Since I left, I have met many looks, whether from people in the street or from people in the villages where I have lived.
I have rarely been wrong about interpreting those looks to know what kind of relationship I could expect. On one occasion only I could move from one extreme to another, from hatred to deep respect.
- Kindness : You can feel it straight away. You may come across it in the street. Someone waves at you and looks at you “kindly”. This sort of contact makes you confident for the whole day and makes you relax.
- Fondness : I have met this feeling most often with women and those I would call “grand-father”. They are either people you have met several times or people who have heard of you. You feel as if you were a kid in front of them and you know you are safe wherever they are with you. I am thinking of a woman I met during a festival in Angola and of the two “grand-fathers” of Kongonda village.
- Joy : When I gave a tent and so a roof to the children of the village or when I bring a complete meal to the village.
- Brotherhood : This is typically Warimisa’s look to which he adds respect. You are totally trustful and you don’t need to speak to spend a pleasant moment. This is lucky when the language barrier is here 😉
- Respect : in my case, you feel that everything concerning your person will be a matter of particular attention, your belongings, your health, … . I think I have obtained this respect first with the respect I have shown them myself since I arrived and then with the interest I have shown to them. Being rejected by the other communities, I did not realize what my behaviour represented for them.
- Kazehirwa’s look : I don’t know how to interpret it. A mix of many things. The few adjectives I could use are : touching, respectful, friendly and distant nevertheless.
- Questioning look : I have felt it mainly with one of the Kongonda’s grand-fathers. I could sum up his questioning with “why wasn’t I born in his place?”. The few exchanges I had with him have confirmed my reading. Before I left he asked me if I could fit him in my suitcases. His look, extremely kind, made me feel the tiredness and resignation in front of all the difficulties he faced in his life.
- Sadness : It has always been hidden and nobody has let me read it directly. Despite all the occasions such as diseases, with ever present AIDS, hunger, an uncertain future, … . I have no picture in mind representing sadness.
- Resignation : I have felt it with two persons, a grand-father and the village chief. In short, with the people who have responsibilities and who don’t manage to cope with them, simply because it’s impossible to do so. What can you do in front of hut which has burnt down with all the food supplies and clothes. On top of that a bad crop because of the drought and locusts? Not to mention the problem of land, a major cause of trouble in the country.
- Envy : A feeling which is not always negative. It’s naturally present in the people you meet and who have nothing. Everything in your person exudes the possession of things that will for ever be denied to them. From your healthy teeth to your clothes without mentioning your bike, your watch, your car. Some will ask you if they can have this or that when you leave. They don’t necessarily intend to be nasty because the question is raised quietly and openly. You have to give in smartly. I dare say I am quite good at it now.
- Jealousy : It’s a feeling I found difficult to understand and to accept until I realized what poverty really means. You may say I am a little slow but from saying to oneself “those people have nothing” to “actually live with those people who have nothing”, your understanding of life is very different. I was first annoyed by the people who reported me to different representatives of the authorities wherever I went. I then understood that I was seen as a “wealth” for the village of Kongonda. Wealth because I bring them an opening on the world simply by my presence and by the movies we watch at night. Wealth for the food I regularly provide when I take my car to go to the next villages you can’t reach by foot. Wealth for the trips we undertook to Etosha or Opuwo, when I could give them a status of “tourist” in a country where their only status is that of “beggar”. Reporting me to the authorities is simply an expression of “mild” jealousy. It can be expressed much more aggressively : theft, mugging, even death by poisoning which is quite common in the country. It is in this context I have to be constantly on the watch. That means protecting your access to water to avoid poisoning and locking your belongings even if this is little meaningless in a hut. But above all it means creating a network of trustworthy people everywhere you go so as to ensure your safety. At the beginning of my journey I took risks which I have learnt to avoid later on. Despite all that I heard about thefts in Namibia I am glad I never had any problem of that kind during the seven first months although there have been many occasions.
- Hatred : I have often met it, in the street or in neighbouring villages. After having enormously read (one book a week, that means many pages) about the history exclusively linked to colonialism and apartheid, I can’t really blame those looks hard but so representative of what our ancestors have been able to inflict to these peoples. I generally avoid the people in whom I can feel this kind of hatred but sometimes life does not leave any choice for meeting some people or not. I so had to spend a whole afternoon with the worst look I had met a few weeks before. By dint of showing respect in this case by sharing food and elements of language, I managed to turn that look into “affection”. That man will tell me a few hours later “all the whites you meet tell us they can’t eat what we eat. We don’t understand why they couldn’t do it when for us it is our main resource to have strength. You, you sit with us, you eat with us and you drink with us. It’s fine”. I wouldn’t have that sort of experience every day, but when it happens, you have a huge feeling of pride. I will not tell you what I had to do, your stomach would not be able to face it 😉
The looks I met have only one of these components. In the village respect has always been the basis of our exchanges. Then are added different feelings according to the occasion, the person and the sex which is never insignificant in this type of relation.
Obviously it’s much easier to photograph positive feelings. Taking photos keeping in mind the respect of the person prevents you from taking numerous shots, they are what I would call “mental photographs” that you will keep alive in your mind for all your life such as the picture of your grand-parents telling you goodbye in front of their house when you are a kid.