In the eye of the beholder …
When the first YaLa assignment was announced, I started writing a few drafts about different prior experiences I’ve been through which I considered life changing experiences. I am a proud of myself for the things I have been through, feeling like I’ve seen it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. Luckily, a new photo assignment came up, I had to travel again before submitting my story and this time my new destination was Zanzibar, a small Tanzanian island southeast of the African continent, a place famous for its long history of slavery, spices, palm trees & crystal clear blue beaches.
I always get excited about new destinations, that is why I became a photographer in the first place, to document the new places, things, and people I meet. The first days in Zanzibar were like a fantasy to me: I walked on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world according to National Geographic, I visited the Stone Town Market, and I documented everything a tourist would want to see in Zanzibar, however there was still one thing I always make sure to do when I visit any new country: meet locals.
To make things clear, attractions in Zanzibar are located mostly at the four tips of the island (North, South, East and West) so one must literally cross the island in order to see everything and to do so requires driving through the villages of the island where real locals live. I had planned to spend my last 2 days walking around those villages in order to finish my assignment and get some good pictures for my story. Zanzibarians do not speak much English nor Arabic, most people only speak Swahili. However I managed to communicate with people by smiling, waving … etc
My job taught me how to notice almost everything because everywhere around there is a potential picture to take and that – my friends – is both a gift and a curse. As I was walking among the villages of Zanzibar I saw poverty like nowhere else I had ever seen, people with absolutely nothing … people walking barefoot, with torn stained clothes, empty houses, no direct water access, no internet, no iPhones … yet, everyone still manages to smile. Children are playing together, men are socializing at the side of the narrow street, boys are playing boy games, girls are playing girly games. They had absolutely nothing and there I was, with my fancy camera and clean shirt walking among them. Children were curious about my camera, it became clear they had never seen one before, so I let them play with it a little. They were amazed when they saw some of the images through the LCD screen in the back … I managed to line them up for a group shot , click click click & I was done, I got my images, waved good bye & went back to my 5 star resort.
It hit me while I was in the shower. I had hot water, coconut shampoo and yet I was still complaining about the slow internet connection.
But you see, everything is in the eye of the beholder, what you take for granted today might be rare and dear for a child somewhere else in the planet. We need to recalculate our priorities, we need to give for a change, and we need to learn a lot about the rest of the world to understand the different standards of living that still generate happiness … so be curious, be mindful, be grateful.