Vice produced a very sad mini-documentary about the Batwa people, native inhabitants of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, where tourists can go to look at endangered gorillas.
They were violently driven from their land, but a few of them can come back during the day and work as zoo exhibits, showing tourists their Authentic Traditional Way of Life. The march of progress is mandatory. It’s important to eradicate any form of autonomy from Western civilization.
The land that’s been taken from them without compensation is actually quite valuable:
As part of the on-going process to increase visitor and tourist numbers at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has habituated two more groups of mountain gorillas at Rushaga, Kisoro, in Southwestern Uganda.
According to UWA publicist Jossy Muhangi, habituation enables gorillas to get used to human presence without changing their wild character. The new gorilla families that have been under habituation for the last two years are Bukingi and Bushabo. This brings to 14 the number of habituated groups in Bwindi.
The two groups are ready for tourism, Muhangi said, adding that tourists accompanied by the team that has been habituating the gorillas have been visiting the two groups in recent weeks and the gorillas did not charge at them.
The two-decade-long gorilla tourism contributes 60% of UWAs total revenue, according to Muhangi. He also said some of the gorilla revenue is used by UWA to support other parks whose revenues fall short.
Those two decades of gorilla tourism correspond to the ongoing ordeal of the Batwa people.
The worst part is that it’s lucrative because it’s a modern-day equivalent of medieval Catholic indulgences.
“You may seem fine from far away,” indeed. Condé Nast Traveler explains how marvelous it is go to there:
Clouds is the first luxury retreat for visitors to this national park—a more ancient and biodiverse ecosystem than the Virunga Mountains, inhabited by Rwanda and Congo’s gorilla population. Ten stone cottages have loftlike interiors with high-beamed ceilings and African-themed art; a private butler and housekeeper provide hot-water bottles and keep the fireplace lit on chilly mountain evenings. All guest rooms and the sprawling main lodge has stupendous views of crop-terraced slopes leading toward the silhouette of seven volcanoes. Clouds sits at the trailhead for tracking the Nkuringo gorilla family, the largest and friendliest of Bwindi’s five human-habituated troops; these endangered animals include a set of gorilla twins born in November 2008. Guests also go on forest walks with Batwa pygmy guides and visit lodge-managed community projects designed to help local subsistence farmers. The extraordinary combination of creature comforts, nature, and helping others makes Clouds worth the effort and expense of getting there: Figure on a private charter flight or two-day road trip from Entebbe and at least $500 per gorilla-trek permit.
Recall from the Vice documentary that a Batwa prostitute is about $7.
To her credit, Laurel Pantin from Condé Nast mentions that the Batwa “way of life is threatened to the brink of extinction.” Except that the next two sentences are: “Be sure to bring along enough Ugandan shillings or US dollars to use as tips. I didn’t see any ATMs near Bwindi, and it’s important to tip guides, trackers, porters, or anyone else providing services to you.” Of course, if nobody came and paid those people, there wouldn’t be a Clouds Gorilla Lodge…
It’s sooooo worth it, though:
Fortunately, this group is habituated to the point of being almost friendly. Visitors are advised to maintain seven meters between themselves and the gorillas, but that’s impossible when a young gorilla runs past you, grabbing your leg playfully—something that actually happened to me—or when the alpha silverback lumbers past you with barely six inches of clearance. It’s hard to forget that these are wild animals, and that they’ll do whatever they want, so for the hour I spent with them I was in kind of terrified awe, not wanting to get too close, but also on the brink of tears at how lucky I was to see them. It can’t be overstated how human they look. Their body language and expressions are so close to our own, I’d urge anyone who doesn’t believe in evolution to pay these guys a visit. At the end of the hike, everyone is awarded a charming commemorative certificate of the trip. Again, it’s important to remember to tip your guide, as well as the trackers and porters.
They changed the gorillas themselves to make it easier for this white girl to come through and get close to them. This is how lucky she felt:
She says she “has a lot of feelings,” in general, and she recently moved to South Africa to be with her boyfriend:
Still, I have anxiety dreams about not being able to find work and about my friends and family forgetting about me. I worry about my parents’ and grandparents’ health more now because I’m a 24-plus-hour flight away from home in Texas. I spend a lot of time alone. I’m already feeling anxious about Fashion Week — not because of my busy schedule or worrying about what I’ll wear, but because it’s a little heartbreaking to see how seamlessly things march on without you.
There are lots of adventures happening (like when Justin and I got engaged on the Skeleton Coast in Namibia!), and I haven’t even gone cage-diving with great white sharks yet! Our apartment has a view of the beach and the Twelve Apostles mountain range, which turns bright gold at about 8 p.m. It’s also summer here (sorry, guys!). But, my favorite thing about our place is that we have a dressing room. And, I didn’t pack light, so suddenly getting dressed is really fun again. More on that later.
Laurel doesn’t seem like a “bad person.” She has her own struggles, and seems to have honorable impulses. She understands that the locals need her money, she wants the endangered gorillas to stay alive, and she recognizes past instances of being a bitch to people and tries to be conscious of how lucky she is. If she’s worked in the fashion industry and seen the endangered gorillas, and has a degree in art history, and has a lot of feelings, she must feel the emptiness of life. She doesn’t even seem capable of shooting someone herself:
The issue is that every gorilla trek permit literally costs the same as 72 virgins. While traveling, it’s not unrealistic to think that she’s dropping sums like that everywhere she spends more than a few hours. The inequality turns the fluctuations of her mood into matters of great significance for the locals. The Batwa people reduced to performing a simulacrum of their culture wait until they’re out of sight of the white people to cry and drink themselves into oblivion. Some of their interactions with the white people are genuinely pleasant. They’re goofing around with a white little boy in the video that starts this post.
I can’t say I’m innocent of this…