Saturday, April 14, 2012

Black Saturday Addendum

Mother and child on Piazza
 Greetings from Hawassa!

Did not expect to write so soon, but an incident today has me pondering. We were visited yesterday by a young British man motorcycling to South Africa. His cycle needs repair and, while he and Elliot went to look for parts this morning, I jogged and walked to Lake Hawassa and then along the Lake to the main street downtown, Piazza. After lunch with Ell and Tom, I rode my bike down Piazza, but stopped to take a picture of a mother and her child. I sat on the curb with the mother and took her picture, then arose to continue on my journey, but was confronted by a young man in western dress getting out of a bajaj. He asked me why I was taking the picture, that he had heard people walking by wanting to know. I said at first that it was because I thought the mother and her child were beautiful (True, please see picture), but he wasn't satisfied and said that they were not beautiful, they were poor. I then said that the poverty and suffering of poor people in Hawassa disturbed me and I wanted my friends in my country to see that suffering as I did. He said that "people" were saying that, to the contrary, I was taking pictures of them because they were black. I was taken aback. He then said that I wanted to sell the pictures to make money. I laughed, and said that just wasn't true and that if anyone asks, he should tell them so. I said that I was a doctor at Referral Hospital and he said he was a medical student there. I invited him to find me there and we shook hands.
Baby with orange
But I was left with more moral queries as I walked to my bike. I realized that though the obvious criticism of what I was doing -- that I was prostituting poor people for gain through photographing them -- was not true, there was another aspect to these pictures that I needed to confront. Ethiopians are profoundly proud people, never conquered and overall resistant to the kind of the debasing corruption that is the scourge of so many of the formerly-colonized nations of Africa. To try to pay the restaurant bill for an Ethiopian friend one must be willing to risk one's life and health in the struggle.

By photographing beggars I am exposing the weakness of Ethiopian society, the desperate poverty of most of its people, and I have the feeling it is seen as shameful and embarrassing to that society. Of course these pictures are taken among any others depicting the growing middle class, students, the gorgeous landscape, etc., but I think that I may be stepping on some delicate toes, and I should consider that.

Thus I pondered for the few seconds it took me to walk to my bike where, to my dismay, I found that my ugly old purple pack with my wallet, passport, credit cards, and beloved water bottle in it, was no longer in my bike basket. Dumb, but I had left it, I thought, for a few seconds to take the picture. I looked at the mother and she looked at me. I just stood there for several minutes trying to figure out what to do when a gang of teenage boys came running up holding the pack. Neither my Amharic nor their English was sufficient for me to get the story: where they got it, who stole it, etc. But they gave it back to me with nothing gone. Meanwhile a policeman came up and I told what had happened, which I doubt he understood, but the gang spoke to him. We all were satisfied, shook hands, and I rode away, thinking that, as Elliot and I have said about many experiences in our lives, We are too dumb to be doing this.

Your comments are welcome.


1 comment:

  1. For the deepest meanings of your post, I believe you could have nearly the same experience here...and i can hear your mind and heart working,pondering your relationship to this amazing country and its people....I wish I knew more like you.