zaterdag 12 september 2015

Looking back at Jordan

After returning to the Netherlands, people were eager to hear my experiences in Jordan. On the day I came home, I showed my parents pictures and told them of my story in Jordan. I think almost all people have told stories about their experiences abroad. Why do we tell these stories?

Figure 1: Greek inscription in Jerash
Scott McCabe and Clare Foster argue that the tourist has a 'narrativistic' attitude. Therefore, to explain touristic experiences, one needs to see them as a story. The story about their touristic experiences becomes a part of their identity.[1] Thus, when tourists talk about their experience, they essentially talk about themselves, their identity, their world. As also touched upon in my post 'Looking at the Other' the relation people create to their touristic activities (their 'other' activities) determines how they construct their social identity. This must also have been the case when I told people about Jordan, however I did not notice it, since it is inherent to storytelling.
Figure 2: Tourism in progress
So what was our own role in Jordan? Were we tourists or students of tourism? I think we were both. Most of us engaged in behaviour commonly associated with the stereotypical image of the tourist. Hopping out of the bus, walking around, taking pictures, then returning to the bus again. However, during the course 'Passions of Tourism' we all followed, we learnt new concepts and critical social theories to explain tourism. Returning to John Urry's gaze, I noticed things I would not have noticed before, thanks to my new knowledge. [2] Part of me was a tourist, and part of me a student of tourism. 

I took great pleasure in travelling through Jordan, which gave us a wonderful opportunity to explore and apply the phenomenon called tourism.

[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
[2] John Urry, The tourist gaze 3.0, 2012

Into the desert

Stephen Williams recalls MacCannell's view on the tourist experience as a quest for authenticity, to 'see life as it is really lived'. In his view, the tourist experience is distinct from day to day life, the modern life regarded as inauthentic.[1] Then visiting the Bedouins must be a good way to fulfill this quest for authenticity, right?

When we arrived at Hillawi Camp, everything was much larger than I expected. I thought we were going to sleep in tents. Instead we slept in a bed in a cross-over of a hut and a tent. There was even wifi(!) at the camp, which I purposely did not use. The world is small enough because of the internet already, I could go a day without it.
Figure 1: Sunset in Wadi Rum. In the lower right corner is Hillawi Camp

After watching the sunset from the top of a rock, we had dinner. The meat had been cooked in a hole underneath the sand, it was great. There were many Jordanians from Amman who would spend the evening in the camp, and travel to Aqaba later that night. Together with Omar, Jos, and Jelle I joined the dancing men. I later learnt that the dance we performed was also danced at weddings.

The next day we went on a tour on the back of jeeps. We stopped at several tents, where we were welcomed with tea. I quickly noticed that they had souvenirs for sale, it was all set up.

Figure 2: Jeep tour through Wadi Rum
So did we experience the real, authentic Bedouin way of life? I think not. We were experiencing the 'front' area, where we were presented staged performances of authenticity, for example the stops during the jeep ride.[1] These encounters with locals were also formal encounters. The informal encounters with locals, during the dancing might have been more authentic.

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography - a new synthesis, 2nd edition, Routledge, 2009

vrijdag 11 september 2015

The City of Stone

Even though our schedule of the last days was packed, the Friday would prove to be more intense. We would go to Petra, the most famous place of Jordan. The Nabataean city, which goes back to the 4th century BC, is also a UNESCO heritage site. We left ACOR at 7AM, so we had more time to spend inside Petra.

The sun was high in the sky by the time we came there and I decided to walk with a group to ad-Deir, the Monastery, at the end of the city. This meant walking a trail of about 5km, and climbing lots of steps up a mountain. Because of our limited time, we marched our way there at a quick pace.
Figure 1: Looking back at the path leading up to the Monastery

It was very clear that not many people bothered to go up to the Monastery, as there were only very few tourists there. But why did we decide to go there? For me it was curiosity, and hiking in the hot weather was a new experience for me. Does the extra effort we made mean that we had the better tourist experience?

Figure 2: The Monastery. Observe the large crowd of tourists in front of it

Scott McCabe notices that people make a distinction between travellers and tourists.[1] The first group view themselves as getting a deeper and better tourist experience by going off the beaten track.
"To me being a tourist means that you only go sightseeing, without experiencing the people or the flair of the place/country you are visiting."[1]

But who defines the tourist experience? Since everyone views their experiences in a different light, can we not just say that there is not 'the experience', but rather that the creation of such a tourist experience gets shaped by the person itself, being it a traveller or a tourist. With that I would like to conclude that therefore the distinction between travellers and tourists is made by the travellers trying to define their seperate, in their eyes better, identity. So our hiking trip to the Monastery made our experience different than those who did not go up, but we did not have 'the better experience'.

[1] Scott McCabe, Who is a tourist?; a critical review, Tourist studies, 2005

donderdag 10 september 2015

Floating in an enclave

Since we were near anyway, we went to the Dead Sea to experience floating in the water. Fun fact: at approximately 430 meters below sea level the higher air pressure causes the boiling point of water to be 101°C instead of 100°C. The high salinity of the water causes an increased density, such that one can easily float on the Dead Sea. That was what I had heard about the Dead See. But to actually go there, filled me with quite some excitement.

When we arrived at the resort where we stayed for the afternoon (after passing another checkpoint) the first thing I noticed was that as far as I could see, the whole coast on the Jordanian side was completely developed into a seemingly endless row of resorts. Upon entering the resort, everyone had to pass trough a detection gate, and our bags had to be scanned. This felt like a clear boundary between the outside world, and the world inside the resort.

And indeed, the resort looked like it could have been placed anywhere. There were no clear signs that we were still in Jordan (except for the always present photo of King Abdullah II). Tim Edensor recalls that these enclavic spaces are criticized to be 'placeless' or 'nonplaces', where local cultural influences are erased and spaces are entirely designed according to the ideas of the tourism industry. [1]

Also the girls, who dressed modestly according to the local values of Jordan, wore the swimming clothes they would most likely also have worn if they were to go swimming in the Netherlands. All in all, this afternoon felt as if I had been outside of Jordan. Floating in the Dead Sea was amazing however (until a small drop of water got into my eye).

[1] Tim Edensor, Overview of History of Tourism, Manchester, Elsevier, 2009

woensdag 9 september 2015

Religious tourism

All tourists and travellers have their reasons to go on a journey. Some want to explore the world, others want to escape daily life. And then there are some who travel to seek a religious experience. Jordan has many biblical sites (such as Mount Nebo, Bethany Beyond the Jordan), and is increasingly marketed as a destination for religious tourists. Omar, our guide, told us he sometimes accompanies groups of religious tourists through Jordan. But what drives these tourists?

We visited Mount Nebo, once at the end of a pilgrim's route from Jerusalem. Pilgrims making this trip today could also be considered as performing 'dark tourism', since they perform tourism in an area of ongoing socio-political conflict.[1] The interior of the newly built church was being renovated, so the church was closed, but the view from the mountain was beautiful.
Figure 1: Mr. Mkhjian talking about the Baptismal Site [Photocredit to Jos Kanning]

The next day we visited the Baptismal Site, located on the east bank of the river Jordan. On our way we passed military checkpoints, which gave me a sense of fear and excitement. Similar experiences have been found by Buda.[1] There we met Rustom Mkhjian, the deputy head of the site. He gave us a tour around the archaeological site, telling us about the history of the place, and about his own life. It was interesting to see the response of the group to Mr. Mkhjian. The group hung on the lips of him and payed close attention to what he told. What was it that caused this?
Other students also noticed this, and after he had to go to his next appointment, a small discussion arose. People were very sympathetic with him, because of his passion. It was his passion in his work at the Baptismal Site, on which he had devoted a part of his life. He had manage to create an affect on the whole group, and I felt sad when he had to leave us.

[1] Dorina Maria Buda, Affective Tourism - Dark routes in conflict, Routledge, 2015


From the ruins of Umm ar-Rasas we went to Madaba, a small town with an equal muslim and christian population. Omar took us to the church of St. George, which houses a mosaic map of the Holy Land dating to the 6th century AD. After having spent some time in the town, we went on to Mount Nebo, the place where Moses is said to have been buried.

Figure 1: Close-up of the mosaic map

Before we went there, however, we went to a souvenir shop, where the locals also produced mosaics. Upon our arrival, the locals were busy making some mosaics, and they showed us the process behind making these mosaics. What struck me, was that as soon as some of the students began to walk further into the shop, most of the locals dropped their work, and started to follow them, obviously to try selling them something. Several students, including myself, had the idea that it was some kind of 'staged authenticity', a performance to show to the tourists. We cannot blame them, of course, since tourism in Jordan is momentarily at a low.

We spent over 30 minutes in that shop, which most felt was too long, but it gave me the opportunity to look around a bit. Souvenirs are great signs of commodification. They show how the host culture is transformed into goods that can be bought or sold.[1] Overmore, souvenirs indicate the image of the country, which may or may not be entirely accurate. To an outsider it may look like souvenirs depict the host culture accurate, but most souvenirs are trumpery, fun to look at, but of no real use. On our way to Jordan, Jos and I spent some time in the souvenir shop at Schiphol. The goods in the store showed an image of the Netherlands of: cows, windmills, wooden shoes, orange, Ajax, and weed. But how do such images arise? Are the souvenirs a consequence of the image of a country, or do they shape this image?

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography - a new synthesis, 2nd edition, Routledge, 2009

donderdag 27 augustus 2015

More stones

After having to hurry to be on time for the bus, I was on my way to Umm ar-Rasas, a site with remains of military camps and several churches from the Byzantine era. The sun was already high on the clear blue sky when we arrived. Our day was packed, so we hurried along the paths of the site. It was clearly visible that not much excavations had taken place; there were many structures still buried half. The only place that was restored and preserved well were the ruins of the church of St. Stephen. A large roof has been built to shield the mosaic floor from the elements.

Figure 1: View of Umm ar-Rasas, the roof over the mosaic floor clearly visible

The floor itself was amazing. The large area of the floor was completely covered with mosaics that were still in a good state. What was interesting to see were the traces Iconoclasm left. Iconoclasm opposed the depiction of humans and animals. On the image below you can see what is left of a some persons. The tiles making up the original persons have been rearranged in a random way, making the persons unrecognisable.

Figure 2: The results of iconoclasm

Like the day before in Jerash, there were, except for our group, two tourists. Omar, our guide, explained that this was because Jordan is not seen by tourists as a destination on its own. Most tourists travel to Jordan as part of a journey through the whole region, i.e. Syria, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt, but the strife in some of these countries has made this kind of journey impossible.

I briefly mentioned the demonstration effect in the introduction where I said that the host culture takes over aspects of the culture of the visiting tourists.[1] The opposite also happens, as can be seen in our group. Jordan is a conservative country, where people are expected to dress modestly, which everyone does. Also, all of the guys, including me, have bought a keffiyeh - a piece of cloth traditionally worn on the head by the Bedouins - and wear it to protect our head and neck from the scorching sun.

[1] Stephen Williams, Tourism Geography - a new synthesis, 2nd edition, Routledge, 2009