Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Remote locations, power outages, and a frenzy of final editing has kept me from posting updates on my Uganda experience. I'm now in Dubai, art directing again, until I leave for the US on the 13th.

During my internet-less times, however, I have been writing down events, thoughts, impressions. So now, I will continue telling about my experience from where I left off. Because it would make this one long blog (I'm still not used to that word), entries will be broken up and posted over the next several days. So....

On 24 October, two days before leaving for Rakai, I wrote the following: "How do I feel right at this moment? • ambivalent • unsure of myself • direction-less • lousy photographer • inadequate • who am I to think I could help these people • what am I doing here • I wish Hurinet would call back (Human Rights Network) • I wish I could go running • I wish Dan were back (because he would listen to me whine!) • I wish my client work was caught up • I wish I could give every kid I see 500 Ushgs."

Definitely a low. Up to that point, I had spent a day shooting with Connect Africa... which I thoroughly enjoyed, but it was a bit confining shooting with two others. I held back quite a bit from shooting what I thought would be compelling because of shyness and worrying about our subjects being tired of us with all of our cameras going off from different directions.

Then, the next afternoon I shot images for Right to Play. I went with photo-Brian (whom we began calling "Brain" to differentiate him from video-Brian). And that was a great opportunity to get to know and appreciate his enthusiasm and tireless wit. We were pretty much ignored by the children who were kept quite focused on the frenetic activity. At day's end, however, I was less than enthusiastic about my work there.

Hence the self-abasing thoughts of the 24th. There was a bright spot that day. I discovered "African Tea," similar to India's chai: black tea with ginger, bay leaf, sometimes cinnamon, and always milk.

The 26th, we started off bright and early for Rakai. It was in this province that AIDS was first diagnosed. The families we would be spending time with were either grandparents or widows taking care of large numbers of children whose own parents had died from the disease, or households headed by young people whose elders had all died. My family was the latter.

On our way, we received word of a Cholera outbreak in the area we were going. We continued on, with the admonition of eating only cooked food.

After a stop at the Equator (and a fascinating demonstration on the direction of swirling water North, South and directly On the Equator), we arrived at our destination "Highway Motel" late in the afternoon. After getting our rooms and schlepping our bags up fligts of stairs, we set off to meet the families.

We wouldn't have stood out anymore than we did if we had all worn large "Mzungu" signs on our heads. 15 of us walked throughout the village, hut to hut, shaking hands, smiling politely, looking as warm and inviting as we could, being ensconced in a giant group of white skin.

Our welcome was warm, much more so than the market of our first workshop day. The poverty was real. And daunting. One woman had seventeen children in a two-room hut. Crude furniture, dirt floor, mud walls. Tattered clothes... but mostly clean. Worn faces lined by tales of sadness... but with smiles of joy. The ride back to the motel was a quiet one, most of us lost in thoughts about our "families", poverty, and trying to make sense of why we have so much at home.

The morning of the 27th I awoke early. My second sentance of the day was written at 6:45am: "I feel I'm on the verge of something profound." Desperately I wanted to find meaning in my being there. What right did I have to play voyeur to these people and their ways of living. Who was I to make them a "learning experience" for my personal growth?

I looked to the bible for some spiritual significance or validation for all of this. Thinking of verses on poverty, "The poor you will always have with you..." I was unprepared for what I found. I have a small bible that stays in my travel bag. Inside is a slip of paper with a note Melanie had written to me when she was about 5 or 6. Opening to the place where the paper was, I thought to myself I would let that guide me where to read. " 'But now take courage.... And work, for I am with you' says the Lord of Hosts. 'As for the promise which I made you when you came out of Egypt, my Spirit is abiding in your midst, do not fear.' " (Haggai 2:4,5)

Okay, so I'm not always the most outwardly spiritual person. But I've always believed God puts us where we're supposed to be. I was really questioning that here in Uganda, and here was my answer. Work. WORK. This was my work I had chosen to do. I wasn't here because I like to take pictures. There was a job to be done, and I was here to do my part. I didn't need to feel self-concious for having expensive equipment when I was shooting people with literally nothing. This was my work, and if I did it well, it could bring relief to them. People in the right positions (NGOs) would use these images to tell their stories. And if these NGO people WORKED, funding for housing, education, sanitation, farming would come in and help these families get a foothold out of poverty.

The confidence this brought me was staggering. I had been somewhat stoic all week, a bit of an out-of-body experience unable to process the standards of living surrounding me. Reading this, the veil lifted so to speak, I cried. For the first time there, I cried. My outlook on the days ahead was totally transformed.


At 12:53, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful opportunity you have there - to see the world as it really is, not as Hollywood and the media portrays it, but as it actually exists - raw, unadulterated, real. You will come back to the USA and see EVERYTHING differently.

At 14:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you're darling, mutti. :)

-your last born

At 18:03, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're journal moves me all the way across the world. Every line touches my soul with a profundity that makes me experience your journey through your story. I pray for your safe return. You should write a book :-) ~Maria


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