Category Archives: Africa

Divided

I read blogs. Even when I can’t seem to put my own words and pictures on pa…screen, it is beneficial to read, and nowhere can one see more different styles of writing and photography on a broad variety of topics than in blogs.

This morning I read a blog that was well, even beautifully, done, and deeply disturbing to me: Edge of Humanity Magazine’s Social Documentary Photography – Becoming A Man In Omo Valley, Ethiopia.

It was good journalism, I think, the tone was educational, not judgmental (something I could not have pulled off had I been the author), and the photography was technically good and used well to illustrate the story. What disturbed me, and the reason I bring this up as a response to the prompt Divide, is that I live in a world where that rite is wrong…on many levels…and I do not believe that it is just “my culture” vs “their culture”.

Mostly I take a live-and-let-live approach to cultural differences and choose to keep my mouth shut for things I feel are weird but maybe I don’t get how things are in your world. However…

The idea of becoming a man by whipping women, to the point of severe lifelong scarring, is an anathema to me. As is the idea that these scars are a show of affection and devotion:

Backs of many of these women already have severe welt marks from previous ceremonies in which they had been whipped. Welt marks are considered a sign of love and devotion. The more welt marks a girl has the more it translates into her devotion to her brother and also help in attracting a potential husband.

Where do human rights fit into this picture? Is it okay because that is the “culture” of the people? The women look to no future if they don’t have massive welts…not exactly a true choice. I wonder how many of them die of alcohol poisoning trying to work up the courage to participate…or to try and numb the pain afterward.

Yesterday I read a blog article about PTSD. I can’t imagine that anyone in a place where this is a ritual doesn’t have PTSD. Either you have been injured severely or someone you love has. The need for massive amounts of alcohol to perpetuate the ritual is a major clue to this.

I can, on a cold, analytical level, see where the ritual may be a response to living in a harsh and dangerous world. Making a ritual of the pain is one way to take ownership of it. My world is temperate, soft and loving by contrast so I am shocked by this insight into a very different world. I wonder if I could survive in that world?

To avoid articles like that, which I sometimes do because they disturb me so much, is one way to let the world go along without change.

I found the article well-done, informative, thought provoking, and I think people should read this article as it sheds light on many important issues in our world, but I was really, really torn by hitting a “like” button for it. I wish there was a button for “Well done article on disturbing topic”.

Leap of Faith

Four years ago I was in Africa, celebrating the birthday of this dynamic girl named Faith:

 

I wonder what she is doing now…

That trip was part of a leap in my own life…in some ways more than one and, typical of me, I landed kind of funny. Nothing broken but a little wrenched out of shape with a pulled muscle here and there.

The trip was an impulse…I had visited the village in 2011 and intended to go back in 2013 or 2014 in order to space out our visits. My son and I were part of an organization, somewhat connected to our parish, doing “mission” work in the village. We had visited in the spring of 2011 and James, my son, had spent the fall of 2011, after his college graduation, volunteering as a teacher at the very new Secondary School and managing  several projects related to starting a community library and procuring books and supplies for the school and library, related to the Millennium Development Goals.

Going back so soon was not in our game plan, however, some folks in the group, most notably the woman from that village and her husband were going to attend a harambee she had arranged to support “girl child education”.   I was not particularly interested in the harambee, although I support the idea of funding education for girls and doing so within the community instead of outsiders coming in and dictating outcomes, the politics that were involved left me frigidly cold.

However, the library was desired by the community and needed a boost at that point in time if it was to continue to exist. So I went, along with books and money to buy books selected by young adults from the community.  (I sometimes think that fiction is the only way to tell the truth…someday, if I ever get things figured out enough in my own mind, I may try to write a novella about that “ministry”.)

Since 2012 was my fiftieth birthday year I decided to give myself a short safari as part of the trip. It was only three days, but they were the most incredible days of my life. It was also the reason why I bought my Nikon L120…and subsequently decided to learn more about taking better pictures.

If only I knew then what I know now about using the camera and composition…

The safari was time apart. I went on it alone. While my son accompanied me to Africa he went straight to the village with a hundred pounds of children’s books we had brought from the States, the books purchased and the librarian who had come to Nairobi to help select books.

Traffic jam in Nairobi Kenya.
“The Jam”

The return to Nairobi was to get caught back up in the tangle of confusion that seemed to always be a feature of doing what we did in Kenya. The “jam” is a good metaphor for it. That is what they call the traffic there. The whole city seemed to be near stand-still as people inch along. Vendors walk in among the cars selling newspapers, fruit, etc. We once saw a hand drawn cart passing all the motor cars as it wove in and out of the lanes.

When we got to the village things slowed down, okay “speed” isn’t quite what was happening in Nairobi. Maybe it would be better to say “the stress eased up”. A very few images of “typical” village experiences:

Again, I really wish I had known then what I know now about photography and composition.

One thing I had hoped to do when I started this blog was to explore my African experiences and play with the pictures from that trip. To try and digest the raw experiences and find meaning. I did not plan on that being my last trip, but I have now drifted into other responsibilities and projects.

When you take a leap sometimes you don’t wind up where you expect.

Leap

The Picture’s the Thing

We are so selfie-ish!

I saw an article in the newspaper this past week, likely you saw it too, of a man who had killed a lion with a bow and arrow. The product that came from that hunt was a picture. The lion was not endangering folks, the meat wasn’t eaten, they didn’t even stuff the lion for a museum or use his body to study lions. The man showed skill, got a thrill and they took a picture.

The world is full of shock and outrage, I feel that too. But I also feel disturbed about our society. Trophy pictures of folks with their big fish, or deer, or even lion are nothing new.

Here’s the thing:

Isn’t the trophy picture the origin of the selfie? Now, sometimes, it feels like we live our lives in trophy picture mode. We are all shouting: “Look at me! See what I did! See where I am? See who I am with?” at the top of our lungs (figuratively speaking, since we usually are posting on facebook with the thump of our fingers).

It disturbs us when someone takes the egotism to the next level.  Big game hunting isn’t new, in fact my distress is because I thought it was old hat, and we were, as a society, beyond killing a big, beautiful, majestic animal to take a trophy picture. That we had moved on in our understanding about animals and the complex diversity of life “on this fragile earth, our island home”*. That we no longer feel like everything was put here just for us. That we are stewards of creation, not petty dictators.

Isn’t the whole selfie craze a form of trophy hunting?

I went on a three day safari at Masai Mara in Kenya a few years ago. It was pinch-me-I-must-be-dreaming incredible. I took many, many, many pictures…and posted some of them on facebook. I couldn’t resist sharing!

Seeing lions was a real high point of that trip (Masai Mara is famous for lions) and I took about a hundred pictures of lions, but I didn’t feel a need to be in the picture. The most awesome, amazing, incredible experience of my life and no selfie! Does that mean I wasn’t there?

KSM20120213-Selfie-ishLions-04-480px
I was there!

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Game of Groans.”

* From the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, used by the Episcopal Church in the USA.

Body Language

Learning a language is hard and it takes a lot of time and practice to master nuance. Not only that, but you can’t learn every language you might need. I would like to understand non-verbal communication better. A few times I have been in situations where there was no language cross over.

In Africa with people who spoke Kikamba and in China the language spoken had no kinship with English. In Europe most of the languages have at least a few words that make one feel like there is a connection. In both Africa and China, while it is true that younger folks have mostly some familiarity with English, older people (my age as opposed to my son’s age) often don’t have any familiarity with it at all, so I can speak as slowly and clearly as I want but nothing will get through.

Yet somehow with pointing, smiles, exaggerated facial expressions, along with charades, and the occasional drawn picture. many things can be communicated. I would like to be better at that.

I have had a few adventures where my, I like to think anyway, above average language skills in my native tongue have not helped me at all. Where being better at reading people and non-verbal communication would have been way more useful than fluency in the wrong language.

One of the more recent was last year and is outlined in my Let’s Go Fly a Kite post.

Harambee.
Harambee.

In Africa one happened having my hair washed. Mama Munini, our hostess, had arranged for the woman who washed her hair to come and wash mine (for the exhorbitant cost of ~$2). I just wanted it washed, it was in the 90-100 degree F temperature range and after traveling from Nairobi in a very full minivan (driver five passengers and a bunch of luggage, a harambee (tiny church very full of people), and walking about a fair amount for two days with only a wash basin of water to clean with I longed for a clean head.

Mama made the arrangements but had to go off and left me with a lovely lady who scrubbed my hair and scalp cleaner than it has ever been before. I thought we were done.

But then she rubbed in conditioner and carefully bagged my head up in black plastic to let it work.  When she rinsed that out I thought we were done.

But then she started to braid my hair. Since I had no way to communicate to her that I didn’t want braids I called to my son to go and get my supply of elastic hair thingies. I looked pretty odd but it was WAY cooler to have my hair in the braids which I left in for the five days until we returned to Nairobi. I wish I had been able to communicate…but then I would not have been as comfortable.

Munyoki family.
Munyoki family.

A similar situation occured when I went to visit Mrs. Munyoki, specifically Mama Elijah (Mr. Elijah is featured in Reward). I was to meet Mueni (Elijah’s sister) at the elementary school and go with her to visit her mother. I got to the school and she wasn’t there. Not sure quite what got said to whom but I was sent off, as it turned out cross country, with a fourth or fifth grader. He took me through peoples yards and gardens to Mrs. Munyoki, the principal’s wife not Mama Elijah (there are quite a few Munyokis in Mulundi). She understood where I was headed but insisted that I eat first. The rest of my party (including those who could understand) somehow found me there, where I was not supposed to be, eating fresh chapati so hot that they burned my fingers. We all went the last couple hundred yards together, and had to eat again with Mueni and Mama Elijah. I never was quite clear what happened…oh well.

It would be so nice to somehow understand, and yet I treasure these memories of times when I didn’t and somehow connected with people.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Take That, Rosetta!.”

Blur

This is one of the first pictures I took with my (at that time, 2012) new Nikon L120 camera. I dropped it as the shutter went off (fortunately) it was around my neck so it kind of rotated as it fell.

I was going to delete this picture when it occurred to me that it was a perfect representation of all the things swirling around in my head and into my suitcases as I packed for a quickly decided on trip to Kenya.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Blur.”