Saturday, December 04, 2010

Morning in Torit!

It was a short night & when I woke I needed to head straight to the outhouse. I’m sure you can imagine how I felt when I found all 3 locked on the outside. It was not good. 2 of the 5 of us have been hit w/ stomach problems in the last few days so when you find you do not have access to facilities…it was not good. I walked back to my room trying to talk my stomach off the cliff. It was just getting to be light out so I waited, finally I decided to head to breakfast (our breakfasts consist of bread, butter, tea & Nescafe, thankfully one of the drs travels w/ peanut butter!) hoping something would open soon. I sat eating trying to talk myself into venturing out to catch the morning light. You may be surprised to read this from me but I will try & explain. Taking pictures in this environment is not as easy as walking out the door & snapping away. I am very cautious to make sure I do not offend anyone or make them feel like I am entitled to take pictures w/o their agreement. I have been working on learning a few greetings & words in both Arabic & Lotoka. It can be very exhausting constantly being watched & trying to bridge the language and random white person gap. But I find if I put myself out there I am usually met w/ a smile & that opens the door. As soon as I make my attempt to speak giggles & twittering usually follow.
But this morning I just wasn’t sure I had the energy to get out there, but I had an ongoing internal dialogue w/ myself & managed to take the steps in the right direction. I never have a destination so I started walking the “alley ways” back off the main road. Trying to find the right time to break into an introduction always takes observation & patience. I walked passed a butcher, thank goodness they thoroughly cook their meat, is all I can say! Snapped a few and walked on. A few minutes later I approached little children as they stood in the entrance of their compound gawking and giggling at me. I tried to talk & laugh w/ them & then I decided to invite myself into their compound & meet the adults who I saw sitting around, also staring at me. The hellos always go well, smiles, giggling, twittering all commence. And then they try to talk more to me and then I start treading water. But at least I am in. They ask me to sit. We use sign language & a few English words to continue to try and connect. And then I point to the women smearing just in front of their rondavels. I point to them, action that I would like to try and am met w/ more laughter and nodding w/ a gesture to try. For those of you not familiar w/ what smearing is, the women use a mixture of mud, dung & water to thinly spread around. It forms a very hard, “clean” area. They do it both inside & outside their homes. So I put my cameras down, knelt near the edge of the newly smeared area & the woman tossed the mud mixture my way & moved a bowl of dirty water near me & I got to it. The key to smearing is to keep the mixture moist as you spread (using the handy bowl of dirty water) and smooth it out until it is even w/ the drier area. Now, instead of being behind the camera I looked up and found a couple young men w/ their cell phone cameras out. We all had a laugh. I did an area & then gave my hands a good wash. The yg men then invited me to smoke their hukka…I laughed & politely passed. We sat a while longer & then it was time for me to head back for the start of the workshop. I said my goodbyes & left w/ my heart soaring & reminding me that I MUST push myself out of my comfort & tired zone. I feel like the reward of my effort continued after I left the compound. I came upon my first Sudanese wheelchair. A woman who I had seen sitting & moving around on her knees earlier was not in the alleyway in her chair. Picture a very old 3-wheeled hand-powered bicycle. Little boys had to help push her as the ground is so bumpy.
And the scenes kept unfolding as I neared my “home”. Three beautiful older women in colorful fabrics were walking by. One smoking a long wooden pipe. I said my hellos, giggles & twitters followed w/ a nod that I could photograph them. My heart was in the clouds!!! The woman w/ the pipe, her face showed that she was full of stories. Age lines, traditional scarification & her smile…ugh it was amazing! (I feel like I use the same descriptive constantly but there just are not enough words to describe these incredible people & scenes!). I could have stayed in the moment w/ these women for a few hours but instead I snapped just a few and we all continued on w/ our day. And just around the corner was my last reward. An elderly man who had obvious eyesight problems surrounded by colorful fabrics while seated behind a pedal powered sewing machine…seriously. I do not know how I am going to be able to wade through all these images when I return. Constant visual beauty set amongst such a very harsh environment. Still pinching myself!!

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