An adventure began as I walked out of the New Delhi airport terminal. The choking reaction to the brown pollution that hung as a backdrop for the people sleeping on the sidewalks was quickly subsumed by a dozen eager faces rushing to carry my baggage. I said "No thank you" three times before one adolescent boy virtually grabbed my suitcase and scurried ahead of me. My companies were assailed at the same time and amid the confusion, we finally were able to get ourselves and the bags into a taxi to head for our hotel. During the half hour drive to the hotel, I counted at least six "near-misses" between our compact diesel powered automobile and people, bicycles, camel arts, and three-wheeled auto-rickshaws. It was only 3:00 am. This scene sets the stage for my first encounter with India and with a week-long World Congress that would open my eyes to new ways of thinking about leisure, environment, tourism and human development.
The congress I was attending was sponsored by the World Leisure and Recreation Association (WLRA), a professional association of educators, practitioners, researchers and students who have a common goal of promoting the value of leisure throughout the world. The organization began as a division of the National Recreation Association in the United States, but has been its own free-standing organization headquartered in Canada for over 40 years.
The international congresses that WLRA holds every two or three years provide an opportunity for individuals from around the world to come together and share information about leisure and recreation. Currently the organization has three commissions that center on worldwide issues related to leisure research, management and education. In addition, three separate task forces have been organized by the membership to address leisure/recreation and AIDS/SIDA, women and disability.
In this "Research Update" I would like to share my impressions of the December 1993 World Congress held in Jaipur, India, and offer some suggestions about how a global perspective can be useful in local communities in the United States. Often we become too busy to think about what is happening in the next state, let alone the next country. Each of us often keeps overly busy in our day to day lives with justifying budgets, recruiting volunteers, planning appropriate clinical interventions; our other role is to be concerned about the lack of public recreation opportunities in India. My experience at the recent WLRA World Congress reaffirmed my belief that we cannot ignore the majority of the world and all its obvious and rich variations if we are to understand the meaning of leisure in our backyards.
We live in a global environment. We know that the pollution created in one country spills over invisible country boundaries. Further, we know that the economy and political problems of other countries affect the economy of our country. In addition, with the availability of mass media, we in the United States have both exported and imported culture from around the world. It may not be completely apparent, but the desire for free time or physical activity of a woman living in a tribal village in India may have implications for leisure behavior in the U.S.
Within the context of being in a developing country and interacting for over a week with individuals from other countries, I began to develop some insights about the meaning of "leisure, tourism and environment" as related to human development, the theme of the conference. Not only did I get the cognitive stimulation from learning from others, but I also struggled personally with making sense of what the research had to say to me. Further, I struggled with the trip on an emotional level as I smelled the environmental pollution, heard the constant whirring of an overcrowded urban area, observed the cultural dances and listened to the music, and saw the poverty that suggested homelessness is more of a norm than an anomaly. …