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most of the tourists' point of view, Zeida is twice
'endangered': she belongs to a fragile group (to
several fragile groups: black people, women,
young people) within an endangered culture
(Mauritanian). And, although she has always
been aware of her multiple subordinate positions
in a highly stratifi ed social setting, she's display-
ing now - wisely and elegantly - what used to
be a handicap and has become a resource.
I have already mentioned that hospitality
may not be neglected in these new contexts of
touristic emergence. In order to understand
Zeida's success, as well as to explain how this
sort of women and some socially underprivi-
leged groups are now in the informal run for the
development of tourism, you have to take into
account that, unlike dominant white Moorish
groups ( beidan ), they do not consider hospital-
ity an uncomfortable obligation. Having people
in their homes, and charging them for it, does
not affect their honour as it would affect a
beidan . In that sense, socially - and not cultur-
ally in an essentialist fashion - these fragile and
minority groups have more capacity to grab the
opportunities offered by tourism in this context.
In order to do that, and precisely due to their
subordinate and subsidiary position, these peo-
ple have developed working skills and exper-
tises that, in a traditional framework, would
socially undervalue the members - particularly
the women - of other groups. From that point of
view, we can say that Zeida's frailty and subor-
dination in a traditional framework has become
a twofold added value in the touristic encounter
framework: because, culturally, it responds per-
fectly to tourist stereotypeness; because, socially,
it has trained her for an adverse labour market.
None of this would go much beyond a
simple record of the effects of mutual gaze if, at
least, I could not leave here some clues to shed
light on how much these effects may infl uence
the more intimate negotiations of personal iden-
tity and show how they can contribute to clarify
some shady contours of the cultural dialogues
that are established in touristic encounters.
fragments of their frivolous perceptions (which
she simultaneously stimulates) - are like the
museums that capture objects in time and space
without taking into account what gives them
meaning to be better reinterpreted and/or
consumed, by displaying them in an uninten-
tionally postmodernist fashion. However, this
placard and guestbook concern Zeida and her
home. And not a culture that belongs to every-
one, without belonging to anyone and that, in
spite of the efforts of some, is now prey to plun-
der. In my opinion, the stories and negotiations
that are happening in parallel with - although
not alien to - what is happening on the stage of
touristic encounters are precisely what give even
more cultural meaning to the effects of these
encounters. I shall mention here some elements
of it that, in spite of being persuasive, would
deserve a more detailed explanation.
Zeida's hard life history, and the dramatic
changes that tourism has infl icted on it,
strengthen a refl exive and careful attitude in
face of her actions, her femininity and her
morality. Her social survival - and success -
depends locally and largely on that. Tradition-
ally, Zeida's symbolic capital would be so
insignifi cant that the double contact with for-
eign people in her house, that on top of all are
mostly men - something demanded by her
professional activity - might be considered
neglectful. However, she not only takes eco-
nomic advantage of her former handicap, but
she also seems to want to use it as a platform
to assert her social and individual status, by
ways that are alternative to local tradition. The
idiom that she has found to convey that was,
as for so many other women in contexts of
social transformation, the idiom of Islam. Zeida
often asks an 'alim to ascertain the Islamic
legitimacy of the money she receives from
non-Muslim tourists: whether it is unclean and
because of that prevents her from using it for
the pilgrimage she intends to do to Meca or
from paying the zakat . But, at the same time,
when a policeman stopped her on the street
because she was alone accompanying male
tourists, Zeida stated that: fi rst, he had never
met her and she was an honoured working
woman ('If it is forbidden to work in order to
survive, you tell me it is forbidden to go with
the tourists. I don't work with tourists to fi nd a
husband'); second, that she was Muslim like
Frailty as attraction
Zeida's placards and guestbooks - which she
displays for tourists' sake, returning to them
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