Thursday, October 15, 2015

Ethno-tourism: Leaving an Unwanted Mark by Keaton Stoner

Before and during our stay at Las Cruces Biological Station in San Vito, our group visited two hospitals in San Jose and the indigenous Boruca community in the South-Pacific. Though each of the trips were insightful and helped me better understand medicine and indigenous culture in Costa Rica, I also at times found myself wondering how our presence as students and tourists affects those whom we were observing.
            Our visit to the private Hospital Clínica Bíblica left me thoroughly impressed with their professionalism and attention to patient needs and privacy. However, our tour of the public Hospital San Juan de Dios did not leave me with the same feeling. This feeling had nothing to do with the actual quality of care that I perceived in our short visit; in fact, I was impressed with how the hospital managed the copious number of patients seeking free medical care, especially after learning that San Juan de Dios still provides some of the highest quality care in the country. However, early on in the tour, we walked through several intensive care units, each packed full with patients in their most vulnerable, debilitated states. To me, it seemed a bit intrusive to parade a group of 13 students from the United States through these wards strictly for our learning benefit - do we value our experiential learning over the privacy of others? With roles reversed, the last thing I would want would be 13 curious pairs of eyes peering over my bedridden, hospital-gowned, half-conscious body. Though our professor Nicolas mentioned that patients here are used to this type of exposure, I still couldn’t help but feel a bit uncomfortable and as though I was “that tourist.” It is in this type of situation that you are forced to consider whether your ethnocentrism is influencing your perception of a simple cultural aspect, or if the patients’ comfort and privacy are actually being compromised with these close-up and intimate tours.

            Likewise, the Boruca community’s presentation on the preparation of their intricate masks, vibrant dyes, and other crafts made me question how our presence impacts their culture. Though I understand that the profits of tourism ultimately provide the community with resources it otherwise would not have, it is important to recognize how tourism also alters the traditional culture. As we have learned in class, the Boruca style of masks has developed over the years to be more marketable to tourists, and therefore, more profitable. Undoubtedly, other aspects of their culture, such as the cultural dance called the “Juego de los Diablitos,” have evolved to better suit our consumerist tastes as well. At this point, are we really experiencing their culture, or just a version tailored to what we want to see? Is there a way that we can still appreciate and learn about indigenous cultures without simultaneously distorting them?

No comments:

Post a Comment