I’ve been thinking about the term “disaster tourism” lately. Even though I have biological roots in Haiti, I feel like a tourist when I travel around town. People think I’m a tourist. They stare at me, unrelenting, through the car window when I drive by. Some men gawk and make kissy faces at me to make me uncomfortable, and it works. I usually burst out laughing, and have to turn away. I feel a sense of guilt looking at people in their poverty when I drive around with my dad. I respect the people who toil endlessly in the hot Carribbean sun, day after day to make what I consider pocket change, but I worry they think I am looking down on them because literally, I am: Many of them sit on the ground in front of their various stands of fruits, vegetables, simmering meats, shoes, clothing, car parts and such, and they have to look up like 10 feet to see my pale face looking around out the window of my dad’s Ford F250. Is it rude to look at them? Is it rude to not look at them? I don’t know, but I look anyways, because I’m a curious person. And I offer a smile at people who stare at me, if it’s not in the kind of way that makes me nervous.
I went with my dad today to run errands and visit some of his properties. He drove my sister and me all around PetionVille so they could show me the buildings the earthquake took down. It was fascinating, but when I got home I started to wonder if I was a “disaster tourist,” and if I was doing something morally wrong on some level. So I turned to my fail-safe advice gurus, Google and Wikipedia, to find out if I should be feeling guilty.
Disaster tourism is the act of traveling to a disaster area as a matter of curiosity. The behavior can be a nuisance if it hinders rescue, relief, and recovery operations. If not done because of pure curiosity, it can be cataloged as disaster learning.
So there. I’m not a disaster tourist. Curiosity isn’t my sole motivation for wanting to see the aftermath of the quake. I’m involved in a project (Haiti Rewired) where people are interested in coming up with architecture, engineering, and technological solutions for Haiti to help the people who have been hurt by this natural disaster. I guess the term “disaster tourism” originated after Hurricane Katrina when companies set up actual tour buses to show tourists the aftermath, profiting from the business and impeding clean-up vehicles and such. But I am not profiting from this. I am making sacrifices to share my experience with others, because I know the position I have is a unique one.
So I took some pictures during my expedition today, and I’d like to share some of my disaster learning with you, readers. Please stand by.