Archive for the ‘Ethiopia’ Tag

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Worldwide the identities of women, children and men are constructed around lies associated with being “Other.” These lies call into question their humanity and eliminates the identity of the individual.

I grew up as Other in the United States and since my departure, in February 2009, I have felt far freer in foreign lands than I ever felt at home. Specifically, in East and Central Africa, I’m recognized as Other based on my country of origin as opposed to my dark skin. Hence, there are no adjectives associated with my existence when people view me; I’m a man as opposed to a black man. Before Africa, my journey took me to various countries in South America where the dynamics of being black can be problematic. However being American provided a measure of protection against being looked down upon.

In childhood my orientation as Other began when I was questioned and searched by two overzealous white cops in my hometown, Harlem, New York – it was an unpleasant and senseless experience; I was ten-years old but looked younger because I was very skinny. Little did I know then that as an adult I would be racially profiled while driving in every city I worked: New York, New Jersey, New Orleans and Los Angeles. On one such stop a white police officer, in response to my voice, asked with an incredulous tone, “did you go to college or something?”

As a pedestrian, on a couple of occasions, my presence caused drivers to lock their doors and roll-up windows, and white women to clutch their handbags. I looked at them and shook my head while marveling at the ability of such Americans to ignore a fact: historically it has been blacks who have had to fear whites – innocent blacks have suffered physical and psychological harm by white Americans and are brutally overpoliced.

In an era when political discourse is increasingly characterized by xenophobic policies and woeful ignorance, people whose humanity is challenged based on such otherness labels as refugee, immigrant, Muslim, transgender, black, Latino – nonwhite – are at odds to find acceptance. And why? Well, it has much to do with a failure of white people to police their fears. However, the true problem isn’t fearful and malicious conservatives, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. articulated: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Thus, it cannot be overstated that to be silent in the face of how Others are demonized is to contribute to a lie.

The last eight-plus years have taught me how to comfortably embrace my otherness – the difference that I represent – and move beyond documenting stories that give credence to unchallenged mainstream opinions. The novelist Chimamanda Adichie gave a Ted Talk in which she warned, “if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.” Indeed, no people (or country) are one thing. It’s important to note, there’s a beauty to being Other when we appreciate differences and strive to be conscious of life’s complexities, and the situations Others are born into.

The following photographs are simple moments that characterize the daily lives of women, children and men who are often narrowly defined. These are wonderful individuals who permitted me to share in their lives:


Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Kabahuma Esther, 18, plays with her son, Kazora Titaus, 8-months.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, right, and her niece, Revecart Kengonzi, 12, peel cassava grown in their garden.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Three South Sudanese children stop along a road which runs parallel to a field of maize grown by their parents.



Debeka Village, Ethiopia – Gumi Ayantu, 45, brews freshly roasted Ethiopian coffee beans in a Jabena (a boiling pot made of pottery). On the right her grandchild is entertained by a family member.



Katooke Town Council (Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Imelda Gafabusa, 70, exhausted from working in her field, falls asleep near her front door while waiting for heavy rains to end.



Tocana, Bolivia – Juana Vasquez, 71, heads home after picking coca leaves in the lush hills of the Yungas Valley; a tiny community made up mostly of Afro-Bolivians.



Bagua province (north Amazon), Peru – Gilmer Ugkaju Intakea Edad, 20, bottom, an Awajun, ferries passengers across the Chiriaco river.



Langata (a suburb of Nairobi), Kenya – A rainbow paints the sky.



Ayachucho, Peru – Children enjoy lunch.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – South Sudanese children play a game called “Father or Mother,” which involves hopping around a grid.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – Helen Agok Ageri, 5, candidly strikes a pose bringing her family to laughter.



Adjumani district (Ayilo Resettlement Camp), Uganda – A group of South Sudanese girls play a game called “Sikadibaba,” that revolves around chasing and tagging.



Mutonya Village (Butiiti Parish – Kyenjojo District), Uganda – Angela Kabahenda, 21, prepares two of her children, Marian Nabbumba (six-years), right, and Junior Mayalla (four-years), left, for school.


A Child Labors for Gold

La Toma, Colombia – Margie Cecilia, 11-years old, labors for gold with family members at an open-pit mine.



Nyanza district, Rwanda – After an extended peroid of walking and standing Gasaza Siliveri, 97, sits and rests before going out for a scheduled trip.



Nyakahama Village (Katoosa Parish), Uganda – Rose Mbabazi, 20, surveys her garden while picking carrots and sweet potatoes.



Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian girl washes her hair.


May 26, 2009 - Tocana, Bolivia - An Afro-Bolivian hunter returns home at dusk.

Tocana, Bolivia – An Afro-Bolivian man returns home from hunting.



El Carmen, Peru – Peruvians participate in a procession honoring Our Lord of Miracles (Senor de los Milagros). It’s a widely attended religious event.


Mother's Day - Peru

Lima, Peru – Peruvians place flowers and clean their mother’s hard-to-reach burial sites, at The Angel Cemetery, on Mother’s Day.



Nairobi (Kilimani), Kenya – Muslims pray at a mosque.


Nairobi's Mathare Slums

Nairobi, Kenya – A Kenyan woman carries basins and buckets to collect water in the community of Mathare.


Dilemma of Education

Obira Village (Nwoya District), Uganda – Timo, 9, (he has no last name because he has not been baptized yet) helps his mother, Joyce Pacoryema, 42, cover their family’s maize with a tarp; it’s about to start raining.



Yapatara, Peru – In the northern section of the country several Afro-Peruvian men play cards.



El Carmen, Peru – Neighbors relax in their communty.




No Photos!   3 comments

Recently I was online viewing the portfolios of legendary photographers Roy DeCarava, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier Bresson. I marveled at their artistic and documentary oriented bodies of work. I’m an independent photojournalist, based in Nairobi, Kenya, and I appreciate the work of photographers who combine documentary with an artistic vision. Seemingly past generations of photographers could document communities, with an eye towards spontaneity and creativity, without the challenges faced by photographers today. Undoubtedly they too had to deal with the occasional citizen who would just as well have tarred and feathered a photographer than be photographed.

Today, disturbingly, such an attitude is embraced by far too many. It’s not so much that photographers are viewed as annoying, there’s a widespread opinion of photographers as security threats. The public, and law enforcement officials, have become increasingly suspicious of our actions. While paranoia rules so too does misunderstanding. No person taking photographs with criminal intent would blatantly lay on their stomach or stand on a bench (photographers are always searching for a good angle) on a public street and spend hours exposing themselves for all to see. A would-be bad guy surveying a building, to commit an act of terrorism, would discreetly do so using a cellphone camera.

No Photos!

Digital camera technology has ushered in an era in which there is an ease to taking quick point and shoot photographs, and many people do so. However for any photographer who works in a documentary style these can be difficult times. Going out to photograph unposed and candid moments invites not just suspicion, but confrontation or even assault.   Recently after spending two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia I decided to return to Nairobi via bus (1081 miles); I even hitchhiked on the back of Kenyan military  vehicle. I made three overnight stays in small towns along the way so it took three days to arrive in Nairobi. No Photos!From the start it was apparent that taking photographs was an invitation for trouble: at an outdoor bus station I was surrounded and confronted by approximately thirteen Ethiopian men (they appeared to be private citizens), who took issue with me photographing the early morning activity of buses and people coming and going. One man shouted in English, “no photos!” The situation felt unnecessarily tense and unsafe but eventually, with assistance from an English and Amharic speaking bystander, I got them to calm down and go away. This set the tone for the entire trip. Consequently, I had to take photographs zone focusing (estimating the distance from my subjects) while shooting from my hip or discreetly from bus windows. Periodically I would ask permission to take photographs but more often than not was refused or money was demanded. Upon my return to Nairobi I exchanged emails with my ex-wife about the experience, and she reminded me about the long history of foreigners painting unfavorable portrayals of Africans. Indeed, peoples of Third World countries are sensitive to outsiders not only telling their stories – from a Western perspective – but profiting as well. Undoubtedly they’re also worried about strangers committing acts of terrorism. All of which I can understand but it was a frustrating and unnecessarily confrontational experience just the same.

No Photos!

It would be easy to dismiss the problems I experienced as symbolic of living in a region where the rights of photojournalist have not long been respected. However photojournalist in the United States, and elsewhere in the Western world, experience similar problems. Security issues have dramatically altered the manner in which people perceive threats. Such is the nature of the world in which we live. It’s a world in which concerns about safety increasingly clash with basic freedoms. “Those who would sacrifice freedom for safety deserve neither,” stated Benjamin Franklin. His words are as apt today as they were during the American revolutionary war.

No Photos!

During my ordeal at the Ethiopian bus station I was told that someone in the crowd suggested I could be a spy. The accuser lacked commonsense. It goes without saying that there are militant groups and unstable individuals who aim to inflict harm upon others. Nevertheless, democratic societies cannot permit themselves to become open-aired prisons in which self-appointed guardians, or law enforcement officials, can prohibit the right of individuals to take photographs, on a public street, be it in Ethiopia, Kenya or the U.S.   The body of work created by photographers of yesteryear provided an important historical, cultural and artistic archive of our collective past. Unhampered access to public places, foreign or otherwise, must remain so for the benefit of future generations.

No Photos!

No Photos!

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