Jaime's rant: December... Perception and Interpretation

  © Eduardo San Gil
"Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It is Superman!"

I think people of my generation, at least in Spain, recalls this sentence quite often. Some of you will ask what does this have to do with World Heritage... A matter of perception. What do you see in the image? I see a plane with Superman flying beneath.
In 2010, the regional government of Oromia (Ethiopia) contracted me to try solve a pollution problem in Attebela river, next to Melka Kunture. I thought it was a challenging job and it soon started one of my action lines: archaeology as excuse. Why? Back then the Ethiopian government wanted to include the site in the tentative list for WH, but pollution in the river was a problem for the nomination file. The site was amazing, with a great potential, institutionalized and musealized. But was it well managed?
While I was there, we started to conduct a small evaluation with visitors. Most of them were really amazed by the site. Access to the compound was the worst evaluated (but most attended) issue, while toilets (and their cleanliness) was the best one. The media of all was 8.5/10 in a country where very few services would get such a number from an occidental tourist. The management was great (for us).
But I soon realized a small but important detail... I never liked to manage only for us, but for everybody. Across the river there was an important socio-sanitarian problem with people that had no connexion with the site at all. What happened with these people?
The aim of the project became them looking for a solution to help this people, taking advantage of the interest of the country to promote Melka Kunture. A matter of perception and interpretation. Us, them, all.
In this case, I was worried about lots of things. First of all, what tourists thought about the site; clean, nice, educative... Then, what technicians thought about the problem; stinks, will affect tourism... Mainly, what local people thought about the site; Melka? Yes, there... What? No idea... But overall, the fact I had to go there to see it. Different perceptions of the same site. Different interpretations of the same problem. A way to manage in which the site stays in the background to help people.
I would love more projects followed this ideal. This time, I will not say more. Anyway, not everybody has to see things they way I do.


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