November 1, 2011

some (other) thoughts I think

One of the Volunteers here had originally joined in the '60s and had served briefly in Somalia before getting evacuated to India.  I bought a guitar when I first arrived here (that would be failed teach my self guitar attempt number 3) and he came over for Thanksgiving and played it.  He described his guitar playing as a nice relic of his first stint in Peace Corps and it's something that made an impression on me.  Relics of Peace Corps service.  I've picked up a couple languages, read a bunch of good books, filled up my passport and made some life long friends.

I was in the staff room one morning preparing some of my lesson notes when the fine art teacher, Mr. Okema, pulled up at my table as asked if he could sketch me.  Do I have to pose?  Nope.  Well sure, fire away.  I continued working and he started sketching and by the time I had finished my notes he had a rough sketch on paper.  He fleshed it out for two full days, then he colored it in and gave it to me as a present.  I've become so image desensitized probably due to the ubiquity of digital cameras and the way they can machine-gun images out into the world.  I hadn't even considered having my portrait done by an artist.  I had forgotten that that was an option.

It was such a valuable thing to receive as a gift.  It was a time consuming labor of love executed by a friend of mine exercising his considerable talent for my benefit.  And it was unsolicited.  It is, perhaps, my favorite gift and once framed will be a very tangible relic of my Peace Corps service.
Candid shots are so difficult here.  The only thing more conspicuous than being the one white guy at a 1,000 person strong gathering is to be a white guy holding a camera.  Most shots taken by local photographers are posed portrait shots.  During big events when everyone is all dressed up, there is a village photographer who goes around snapping portraits and charging about 30 cents a piece to develop them.  He comes back several days later with a messenger bag full of pictures which he returns to his customers.  I have no idea how he keeps track of who has paid for what photograph but he seems to be doing good business as he's got customers whenever he's around.

Now there is a very real possibility that I am missing several layers of nuance and subtlety but 90% of these posed portraits look exactly the same.  It's a very formal affair.  No smiling.  Rigid posture.  Looking off into the distance and never at the camera.  It was kind of funny at first but with a memory card full of rather bland portraits I've been trying to figure a way around it.  I snapped the above shot of the kids from my lap while someone was giving a speech.

Kids here are left pretty much unsupervised by around the time they can walk.  The ever quotable Mr. Owiny quips that the children here "just move anyhow, as if they were goats" which probably doesn't help paint the picture for you as you're likely not familiar with free range goats.   If the child is still crawling they're put under the charge of a (not much) older sibling.  It is quite common to see a girl of about 8-10 years with a baby wrapped to her back with a piece of fabric while she fetches water or fire wood.

There's another aspect about the village children that I really struggle to articulate.  It's like they're not really viewed as people or at least as a person with a name and personality.  Any boy is called merely "boy" and girls are called "girl" in lieu of a name.  It's impossible (for me) to tell which child belongs to which family and where they are supposed to be and when.  Free range children I guess.


tangata said...

really beautiful! thanks for sharing mr.o's talent and your heart.

Andy said...

Good post and excellent painting. Hats off to Mr. O!

Hate to say it but I do have one critique. He made your shoulders way to broad. Did you ask him to beef up your scrawny frame?