Meeting the moral cost of recreational travel

This is the second of two essays submitted by Sophie Rudolph, winner of Eureka Street's Margaret Dooley Award for young writers.

Cape Town Bus These reflections occur at the dusk of a 20-month journey spanning three continents and including incredible hospitality, sadness and joys, much learning and much contemplation on the inequalities of the world and the ethics of travel.

One of the most pressing questions regarding travel today is what impact the increasing transportation of people across the world is having on our environment. This requires an essay to itself, however, and I will therefore leave it for another time. Instead I will focus my reflections on social and economic implications and some of the related questions of privilege, inequality, difference, exchange, diversity and understanding.

My position as a 'Western', middle-class Australian has enabled me to travel to other parts of the world and see different ways of living and relating with relative ease. This opportunity, however, is not available to all and a product of the inherent inequalities which characterise our world, underpinned by historical injustices and exploitation.

The development of unequal economic relationships between various countries has also resulted in the currency of wealthy countries being of incredible value in many travel destinations. Not only have economically disadvantaged countries often been (and continue to be) mistreated by economically stronger countries but many residents of those wealthier countries have greater access to travel and greater spending power while travelling.

Travel is seen as beneficial to increase our understanding of the world and each other but what does this mean for those whose movement is restricted by their place and position of birth? Why should some people be allowed to access this opportunity for growth and awareness and others not? How can this situation be challenged or changed? And can those of us bestowed with this privilege use it ethically and to the benefit of others?

The answers to these questions cannot be adequately explored in the limits of this essay but one way I have tried to respond is by recognising and being consciously aware that in each place I visit I am entering an exchange. I should never be in a place to solely take, or take advantage of, the ease and privilege of my being there. I should always endeavour to give back and enter a conversation with those whose land I walk.

And through these exchanges in many different countries I have learnt a great deal about humanity, had my preconceptions challenged, and confirmed that no matter how poor or wealthy, most of us are interested in differences and similarities, we all hold prejudices and we all respond to our own situations in different ways. It is very difficult to generalise about anything or anyone. We need to see the multiplicity.

I will finish with a poem, a meditation created on a bus from Cape Town to Pretoria one January evening while passing grape picking shack communities and trying to understand my experiences in that complex, beautiful land.

There are many possibilities to this story … here are two:

1.

he sits in suit and tie
and sips the ruby coloured liquid
enjoying the
'rich woody depth and subtle
cinnamon undertones'
in the amber glow
of the sleek city bar

he contemplates the hecticity of life
the stress and pressure, the striving
for a goal he is no longer sure of
he hopes a few more glasses
will aid an escape
from the reality for a while

while a long way away
the hands that picked the grapes
hold a pipe which he puffs gently
as he takes in the last gasp of
evening light from beneath his corrugated veranda.
he will move inside soon
and light the candles and
paraffin stove

he enjoys his daily routine
the chance to breathe the fresh air
and work beside the giant, sturdy form
of the mountain. he does, however,
look forward to the day when he can
exchange the candles and paraffin for light switch and oven door.

2.

he sits in suit and tie
and sips the ruby coloured liquid
enjoying the
'rich woody depth and subtle
cinnamon undertones'
in the amber glow
of the sleek city bar

he reflects on his day
and is glad he has found a job
he finds challenging and rewarding
and that a glass of wine, by himself
at the end of the day
doesn't feel lonely

while a long way away
the hands that picked the grapes
hold a pipe which he puffs gently
as he takes in the last gasp of
evening light from beneath his corrugated veranda.
he will move inside soon
and light the candles and
paraffin stove

he hopes one day he will escape
this reality, be released from the trap
of struggle. he longs to leave
the monotony of his work, the
isolation of his existence and
seek something greater, more exciting
and perhaps easier.

 


Sophie RudolphIn 2006-2007 Sophie Rudolph spent 20 months working, volunteering and travelling in Europe, Africa and South East Asia. In 2008 she will be teaching at Collingwood College in Melbourne.

 

 

Recent articles by Sophie Rudolph.

Champion of slow but steady shift in gender relations

 

 

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