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.

Story of Time

A lioness As told by Irene Nangoma January 28, 2013 A long time ago there was an old lady who liked digging (farming) in a very hot place.  One day a small boy came to her. He explained that his master had sent him to find the old woman and to ask for time. So she wrapped the time in some paper and gave it to the boy. The boy started his long walk home. He crossed an ocean and traveled many miles. As he was walking he met a lion.  The boy sang to the lion as he passed. Then the lion began to sing to the boy, urging him to watch him dance.  As the boy kept walking the animal kept singing, the boy finally looked back to see the lion dancing and singing.  As the boy continued his walk he found that he had lost the small package. When he returned to his master he explained the journey, the lion, and that he had lost the package containing time. The master decided to send another person.  This person again traveled a long distance before reaching the woman.  When he reached her, she again gave him time wrapped in paper and sent him home. This boy crossed the ocean and also traveled many miles.  As he traveled he met the same lion.  The lion sang and danced and tried to get the boy to turn and look.  This time the boy didn’t turn back, instead he went yelling for the villagers. The villagers came to him and asked why he looked so scared. As he explained the dancing lion, the villagers were also scared, so they went out to hunt the animal. The boy continued home to his master. When he arrived, he gave the master the package.  As the master unwrapped the package, day and night were created, and time began.   * A common saying here is that ” God gave westerners watches, but gave Ugandan’s time.”

Which Story?

BlessedSomeone recently said jokingly, “tell me about your life?” I responded “which story?” We all laughed and changed the subject but the exchange struck me as interesting.  I responded so quickly to the question that I didn’t give my words much thought in the moment, but as I heard my response I was struck thoughtful.

Which story I tell about myself depends on which outcome I wish to achieve or which portrait of myself I wish to paint.  A good example is a job interview where the interviewer asks, “what are your weaknesses?” I was always told to answer the question with a story. Retell a moment when my limits were stretched and perhaps I “failed” according to that moment’s standards. Then,  I was to tell about how I learned from this moment and was growing into a stronger employee.  This story has become one of strength not of weakness, of someone overcoming a challenge and rising to the challenge.

The outcome of that story was clear. I wanted a better job than my previous position so the narrative of the story had to create a character arc that pointed toward my inevitable employment.

How do we do this with our lives?  How do we determine what the arc of our life is to point towards or is already pointing towards?

The simple answer is, that there is no simple answer.  Our life, our character is more complex than even the most gifted writer can possibly retell.

The story of our life is less like a children’s book and more like the movie Crash or my favorite Love Actually, where there are multiple lines of development happening simultaneously.  Every sub-story forms a part of our one story.  Sometimes they overlap and sometimes they just run parallel, but they often have a connecting thread or theme. Our challenge then is to determine the theme of our life.  And, like any good filmmaker doing our best to either stay on theme, or change themes if the story has become either unmanageable or has shifted.

So the question remains…tell me about your life?