes that the tourists could never comprehend, and yet the cruise ships will come. If I, as an individual, didn't care about or contribute to the solution before, cancelling my cruise now won't actually affect the outcome.

I must confess that I have struggled with my own response to the disaster in Haiti. It is a hugely catastrophic situation, to be sure, but again I contend that the scale of the situation is what disinguishes it, not the specific suffering involved. Every day, everywhere, people suffer just as miserably and I look away. Why do I feel more inclined to try to ease the suffering of Haitian earthquake victims but didn't feel so inclined two weeks ago to lighten the load of the Haitian poor?

Please let me clarify that I completely recognize the wealth that I live in. I have never known a single day of poverty in my life. I can think of twice that I have seen poverty, real poverty, personally. When I was 17, I attended a community service trip with my school to Chaco, an area in northern Argentina. I remember seeing the rural poor, people who lived in small, self-built shacks with no utilities. About a year later, I went on a mission trip to Paso de Aguila, a bordertown in Mexico. We worked in what I can only call a slum, and I still marvel at the conditions of the people there. But mostly, I have continued to live my upper middle-class life, happy to enjoy uninterrupted warm water, electricity, and air conditioning. For me, poverty is not being able to take a vacation this year or having to wait yet another year to upgrade to HD cable. I do not know what it means to actually wonder where my food will come from, or question if my child will catch a water-borne illness, or if that child will die if it gets sick.

So let me try to come back around to my point, if indeed there is one. I have always lived, still live, and will continue to live in a world where I am more privileged and wealthy than almost everyone else in the world. How am I to live globally, not focusing on the affluence of the people around me, but on the stark, endless poverty that so much of the world lives in? In two months, when the cameras have left Haiti and the cruise ships return guilt-free, will I still care about the people who live there?

Monday, January 18, 2010

This is why my friends are awesome...

I am posting here for your perusal a conversation that took place between me, my old friend M, and a co-worker/friend named G. It began with my claim to G that I had once pulled a knife on a guy and her disbelief at the awesomeness of this fact. To back up my claim, I sent the following note to M, who'd witnessed said knife-pulling:

M, I have a story that needs vouching. G (also on this e-mail) does not believe that I once pulled a knife on a dude in Buenos Aires. Do you remember, we’d gone to see a movie, and you had your camera and a bunch of CDs in your bag, and those two guys split us up and I pulled a box cutter on him? PLEASE tell me you remember so you can back me up here!

M, being the manly friend that he is, responded:

Dear G,

The tale C has spun is actually true. However I remember things a little differently. I was 17 so C was probably 18 and the night before this event I had spent the night at C's house. I'd brought a ton of CD's over because we were gonna make mixtapes (what kind of 12 year old girl sleep over party was this?). Anyway, the next day we decided to go see Schindler's List in Belgrano, a district in Buenos Aires that's kinda like Times Square. After this 4 hour behemoth of pure cinematic feel good sunshine, we walk into the heart of Belgrano a bit dazed. Remember I still have my bag filled with CD's with me at this time as I haven't gone home yet. This is where my memory differs somewhat from C's. C says he remembers two "dudes" trying to mug us. I remember two 13-14 year old boys trying to mug us. Since the street is crowded with people these two dudes split us up pretty easily, trying to engage us in a conversation. The one dude gets me behind a bus stop poster and tells me to give him my bag. I laughed and said no because I swear he had to have been 13 years old and I knew I could take him no problem. I walk from behind the bus stop poster AND I SEE C WHIP OUT A BOX CUTTER AND STICK IT RIGHT IN THIS DUDE'S FACE!!!!. Shock and awe Ginny. Shock and awe (this should be C's gmail handle). The dudes run off. I am standing there totally dumbstruck. As I recall I said, "That's the manliest thing I've ever seen..."

The End.

To this day I cannot watch or think of the movie Schindler's List without thinking of this event.

Shock and Awe,


At this point I feel the need to respond one last time:

I would like to point out this one awesome fact: When M thinks of Schindler’s List, he does not think of Liam Neeson saving children, or of the atrocities of war and holocaust. No, these are not the images that come to his mind. By his own admission, he thinks of me, standing proudly, waving my knife in a wanna-be mugger’s ugly face.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Please, no labels...

I hate being labeled. I understand the need to categorize things, to sort things in our minds, to organize the world around us in an attempt to understand how things work. My children love to compare things and understand the similarities and differences between the objects around them. This is an entirely human response. But I would hope that we’re a little more profound - a little more complex - than the quaint labels that people would like to stick on us.

Do not try to call me a conservative or a liberal. My opinions and beliefs on specific issues are driven by thought and argument, not because of someone else’s agenda. On some issues, I hold a more politically conservative opinion (I am pro-life and pro-small government), but on other issues I would be called a political liberal (I am pro-gun control and against the death penalty). I am fully willing to argue my belief on any one of these issues independently. But I won’t defend any of them against a charge of being “conservative” or “liberal.” The labeling is meaningless outside of a discussion of the issue itself. I have voted for both Democrat and Republican candidates based on the issues that I feel are important at the time and the candidate’s stance on those issues. Voting this way requires a lot more effort than simply choosing the “D” or “R” box on the first page, but it more accurately reflects how I feel about the officials that represent me.

I even flinch from being called a Baptist. I proudly attend a Southern Baptist church for two reasons:
  • I was raised in a Southern Baptist church and feel more comfortable in the structure and traditions of that denomination.
  • In general, the doctrine of the Southern Baptist denomination holds fairly closely with my own beliefs.

However, I would hope that someone wouldn’t merely look up “Southern Baptists” on Wikipedia and assume they understand what I believe about any given issue. There are, in fact, practices with which I do not agree, but I stand firm with the fellowship of believers to which I am bound. I attend a Baptist church, but do not assume you understand everything about me because of that.

Despite our need and desire to categorize the world around us, there are rarely such simple black-and-white differentiations. We should challenge ourselves to understand issues and the subtleties and complexities of people’s opinions, rather than be lazy and rely on simple labels to define how we respond to those around us.