St Patrick’s Day has me thinking two things. Flee or hide!
With the crowds of tourists who flock in to the city on the weekend, all aspiring to have the authentic Irish experience, it’ll be buzzing. Most of the search engines for accommodation in Dublin are saying there’s nothing for miles around, and I’m sure Cork is the same. The festival atmosphere will be a joyful one, and if other years are to go by, largely a family one too. So why flee or hide?
Well, flee, because I don’t actually think there’s much genuine about the weekend at all. The crowds are largely tourists, the days have little or nothing to do with Saint Patrick, and the craic is generally alcohol soaked. But before I get on to the many positives of such a weekend, let me draw some comparisons to other lands.
When looking around, we see that much of tourism is very similar. People chasing authentic experiences, quite often with low budget or not much time to spare (annual leave is more generous on the European side of the water, but even then, 4 weeks a year soon passes quickly).
The troubles with this are many, and have to be balanced against the gains. Some questions come to mind:
- by travelling, you are benefitting an economy, but are you creating dependency on a western stream of tourists? Like in Tunisia, after the terror attacks at the Bardo Museum in Tunis or on the beach front in Sfax, tourists stopped coming, as the government (British, American etc) declared it unsafe. And the whole country’s economy took a massive blow as a result.
- by travelling for short-term “mission” trips or volunteer projects, are you taking away work from locals that could have been done by them (painting orphanages, building houses etc)? Are you partnering with locals to empower them?
- by going to a country longer term, are you empowering locals to better work, as opposed to again being there, but just doing a job that they could do, and creating dependency on outside sources? Are you there, in order to ultimately work yourself out of a job?
Unlike quite a one-sided conclusion on such questions that you would have found in this book, I think like everything, there’s a happy medium to be found. I’ve seen all three done sustainably, beautifully and with marvelous results. I’ve also been close to projects and travels where everything has gone belly-up.
And so what about St Patrick’s Day? Well, for once, partly because of this, I’ve decided to open up the church and welcome locals and tourists in to the building for tea, coffee, cake and chats, partly to provide positive space where people can go without drinking, and partly to help some tourists meet someone who’ll be more genuine with them and won’t just play to stereotypes. I’m not sure it’ll be worth it, but we’ll see! At the very least, it’ll get word out to some locals of other projects we’re running (ones like this one which have kept me quiet on the blog recently).
But in the meantime, may it provoke us to stop and think, before we automatically book our next summer volunteer team, our next holiday or decide we’ll save the world by living in a slum somewhere. We’ll never find the perfect opening, but may we give it a shot!
2 thoughts on “Travel and Justice”
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