I´ve been questioning whether I should go on this favela tour or not and it took me a while to really come to grips with going on it and not feeling exploitative. First of all, to get this issue out of the way, I don´t know whether the tour company exploits people or not, nor do I know whether the residents of the favela like tourists going through their neighborhoods to see how they live. I have no idea. I, personally, hated being quacked at by the people on the duck in downtown Seattle when I worked there, but that was just because they were quacking. There will be no quacking tomorrow. In a city of 200,000 nobody can speak for everyone, so even if someone did claim to know what the residents felt, it would only be true for a portion of them. I can´t sit here and try to hash out what they think of me. All I can do is approach it with the best (or neutral) intentions, and if someone takes offense to that the issue is their´s.
The tour company seems to check out – I´ve seen nothing but positive reviews of it online, and, in general, the only criticisms I´ve seen of the favela tours is from people who haven´t been on them. I imagine the companies do have to pay off the gangs to operate their business in the favela, but it´s not that much different than me paying taxes to operate my company.
The only thing I can do – the only real thing I can control – is my presence there. So, am I going in an exploitative way? I don´t think so. Going to see how people live in a different culture is exactly what I´ve been doing for the last howevermany years I´ve been traveling. It´s what I did in Paris and India and Israel and Thailand and Buenos Aires and now Brasil. On the other hand, this IS different: If the people weren´t extremely poor, I wouldn´t be going there. So there is something to it.
Is it bad to be going to a place just because the people are poor? In my opinion, a thing like this is only as bad or good as you make it. I could go there and look at them like animals in the zoo, but that´s not how I´ll approach it. I could go there and make them out to be noble or to pity them, but I won´t approach it that way either. The reason I´m going is the same reason I´ve gone to all the other places I´ve traveled: to answer the question/statement, ¨How to Live¨ (?/.) What it comes down to is that I´m consistently interested in the different ways people choose to (or are compelled to) live and make a living and this happens to be a neighborhood with a notorious reputation. I don´t want to go there with a mission, I just want to go see what´s there.
So, that´s how I justify my moral role in this exchange.
In broader terms, I want to do this because it´s an experience, and experiences are the cornerstones of both growing and living in the present. The more I can do of those things the happier I´ll be. (and, if I believed in making the world a better place, the next justification would be, ¨the happier I am, the happier I can make the people around me, and make the world a better place,¨ but ultimately my actions are nothing but selfish, so that statement wouldn´t be sincere.)