Monday, May 08, 2006

Irving Berlin in Delhi

There's an old Irving Berlin song about slum tourism (It's from the 1937 musical On The Avenue). It could be reprehensible, but the punchline is: "Let's go slumming, nose thumbing, on Park Avenue." The song turns the phenomenon on its head and suggests that average folk go prowling around the richest neighborhood of New York the same way the rich look at the poor--like animals in a social zoo ("Let's go smelling where they're dwelling, sniffing ev'rything the way they do.....Come let's eye them, pass right by them, looking down our noses as they do.") But the rich still persist in peeping at the poor. This Observer article (thanks Edesio for the link) covers the bizarre phenomenon in Delhi, with snippets about slum tourism to the Bronx to Rio and Rotterdam.

10 comments:

Pavel Lishin said...

Makes me think of Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Shadow".

Giordano said...

I have a house in Phase9 Bagong Silang ("new town"?) in Caloocan Norte, (Manila)
I dont know if its a squatter city, most have electricity, but my house has no title deeds!

Phase9 pics:
1999
http://static.flickr.com/7/8366028_a42b77726e_o.jpg
206
http://static.flickr.com/36/105671233_8bb76aaf42.jpg

rn said...

1. Pavel: I'll have to check out "Ender's Shadow." I don't know it. Can you say more about the book?

2. Giordano: Are those also your photos on flickr? (I'm particularly interested in the cement cemetery.) From what I have seen in articles, Bagong Silang is huge. Some of it's a squatter area, some is resettlement of squatters from elsewhere in the city, some may be an illegal parcelization (no permits) and a few areas contain houses built by Gawad Kalinga, the charity group that helps organize the poor.

Tell me more about life in Phase9. Did you buy your house or build it? Do you ever join with your neighbors to improve conditions? What do you think of the city government? Etc.

Hope to hear more from you both.

Maurice said...

Having recently done a Soweto tour, I am not sure I can completely agree with the blanket criticism of tours of poor areas. The tour around Soweto is more comparable to a bus tour of any other city (e.g. "this is where 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners lived; this is where the police masacred innocent civilians in 1976; ...) Would you really want to deny visitors to the country a view of such important parts of national history?

But the question goes further than that - the voyeurism often leads to a different understanding of life in the townships. Many of the richer (white) South Africans still see South Africa's townships as violent, uncivilised shanty towns plaugued by gang warfare and where people get ripped out of their cars and mugged at every traffic light.

Every tourist who has done a township tour or stayed in a township B&B however knows better.

Maurice said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Maurice said...

I though this link might interest some of you. Some news from Zimbabwe. The combination of both extreme stupidity and vicousness in Mugabe is rare even amongst African leaders.
http://www.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=84&art_id=qw1147586041152B213

rn said...

Maurice: I'll grant your point about Soweto. But there's a key difference between South Africa and every other country. South Africa's townships were the direct creation of a discriminatory political system. This gives them a unique history and automatic political importance. (I'll forget, for the moment, the question of whether things are much better under the ANC government in many S.A. cities.)

The favela tours and other 'slum' tours that I know of don't have that rich mixture to draw on. In Rio, they really do pile tourists on old Jeeps and ride them through Rocinha as if they are viewing wild animals in the Serengeti. At various places, they get to stop and buy trinkets from the natives.

I commend people for wanting to know the social reality of the poor. But there's got to be a better way. Slum tourism simply squeezes profits from political and social exclusion.

And thanks for the Zimbabwe link, which amply illustrates the horror of demolition and the falsity of state promises of better homes.

Alex said...

I agree that it is incencitive and unfortunate to conduct tours in Rocinha via Jeep. This gives the impression of a safari for sure. However I also agree with Maurice that it is important to have the opportunity to gain first hand insight to these communities where a fifth of the Rio population live. Otherwise one is left only with what the media dishes up, which too often highlights only the violence and misery aspects.
Ideally, a responsible tour opperator does not sensationalize, but educates the visitor and even should even go at least as far as giving back some of the profits to the very community they are visitng.
-Alex

rn said...

Exactly, Alex. If the tour operators would put money towards sewage or sanitation or give back in some other direct way, they would immediately become much more legitimate.

Maurice said...

One last link before this entry slips of the bottom of the blog index...
http://www.southafricalogue.com/places-2-go/johannesburg/soweto/a-day-in-soweto.html