Ick-o Tourism

Last week, on a visit to friends in Senegal, we stopped for lunch at Bandia, a private animal reserve of ten square kilometers or so where, since 1990, species that have become somewhat rare in the country are being re-introduced.

On our way elsewhere, we hadn’t time to take the tour of the park, but the restaurant is outdoors and next to a stream inhabited by crocodiles. Monkeys stare from the trees by the tables and, across the way, antelopes and warthogs slip down to the water for a drink or a wade.

Lunch was fine, and we were quietly enjoying the view when people at the tables on either side of us noticed a croc right below us (the bank is a steep ten feet, so there was no danger). People at the table on one side immediately started throwing pieces of bread to the reptile—which snapped them up (this had obviously happened before). My friends chastised these tourists, but to no effect.

To less than no effect.

For, as soon as they were finished with their meat, the people on the other side started throwing their bones down, the croc snapping them up. They loved it when the beast seemed to perform for them, opening its large mouth to engulf the remains of human lunch.

What were these people thinking? I don’t really know, of course, but I can guess.

They seemed to see the park as a playpen for themselves, and the animals as clowns sent out for their pleasure. They had no sense of the invasive nature of their action, or of its inappropriate nature in a place attempting to restore a bit of the old equilibrium to Senegal’s landscape. As tourists, they want the places they go to amuse them; after all, they pay good money—they deserve to see the animals perform.

The staff of the place, all Africans, weren’t ready to challenge the white visitors (even after nearly half a century of independence, colonialism is still vital in its influence). My friends asked if someone could speak to them, explaining to the tourists that such actions intrude on the very purpose of the park. The staff agreed that it was wrong, but they were shy to try to explain (and we already knew these other tourists were never going to listen to us), which is understandable, given the impact an irate tourist could have on their jobs.

The idea that the world is for us, that everything is there just to keep us amused, is an unconscious burden that Europeans and Americans have been carrying with them when traveling abroad these past couple of centuries. It weighs us down as surely as our over-stuffed luggage.

[These photos, by the way, were all taken at that lunch.]

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