Tag Archives: Oltepesi

Water, water everywhere (well almost!)

Last year I attended the inauguration of one of the water supplies successfully developed by Testigo Africa in Oltapesi, Tanzania. It was a privilege and pleasure to be part of the celebration, having seen for myself the impact of the drought three years earlier.  I travelled with Tracey Sawyer (the Director of the charity), her soon-to-be husband Emanuel plus her family from Australia. We stayed at the simple but very hospitable Tembo Guesthouse in Longido and it was a fantastic opportunity to see the changes Testigo Africa had helped implement since my previous visit.

Impact of the drought in 2009

Impact of the drought in 2009

We travelled to the site in a four-wheel drive, packed to the gunnels with Masai villagers of all shapes, sizes and ages – I wasn’t sure we’d manage to navigate the rutted, dusty route loaded down as we were, but Tracey’s latest acquisition “Old Red” was more than equal to the task. As we drew up near the water tank, and what seemed like dozens of villagers piled out of the jeep, we realised that a group of warriors had gathered to dance (the Adumu) in celebration. It’s awe inspiring to watch these tall, slim and extremely fit men jump so high – each taking turns as the others chant, laugh and joke with each other. Everyone has a go – even Tracey’s dad, who gamely tries to emulate the height of the warriors. The women watch too, then later perform their own dance – equally energetic – full of giggles and shy glances to the audience.

There follows many (many!) speeches, each translated into English, Swahili and Masai to ensure that everyone understands. It’s mainly (of course) the men who talk … yet both charities involved in this project are led by women and one of the main drivers for providing the water supply is to help the women here. It is they who walk miles every day to ensure their families have water – they bear the brunt of drought and the lack of clean, fresh water – so I’m delighted to see two of the women come forward and express their gratitude to Testigo Africa. Namnyak speaks of the close friendship she has with Tracey, developed during her years of involvement with Longido, and explains how much the water supply means to her and the other women. It’s very moving.

Then, as no Masai celebration would be complete without the ritual slaughter and roasting of a goat or two, we follow the men to a clearing where various parts of goat are being roasted over open fires. Soft drinks are shared round and everyone tucks in, although the Masai women are not invited to this part of the ceremony. I manage to politely nibble at some of the offerings but freshly slaughtered meat is fairly tough and I’m not that sure what the pieces of offal are …!

As foreigners, we don’t count as women and are allowed to eat with the men. It’s a very different experience being a woman in this part of the world and not one I’d care for. The women however are strong and determined, the backbone of their families and it’s good to know that the fundraising efforts of charities like Testigo can ease their load, even a little.

Celebrations at Oltapesi, Tanzania.

Celebrations at Oltapesi, Tanzania. Clockwise from top: the women sit near the tank during the speeches; the warriors perform the Adumu, soft drinks all round; a view of the speeches; Tracey and Emanuel in front of the pump house.

The power of the iPad …

I’m not one to promote Apple technology for the sake of it, but I do plan to take my iPad on all future travel photography trips.  We all enjoy photographing local people on our travels – to ruminate over when we get home, to bore our friends with snaps and slideshows and even to write our blogs (!!)  But how often do we consider the subjects of our shots – the people we “take” photographs of?

As I travel with my camera I appreciate more and more that the photograph must be a mutual exploration – a joy for the person being photographed as well as for the photographer.  I’m not ruling out candid shots, they will always have their place in travel and documentary photography, but when you’re up close and personal – get up thereget close and personal!  Engage with the people you meet – talk to them!  Use signs and gestures if you have no common tongue and please, at a minimum, learn how to say hello, please and thank you

What I learned from Kerryn on our recent trip to Tanzania is the power of sharing the pictures in situ.  You can show people the back of the camera (never very satisfactory since it’s so small) but showing them some shots you take on the iPad (even shoot some for for them alone with your iPad – they won’t be as good as your SLR shots – but they’re not necessarily for you).  Or if you are staying for a while, load the shots from camera to iPad and then share.

It’s a different experience for many people in less developed parts of the world.  Most have access to mobiles – basic ones at best – and they may not access to have TV.  An iPad and what it can do is a revelation.  Kerryn videoed Doug singing and clapping with the kids in the Oltepesi boma and played it back to them .. to their absolute delight.  It was replayed again and again and again … !

There was such joy for everyone in those moments.  So go on … engage and share next time you travel with your camera …..

A thousand words ……

I printed 6×4 prints from my visit to Oltepesi in 2009 and set about making sure we matched as many people to their photo as we could …. or at least passed them onto a friend or family member.  Three years is a long time in a small child’s life and there was much hilarity as the kids compared each others’ photos.  Almost without exception the villagers were amused to see themselves in print.  However one woman, whom I have to say I barely recognised from her photo, was a little distressed and without a shared language she tried to explain why.

She mimed tearing it up and pointing to her face, the covering her face with her hands … which I took it to mean that she didn’t like the image or was in some way offended.  The sadder truth was that she was upset by how old and tired she looked in the photo, not through any sense of vanity; rather the reminder of the deprivation wrought by the drought of three years previously.  I then noticed that almost all the women did look better this time – fuller of face, happier certainly and even a bit younger in some cases.

It’s maybe a cliche but a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, even if we don’t understand the language.

Villagers in Oltepesi look at photos from 2009