Thursday, February 24, 2005

An RPCV Writes About Guyana

I have already made contacts with a couple of Peace Corps Guyana folks. One of them, a current volunteer nearing COS, I quoted from in an earlier post below. The other has returned and is living on the West Coast. His assignment had him living far inland in a savannah area, teaching at a local school. He actually lived on the school grounds, as did all his students, because they came from very far away for school. Here are some interesting things I learned from him:

• About 4 - 5 sites out of approximately 50 in PC Guyana serve AmerIndian populations, mostly those deep in the interior.
• This RPCV's site evidently had no electricity, and so he had no appliances. Prep time for meals ran him 1-2 hours per meal, a good portion of the day!!!
• A number of foods I know from the Caribbean (rice and peas, ginnips, saltfish, breadfruit, plantains, dasheen, escovich fish, ackee) are available in Guyana, although he didn't recognize gungo peas or bulla, which might be present but referred to by another name. Regional terms for foods is very common throughout the Caribbean.
• Beef and chicken were the staple meats, and fish was only available on certain days. (Probably because he lived so far from the coast and from the IndoGuyanese population, which I think would not eat beef at the very least).
• Caribbean delis, Indian delis with curry and such, and even "Rasta veggie places" are present in most towns. Excellent! I'm really looking forward to the foods, from Caribbean stuff I'm familar with to the Indian dishes. Lately I've been on a curry kick so I'm looking forward to some great curry dishes. Oh, and naan bread! mmmmm...
• Government tends to be run by IndoGuyanese, but he said the police are more likely to be AfroGuyanese. From what I've heard, IndoGuyanese (Guyanese citizens who can trace their ancestry to India) are more successful and of higher income generally than black or Native Amerindian Guyanese, who are more likely to be blue-collar type workers. IndoGuyanese are more likely to be business owners, and AfroGuyanese their employees. It will be interesting to see this social stratification in action.
• Reggae and dancehall are rare, but out there and usually confined to really really popular stuff like Sean Paul. One major local radio station has an online presence at and much of what they play over the air can be sampled there. Soca and calypso are much more common. I really enjoy some good soca (especially Mighty Sparrow!) so I'm looking forward to that. Also lots of Indian-inspired music called "chutney."
• No Ting soda (I'm sad about that) but lots of fruit juices. Also Banks beer is a local favorite.

It's so great to run into these helpful volunteers. I know that a lot of this information is relative and subject to interpretation, so I'm taking this only as a sort of rough guide. Nothing any PCV, returned or active, can tell me will prepare me for the profusion of new sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and experiences that await me in three months. I guess I'm pocketing away this information as a rough estimate, much like I might get from a Lonely Planet travel reference. Nevertheless, to my very helpful Guyana fellows, I extend a hearty thank you -- this kind of advice performs a valuable service to us newbies eagerly anticipating the adventure to come.


Life is But a Dream

I just saw a movie called Waking Life. Go out and rent this movie. It is amazing. It's by Richard Linklater, the same guy who made Before Sunrise and Dazed & Confused. His movies strongly feature heavy philosophical dialogue, as you might remember from Before Sunrise/Before Sunset. His first feature length movie was one called Slackers which follows 100 characters through small vignettes, the movie's narrative thread being that these are all people linked by time and proximity -- 24 hours in Austin, Texas near the University of Texas. One tiny vignette will lead into the next through some tenuous coincidental connection, like character A will walk past character B, and the camera then follows character B for a few minutes before veering off to character C, and so forth. It's primary criticism is that it's a little long and lacks the strong sense of direction and organized plot of a regular movie (it doesn't follow the usual "Act" structure, I think).

Anyway, Slackers came out in 1991 or something. In 2001 Linklater made a movie that is similar in approach, but shorter and tackles its subject better, and has the advantage of having a nominal plot and a main character that has something at stake. It follows a young man who is trapped in a constant dream state, where the world is disjointed and fluid, and he gradually starts to wonder why he cannot wake up out of this altered consciousness, and if it means he is dreaming or dying. It also moves through short vignettes, these consisting of various random people pontificating on the nature of consciousness, life and death, the future of mankind, the soul, dreams, and the concept of self-identity as a construction or illusion. Most of the characters appear only once and deliver a monologue of heavy theory while the main character listens raptly, and over time each of these monologues build up to a larger examination of the self and our perception of the universe.

And here's the catch -- the movie is animated. Technically, it was made by a process called "Rotoscoping," whereby regular film is used as the base from which to draw animation cells, these digital. The end result is a "cartoon" that looks incredibly lifelike in its use of color and the way the figures move. You couldn't replicate this kind of realistic surreality by simply drawing figures from scratch (other examples of this you might have seen are a recent Target commercial with a guy coming home to his dog and slipping in a DVD, or more recently, the iPod ads featuring dancing figures. These were done also with a form of rotoscoping). In the case of Waking Life, the rotoscope process makes the world into a continually shifting, fluid thing. Backgrounds shimmy and wobble. Characters' bodies can change in shape or style or color. Nothing is solid or permanent, which matches the concept of the dream world in a way I've never before seen on film.

It's a beautiful movie, and one I might have to buy. It left me feeling very contemplative and existential. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Regarding the Secondary Project

I've been following the thread on the peacecorps2 yahoo group about the World Wise Schools program. This is a partnership program the Peace Corps cooperates in that connects elementary school classrooms with Peace Corps volunteers currently serving in the field. The literature has a lot of great things to say about it, but on the listserve the general consensus is that the program isn't working. Primarily this is because teachers and volunteers seem to not be able to establish contact with one another. The people on the listserve suggest contacting a teacher you already know before you go to avoid the red tape lag that comes from the program trying to place you with a random teacher.

All volunteers are supposed to take on a secondary project, and this seems like a pretty good one. As readers of this blog can probably attest (heh) I can be a little wordy, but that's because I enjoy exploring topics at depth. This wordiness can make my blog entries a little long, but it would be a great boon to a classroom. I'm seriously considering doing this. If anyone out there is a teacher or knows of one, they might want to point them my direction. My mother also probably knows some teachers -- she is a tenured member of the faculty of San Angelo State, where she teaches pedagogy (my mother has been a K-12 teacher most of her life) and now instructs bright-eyed young people how to teach elementary.

Otherwise, I might try to put together some kind of reading group or teach creative writing as a secondary project, if there is any demand for such a thing. Or maybe help stock a library?


Monday, February 21, 2005

Some Words of Wisdom on Guyana

I've been in contact with a fellow Guyana PCV. This person is nearing service and has been very kind in answering my multitudes of questions with thoughtful and detailed responses. I've learned a lot from this PCV. Below are some of the information shared. I erased any identifying details because I don't want to betray confidence. That said, I didn't find anything negative or disheartening in these comments, even when concerning the inevitable problem of harrassment or personal safety, something all volunteers (and especially those in the Caribbean) face. If the volunteer who shared this with me would prefer I remove their quotes I will gladly do so.

"After living here for so long, I don't really consider it Caribbean at's more like little India.  There is a bit of music they play called chutney and another called soca but they LOVE 80's music from the US.  No Ting [a soft drink from Jamaica that is very popular throughout the Caribbean - Bri]...a lot of natural fruit juice though.  The food East Indian and African's pretty good but can get monotonous.

My apartment flat is 3 rooms, kind of big by volunteer standards and is in [snip].  I have a TV, Internet connection, a big fridge and my landlord does my wash and cooks for me alot.


Things volunteers try to do before they leave Guyana: Kaieteur Falls, Iwokrama, Letham for Rodeo, Carnival in Trinidad, A trip to Suriname, Shell Beach.


I live in the bottom flat of a huge 3 story house with a wall around it.  My landlord lives in the apartment above though she doesn't own it.  She cooks for me quite frequently and I pay her to do my wash.  She's pretty good to me and treats me like a son. This is pretty common for most volunteers to be treated like family.

For your job, you will probably be teaching AIDS/HIV classes, Life Skills classes and filler classes, ie. science, math, wherever they need you.  That is pretty common for your group, which will be the IT/Education group unless they change something up.

...Stay out of shady areas, don't dress like you have money (believe it or not, some volunteers do), keep aware of your surroundings and walk like you ... can kick some ass.  I have been here a while and only get hassled by the homeless...this city isn't any worse than the poorest sections of any big city in the make yourself a victim.

... I would recommend [going to] Barbados and are relatively inexpensive, from 100$ to 150$, you can find hostels and other PC volunteers to stay with if you go to Antigua, St. Lucia and so on.  As for swimming on the main land, never heard of any place to snorkel.  A lot of volunteers head out to Peru for hiking, not much going on in the deep interior of Brazil...

Iwokrama is a nature reserve and protected area where people can stay, walk on the canopy and enjoy nature.  I haven't been, but alot of volunteers have and it's supposed to be really nice.  Rodeo in Letham is a once a year event where there is an actual rodeo.  It's a lot of fun, a chance to chill out and just relax.  There is swimming in a natural spring, walks and hiking.  It's very nice and mountainous.

Most volunteers eat primarily veggie, just because it's really easy to do and very cheap.  A lot of rice here, greens, chow mein, there are a million types of fruits to picks from and the produce is very fresh and tasty.  You'll complain once you get back that the food in the states has no flavor.

Training was two months long and it was held in a few different locations.  They split you up into two groups.  One in [snip], a small Afro-Guyanese village and in [snip], a mixed village.  They teach you culture, language (not much, just slang) job related stuff and so on.  It goes by really quickly but can be tedious.  My host family was great.  I didn't have running water but that wasn't a big host mom cooked a ton of food for me every day, did my wash and so on..I still talk to her.  It was a nice time but by the end of the 2 months I was ready to go out on my own.

I especially found the information on food and training to be useful. I'm a "pescetarian," a person who is largely a vegetarian but also eats fish on rare occasions. I started this last time I went into the Peace Corps because they suggest to veggie volunteers that they expand their diet slightly, so I decided to allow myself to eat fish. I still do so on occasion, and not without a bit of guilt, I might add. Anyway, I was happy to have my suspicions about vegetarian options confirmed; such a huge population of people from India is very promising for vegetarian options, or at least non-red-meat options.

Also it was interesting to learn about the training groups being divided into two different communities for part of training. I have to say, though, the prediction this PCV made about me teaching science and math I found a little unnerving. I really hope they don't put me in charge of a math classroom. You have no idea how bad I am with mathematics -- I struggled through pre-algebra, and to this day am slow doing even basic math functions in my head. It would be a disaster. Science I could handle a little better, because I like to consider myself an "armchair scientist," someone who follows the trends and discoveries, and can manage very complex theories about physics or chemistry or biology, and especially like learning about and discussing astronomy. I can talk theory with the best of them, but I can't do the math to back it up. No math!

I guess with a little training I could teach small AIDS or sanitation classes, but nothing terribly formal or long-term. My strength is in writing or literature. I guess we'll see.


Friday, February 11, 2005

Common People

She came from Greece. She had a thirst for knowledge.
She studied sculpture at St. Martin's College.
That's where I
caught her eye.

She told me that her Dad was loaded.
I said, "In that case I'll have a rum and Coca-cola."
She said "fine,"
and in thirty seconds time she said,
"I want to live like common people.
I want to do whatever common people do.
I want to sleep with common people;
I want to sleep with common people
like you."
Well what else could I do?
I said "I'll see what I can do."

I took her to a supermarket;
I don't know why, but I had to start it somewhere
so it started there.
I said, "Pretend you've got no money."
She just laughed and said, "Oh you're so funny."
I said, "Oh yeah?
Well I can't see anyone else smiling in here!

Are you sure you want to live like common people?
You want to see whatever common people see?
You want to sleep with common people?
You want to sleep with common people
like me?"
But she didn't understand.
She just smiled and held my hand.

Rent a flat above a shop,
Cut your hair and get a job,
Smoke some fags* and play some pool, (*cigarettes)
Pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
'Cause when you're layin' in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall
If you called your Dad he could
stop it all.

You'll never live like common people.
You'll never do whatever common people do.
You'll never fail like common people.
You'll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there's nothing else to do.

Sing along with the common people;
Sing along and it might just get you through.
Laugh along with the common people;
Laugh along even though they're laughing
at you.
And the stupid things you do
Because you think that poor is cool.

Like a dog lying in a corner,
They will bite you and never warn you.
Look out -- they'll tear your insides out!
'Cause everybody hates a tourist,
Especially one who thinks it's all
such a laugh,
And the chip* stains' grease (*french fries)
Will come out in the bath.

No, you will never understand
How it feels to live your life with
No meaning or control
And with nowhere left to go.
You're amazed that they exist,
And they burn so bright
While you can only
wonder why.

Rent a flat above a shop,
Cut your hair and get a job,
Smoke some fags and play some pool,
Pretend you never went to school.
But still you'll never get it right,
'cause when you're layin' in bed at night
Watching roaches climb the wall,
If you called your dad he could
stop it all! Yeah!

You'll never live like common people.
You'll never do whatever common people do.
You'll never fail like common people.
You'll never watch your life slide out of view,
And dance and drink and screw,
Because there's nothing else to do.

The above are lyrics from the song "Common People," originally by the band Pulp. I recently heard a version of this on William Shatner's new freaking brilliant CD Has Been. I recommend everyone check it out for some great songs done in his own inimitable way, with some great celebrity duets.

Anyway, this one caught my attention because the lyrics are such a searing condemnation of upper-class or middle-class kids who go "slumming" with those of lower status because of the misconception that they are somehow more "real" and cool people. It's relevant to the Peace Corps because a lot of children of privelege have the impression that poverty has some sort of caché, and that those who live in poverty are somehow happier or more fulfilled people. They romanticize poverty and the poor and want to capture some of that perceived purity. The problem is, they cannot ever fully know what living in depressed economic circumstances is like, because they can opt out of it any time they want, a privelege the truly poor cannot rely upon. When things get really bad, they can't simply make a phone call, as the chorus of this song mentions.

To some extent, all Peace Corps volunteers live with this kind of privelege, because the Peace Corps will make sure you are always fed and provided with health care, something most locals can't necessarily count on, and if things get really bad -- like the are erupts into violence or there is a drought -- the Peace Corps will extract you and send you back to safety. So can any volunteer ever really know what true poverty is like? Or, as the song asks, are they sure they even wantto?

This is a common problem with volunteers, myself included. I catch myself looking forward to having a more simplified life, in many aspects, once I begin service. More complex in many ways, but simpler in others. It's easy for me to fall into the same fallacious thinking, because this is a common growing myth among Americans, that the poor are simpler and more pure.... although it never ultimately means we need to stop being so damn materialistic! I think it's a way of justifying the existence of those who have very little material wealth; even as they struggle for basic survival, for water and food, or for sanitary or peaceful living conditions, we can always say, "But look how happy they are! Their unaffected lifestyle is pure, is closer to the heart." Making, of course, the same mistake the Dada movement of last century made, that "colored" people are somehow more in tune with subconscious and animal behaviour. Racist and false, but some of those same bullshit misconceptions survive today.


When You Aspire, You Make an Ass Out of...

... You and Pire?

Just a little joke.

Anyway, as of Thursday the 10th all of my Invitation Packet requirements are complete. Hooray! In all, this meant I needed to fill out the passport application and send that in, along with my current passport. The Peace Corps will then provide me with a "no-fee," non-diplomatic passport to use while I'm in service. The pictures they took of me at the Post Office? Bloody awful. Like usual. And I paid ten dang bucks for that... ten bucks to look like crap to every foreign national to stamp my passport for the next two years. Alas.

Also I had to revamp my resumé to a specific format. The Peace Corps doesn't just want you to send them the same damn thing they got during the application, they want it to be formatted in a certain way for the trainers to use in order to assess your abilities. Fine. So I did that, and then I also had to write an Aspiration Statement. They ask three questions and you have to address these questions to the best of your ability, even when the answers seem like total enigmas. I have no idea what to expect for the next two years, because I've seen you should expect the unexpected. Instead, I talked a little about the expectations I've put upon myself, right or wrong.

I'm including the whole Aspiration Statement below. This shoudn't violate Peace Corps policy, since it is something I wrote, doesn't reveal any sensitive material, and I'm not getting paid for it.

Aspiration Statement
Brian Reeves
May 31, 2005

As a former volunteer (Eastern Caribbean #65), it is hard for me to assert my expectations. I remember very well what it was like to go into the program with a set of expectations and find I was wrong on many of them. Given that, however, there are certain things I look forward to with my project and assignment.

I hope to be assigned to a college or university or other institution that can use my higher degree and previous college experience. I have been a teacher at the community college level now for several years and feel I have pretty strong credentials. My strength has always been in encouraging students how to explore their ideas and this is the part of my job I enjoy the most. I am intrigued to discover what is meant by “community-based education,” and hope my talents and training will suffice for what I’m called to do.

I am smart enough to know I shouldn’t have expectations about my area or living conditions. From what I understand, Guyana is much like other Caribbean countries, and I look forward to everything that entails. At the time of my prior service, I was not accustomed to the lifestyle of the Caribbean and so, like most other volunteers, had to deal with many realities of life there (food, public transportation, lack of reliable services, etc.). But in the meantime I have grown a fondness for local customs and ways and look forward to experiencing them again, with Guyana’s distinct variations, of course. I feel I have a better sense of what to expect from service, while at the same time understanding that expectations are doomed to be subverted.

Strategies for Adapting to a New Culture:
The best thing, I find, is to avoid preconceptions and to look for positives. Many people focus on what is missing or is wrong or is different about another way of life, and clinging to such a culture-centric viewpoint will inevitably lead to pessimism and unhappiness. It can be hard enough to be submerged in another culture without undermining one’s self with negativity. What I find is that every culture worldwide has aspects that are shared, even if it is hard to initially see them. I try to look for the positives and avoid accentuating the things I don’t like.

It also helps to let the culture be what it is, not what you want it to be. This is how I eventually came to love Hawai`i, which is where I now consider my true home. When I first moved there, in my early 20s, I couldn’t stand it. It was hot, the people were weird, they spoke a confusing pidgin, people didn’t like me for my race, and the local economy made it tough to survive. The problem was I went in expecting Hawai`i would be the magical “paradise” of the travel brochures, a place where every day was easy and simple, the weather was constantly perfect, and -- most importantly -- I would be happy without much effort. Perhaps I was uncommonly naïve for a 23-year-old, but this is what I expected. When my expectations were dashed, I was disappointed and returned to the mainland. Later on, though, I began to look more realistically at the situation and I realized I was trying to make the place match my preconceptions. With this realization I decided to learn about Hawai`i as it really is, not what I wanted it to be, and through that I came to absolutely love the place. Now to me there is no place in the world that compares, and I feel like I truly belong there. It’s not that I ignore the bad aspects, but I accept them as facets of Hawai`i, part of what makes it a unique place, and love it the more for that.

I hope to take some of that into my service in Guyana. The previous question asks about expectations, but the truth of the matter is I’m trying to not have any. I think I know a little about what Guyana is like, based on what I know of St. Lucia, Dominica, and Jamaica, but I don’t know for sure and I’m not basing any of my hopes off that.

Personal and Professional Goals:
I have many more personal goals than professional goals that I hope to achieve through Peace Corps service. Volunteers who join the Peace Corps solely to pad their resumés seem, to me, “mercenary” in their attitudes and open for disappointment. Anyway, I feel like I have personal goals that would outweigh any professional ones in any case. As I mentioned previously in this statement, I was a former volunteer in 1998. One month into my service I chose to Early Terminate. This decision came from a relationship I was attempting to sustain back in the states, and pretty quickly into service I came to the realization that I could have either the Peace Corps or my marriage, but not both. Suffering from the same stresses as any other trainee, and feeling like losing my fiancé would be a horrible thing, I decided to end my service.

Since then, I have regretted this decision immensely. The unceremonious ending of my marriage only served to dig this thorn a little deeper into my side -- was it the right decision? How could things have been different? Could I ever try again? Last year I decided to look into reapplying and I began the process that has led me here, to Guyana. I’m very pleased and think I’m lucky to get the assignment I have; actually, I’m grateful to the Peace Corps for risking another shot at me.

So, my personal goals have to do largely with getting another chance at the growth and adventure that comes with Peace Corps service. I’m quite sure I’ll come out of service more confident in my skills and with a greater appreciation for life in other parts of the world. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing with my life right now than experiencing whatever the Peace Corps has to offer, from the hardships to the victories, the struggles to the lasting friendships.

Professionally, I know that having the Peace Corps on my resumé can only help bolster my academic credentials, adding to my caché when applying to jobs. I plan from here to move back to Hawai`i and get a job either in the publishing or academic fields. Hopefully finally being able to proudly put my service on my Curriculum Vita will be one of my greatest accomplishments.

Not my best work, but that's what I could come up with. I peeked at what other people wrote for their Aspiration Statements, but most of it seemed like the same regurgitated crap, like "I want to learn more about myself," or "I expect to come away with a greater appreciation for the good things about America." Maybe these are true, and maybe they're honest statements, but they're said often enough that I wanted to say something a little more original and personal. One volunteer, by the way, wrote as her Expectation: "I expect the people who I come into contact with in Bulgaria to be blessed and touched by my servitude, my selfless perseverance, and my character."

Aaaaaalrighty then....

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Colonialism and Tourism: Some Theory

I just finished reading The Happy Isles of Oceania by Paul Theroux. It's a great travel narrative which follows his journey through the South Pacific in 1990. At that time, his wife (whom he had met while working in Africa right after his Peace Corps stint) had just left him and, in an unfortunate (?) case of bad timing, he was sent on a press junket to New Zealand and Australia in support of his latest book. On a whim, he decided to bring a collapsible kayak. Good thing he did, because while he was in New Zealand he got inspired to just vanish and see what the Pacific had to offer. He finished out his press junket with what enthusiasm he could manage, then worked his way to north Australia and checked out the Outback, then flew over to the Trobriand Islands, a small chain off the eastern end of New Guinea. The Trobriands marked the first of what would become his many island journey, voyaging from place to place by plane or in his kayak. Many of these islands exist in two worlds: the feverish imaginations of Westerners, fed by fantastic imagery and romantic stories from Somerset Maugham, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, Jack London, James Michener, and Herman Melville, and then exotified and mass-marketed by the tourist machine, cashing in on Western paradisiacal fantasy. But the islands also exist in another world, the world of their unexotic reality, a place of windswept rocky shorelines, economically depressed communities, soaring volcanic razorback ridges, low-lying sandy atolls with little fresh drinking water, extensive and fragile reef systems, people who can trace their ancestry back to the world's most accomplished mariners yet are now uninterested even in fishing, ancient WWII relics rusting under the hot sun or in shallow aqua lagoons, expensive goods shipped from overseas on boats that come once a month, and impossible isolated communities of just a few hundred people who get electricity from a diesel generator.

Most Westerners would hate the real South Pacific, because they have been nursed on a complex and exotified concept of the islands as "paradise," a term which stems from Christian mythology and refers to a place where earthly concerns are removed. In fact, most Westerners, especially those who have never spent much time in the tropics, think of life on this islands as idyllic and easy. How else are they supposed to think, when the most common image we receive is of a person on a beach enjoying sheer leisure? Even the environment in those pictures speaks of freedom from concern; the coconut palms and dense foliage send us signals that food is plentiful in a form that can be eaten raw. The waterfalls cascading down thousands of feet from high isolated volcanic ridges speaks to us of pure water. The turquoise ocean appears free of algae and contaminants and most certainly abounds with fish. Plenty of sunlight promotes health. So we see these things and react to them on an instinctive level, being sent signals that indicate this place is in possession of bountiful and abundant resources, where we won't have to struggle to remain warm or survive from day to day.

Not true, of course, as anyone on such an island will tell you. Often the soil is tough and infertile, particularly where it is made of fine coral sand. Volcanic soil is much more fertile, but agriculture is nevertheless a difficult undertaking on an island. Fishing can be just as hard; reefs have a raw, natural beauty, but they are inherently dangerous places and exposure to the elements or battling wave and tide action can be exhausting. Truth is, no place is "paradise," where life is easy and full of leisure. Gathering resources to survive can be just as hard there as anywhere. Underneath the apparent beauty is a living, treacherous ecosystem full of predators and ruthless competition. Perhaps even more so on remote, desolate islands, where resources can be desperately scarce.

Truth is, much of our idea of "paradise" comes from the last five hundred years of colonialism in the West. As Europeans, technologically and martially more advanced than the civilizations already occupying most of the world, coveted raw resources, they found the means to not only take the resources but restructure the environments to suit them. Soon, they had taken control of many parts of the tropical world, the Pacific included, through either economic or military means. This is where the image of the European in tropical luxury, free from the need to struggle for resources or respect among the natives, originates. Colonial power elites owned property, usually the best and most productive plots of land in the area, sheltered areas that were most free from environmental hazards. They built communities here where they could arrange to be the most powerful and influential people in the community. Natives were either hired or simply forced to provide the labor that would supply the occupying European with a constant flow of resources and comfort, often while the natives themselves had to live in conditions of poverty and misfortune far worse than before the arrival of the colonizers. Communities of natives were eliminated, moved, reconfigured to the needs and desires of the colonizers, and the natives were almost universally worse for it. Old power structures, balanced and self-sufficient, were wiped out and natives became dependent upon scraps handed out by colonizers for their survival instead of relying on time-tested, traditional methods.

So the image of the white man (or woman) reclining on a beautiful beach under a shady palm ripe with luscious fruit, wearing either western-casual clothes or (to the natives) scandalously exposing bathing gear, refreshing themselves with an alcoholic drink (alcohol is safer to drink than the water, which is why alcohol has long been a staple of many civilizations), a native (usually brown) nearby to provide them with whatever comfort they desire, has been forged over centuries of European colonial power.

In the last century, colonialism as it existed has all but vanished, the colonizing powers having taken what they wanted from the land and people and pulled out in the face of growing nationalistic threats. Once the darkies got desperate and sick of being under the thumb of cruel masters from overseas, they began to violently overthrow the power structure and then it was time to get the hell out. This left these island cultures forever changed, forcibly brought into a modernized world of imported goods and artificial expectations, the people disconnected through centuries of social reform and missionary Bible-thumping into degraded and unhappy dependents, disconnected from their history and past beliefs, despondent with internalized racism and religious self-flagellation. Natives of these islands now struggle to reclaim their self-identity and make their way in a world with economic and political systems created to advance white people.

Clever marketers then picked up the image of the colonizer, even as colonization came to end. As the middle class was redefined in America and Europe, average wealth now increasing enough to support luxury expenses, the tourist marketers sold that colonial image in tiny slices to the bourgoise -- a way for all of us to be imperialists for a little while. The allure of the effortless colonial life entices us, being served by exotic others while enjoying the company of one's own social and racial brethren, and having abundant resources and beauty at hand. In this way, colonialism of a sort continues to this day, with all of us being miniature conquistadores.

None of this is to say one should not travel. Travelling is crucial to provide one with a global consciousness. Travellers desire to learn about others in the world, the way they really live, to experience a variety of environments and cultures, to take both the good and the bad as part of an education about the world. Tourisms, though, is destructive and dehumanizing. Tourists are only interested in having their preconceptions, their exotified fantasies about the "other," reinforced. Tourists in Hawai`i go to watered-down, cartoonified hula shows and parrot the three words they learned from their Roberts Hawaii tour bus driver (a brown local, of course), buy cheap trinkets that grossly misrepresent the island culture and history, ignorantly ape the beautiful and graceful forms of sacred hula, wear gaudy clothes, litter the beach with suntan oil bottles and candy wrappers, befoul the waters with oily sunblock, touch and walk all over delicate reef systems, expect lordly treatment from the natives, throng to isolated and ecologically fragile areas to tromp around and take pictures and pluck flowers and snap branches and kick up soil and dump hiking trash, and in the end they leave without ever knowing a thing about how the locals live and work and view the world. The tourists go back to Minnesota or Nebraska or New Jersey and think "I've been to Hawaii" (note the misspelling, instead of the correct Hawai`i) but they couldn't tell you a thing about Hawai`i from the viewpoint of a local. Because they don't care. It isn't about education to them, but about consumption -- using resources and treating the area as a playground. Travellers are in and out, quiet and observant, eager to learn and slow to pass judgment, ready to suffer lower standards of living in order to see the "real place," see things as they really are.

Tourism should be abolished.