Let US tell our stories

The women started posing for each other.

The women started posing for each other.

While I conducted my first interview, in Bwindi, the Batwa woman gave me the gift of her story of time.  It is a great story that I have included in another blog post.  At the end of the story I wanted to take a picture of the beautiful woman. She claimed to be 100 years old, had a slow but steady walk and her bare feet were firmly planted on the ground.  I wanted to always see her face and to share her image with you.

Unfortunately she declined my request for a picture.  I understood but was disappointed.  As explained by my translator, the people have had their pictures taken by many people and they have never seen a single image.  Their fear is that other people are making money off their pictures and they are getting nothing.  I understand that and have indeed seen this happen.  Or at least appear to happen, since I don’t know what individual photographers do with their images.

When I visited a school of Batwa women and children on my last day, I was amazed that they eagerly wanted their pictures taken.  They eagerly held their hand to their eye, forming a circle around their eye and then gesturing to their chest.   I quickly accepted the invitation.  I began taking pictures of the women, their children, and finally of the class.  As I showed them the picture on the screen, they eagerly took the camera to capture a picture of me with the students.

Quickly, they began lining up for each other, taking pictures of each other.  Striking a pose and laughing at each other.  It was amazing to watch them review their pictures and show each other how to use the camera.

This is the picture the woman in yellow took.

This is the picture the woman in yellow took.

How often are they given a chance to record their own stories?  To record their own lives?  While I understood at the beginning of that project the humility I needed to record their stories, it wasn’t until the end that I realized how much more powerful it is to enable them to record their own stories.

The purpose of much of the development work done with the Batwa, is done to empower the community to lead themselves. The Batwa have already begun to tell their own stories through the Batwa Experience, a living cultural museum established to pass their stories on to the younger generations in addition to the tourists.

I understand the quandary that I have to come to help them tell their stories, but I hope that I am acting only as a megaphone and not as a gate keeper.   I left the images and some money in Bwindi to develop the pictures they took, I hope this gift helps them in their quest to tell their own stories.  And I will remember the image of that first woman, regardless of me keeping her picture.