Once upon a time, there was a word that would later be forgotten, but which was the foundation for the ancient western understandings of hospitality. That word is ghos-ti.
Today, nobody knows if this word actually existed as it is a linguistic construction of scholars who used later words to trace those back to this one. From ghos-ti, we would get guest and host and later hospital, hospitality, and hostility.
Hospitality is the basis for achieved travel, whether on the part of the traveler or the local. In our time, however, as “hospitality” slowly became a word relegated to corporate training manuals, we see less and less of it. The more hospitality that is proclaimed to be practiced, the less of it actually exists in the world. The less hospitality there is, the more hostility we encounter, it seems.
Between cultures, hostility arises from tourist entitlement and expectation, while the hospitality of local people is either limited or driven out by the behaviour of their guests. I know this because I worked in the hospitality industry for a decade. Likewise, I was a tourist for much of that time, on the other side of service. Today, guests and hosts are so often reduced to servants and the served, to buyers and sellers. Thank the Gods it wasn’t always this way. Thank the Gods it isn’t this way everywhere.
How fitting it is that our oldest utterance and symbol for hospitality is one that must be pieced together thousands of years later by scholars. How fitting it is that we come back to this word – ghos-ti – in a time when hospitality has been utterly and institutionally corrupted. The earliest known word for “guest” and “host” was “ghos-ti,” coming from the proto-Indo European language, roughly some 5000 thousand years ago. It was, in fact, a single word, meaning that ghos-ti meant both “guest” and “host.”
Wait, what? The earliest known Western word for “guest” was also the word for “host?” Now, you could imagine this getting a little confusing: a guest sitting in the house of a host and each of them being referred to by the same word. Who’s on first?
And yet, and yet! It’s not so confusing when we remember what the function and role of both guests and hosts are, or at least were, before they were put through the meat grinder of the modern, industrial world. If the word referred to both guests and hosts then it spoke to functions beyond individual, separate roles. The word and its embodiment would have spoken into the world a relationship between guests and hosts that wasn’t self-serving, that nourished something more important – the community, home, and hospitality itself… we should add, not just in their own lives but in the lives of those yet to come.
Ghos-ti was a way of ensuring that whether or not these people were kin, whether or not they were in each other’s lives temporarily, that their manner of being there, together, had enduring consequence far beyond their own. It rooted people in place and became a way of acknowledging the diversity in the world.
In our time, today, rootedness and remembrance is what is deeply and egregiously absent in the lives of modern and western people. This project, these sessions, seek to take their marching orders from that poverty and from ghos-ti, giving people, locals and foreigners alike, achieved examples of what it means to honour a place, to honour a world we have yet to live in, by giving people a reason to stay home, by inviting people to fall in love with home, in part, by seeing how people here remain rooted and enamoured with theirs.
Today, ghos-ti shows up in our time mostly as a ghost, as the forgotten phantasm we might have remembered, had our hospitality not turned into hostility, had the functions of guests and hosts not been separated.
Alas, these are the times and they are our times.
After a few years of working together, we have grappled and doubted and wondered aloud about tourism and travel. We have asked each other and our guests whether responsible tourism or slow travel or any other well-intentioned attempt at something better won’t just be greenwashed or commodified into the next trend. They have, each and every time.
Once upon a time, we believed in the principles of “slow” and “regenerative travel.” Since then, those principles and phrases have become greenwashed beyond recognition. “Slow travel” has become a sad pseudonym for cheap travel. Something like, “the longer you stay in a place the cheaper it is to live,” as if being cheap is a worthy goal, reflective of honourable travel. Likewise, what can we re-generate in places we are strangers to whatever might have been generated in the first place? To put it more succinctly, we can only regenerate that which we already know, live, and remember. So, let’s flip the script and write one that can’t be greenwashed, one that outlives all attempts at betraying its meaning.
So, we come to something different, something that has already been industrialized and pre-packaged: hospitality. We come to ghos-ti as this almost undefinable act, both verb and noun, but altogether mysterious, coaxing us into the past as much as it does into the present.
In so doing, we will search out radical hospitality, which etymologically speaking might be understood as “the way we root ourselves as guests and hosts.” Not social media influence, not positive or regenerative this, not green or sustainable that, not well-intentioned anything. Just deep learning that gives rise to radical hospitality, to a way of being with each other and in our places that is felt and known and lived as being of enduring and important consequence to the world.
That is the invitation.
If you join us, great! If that radical hospitality means rooting yourself deeper in that place, so be it. In the meantime, we will set a place at our table for you and yours, knowing that you might be doing the same where you live, for us.
That is the homework.
Radical hospitality through deep learning and deep learning through radical hospitality.
Chris Christou (OP founder)