Saturday, February 6, 2010

Poll Time

There is a popular tourist destination in Bolivia, a once-silver-now-tin mine in Potosi. The main tourist activity in this formerly rich, colonial town is a tour of the mines. The mine's working conditions are deplorable, they haven't changed for decades. The people working there are extremely poor. The visiting tourists bring gifts of tobacco, coca, chicha, rum, etc.

When I first heard of this activity, I felt pretty uncomfortable. It strikes me as not a little morally ambiguous to make a tourist attraction out of people's degrading and back-breaking reality. For tourists to spectate, heading into the mines, removing their ray-bans and watching out for their bright shiny converse sneakers and turn these people into something on the other side. Like a zoo. And then to leave and spend the equivalent of a week's wages on their alcohol consumption that night.

I also can see why it became a tourist attraction-- Che Guevara did the same thing 50 years ago, just on his own. He wanted to see how these people lived, what their lives were like. It is, in a way, educational, if you do something with this knowledge. And it's certainly not something you could experience at home.

But can you imagine trooping in, part of a line of tourists with their cameras at the ready?

I really want to know, would you do it?


Nikki said...

Is there a way you could see and visit with these people without seeming like a typical tourist? You seem like you have a natural ability to talk to people and you have a healthy respect for them and their circumstances. Perhaps a few days there chatting with the locals would help you get a better idea of how they live without feeling like you're being exploitative?

Anonymous said... different is it from what you HAVE been doing? Or any tourist, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

seems to me that there's a difference between exploring other cultures and taking part in explotation. I'd be curious if the goods go to the workers.

A Jew and an Ex-Mo Go To South America said...

Emily, it is very different from what I have been doing already. Yes, there is an inherent part of tourism that is being a spectator, but the mine brings it to an entirely different level, I feel.

Anonymous, I ·think· the goods go to the workers, but I wonder where the tour money goes to if the workers' conditions haven't improved at all in decades...

Amy-Alisa said...

No, I wouldn't go. It doesn't sound like it would benefit them or you in any sense.

Sven said...

I would totally do it. At least for me, the more I see people in impoverished conditions, the more I am reminded of our duty to help those less fortunate than ourselves. Though I'm not currently in a position to do much in the way of charity work, seeing those in need strengthens my resolve for the future.

Anne said...

The Global Fund for Children supports a group called Centro para el Desarrollo Regional (CDR). It runs a Child Miner's project in Potosi that provides on-site schools and skills training (as an alternative to working in the mines) to children that work in the mines. It also operates a cafeteria for the children.

Let me know if you go to Potosi and I will send you the contact information for CDR and you can see what this group is doing to address conditions in the town.