Black Screen

My Problem With ‘Suffering’ Tourism

April 30, 2018The Impatient Tourist

Whether you call it dark tourism/grief tourism (tourism directed to places that are identified with death and suffering) or thanatourism (personification of death, refers more specifically to peaceful death) – I need to know what the hell draws you to it?

I’m going to call it suffering tourism because you are going out of your way to be a tourist in places where suffering took/takes place. Now, I do understand there is no place in this world where suffering hasn’t taken place. That I fully grasp. But going there to experience these things as an outsider who wants to FEEL immersed in it? Are you sick fam? 

Recently there was an article on Twitter posted about a war hostel in Sarajevo. The title of this article drew me in pretty quickly, ‘Recreating death for a living: Inside Bosnia’s War Hostel‘. 

What? Šta? Co? Qué? Quoi? क्या? Ano?

The only way to explain my ‘what the fuckness??‘ was in like seven different languages. 

So I went along and read the article and yes, it was exactly what I thought. This place offers an immersive experience ‘where visitors get a taste of daily life in a warzone.‘ I’m not even sure where I can begin to tell you how I feel about this. I’ve read the article like four times now and I’m still wondering what the hell is wrong with people. In the article the person who owns the hostel says they offer it so that people can learn what happens when ‘…people get divided into us and them.’ They can’t go read a book? They don’t have Google? You need to tell me, the only way for people to understand divisive politics that lead to genocide is to pay money and pretend they were us during the worst times in our lives? 

*refer back to the seven languages of WHAT?! above*

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I had done an itinerary for carnival in Brazil and went wandering into activities and tours one could do while in Rio. There was a nice option for a visit to the Christ the Redeemer statue and some hang gliding, awesome. Then I saw something called ‘Tour of the Favelas’. I’m there reading this description and it’s saying something along the lines of it is a RESPECTABLE tour of some favela in Rio. 

If you don’t know what a favela is, it is basically the hood area in Brazil. The disproportionately low-income and high-crime area. When my Brazilian friends tell me about going to Brazil, this is exactly the area they tell me to stay away from. Tours? So, you’re going to do what? Walk by and look at the poor people like they’re circus acts? What is it that could possibly make you want to pay money to go observe these people? Nah. I don’t see anything respectable about that.

My friend Kenya was Tweeting along with me the other day about this topic, she was saying how she has no interest in going to old prisons, asylums, Auschwitz or Elmina castle in Ghana. I felt that. Accurate representation of how I also feel about places with such horrific histories.

However, this is one important part I would like to add in right now. Those who are of certain diasporas wanting to go to these places in researching their OWN history? That is not the same as suffering tourism. Those of the Jewish faith visiting Auschwitz makes sense. Black people in USA, Canada, Caribbean etc. wanting to go visit Elmina castle in Ghana makes sense. 

As a Bosnian refugee I have zero interest in visiting a damn war hostel in Sarajevo. Granted, that isn’t necessarily my history as I was fully alive and present for the war in Bosnia. I’m good on all that, I don’t need to feel, see or experience that shit. That is actually my life. 

I had also seen that there is a tour in Sarajevo that takes you into the underground tunnels that were made by the army to get around the city while there was snipers outside. I…. Ok. No thanks, again.

When I told my mom about these things she said it all has to do with money. If people can somehow make money off any aspect of tourism, they will. Some people are ‘history buffs’ (I’m using this term VERY loosely) and want to be immersed. You an anthropologist?

Few weeks ago there was an article I came across from a journalist describing his trip to (I believe) it was Auschwitz as well. He was saying how it was crazy going to a place with such a sordid history but the tourists there just running around eating their snacks and taking selfies by the gas chambers. That does not sit well with me. I want no part.

Why wouldn’t you travel to places in search of times of jubilation? Happiness? If you are going to Carnival somewhere, why aren’t you educating yourself about that aspect of your trip? Why do you need to go to a favela tour if you’re in Rio or a plantation tour if you’re in Barbados? Is that absolutely necessary for you to experience?    

The best way I could explain it to some of you is by using what happened a week ago today in Toronto. The monster who decided to kill a group of innocent people at Yonge and Finch.

Imagine if two months, two years, two decades (whatever) from now – someone decided to make a ‘Van Massacre in Toronto Tour‘ Taking tourists from other countries to see and IMMERSE themselves in one of the worst days this city has ever experienced.

How would you feel if someone was offering ‘Residential School System Experience‘ as a tour? Given we know the horrific things that the native population in Canada went through in those buildings. Would make me sick.

So I ask some of you who clearly don’t accept books, school or Google as being ENOUGH for your learning of history, why? If it wouldn’t be acceptable in showcasing the tragedies in Canada for profit, why is it OK for you to go see it everywhere else?

– Mirna 


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