Photography is a dangerous sport. The convenience of iphones cameras, and rapid access to wifi and social media platforms means that many of us can discretely snap or upload images of anonymous strangers while we travel, usually with little thought to the subject’s privacy or personal space. With the immediacy of twitter and apps such as Instagram, we can distribute street photos in a snap, without any thought to how this image may be culturally inappropriate or perhaps degrading to the local people.
But something happened. In that moment between stops on the Metro, between Blanche and Place de Clichy, the social code was broken. Some passengers seemed to express silently that “whoever that is, just shouldn’t do that,” or “not here, not in public.” In that moment, the unspoken, ignored truth had been quietly—if temporarily—accepted. Half the Metro car is white. Half is not.
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Tired of his family living in unbearable poverty and feeling the weight of responsibility as the only remaining male in the family, David decided to head North to see about earning some of the money he had heard so much about. So, at 16, David and his cousin, Abram, took a bus to a Northern border state, contracted a coyote (individuals paid to smuggle people across the border), and joined a group crossing the border. At the end of the grueling journey, they found themselves in Cincinatti, Ohio. That was nine years ago.
At a Jain temple, the small daughter of the Hindu priest, followed me with giant opal-colored eyes, until she poked her older sister enough to muster up the courage and say, “Do you LOVE him?” Later, their inquisitive aunties fed me an apple, pulled me inside the temple, and whispered “Is it love?”
The story is a common one. "She tried to wear a halter top to get into a mosque" or,"He walked in bare chested to the local market. Yes, you may be in a hot country. Yes, you may be liberated and you may not follow any religion. But for the sake of locals, and fellow travelers, cover up!
The purpose of this post isn’t to shame our fellow travelers, but to make us conscious of the way we behave while abroad. Because to one degree or another, we’ve all been there, and we've all made mistakes while abroad. As witnesses to and participants in the "those girls" paradigm, we should critically analyze why girls act this way. Why do we, as travelers, and especially as women, so often downgrade ourselves when we go abroad? Why do tourists feel entitled to behave in such a manner? What does it all mean?