So compared to my other blog posts, this one is pretty naked considering I did not take any photos from my day. Why, you ask? In short, people’s lives are not tourist attractions. Let me explain.
First thing in the morning we attended church. When I first entered the church, I will say I was quite emotional. We were greeted at the door with welcoming hugs and walked to the back row to witness their song and praise time, which they did with complete abandon. I always admire people for their complete conviction of faith since I’ve been struggling with my own beliefs for so long. However, growing up in church and always having it in my life has given me an admiration for those who seem so strong in their faith. Although nothing prepared me for these women (there was approximately a 1:20 ratio of men to women with less than 10 men present- which is interesting in itself) completely investing their bodies and mind to singing and prayer. There was no concrete structure and people walked around as they prayed out loud in their respective language while the pastor would pray, switching between languages. So after being overwhelmed by their faith, we were asked to greet our neighbors and so many women gave me hugs, literally some of the most loving hugs I’ve received in my life. I really almost cried when a woman hugged me and it felt like my mother. The friendliness and ubuntu of South Africans will stay with me forever. I truly believe that I need to incorporate it into my own philosophy. Anyways, the pastor began to preach about developing good Christian character, in which he focused on education, overcoming fear, achievement, and then how those things lead to wealth. So he had me until he started talking about wealth and a billionaire he knows. So 1. Isn’t it like a Christian principle to not accumulate an exorbitant amount of wealth because you should be giving it to the less fortunate? And 2. In speaking to people that live in a township marked by extreme poverty with a sprinkle of middle class, why preach about figures such at 300 million rand? So nonetheless, I was very turned off by that part of his message, but the atmosphere and love I was shown was so welcoming.
From the church, we started our walking tour throughout the township. We were immediately told it was okay to take pictures. The moment our tour guide said that I was immediately uncomfortable because this meant taking pictures of the locals and their homes, most of which were shanties which could be informal or formal settlements, like their lives were a tourist attraction. So what we did is basically walk down the street and enter random businesses or people’s homes to stare for 2 minutes and then leave. Imagine a foreign tourist group walking through your neighbor knocking on your door asking to come in to see your home and take pictures like you and your family are a spectacle to behold. Not only would this NOT happen in the United States, but it immediately created a hierarchy between us as a majority white privileged group observing a black township marked by poverty. Despite my discomfort over this dynamic, these people were kind enough to let us into their homes and briefly talk to us, which did give us insight to their situation. I do think our tour guide was trying to prove that the people in the township are human and it shouldn’t be perceived as a negative area. Nonetheless, barging into the homes of locals and taking pictures of them in their home like they’re an exhibit is not a type of tourism I believe is ethical or beneficial to creating a world of equitable human treatment. Furthermore, we also felt like we were on display as an attraction for the locals. As a blonde white woman, I am a rare sight to see in that area, so when a little girl in church hugged me and held onto my hair I didn’t mind because she was probably innocently curious about the texture. What I did mind is being ushered into a barber shop filled with men where they stared at us, asked whether we had boyfriends and made gestures as we left. I was concerned for Kyra when she was asked to take a picture with a man who called her an angel, grabbed her hair and tried to hold her hand while taking a picture. The whole experience felt exploitative from both sides. So while I am grateful for the spur of the moment hospitiality and kindess of the locals, I very much preferred the experience of Soweto in which we were explicitly invited into the home of locals to share a meal and converse with one another. I got to see the inside of shanty homes and I felt their kindess in Khayelitsha, but I had more of an experience learning about the local sentiments and customs in Soweto by getting to know the women through fellpwship. I completely believe that the township experience should be intimate rather than a spectacle. This day definitely aroused questions of ethics surrounding tourism.