So we drive down this long dusty road, park our motorbike under a big shady tree, and walk into the middle of a school yard in rural Ghana. In one long building, there are three classrooms, and we can hear the children’s excitement grow as they see two white people walking around in the afternoon sun. In the second smaller building, young children start pouring out of their reading class, ready to interact with us, no longer interested in the picture books laying open on their tables. They circle around us and repeat the same word over and over; “Obruni”, or white person. It’s what they say when they see a white person. I get it by now. It’s not the same as screaming “black man” on a North American street. We’re white and there’s not a whole lot of us around…so they call it like they see it. So they’re chanting “Obruni”, dancing around and pushing each other out of the way to stand as close to us as possible.
I grab some great portraits and a group shot of Shannen hamming it up with a bunch of them. Then I tour the classrooms for more shots; through the openings in the cinder blocks, from the doorway, at the back of the class, from the front…catching as many details as my eye spots. The bare feet, the pencil nubs, the teacher’s stick, the desks barely standing, the raised hand, the baby on a student’s back, the tattered clothes…all the while the teachers keep the kids in line as their eyes follow me, ready to come follow me around st the slightest invitation. They watch me move, fascinated by me. I come out from behind my camera every once in a while to make eye contact and smile, and sometimes stick out my tongue or make a funny face. I always, always get a smile in return. Those connections are so small and short, yet they are all so perfect.
So I shoot the three classes for about an hour or so, then head back to the younger kids, who are still outside the smaller library building. I take a few shots then take a seat outside in the shade, just soaking it in and watching the kids jostle for a position near me. They are not gentle with each other and every once in a while one of them ends up on the ground. I start saying things like Hi, Hello, How are you? Careful…and slowly they start repeating everything I say in unison like a big repeat after me game. They see that I enjoy their game, which makes them enjoy it even more and with more gusto. Then I start saying things like Banana man eats goats too, My apples taste like chicken, Bing goes the clouds…just gibberish, but they keep repeating. Then I start doing it in funny voices. So do they. Then I start adding facial expressions and body expressions…and so do they. 15 kids playing a repeat after me game with a visiting Obruni, speaking words that are just sounds to them.
I look around at them all, hunch my shoulders, put up my hands, and tell them what I really think about all of this…This Is Ridiculous. (Mom & Dad, click on the blue words).
Two minutes later, all of the classrooms empty out and we’re surrounded in a quasi mosh pit. So we get on the bike, and I ride backwards for the first kilometer, so I can wave and get some shots of all the kids running after us.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
PRLog (Press Release) – Feb. 19, 2014 – BOSTON — Unbound Visual Arts, Inc (http://www.unboundvisualarts.org)., Nurturing Minds, Inc.Northeast Chapter (http://nurturingmindsinafrica.org/) and Athan’s Bakery and Café (http://www.athansbakery.com/)are pleased to present the opening of Educating the SEGA Girls of Tanzania at the Athan’s Café Art Gallery in Brighton.
This exhibition, an International Women’s Day event, features photographs by Warren Zelman portraying academic and social life at the Sega Girls School, a secondary boarding school in Tanzania for vulnerable girls. The photographs capture the serious and joyful times in and out of the classroom where friendships, bodies and minds are developed. Warren’s black and white and color photographs vividly reflect the realities of growing up in Tanzania.
A public opening reception is Thursday March 6th from 7:00-9:00 pm. Nurturing Minds, Inc. has arranged to have Nusura Gundi, their first exchange student from the Sega Girls School, at the opening reception. Nusura, who is living and attending school in Philadelphia this semester, will discuss her path to education and her experiences in the United States.The exhibition runs from March 6, 2014 through May 1, 2014 and is open daily from 8:00 am – 10:00 pm. Athan’s Café Art Gallery, 407 Washington St., Brighton Center, MA.| MBTA: Buses 57, 65, 86, 501, 503 | Handicapped accessible and Free wi-fi.
Warren Zelman (http://www.warrenzelman.com ) is a Montreal-based photographer who traveled to the SEGA school in 2011. He does a wide range of advertising, corporate, editorial and documentary photography. He was born and raised in Montreal and studied Commercial Photography at Dawson College. The photographs in the exhibition are part of a larger series which included the girls’ school portraits and class photos. The photos of laughing girls won the Applied Arts magazine 2012 First Place Award for Pro-Bono Series. Based on the entire group of photos, Warren was also awarded a 2013 Photography Fellowship in Africa by Management Sciences for Health and SocialDocumentary.net. His Facebook page is www.facebook.com/warrenzelmanphotography .
Unbound Visual Arts, Inc. is a nonprofit based in Allston-Brighton and serving the Boston area. It was incorporated in late 2012 to enliven the creative economy in contemporary fine art for artists and art supporters through curated exhibitions, education and sharing. To date, Unbound has organized over 35 solo and group theme based exhibitions at different venues in the area.
Nurturing Minds’ mission is to provide financial and technical support to programs improving access to quality education for girls in Tanzania, with particular emphasis on girls who are poor, marginalized, and at risk of becoming involved in exploitive forms of child labor. To that end, Nurturing Minds supports the Sega Girls School, a secondary boarding school for vulnerable girls.
It is an honour to be among the winners of the Applied Arts Magazine Photography Awards 2014! The winning entries will be displayed in the May/June 2014 issue of Applied Arts Magazine.
More details to come very soon!
I just got back from Ghana, having worked on another documentary project for Forgirlsake, this time in partnership with Create Change (www.createchangenow.ca). Create Change was looking for a fresh way to spice up their employee profiles, so we blasted some reggae, put on some shades, and danced in the African sun! We also took some standard portraits, but I hope that these are selected, as they add a little bit of fun and personality to their staff page.
They are just in the process of updating their website, so check it out in the coming week to see a bunch of new images and information. (I’ll be posting some new ones here as well!)
John visited me in my studio after spending the winter in South America. He doesn’t smell particularly good…but he’s my friend.
1. Canadians hide their garbage from their sight.
2. Mexicans burn it into the atmosphere.
3. I think about these things because I have time to.
4. While others go out to work, I try and work on myself.
5. But I don’t know any more than you do.
So I’m back from Africa, finally rid of my jet lag, and back to shooting in studio. Today was an interesting portfolio shoot with a young bodybuilder named Mathew. We were shooting in the building’s freight elevator, using a ring flash and trying to capture some fun images. Mathew was working it, but his friend Pat decided to step into the frame to show him how to do it with Style. Pat wasn’t supposed to be in front of the camera today, but he pulled off some sweet moves and made us both smile!
We stop at the edge of a field, get out of the vehicle to a chorus of approaching dogs, and set off on foot through the forest to meet a local religious leader. We walk uphill, and the high altitude has me breathing heavily almost immediately. We enter a clearing in the forest and there stands a priest, surrounded by about three hundred villagers who had come to hear him talk about the balance between religious and medical solutions to health problems. The light trickles through the dancing leaves, spilling light on hundreds of faces that turn to watch my every moment. It is very Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
A puff of thick black smoke enters our vehicle, we all instantly reach to crank up the windows as we cover our faces and cough in unison. We have been deadlocked in traffic for the past hour. It is a two lane road running through the south Addis industrial district, but there are easily eight lanes of traffic spilling onto the dirt shoulders. It is absolute chaos. Massive trucks blow out dark smoke and kick up dust, pedestrians are everywhere, everyone is constantly changing lanes, we make it to the far right and navigate through the deeply rutted dirt shoulder, only to be cut off and head back towards the middle of the road.
We begin our last day as the magic of morning light bathes the city in a dreamlike feel. We pass cross-streets where the sun casts giant shadows. The road out of town is packed with people and livestock. We cross a bridge and see a boy standing on a donkey pulling a massive cart of straw. The constant driving on congested roads has been difficult, constantly honking and avoiding anything that gets in our way…but it is a magical part of this journey!
They are both HIV positive, and we are in their small hut as they are receiving counselling on how to take their retroviral medications. They do not know how to write, so Berhan puts ink on their finger so that the couple can sign their names with a fingerprint. The wife doesn’t look at anyone in the room as the counsellor talks with the help of a USAID cheat sheet and her husband gives monotone replies. I don’t understand anything as they talk in Amharic, but can feel the tension. Later, Berhan tells me that it was better to not have understood anything, as she found it very difficult to witness the session.
We drive for two hours along a bumpy dirt road to reach the town of Liche, to visit a health clinic and photograph a new microscope which greatly enhances the doctor’s ability to diagnose TB. I am encircled by a group of men who stare at me with blank expressions, I am used to this now. In Tanzania I was Muzungu, in Congo I was Mutoka or Le Blanc, and now in Ethiopia I am Farench. I am strangely lacking pigment and I must be observed. Anyways, I take one portrait, show the results, and soon they are all jockeying for position in front of my lens amidst laughter and smiles.
The communal platter of Injera arrives, covered with all sorts of colorful things to eat. We all use our hands to rip off a piece of Injera and use it to pick up some dip or vegetable pieces. I watch their dexterity at creating clean little bites, and feel clumsy as I make fast gestures from the platter to my mouth, hoping nothing drops into my lap. I think about how clean all of our hands are. It is strange, but comforting to share a plate with others in a show of mutual respect and community. My hands are sticky.
Yesterday was a tough day. We made our way over to the local hospital to accompany the doctors on their morning rounds in the TB and HIV clinics. After the hour and a half we spent there, I was an emotional wreck for the first time this trip. I’m not sure how I can describe what I saw aside from saying that it hurt. Some of you who may have more experience in hospitals (even North American ones) might not have been fazed by what I saw, but I was on sensory-overload. I focused on the basics of image capture such as composition and exposure, and shut everything else out. The moaning old man, the shrieking woman, the crying newborns…I made the briefest of eye contact, was grateful of the language barrier, and apologized for every photo I took. Berhan later told me that she couldn’t follow me into the wards, as she knew what to expect and didn’t want to see it anymore.
Berhan and Ermias registered my heavy heart quietly as we set off on the long drive towards Bahir Dar. After a short distance we stopped at the side of the road for a coffee, which is a wonderful experience, as the beans are roasted and ground, the coals burn red, and the clay coffee pot is slowly brought to a boil. We each received a small cup of coffee with a liberal amount of sugar, sipped it slowly, and got back on the road. Again, the drive was beautiful and my visuals of the morning hospital visit began to dissipate. Ermias has about ten cassette tapes, but his favorite is his country music tape (spelled countrey), which he played nonstop throughout the drive. It was a fairly surreal experience to listen to him belt out the entire lyrics to “The Gambler” while driving through sunlit fields in Africa! We made stops along the road so that I could photograph farmers separating grain from it’s stalk by throwing it into the air, an experience full of fun and laughter. Then we stopped in a small town to visit a drug dealer…was a pretty snazzy place, part of an ongoing project to standardize drug vendors in the region.
We finally made it to Bahir Dar, checked into our hotel and headed right over to the Health Ministry office to photographer the local health minister and the building. It had been the second long day of driving and we were pooped just thinking about the following day’s 7 hour drive to three different cities. We ate quickly and I returned to my room for a quick glance over the images from the day. Here are a few of them.
We spent a few hours visiting the St. Peter’s Hospital in Addis before setting off on the long drive to Debre Markos. We started the long slog up the hill to get out of the Addis valley and passed an endless queue of large trucks crawling upwards exhaling thick dark clouds. We finally made it out of the city and the terrain proved to be remarkable. The twisting road took us past endless rolling hills, valleys, fields, and villages until we finally started descending into a steep gorge…the Rift Valley! We crossed the Blue Nile at the bottom of the valley and the temperature jumped to 40 degrees, which felt like a hairdryer was blasting through the windows. We started climbing the other side of the valley, and once we got to the top the temperature dropped and it started to get crowded along the road. We dodged, goats and sheep, donkeys, horses, chickens, and other vehicles…I couldn’t sleep throughout the whole drive, too much action and too much to see!
I finally made it to Addis Ababa this weekend, and let out a big sigh of relief. So far it has been wonderful! I checked into my hotel, had a great meal and used some reliable internet time to have a Skype call with my honey. Then I took a hot shower, and fell into a deep sleep on a big cushy bed with clean pillows that I didn’t feel the needs to wrap in dirty t-shirts as a measure of protection against the nasties. I woke up and spent yesterday eating, sleeping and relaxing, and today I was fully rested and ready to explore.
My new driver, Ermias, is soft spoken and easy to smile, with a gentle demeanor and matching driving style. He picked me up at my hotel and we tentatively drove to the MSH headquarters, which is compound-like in it’s appearance, with a gated, guarded courtyard surrounded by three 5 story buildings. We were met by Berhan, who had already prepared my itinerary and will be accompanying me throughout the trip. She is a lovely woman, who gave me a warm welcome, and began to walk me through the details of my stay here. We started the morning off with a visit to the management team, who were in the middle of their Monday morning meeting. They stopped their meeting to welcome me, offer me coffee (which was fragrant and delicious!), and as I am learning is the norm in Ethiopia, we exchanged questions of each other’s families and work life. I spent the rest of the morning meeting all of the staff and taking portraits of over 75 of them in their offices or outside on the rooftop.
Berhan and I walked a few blocks to a restaurant for lunch and she ordered for the both of us. We had a traditional Ethiopian fasting meal (for four weeks Ethiopians refrain from eating animal products of any kind) that came as a platter that we both shared. A large piece of Injera (Ethiopian flatbread) was covered with about ten different things that included potatoes, lentils, beans, sauces, beets…it was delicious! Berhan and I were able to talk about our cultures and the differences, learn about each other’s families, and exchange our religious and life philosophies. She taught me how to eat, what’s taboo, and what to expect. It was a wonderful first lunch together and I feel lucky to be travelling with her for the week.
Addis sits at over 7,500 ft (apparently that’s why I’ve had a bit of a headache) and is surrounded by rolling mountains. We drove up the foothills of Mt. Entoto to photograph a PFSA pharmaceutical supply facility, spent about an hour there, then headed to the top of the pass (almost 9,500 ft) to see a view of the city. We watched a storm move towards the city, and for the second day on a row I smelled the earthy scent of the approaching rain, an unusual and pleasant odor that clearly drifted across from the desert. We made our descent back to the valley in light rain and experienced the bustle of rush hour. We made it back to the hotel, I got to my room, ordered dinner, drank lots of water and looked through the day’s images.
Tomorrow begins with a visit to the St. Peter Hospital and ends with a 6 hour drive to Debra Markos.