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Digital Subscriptions > Travel Africa > January-March 2019 (85) > Personally speaking…

Personally speaking…

A rare encounter on a recent visit to a remote area of Madagascar prompted Hilary Bradt to consider her own changing attitudes to cultural tourism, reflect on the past and to question the impact we all have on other communities when we travel.

I can pinpoint the moment when I first questioned my conviction that rural lifestyles should remain unchanged.

A few years earlier, in the late 1960s, I had visited one of the car-free villages around Lake Atitlan in Guatemala and filmed, with my old cine camera, the village women collecting water from their communal well. I watched them scoop up the water in hollow bamboos and let it trickle into their earthenware vessels, chatting and laughing together before heading back to their houses with the heavy pots supported on their heads. With their exquisitely embroidered blouses and the terracotta pots, it was a beautifully photogenic scene, one I was proud of.

A few years later I returned, and headed to the same village with my camera. Oh no! The women were still collecting water, but the well was now a standpipe and the pots were all made of plastic (though the same shape and size as before). Not worth taking photos this time; the curse of plastic had reached even this remote village. And then I stopped to think. This material was far more suitable than clay for the purpose of carrying water: it was lighter and unbreakable. It made these women’s lives so much easier.

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