As the eye behind the camera, I rarely appear in my photos. But that is ok; I know what I look like and I don't need photos of myself. But thanks to long arms, a tripod and a time-delay feature, or an occasional friend, I do occasionally capture an image of myself.
Every delegation needs a group photo, and thanks to a small compact tripod and the time-delay feature, everyone can get into the same photo without worrying about photoshoping people in later. This particular picture is from the Comité de Mujeres Rurales, in the Comunidad Los Mangles outside of León, Nicaragua. A group of women from the surrounding area, ranging in age from their late teens to mid-60s, came to tell how this collective organization formed to transform power relations between men and women. They work on economic empowerment and consciousness raising issues. Members testified how literacy training and funding to plant a garden had remarkably improved their lives. (If you can't find me in the photo, it is because I'm drifting off into the shadows on the left-hand side.)
A highlight of my trip to Ecuador was meeting Luis Catucuamba, son of legendary Indigenous leader Dolores Cacuango and longtime activist and educator. Both play key roles in the story in my book manuscript Indians and Leftists in the Making of Ecuador’s Modern Indigenous Movements which I desperately want to finish this year.
Riding a camel in Timbuktu doesn't really rate as a highlight of the sabbatical (so touristy), but visiting Mali (my first African experience) gave me a lot of food for thought. This was perhaps the most patriarichal society I have ever visited. Some estimates claim that 70 percent of women in this predominately Muslim country have undergone female genital mutilation, which is a particularly horrific and misogynistic means of domination. Polygamy is widespread, which points to underlying sexual double-standards. Slavery still survives as a mode of production. Life on the edge of the Sahara dessert struck me as particularly drab (everything is tan) and difficult (sand gets into everything, including the rice). According to the UNDP Development Index, Mali is the fourth poorest country in the world. What I fail to understand is why prices rival those of the industrial world.
Cheryl took a picture of me on the way out of Cameroon in the middle of one of the worst bus rides of my life. We were smashed 5 across on a Toyota Coaster bus designed to seat 4 across, which meant that I was half on the middle fold-down seat which, to begin with, is an uncomfortable seat, and on Cameroon's bad roads it dug repeatedly into my lower back which is now appropriately bruised. You can probably read more about it on Cheryl's blog.
Kenya has crime and very friendly people (I'm still trying to figure out that relationship). Nairobi reminds me of Quito. Both have similar levels of development with associated levels of pollution, traffic congestion, and crime, which leaves me in constant fear of being robbed, shot, and killed in a bus accident. We went out to Makindu to visit an artisan cooperative and on the way back the fuel pump went out on our vehicle. I was treated like an honorary female and sent off to wait in a cafe while the men fixed the Land Cruiser. Cheryl writes more about this experience on her blog. "Hurry up and wait" is like being on a merry-go-round.
I think I have three photos of myself in Venezuela. One of them is from when Susan decided that I needed a picture of myself and took the camera and snapped a photo of me at a Barrio Adentro clinic in an old military fort in Caracas. Another one was the proverbial group photo with cooperative members at the Centro Cultural Comunitario "Las Tunas" in Barquisimeto (that's me on the right; you can't see Jennifer because even though she is short for some reason she stood in the back row). I'm not sure which one says more about this experience, so I guess I'll just include both. (The third one was from the beach at Puerto Cabello, and is not even in the running.)
Fuerte Bulnes is almost the furthest south one can go on the South American continental mainland. From here, the road continues about 20 more kilometers and then it is a three hour hike to Cape Froward that is the most southern point. Perhaps I should have done that. Or one could sail down the Magellan Strait to the cape. A series of islands continue to the south . Behind me is Dawson Island, noted as a location of one of Pinochet's prisons and torture centers during his 17-year dictatorship. There is a lot of military around here, particularly the navy which is traditionally the most conservative branch of the military. We hear stories of repression and resistance.
Tierra del Fuego is the largest island that extends south of South America. The island is divided into Chilean and Argentine sections. Ushuaia on the Argentina side is often considered to be the most southern city in the world. Across the Beagle Channel, Chile has several smaller settlements. I wanted to take a picture of myself at the southern most point in my travels. Unfortunately, I think that point was on the plane as it swung over the Channel to land in Ushuaia.
My camera broke in Ushuaia, and I temporarily replaced it with a $19 Chinese special. This makes it difficult to take half-way decent pictures. Even without a good camera, we made a quick 3-day trip to Uruguay. Even though you can hardly see me, here I am in front of a statute to independence hero José Gervasio Artigas in Montevideo's Independence Plaza. We are here as tourists on New Year's weekend which means that almost everything is closed down and it's particular hard to get a good read on what is happening in the country--especially on such a short trip.
After having my camera break in Ushuaia, I took my old one to the World Social Forum in Nairobi, Kenya. One the first day of sessions, I moderated a panel on scholar activism. While panelists spoke, I took a couple pictures. When it was time for discussion, I left my camera on my bag in the front row. Out of the corner of my eye, I see someone walk down to the front row and the only thing I think is that my bag is occupying that seat so they cannot sit there. The person turns around and leaves. After the panel is over, my camera is nowhere to be found. Without a camera (and without a picture of me at the forum), I ask Andrés to take a picture of me for my facebok with his Trio.
Twenty-four years ago I lived in Amsterdam with the Internmenno Trainee Program. I've always wanted to come back, and I can't believe it has taken me so long to do so--even though it is just a short, weekend visit on the way to Rwanda. I loved Amsterdam--one of the few cities to which this farmboy had such a reaction (I've also liked Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and San Antonio). I wonder if I would still like living here. It has so much concrete, so few green areas. But it is interesting to come back for a short visit, to find my old haunts, to discover new sites, and to see how much of my Dutch has survived through attempts to learn Spanish, Portuguese, Quichua (5 times), and Russian. Ik weet het niet.
Somehow I seem to attract kids. I'm not sure how it happens. Perhaps it is just by being friendly when everyone else chases them away. A digital camera is a great way to get in tight with kids. Talk about instant gratification. You take a picture, you show them their picture. They point at themselves and howl with laughter. None of this stuff like in Nicaragua in the 1980s when you took someone's picture and when you could not show it to them they felt, well, gypped (quite logically, perhaps, I might add). Eventually their parents come over to see what is happening, and then they turn into kids too. Then the whole meeting breaks down, and the adults who are trying to get something done become annoyed with me. But with new long-life batteries and a 2 GB card, the camera just keeps on clicking...
We had a long, intense conversation. She said with my long hair I looked like a girl. I told her that with her long hair, she looked like a boy. Girls have short hair. One only needed to look at Trudi and Eunice to see my point. We had fun. We hung out. When we came back the next day she was in school so we didn't see much of each other. But it was a highlight of the trip.
Oswaldo and Luis Enrique were great roommates at the Indigenous summit. Oswaldo works with a community tourism project north of Cayambe, not that far from where my Kichwa teacher Carmen is from. Luis Enrique is the Indigenous deputy to Venezuela's National Assembly for the western states of Zulia, Mérida, and Trujillo. It made for interesting and thoughtful conversations. I wish we could have spent more time together. Unfortunately, I had to head into Guatemala City for a hemispheric council meeting of the Americas Social Forum.
It wasn't planned, but when we got on the bus in Atlanta to return back to Madison from the USSF it became apparent that three of us had selected the same attire that morning. For me, I did not mean it so much as a radical chic fashion statement as a simple pragmatic choice. It was a clean shirt. The weather in Atlanta was hot, and during the week I had worn the lighter color shirts I had brought along that reflected the heat better. In any case, it seemed to be a fitting conclusion to the week's activities.
A couple pictures of myself in Mexico, but none of them really say much. Gwen took my camera to take a picture of me on top of a pyramid at Monte Alban, and since she is a professional photographer it is the best one I have. Perhaps she has a better picture of me, but probably not as she was busy photographing the people and places we visited instead of other gringos. Since she was the designated group photographer, I decided to designate myself the official photographer of the photographer. I don't think she particularly appreciated the gesture.