If you travel to a country that is foreign from your own, you may often come across things on the way that are upsetting or distressing to you. Adventuring to regions where the cultural norm is different to what you have experienced growing up can often seem quite odd. What is the best way to approach these things? Do you let them depress you? Add it to your list of reasons why you want to change the world? Or do you just accept it as a new experience and move on?
When travelling in India, in 2011, I had one of my most memorable incidents such as this. In a remote village in Andhra Pradesh, a group of us paid a visit to a cashew factory where we met the workers. It was mostly women working in the factory, which was little more than a large shed, many of them fairly young, possibly working alongside their parents. The entire building was quite dirty and we were told that the workers worked very long hours for very little pay. Some of the workers seemed desperately unhappy to be there whilst some of them greeted us with warm smiles on their faces.
The opinion of this situation amongst the group of 10 or so people that I was with was incredibly divided. The first comments were in regards to the poor conditions of the workers and judgement was made against the owners of the small factory. Although we were given the opportunity to purchase bags of cashews, directly from the factory, many declined as they didn’t want to fund an organisation that treated the staff in such a way. However, one woman, who in my opinion was slightly more rational with her judgement, quite rightly pointed out that this job, for one person, probably supported entire families and without it, several more people may have lived in complete poverty.
Upon hearing her remarks, several more of our group made the decision to purchase bags of nuts from the owner. Personally I bought several large bags (at a fraction of the price they would cost in the UK) but still felt torn about the situation. There must have been more the owner could do to make his employees more comfortable, to increase their quality of life by paying even a marginally higher wage? Capitalism, it seems, is a universal concept that knows no bounds and in a place of such beauty, it seemed all the more upsetting that this was how things were.
A similar, but entirely different, experience that shocked me whilst travelling was in 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand. I had no rose tinted expectations when it came to the sex trade, however to see it so blatantly occurring with such brutality is a night I’ll not forget in any hurry. 4.am, an Australian bar on a Bangkok street, sitting with friends whilst waiting for a connecting bus to take us to the islands.
Behind me, being pushed into a toilet cubicle with much force by two American men, a Thai prostitute is being shouted at, “I want to check you’re a woman and not one of those fags”. Drunk patrons attempting to clarify the gender of their purchase before handing over any money.
Separate to this but at the same time, just down the street, I can see a police man, or at least a man dressed as though he were one, chasing a lady-boy and beating her in the back with his truncheon. Her crime? Who knows. Nobody stops to ask as they order more drinks and continue with their own revelry.
Needless to say I was more than happy to leave the streets of Bangkok when the time came to find our bus and I was happy never to return to this city, asides from catching my return flight to the UK….