I’m not a massive fan of television unless that is I’m alerted to a More 4 documentary, told about a BBC Panorama special or stumble across a kitchen sink drama. So as was the case last night, after a long day at work, I sat down and began watching a programme my mother seemed to be entertained by. Channel 4’s Holiday Hijack was a one hour slot taking unwary British families from the comfort of their luxury holidays, making them experience the harsher realities of their chosen holiday destination that they have ever seen before.
This episode introduced the 49-year-old Tracy, a luxury jewellery shop owner from Essex and her three children Joe, Morgan and Ollie. Familiar with various exotic locations, the family have only ever really experienced the luxurious hotels and sea resorts, rarely venturing beyond their hotel pool.
This is where the programme takes a twist. While on their lavish Kenyan holiday, Tracy and her family are ‘hijacked’ by the Maasai Mara people who take them from their resort and bring them back to their village, a far cry from the world of opulence that the mother of three was accustomed to and expectant of from her expensive holiday.
As consumers and viewers of television, we, as creatures of habit, expect to see certain trends or patterns and as such give appropriate reactions. So for example when we watch The Simpsons we want to and are comforted by the fact that we will laugh. When we watch Eastenders we know that it will be nothing but pure, unadulterated misery, but we watch it regardless because it has a strange way of making us feel better about our own predicament in life.
In programmes similar to the Holiday Hijack set up, the wealthy but not necessarily content western word is juxtaposed against the poverty-stricken but not necessarily unhappy third world. So what you usually pick up on or even expect is a consumerist and materialist family travelling to a first world country only for them to arrive and immediately complain about their lack of a comfy bed or shower; and an onslaught of first world problems arise. Then as the programme continues, one person may have dropped out of the experiment, but in some cases they realise that they haven’t given the experience a proper chance and return back to the main location from which the experiment is taking place.
In this particular instance Tracy and hre family were offered as much of the Maasai experience as possible, with the two boys taken to the sacred forest and provided with training which gave an insight of what it is like to go through the ritual from Maasai boy to man. For a family used to their holiday consisting of the hotel attractions and city night life, being taken to the sacred forest was received as being something of a great privilege by youngest boy Ollie:
I feel quite privileged that the Maasai would bring us here. The only time I would go outside the hotel is to get drunk on a night out.
While daughter Morgan struggled with the experience and after the first night in the Maasai village, then went to stay in the nearby hotel to get what she called a good night’s sleep. Ben, recruited as translator between the family and the Maasai Mara people was more concerned that she was leaving her family, raising cultural issues of the questionable ways in which we in the western world treat our families and put a great emphasis on individual progression. Although it has to be said that Morgan did return to the village and within her I saw the biggest change from when she first arrived to when she made her final exit. Bonding with the children, women and also Ben, Morgan clearly took her experience and valued every part of it.
So evidently Holiday Hijack did follow the above pattern I mentioned, however what I found most interesting was the various discussions brought forth by the programme. It raised not only cultural issues, but within that bracket, gender issues. For example not only were the Maasai Mara women expected to milk the cows in the morning, providing food for the self-sufficient tribe, but also expected to look after and rear the children as well as walking six miles a day to fetch the water from the well. This highlighted the discrepancies between the role of men and women, showing that women are placed in a sub-ordinate position the world over.
Another interesting element was the central theme of the programme which was the plight of the Maasai Mara. As a result of increased tourism and the building of hotels to accommodate for this increase, the land available to the Maasai Mara was slowly amounting to next to nothing. As Morgan rightly put it, the catch 22 that sits at the forefront of this, is that while tourism does bring in money for the community, at the same time the money is created from the invasion and destruction of the Maasai tribespeople’s home. In order to combat this huge problem, an entrepreneurial attitude was taken, with the Mara people making their own jewellery and selling it via jewellery stalls allowing tourists to buy from them. By charging tourists £10 each and with over 30 visitors in one day the tribe raised over £300, of which they kept all of it.
Though the programme was a set up none of us had never seen before, it did expose a whole range of issues, and interestingly provided one type of solution to just one of the problems the Maasai Mara people faced. Hopefully this will encourage an onset of programmes that also explore the various ways and schemes being used to deal with these issues.