17 February 2011

The Water Village

Poverty tourism really embarrasses me. Sometimes I get sucked into the experience and don’t realize until too late that a trip may be just that, poverty tourism. I want to make a promise now that I will strive never to experience a place through the lens of the complete other, taking pity on those who surround me. I will strive always to be connected to the experience and try to appreciate the richness of a differing or even opposing culture without judgment. I understand that this may prove hard depending on the situation. I also understand that this may not always be possible, but trying is paramount. Trying is liberating. Trying is what I will strive to do.

The needed preamble to this discussion is a visit we made to a tourist spot in Ghana called the Nzuelo Water Village. This village is strikingly beautiful, set amid the wetlands of coastal Ghana.  The village itself is totally suspended on posts and beams above the surface of an expansive lake. The only way to reach the village is to climb into a local canoe (seating no more than 5 people) and paddle for about 50 minutes through a maze of canals, streams and small swamps. On a separate note, I saw a cormoran – which in my opinion is one of the most exotic sounding birds.

After reaching the village we were lead through the main section to a small community center. We really didn’t have a change to speak with anyone but the chief and we were only in the village for about 40 minutes total. The experience was fascinating, but it really made me think about why I wanted to visit a “village” to begin with. Was it the architecture, the people or just the “village” expectations that I was trying to fulfill? I still don’t know, but I am trying to work it out.

After paddling back down the waterways that lead to the village, we heading to an embarrassingly great meal at a local resort.  It is striking to do such seemingly opposing things in such a short time.  We then got a change to walk down one of the most breathtakingly beautiful beaches I have ever encountered, and we were definitely the only white people for miles.  The local population was playing, traveling, working, fishing and hauling in their long shore based nets while we strolled down the beach.

Our walk ended at the Slave Fort of Apollinare, a restored structure that has wonderful exhibitions of local history and culture, developed and maintained by the local community.  All in all, it was a great day.  However, I have definitely seen some things that have made me re-evaluate myself and my motivations, which is what any successful travel experience should do.

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