Tuesday, January 10, 2006

At the speed of a Camel

I am now in Jaisalmer. It seems like everyone is on dial-up modem in this town. So I will not be uploading photos for a few days.

As the excitement of coming to Rajasthan comes down from the initial high, I become more aware of the harsh reality of life in this part of the world. In Jodhpur and Jaisalmer, towns on the edge of the desert, it is a miracle that so many people live out here. Water, sanitation, finding work are all problems. As a tourist, every kid seems to be screaming for a pen or chocolate, like it is their due for living such a difficult life. I wonder how many tourist actually give. Sometimes I give, quite often I do not. I remember when I first came to India and got depressed by the sheer multitude of poor people I met in India. In this day and age, I am a little bit more realistic. I have not enough money to give to all the poor peopl that I meet. I give a little to those who have helped me on my journey.

Shop owners are desparate to get tourist into their shops to buy their goods. I think that their lives must be relatively well off. I visited my driver's village, Jointra, and he lives in a circle of huts outside the village. I think that he has electricity and the houses are as clean as can be in such circumstances, but I can only imagine the dry heat in summer and wonder how his family live with the cold that is happening now in winter.

This journey has not only shown me the wonder and grandeur of the Rajput past, but the present suffering of the Indian present. Honestly, there is not that much that a tourist can do but be respectful of the area that is being visited. It helps me to appreciate the life that I have in Singapore. The comforts of a modern HDB flat would seem like a luxury here. To have the opportunity to follow my own path, that is a precious gift. I guess that maybe too many of us Singaporeans take it for granted. Yes, there are still difficulties with following one's own path, but if you were born in a desert town, how are you to change your life. Possible? Yes. Easy? Not at all.

1 comment:

kiampa said...

And if you stayed even longer I think desensitization to poverty will set in, sooner or later. Which is a natural coping mechanism but leaves one with a further set of issues to deal with.

The ethical dilemmas of tourism in 'poor' countries are something which I've personally only been able to deal with by avoiding such travel totally - unless it clearly has some kind of 'development' work as a major part of my time there. That was part of the reason why I didn't bother to stay on in East Africa after working there for 6 months, despite the fact that I could have travelled around the region for another 6 months on my visa. I really do admire expats from relatively well-off countries who can work and play in these countries for long periods of time without losing some part of their humanity.

I'm pretty sure part of the reason why I'm doing further studies in development is alleviate these feelings of guilt - not at being able to do more (which is a separate issue altogether) - but not being aware enough of the problems and complexities of social and economic inequality around the world. Proper awareness has to come first, and then one can clearly think at length about whether any action should be taken.

But I would never stop my children (if any) from travelling to impoverished countries if they wanted to, of course...it's definitely something which I think everyone ought to go through and decide on their own what kind of future they see for themselves, their homes, and society at large.