Sunday, 30 August 2015

Ma'a 'ssalaamah

The time had come for us to say goodbye to Jordan. I was sorry to do so, but at the same time excited at the prospect of travelling further east to India.

My choice of  blog title was driven by coming across this photograph:

East meets West: Viewing different cultural perspectives

I found it hilarious and thought provoking at the same time. To me this photo signifies how cultural values change from one place to another and how different cultures find it important to preserve certain aspects of their culture.

Over the period of a few years I have met many people from different cultures and have found it important to respect the beliefs of each of them. It does not matter how different the cultures are but one must learn to find a degree of mutual respect, even though one might not agree over some matters. This understanding has shaped the way I interpreted my experiences in Jordan.

As a student of tourism studies I have learnt to keep my senses open to the world. I have learnt that the tourist experience is multisensory (1). In Jordan I used all my senses to experience the journey to the fullest. I have 'seen' the architecture, 'heard' the cries of prayer, 'tasted' the lovely food, 'smelt' the dust in the desert and 'felt' the salty water of the Dead Sea.  Whilst our journey I tried to make sense of the environment around me in terms of tourism studies. I have attempted to correlate the experiences in Jordan to relevant theories.

I have enjoyed this trip immensely whilst performing the dual role of a tourist and a student of tourism studies, I have nothing but respect for the Jordanian people and their culture and am extremely proud to have had a 'taste' of it. I am filled with an immense affection for all the people involved in this trip: my classmates, my teachers, Omar, our driver Kamil, the people at ACOR, the people at the embassy,all our lecturers and Eng Rustum Mkhjian, who gave us his wonderful message of love between all people of all races and religions.

I left Jordan with a clear message to people in the East and the West. Jordan is a lovely country, and I will be speaking highly about it to everyone I meet. I am greatly in dept to the people who gave me such a lovely time and I would definitely like to visit Jordan again.

Ma'a 'ssalaamah! And see you again!


References

(1) Pan, S; Ryan, C. Tourism Sense-Making: The Role of the Senses and Travel Journalism. 2009 [Online] Available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10548400903276897?journalCode=wttm20

Saturday, 29 August 2015

The tourist encounter

Our last official day of the summer school started off with a beautiful sunrise in the desert. Never before have I felt such silence, such calmness and such radiance.


Sunrise at Wadi Rum


Thereafter we went to Aqaba and spent a few hours shopping and eating a very wholesome lunch. Our summer school was officially coming to an end, but a few questions remained unanswered, one of them being:

"What was the nature of MY tourist encounter? "

Even though we had gone to Jordan as students of tourism studies, I also felt that I was a tourist there. Hence, I could say something about my experiences as a tourist.

Wall and Mathieson (1) have described the tourist encounter to be transitory, constrained in time and space, staged, commercial in character and unequal in terms of wealth. Reflecting on my experience, I would have to say that I agree with this description. My encounter was definitely transitory and constrained to a period of merely 6 days. Experiences at Petra and Wadi Rum were 'staged', as mentioned in my previous blogs. I had also bought some souvenirs, consumed food and other products and hence my encounter could also be described as commercial. While in Petra I also felt like we the tourists had more wealth than the local people, thus the inequality.

However, even though my encounter might have been fleeting, impersonal and superficial I am still happy, because as a tourist I fully enjoyed all my visits to these places. I learnt a great deal about this country. As mentioned in my previous blogs, we as a group of tourists definitely had some effect on the local people ( such as our tour guide, our driver, shopkeepers and cooks).

As a tourist of mixed origins, I felt as though local people in less touristic areas welcomed me and treated me as one of their own. This gave me great delight, especially when people talked to me in Arabic. In more touristic areas such as Petra, I was passed over for my "more Western looking friends". The reason for this is not known to me, but I believe that Europeans ( or European looking people) pay more and are more eager to engage with local people. However this is just my fleeting opinion and to explore this further I would have to observe tourist-local relations for over a period of time, with less biases.


What did I learn as a student of tourism studies?


Click next to view my last blog entry!


References

1) Mathieson, A. and Wall, G.  Tourism: Economic, Physical and Social Impacts, Harlow:
Longmans.1982.


In Persuit of Authenticity

Tonight was the night that almost all of us were looking forward to: spending a night at the desert at Wadi Rum!

As we entered the Bedouin camp, we noticed that it was clearly was not a mere tent in the desert. Having read a blog by Drumond regarding this, I was well aware of what was to expect. According to Drumond (1) the Bedouin tours in Israel ( and in our case Jordan) serve as a perfect example of a postmodern travel experience. These tours work on the premise of ecotourism, cultural preservation, and authenticity.With an increased interest in cultural tourism, there seem to be a lot of tourists  in search of an “authentic experience”. These people want to move away from the so called "mainstream tourists" and are in search of the genuine or real experience and environment. They thus visit the desert camps at Wadi Rum. 




Our camp at Waldi Rum 

Going to the Bedouin camp as a student of tourism studies, I clearly saw how the local people had tried to make the place seem authentic, in combination with providing for the comfort of the tourist. It was a perfect spot for Arab tourists (mostly from Saudi Arabia) to enjoy music, dancing and drinking alcohol( alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia). Besides this, they also catered to foreign tourits. The local people showed us how they made food under the ground and gave us a taste of their clothing, decorations, music and food.


Food cooked below the ground



Joining the dance 
There are scholars(2) who argue that tourist experiences can never be authentic even if they perceive them to be. Strangely enough, this so called 'staged' form of authenticity did not bother me and I enjoyed every single part of my time there. In fact one of the arguments supporting this 'staging' is that it is not intention of the Bedouins to decieve the tourists, but rather for them to enjoy the exotic environment created for them in the midst of comfort (4). 
A paper (3) argues that tourist often forge relationships to make an experience authentic. I experienced this in the camp. When we saw the local people and other Arabs dance, I convinced Jelle that we both go and dance with them. By learning traditional dance steps from a local man in traditional clothing ,I really felt as though I was bonding with the people, thus making my tourist experience authentic. The dance with the people and my fellow students was the highlight of my trip so far. At the end of the evening I was beaming with delight, my body full of joy. This is an experience I will never forget.


References 

1) Arianna Drumond.Contextualizing Authenticity in Tourism: An Examination of Postmodern Tourism Theory. 2013 [Online] Available at: https://blogs.commons.georgetown.edu/cctp-725-fall2013/2013/12/14/contextualizing-authenticity-in-tourism-an-examination-of-postmodern-tourism-theory/ 

2) MacCannell, D. (1973) Staged authenticity: arrangements of social space in tourist settings. American Journal of Sociology Vol. 79 (3): 589–603.

3) Krystin St Jean. How to Have an Authentic Experience. 2008. [Online] Available at: http://www.unbc.ca/assets/outdoor_recreation_tourism_management/new_courses/authentic_experiences.pdf

4) G´eraldine Chatelard. Tourism and representations: Of social change and power relations in Wadi Ramm, Southern Jordan. Images aux fronti`eres. Repr´esentations et constructions sociales et politiques. Palestine, Jordanie 1948-2000, Institut fran¸cais du Proche-Orient, pp.194-251, 2005 [Online]  Available at: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/file/index/docid/338446/filename/Tourism_and_representations.pdf 

The Lost City of Stone

The Lost City of Stone-Petra has been described as 'a rose-red city half as old as time' (1). Indeed, so famous is its beauty that millions of people go to Jordan just to see the wonderful, beautiful, glorious structure.
Omar, being as excellent as always, gave us a history and description of the place. He mentioned that it might have been established as early as 400 BC and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has now been named as one of the seven wonders of the world and is flooded with tourists.

As Petra is always full of tourists, the local community has well adapted to the situation and have made tourism a huge industry. There are shops to buy souvenirs, postcards, food and handicrafts. Interestingly, there are also a variety of services offered, one of them being a chance to undergo a "Real Bedouin experience" with an exotic looking man, clad in traditional clothes and wearing a thick layer of make-up!


As a child when I used to think of Arabia, images of camels, horses and caravans sprung into my mind. In Petra one can ride a horse, camel or carriage, giving tourists like me a feeling that they were in "The Arabia". This lead me to think of how commodified tourism in Petra was.


Commodification commodities are objects produced for the purpose of being exchanged

and commodification is the process in which both measurable, like goods and intangible and immeasurable ( experiences) (2).
Meethan (3) argues that commodification occurs in two closely related ways: first as an initial representation of the destination in the images that are promoted through travel brochures and the media (figure 1 and 2); and, second, through the ways in which local culture is represented in the tourist experience of the destination (figure 3). I agree completely with this, having seen this in Petra.




Figure 1: Initial representation of destination image is often by means of Internet 



Figure 2: Publicity of a place is increased through the circulation of books and brochures


I believed that the commercialization of the touristic encounter extends to the point of commodification not merely of the handicrafts and the photographic image, but to the people of the place. A example of this visible in the dress, make-up and behaviour of the men in Petra. 


Figure 3: The Bedouin men of Petra (4)


I must say, I did not enjoy Petra so much as I expected to. Perhaps the hype created around it made it hard for me to do so when I was actually there or perhaps I needed more time to appreciate its entire beauty. Nevertheless I thoroughly cherished the experience and found the sights to be breathtaking.




References

1) Burgon, John William (1846). Petra, a Poem: To Which a Few Short Poems Are Now Added (Second ed.). Oxford: F. MacPherson. pp. 17–39. Retrieved 9 June2011.

2)Cohen, E. (1988) ‘Authenticity and commodification in tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 15 (2):371–86.

3) Meethan, K. (2001) Tourism in Global Society, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

4) The red-rose city, Bedouin Brothers’ Ecolife, and the sand bottles tradition. Imagge. Available at:
https://www.kissfromtheworld.com/whats-up/jordan/petra/the-red-rose-city-bedouin-brothers-ecolife-and-the-sand-bottles-tradition-215.html

Thursday, 27 August 2015

How did the Dead Sea get its name?

At the age of 10 I learnt an important fact in my geography lesson: The Dead Sea is the lowest point on Earth. When I consulted a  map I realized it was not a sea at all but a lake! Also, slightly worrying to me was that it was called  'dead'. Thus, as a 10 year old, I failed to understand why this place was called the Dead Sea. Now, at the age of 20 I would finally obtain an answer to these complex questions because...... lo and behold(!): I was going to visit the Dead Sea! I was almost jumping with excitement in the bus and after we reached I could not wait to get changed and run to the sea.

The Dead Sea did not disappoint.

Ginger, Sophie and me in the Dead Sea

The experience in the sea was marvelous. I felt the water push me upwards, the salt make my skin slippery and the heat on my hair.

As we slowly moved from the sea to the pool I noticed that we were surrounded by other tourists. This was a change for us, since, till this point we had seen very few other tourists. I noticed that most of the tourists appeared to be from the Middle-East. Most women were wearing full body covering swim suits, however, I noticed that some teenage girls were also wearing bikinis like us. This made me think of the demonstration effect. According to Williams (1) the demonstration effect is dependent on the existence of visible differences between the visitors and hosts and this theory suggests that the changes in the host's attitudes, values or behavior patterns may be brought through a process of imitation based upon local contact with, or observation of, the tourist. It is believed that the local people imitate the actions and materialistic possessions of the tourists.
As I sat beside the pool  I reflected that the demonstration effect might have caused the girls to wear bikinis , as they might have picked it up from other western tourists. Such an adoption of clothing could be an example of the demonstration effect.  Negative effects of the demonstration effect  might include a rift between the youngsters and the elderly, and a clash of social/religious values.

Moment of observation and reflection 


No evidence of a rift was visible however and everyone, including us seemed to be thoroughly enjoying their moments with friends/family. We left the place with rosy cheeks and large smiles. Most importantly for me however was that I had finally obtained an answer to my question: The Dead Sea is extremely hypersaline, killing all aquatic organisms within it, hence called 'dead '. As for the term 'sea': simply because it is huge!

References

(1) Williams, S. Tourism Geography A new Synthesis. 2009.



Tourism of Faith


I first came to know about Jordan because of its significance in the Bible. During the next two days we were to visit important religious sites: Um Rassas, Madaba, Mt. Nebo and the Baptism site. I was excited at the prospect especially because our guide Omar was an excellent story teller. He made all the stories of the Bible come alive and was very happy to answer any questions we had. Our visit to these holy sites thus made me reflect on religious tourism and its implications on the people of Jordan.

According to Collins-Kreiner (1) pilgrimage is one of the oldest and most basic forms of population mobility known to human society, and its political, social, cultural and economic implications have always been, and continue to be, substantial. Pilgrimage is a phenomenon linked to all religions. Religious tourism appears to be one of the earliest forms of tourism. Almost since the dawn of history human beings have traveled to holy sites (4). By the Biblical period important religious centers had become not only a part of the cultural landscape, but they also had become major players in local marketing and important parts of the economy of those cities that hosted religious centers (4). Today’s religious travel includes multiple sub-niches that range from the luxury pilgrimage market to backpacking and from religious institutional travel to volunteer-oriented experiences meant to help those in some form of need (4).

Tourism based on pilgrimage and visiting the holy sites became important in Jordan(2). Jordan is part of the Holy Land due to the presence of holy places representing the three monotheistic religions. Jordan appeals to Muslims, Christians and Jews alike, because as the “Abrahamic” traditions all three recognize religious sites in Jordan. Tourism has been a culture and a means of sustenance for Muslims, Christians and Jews, conducted in communion between the Muslims and the Christians of the Holy Land, as it provided everyone’s “bread and butter” (2).Our tour guide at the Baptism site mentioned the importance of religious tourism in the preservation of social values of the people and proposed Jordan to be a place of union of people of different religions. The commonly shared heritage within the religious landscape of Jordan is an extremely important factor in attracting tourists as well as bringing Christians and Muslims closer together as communities.

A second reason why Jordan is important in religious tourism is its geographical proximity to religious sites in other nations. The geographical location of Jordan as the crossroads between Europe, Africa and Asia makes the country a promising tourist destination.

What is interesting to note, however, is that religious sites have been an increasingly popular object of the tourist gaze. even when the people do not hold faith in the beliefs that such places hold (5).


Baptism Site 

Entrance of Umm Ar-Rasas 



References


1) Collins-Kreiner, N.Researching Pilgrimage: Continuity and Transformations. Annals of Tourism Research.37(2), 2010 [Online] Available at: https://www.academia.edu/259783/RESEARCHING_PILGRIMAGE_Continuity_and_Transformations

2) Bader,M.Religious Tourism in Jordan: Current situation, future developments and prospects.A case study on Islamic and Christian holy sites. 2012 [Online] Available at: http://d-nb.info/1034352407/34


3)Strategic Initiatives & Government Advisory (SIGA) Team. Diverse Beliefs: Tourism of Faith Religious tourism gains ground Strategic Initiatives & Government Advisory (SIGA) Team.April 2012 [Online] Available at: http://www.ficci.com/spdocument/20207/Diverse-Beliefs-Tourism-of-Faith.pdf

4) The importance of the Religious Tourism Market. Website. Available at: http://www.tourismandmore.com/tidbits/the-importance-of-the-religious-tourism-market/


5) Vukovic, B. Religion,tourism and economics: a convenient symbiosis. Tourism recreation Research. 27(2):59-64 [Online]

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

I get to be the hero of the story: or not?

At 5:45 I was woken by the Fajr prayer near our hostel. I listened to the sound and realized it reminded me of the my childhood in India. In India,  I would hear the same calls each day and realize it was time for school.  The sound evoked memories that I did not know existed and filled me with a happy feeling. It reminded me of my ongoing transition from West (The Netherlands) to East (India).

While writing this blog I have observed an interesting phenomenon: I am narrating a story. By means of this blog I am trying to explain to the readers what a lovely time I have had so far. I am, by all means, acting like the hero in the story with everything revolving around me. Scott McCabe and Clare Foster have recorded this by saying that,"Accounts of touristic experiences in naturalistic everyday interaction have a story-like quality to them which become mythologised, fabled and flamboyantly and richly narrated to friends and relatives back home(1)."
The role of narrative is fundamental in the construction of tourist experience and my means of this blog I can share that tourist experience with all my readers. When my parents call me I narrate to them what happened during the day and I realize that even while talking about my experiences I cannot run away from this phenomenon.

Today we had a tour of Amman, visiting important historical sites such as the blue mosque, the Roman amphitheater, the citadel and also viewing the Roman ruins in Jerash.
While looking at the Roman ruins I realized that the Jordan Tourism Industry has made full use of the aesthetic preferences of some tourists of the Western world. I wondered: Do these sites really show the identity of the people of Jordan? Or are they just maintained to attract cultural tourists? Our tour guide Omar mentioned that Arab tourists would never visit one of these ruins with the aim of obtaining knowledge about history of these sites. Thus, he implied that these sites are maintained for a specific class of tourists: Tourists interested in the history and heritage of the place.
Similar thoughts are held by Smith and Robinson (2) who maintain that Jordan is locked into the promotion of its Greco-Roman sites, as ‘must-see’ places, though such sites are hardly representative of the culture(s) of the Jordanian/Arab peoples, shaped as they have been by Ottoman culture and complex historical relations with the West. 

However,  such thoughts soon left my mind as I was soon enthralled by the breathtaking views and elegant structures. I was left with nothing but respect for the Jordanian peoples efforts in maintaining these wonderful structures. 

The Roman ruins at Jerash 



References

(1) Scott McCabe & Clare Foster (2006) The Role and Function of Narrative in Tourist Interaction, Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change, 4:3, 194-215, DOI: 10.2167/ jtcc071.0 Available at:  http://dx.doi.org/10.2167/jtcc071.0

(2) Smith, M,;Robinson.M; Toronto .Cultural Tourism in a Changing World. 2005. http://www00.unibg.it/dati/corsi/44108/50648-smith-robinson-proofs.pdf

Monday, 24 August 2015

Keef halek?

As we got down from the flight and made our way to the visa desk we tried to notice the atmosphere in the airport. The first thing we noticed was the presence of only men at the airport, This was quite a contrast to the airport at Schiphol. We made our way to the immigration desk to collect our visas. My friend Anniek was first in a long row of students. The immigration officer looked at her, and without a word, started to go through her passport. Later he handed her back her passport with the visa without uttering a word. I went after Anniek and the change in attitude of the immigration officer was very apparent. He greeted me with, " Keef halek". Being familiar with this particular Arab expression I replied, "Good", wondering what had caused this change in attitude. He then later asked me what the students were here for, again with a friendly attitude. He then asked me whether I was Arabic or had Arab relatives. I replied that I did not, but he said he did not believe me and wished me a pleasant stay in Jordan. I was surprised but rather pleased that I somehow was accepted in the society, even though I was as much a tourist as my fellow students. It also made me realize that the appearance and body language of the tourist greatly determines how a tourist will be received by the host community.
One of the first questions people ask in a foreign land is,"Where are you from?".
This made me reflect upon on various stereotypes of different cultures and the impact it has on tourism. The stereotype is a mental structure, a prefiguration that selects and stores the information. Stereotypes can be considered as those patterns that influence our perception and response to certain issues. They have a strong meaning value, being loaded by feelings and marked by tradition (1). We were a group of international students, all studying in The Netherlands. When people would ask us where we were from we would reply, "Holland". I realized that this could have an impact on how we were treated in the country. There are existing studies that show that French tourists tend to interact less with tourists of other nationalities during the holidays, due to the difficulties of communicating in English (2). This may have lead to the stereotype that the French are "unwilling to mix". This may or may not be true but emphasizes how stereotypes develop in minds of people. I wondered whether there was also stereotyoes in the minds of Jordanians concerning Dutch people and how this would influence our interactions during the trip. I was eager to find out....

References
(1) Albu, Cristina-Elena. Stereotypical factors in Tourism. Cross-Cultural Management Journal 15(1) 2013 [Online] Available at: http://www.cmj.bxb.ro/Article/CMJ_3_1.pdf

(2) Doise, W., Deschamns, J.-C., Mugny, G. Psihologie socială experimentală. Editura Polirom, Iași. 1999

Sunday, 23 August 2015

The Journey to Jordan

As I sat on the 5 hour flight to Jordan I thought of what Jordan would be like and the encounters we would have there. I then reflected on my blog. One of the questions that a reader had in my previous blog entry was: "How do you define culture?".
I put in a great deal of thought and research into it and found out that culture seems to be a notoriously difficult term to define. Despite many anthropologists defining culture, no one has seemed to be able to agree on one definition. There was one particular definition which I found close to how I would describe it:
"Culture is a fuzzy set of basic assumptions and values, orientations to life, beliefs, policies, procedures and behavioural conventions that are shared by a group of people, and that influence (but do not determine) each member’s behaviour and his/her interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour.’" (1).
In my previous blog, I mentioned that I would want to explore Jordanian culture. I felt as though I was going to Jordan as a cultural tourist. The term "cultural tourist", like culture is also complex to define but most sources refer to it as ‘the movement of persons to cultural attractions,with the intention to gather new information and experiences to satisfy their cultural needs. Cultural tourism may be defined as special interest holidays, essentially motivated by cultural interests such as trips and visits to historical sites and monuments, museums and galleries, artistic performances and festivals as well as lifestyles of communities' (2). This fit in with our plan for Jordan  We were to visit different archaeologically significant sites such as Petra, Jerash and Madaba and also visit museums and handicraft shops.


Figure 1: Map showing the sites we were to visit in Jordan (south of Jerash) 


In this way I would fulfill the role of a cultural tourist. Besides the sites and monuments I also wanted was to pay close attention to the behavior of the local people, their religious practices, food habits and social interactions with each other and tourists alike.
Having lived with Arabs I felt like I had some idea of what I could expect. I also felt like as though living in India for 16 years could help me understand some of the religious and cultural practices of the people. "Cultural similarity' is one important factor in shaping the socio- cultural effects that arises from the encounter between tourists and locals. I anticipated the culture of Jordan to be somewhat similar to that of India. I wanted to find out how my experiences varied from someone who came from a very dissimilar culture, or whether it varied at all. I was excited at the prospect of exploring these aspects in Jordan.
As I thought all these things I heard the cabin crew announce: " Please fasten your seat belts, we are approaching Amman."


References

(1) Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012) What is culture? A compilation of quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts [Online]  Available at: http://go.warwick.ac.uk/globalpadintercultural

(2) Chandran, A.  A study on cultural tourism in kerala and tamilnadu with special reference to art and archietecture [Online] Available at: http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/12807/7/07_chapter%201.pdf

Saturday, 22 August 2015

The Night Before

As I am writing this, I notice that I am nervous. My fingers type more slowly on the keyboard and I am making greater typing mistakes than I usually do. Fear of travelling? Excited for what tomorrow will bring? I wonder....
Beside me sits my grandmother who is watching the show "Sail vandaag" on the television. We have just eaten a typical Dutch meal of "Boerenkool Stampot". This makes me reflect on what  the following days will entail: a Jordanian tv show and an Arab dish? It seems rather unimaginable to me that the next day I wil be in such different world. 
Tomorrow I shall leave for Jordan at 17:00. After Jordan I shall be travelling further east to India and Bangladesh. Jordan is thus, for me a transition point, from west to east, and I am excited at the prospect of exploring its culture.
I have spent the past week packing and yet I feel strangely unprepared for the trip. I do not have many clothes and very few other things. I have spent the past few days looking for clothes that cover most of my skin and are not too warm. Futher than this I have done very little besides reading some information about the places we are going to visit in Jordan.
I think the biggest preparation for my trip was talking to my uncle's wife about Jordan. She is Spanish and speaks very little English. Communication was hence difficult, although I got the gist of what she was telling me. She had been in Jordan 5 years ago and loved it. She told me about the beauty of the touristic places, the charm of Amman and the thrill of being in the Dead Sea. She then told me something that she really liked about the local people in Jordan: She said that although they were helpful and friendly, they also let you have your private space. She found this contrasting different to what she had experienced in her travels to Senegal, Indonesia and India. I have this at the back of my mind and want to see if I get the same impression as her.
I believe that the way one interprets a culture is dependent on the culture of the interpreter. I think the way I was brought up may have an impact on how I see things in Jordan. I hope to overcome this by talking to people and comparing their views to mine and reflecting upon it. Here begins my exploration into culture.....