A few weeks ago I was talking with someone back in our home country who was trying to help out a friend who was travelling to East Africa to volunteer for a couple of weeks. This person had been before, for a few months so had a small insight into some of the challenges visitors have. No matter what she said, the other person was ‘I know, I know’ even though they had no clue what they were letting themselves in for. My friend said in exasperation “White people!” (she is white herself).
I just laughed as those two words sums up the frustration many of us have with visitors.
It doesn’t matter how many books you read or movies you watch, you just ‘don’t get it’ until you spend some time here on the ground – and with an open mind.
We recently spent a day with some people from overseas who had been here a long time ago. No matter how many times we told them not to, they became happy snappers, wanting photos. I know it’s always exciting to be in a new place and try and capture as much as possible, but we and our team actually live here and have to do life with the people you’re wanting to photograph. Too many foreigners have come with their cameras, climbed out of their large safari vehicles, snapped some shots (without asking permission) and whizzed off again.
It makes people feel like they are animals in a zoo.
So here’s some tips for when you go to a new country, whether it’s developing or not:
- Learn some of the local language, like greetings
- Wear appropriate clothing
- Ask before taking photos
- Carry little cash on you
- If you don’t like something (like the food) keep it to yourself and try not to show it on your face (out of respect for your hosts)
- Don’t take your security for granted
When you’re in a new place, it’s not like home, it’s different, and different is good.
If you’re visiting for a short while, you’re a tourist. Even if you go somewhere for a couple of months, you’re still a tourist. Anything up to two years, and you’re still a visitor.
Please have respect for the local culture, take things slowly, and pretend youre back in school – it’s a great learning experience.