I swear it was just June and now July is almost over. Time is absolutely flying by….
We are collecting the second disposable cameras from our ever dwindling Photovoice participants this week. This means that we have given out round one of cameras, got most of the cameras back (4 ended up being stolen, but we were able to replace them) and have discussed the pictures. Most of the pictures discussed aren’t the most visually appealing, but the conversations they have inspired have been fantastic. I may not know what 75% of what is going on during the sessions, but I have been privileged to see the pride and happiness that often beams from their faces as they look through their pictures and then select one for us to hear about. I am often blown away when I read the transcript… these are really smart kids with lots of perspective and experiences who just people to listen to them. They are also really good photographers… some of the pictures are just so telling – they truly embody that phrase that pictures are worth 1000 words. Some of the pictures show the hardships they face while others highlight their resilience & ability to smile despite the circumstances. Every time I go to the photo place to pick up the pictures, I get that feeling I use to get as a kid on Christmas morning. The mixture of excitement and anticipation is almost too much to handle…
Unfortunately, the project has had many bumps along the way. We have lost about 15 participants over the weeks (most have left Eldoret with only 3 remaining in Eldoret but not participating). It brutal because they are here one day and then the next they have left without any warning…. It’s a blow for the project, but it’s harder in the grand scheme of life based on where I am standing.
I wrote the below blurb after an especially hard week two weeks ago when I felt like absolutely everything was going wrong… work was overwhelming and I felt like I was just barely keeping my head above water, we lost the most photovoice members and I realized that I had someone become detached from the reality in front of me. It’s a bit dramatic in retrospect, but hindsight is 20/20 so I feel like I shouldn’t judge. I feel like I should share it because, although it’s a bit more barenaked that I’m accustom to being on this blog, it captures a lot of some of the struggles that create the context in which this project is being implemented….
Sometimes I wonder if I have psychopathic tendencies, but my loving environment and my overactive imagine that makes me an above average scary-cat has (instead) made me into what I am now. I don’t mean this in a I-can-see-myself-as-the-next-Dexter or anything, but I have this uncanny ability to exist without being conscious of my emotions. I can shelf them in some low traffic area within my brain so that I can move from event to event without actually processing the emotional ramifications of things around me. Sometimes I feel even when I do notice the horribleness around me, I remain somewhat detached from the actual words I am hearing or saying. Three girls from my project and 2 others went to Nairobi and thus, effectively, dropped out of my project and (more importantly) have shifted to a much tougher street life environment. One girl, whose parents consistently try to get her to come home, is now 5 hours from her kin network and I worry the ramifications of this. Another girl (not of those that left Eldoret but in the group) went back to school, but has since run away again and has this increased sense of toughness & I-know-best attitude that frightens me as I worry she will never find an exit strategy from street life (she is currently 14). The rumor is she has starting selling alcohol to make money… alcohol she gets from her father. Sometimes the way to a productive and stable life seems unfair steep! To make matters worse, she came to Tumaini this week with her niece who I just love. They wanted to look through the pictures she did not get to see while she was away at school (she had missed one session as she was away at school for about 8 days)… While we looked through the digital practice pictures one came up with a glue bottle in front of a path, the niece exclaimed, “look Auntie… gum [the street name for glue]”. She maybe 5 years old and knows about glue… I was taken aback. I wish I could say I was heartbroken or overwhelmed, but I can only say I was shocked and duly noted it as I continued with the conversation. Why don’t those moments dumbfound me? I meet a friend of someone in the photovoice project and the next day find out the reason she was there was because she had just been raped by 7 guys. I hear stories like this and it’s like they are a movie or something so removed from my situation that it’s hard to related (and therefore hard to feel the reality of the story). I liken it to hearing about the millions that have died from AIDS or those starving in Darfur or Ethiopia. Although the statement is horrific, the emotional reaction that such horror should invoke is muted…. Except, in this case, I am here and even meeting the people. Can I really be that desensitized? Am I just too wrapped up in everything in my life to be present in the moment? I have really been struggling with this lately. How can I give 250 shillings towards a funeral of a 13 year old boy who fell from the back of a matatu without stopping for a moment to acknowledge the multiple dimensions of horror that came together to make this situation a reality? An American colleague is moved to tears as he talks about wondering if he had become callused because he doesn’t consciously think about that there are lots of people in Eldoret going to bed hungry or the level of poverty… and, before he made the comment, I was signing my name & giving the money while thinking about having to pick up the pictures before 5:30 and recapping the staff meeting I had chaired wondering if I came across like a dictator & pondering why I had talked for about 90% of the meeting. If he had not said anything, would I have even given the moment a second thought? I’m struggling with what this means about my current mindset, my personality and my ability to connect with those around me. It also makes me feel so unjustly lucky. How can life be so unfair? How can so many of us live in our world be sucked into believing that our inability to reach the unattainable goals consumerism teaches us is really worth bitching over when some many others in this world are struggling to just survive through the day? So many have never had 85% of the opportunities I was given without much gratitude…. how could be so selfish?
I went to a really rural village just about the time of the above mental meltdown. It was good to clear my head and be taken out of what was becoming an uncomfortable comfort zone. It was absolutely stunning, but it was also very poor with very little opportunity. I also wanted to include my attempt to reconcile things as I don’t want people to worry that I’m having a nervous breakdown or anything…
As you are confronted by both overwhelming amounts of beauty and hardship, I retreat into my emotions-on-shelf defence and try to take it all in without reacting. While in this state, I was just struck by how different my life is from someone in this village. I would have probably died as a child here as I was born prematurely and, at age 4, had pneumonia that required hospitalization. Pneumonia kills more children under 5 than any other disease (with 98% of those deaths happening in developed countries)! I had free health care basically since I was born coupled with education and government programs to ensure I get screened for things at certain times, get all my vaccinations and have places to go when I am in medical need. I have clean water coming out of my tap so my drinking water doesn’t make me sick. I have indoor plumbing. I never had to do my school work by a lantern under a mosquito net to make sure I didn’t get malaria or be bitten by safari ants that (apparently) feel like liquid fire. I lived in a place where youths could find jobs (decent paying jobs at that) and learn about responsibility, hard work and the value of money. I could make money to buy things I wanted… including clothes, trips and a post-secondary education. My government gives loans making it possible to move forward if done right (like my above mentioned education!). This list of differences keep going…. My society believe in gender equality so young girls get to go to school. My family believed my education was important and made it a priority. My parents taught me to dream big and showered me with endless support & encouragement (partly because they are amazing people, partly because our society teaches us that this is what children need and partly because they could afford to be home with us the majority of evenings and weekends instead of working insane hours or (more typical here) having to go look for work far away so living elsewhere. It shocks me even more when I think of this and then it dawns on me that my lifestyle is the minority… that most people in the world live in the surroundings I am seeing now (or much worse). It’s this overwhelming sense of gratitude and thankfulness to be the person I am today that I wish I could package and open each time I get mad when someone asks me for money or yells WHITE PERSON! At me or things with the project goes horribly wrong or my whole day schedule is thrown off because some Photovoice component is super late. These are such small things in the grand scheme of things and even smaller prices to pay for the extremely privileged life I have lived. It really is a gift to be able to be here and be experiencing the things I am. The good AND the bad…. Because this is what life is. My life will be forever changed and bettered for getting to share these experiences with the photovoice participants. I just need to slow down sometimes and, instead of aiming for the next goal, take a moment to stand in the chaos that is Tumaini and take in what is around me.
Sorry this blog is so chopping… I had written two attempts and felt like I wanted to include them (even though they have little to do with photovoice…)
Back to work – the M&E that photovoice is attached to is just about finished and THANK GOODNESS! It has been a huge learning experience being the lead on the project with a team of 1 within an organization staffed with 10 people… but it has also been a ton of work and running around. The final report is about 99% done and the internal document should be finished by the weekend. That leaves just preparing for the handoff and then switching gears into support for August (insert happy dance here). The research paper I am writing is about 60% finished and is due by August 7…. Another fast approaching deadline. Photovoice is also nearing its end… there are three more weeks and the exhibit two weeks later (date set for Sept 8!!! WOOOOO WOOOO and EEEEEEEK!). Before the project ends, we have to figure out a date for the whole group to go out on a trip somewhere (the potential for chaos and so much fun are both very high) to celebrate plus lead putting together my very first art show (no biggie right? Bit nervous!).,… and then I am done my project here.
That is both an extremely exciting and incredibly terrifying statement…
Well this is pretty long already and I need to get to bed so those above mentioned things can be finished on time.
Thanks for listening to me jibber jabber. Thank you for your continued support. If you contributed to Photovoice then an especially large thank you as you have helped to make a difference (of a varying degree) some really special children & youth.