Someone—from Rwanda it should be noted—commented on my last Photo Friday: “May I just ask, why is it always kids from the village, and the poorest? What about the middle class? I am just mentioning this because it feels like, we, Africans, are always portrayed as poor, not clean, torn clothes, etc. Is there any particular reason for that? I am not saying do not take pictures of them, but why single out just one type?”
I found this claim odd for many reasons. First, we covered a good portion of Rwanda during my week there: the main city, Kigali, many towns scattered along the main highway, and tiny villages tucked away from all signs of big city life. It is a rather small country, after all. I took pictures of every child who would let me. Likewise, I’ve posted an array of these children over the past few weeks from a myriad of homes and backgrounds.
Second, I don’t think I’ve ever called them poor, called them dirty, referred to them as anything but beautiful. Which is what they are. Torn clothes, bare feet, mud streaking their faces, it matters not. These children have found happiness in life’s simple joys; they don’t need video games or television or toys to be content. The way their faces light up just to see a bunch of foreigners pass their way, eager to give us a high five, a wave and a big ol’ grin, says it all to me. They’ve reached a level of fulfillment, have gained a sense of imagination and creativity, you so rarely see in American children today.
Many of them seemed to be more than well off to me: U.S. sports jerseys clothing them, mock Crocs on their feet. If they’re dirty, it’s from being children, from playing outside in the mud, from splashing around in the lake, from helping out in the fields. They seemed to have enough to eat and loving parents to tuck them in each night. Of course, as in any country, there are always the exceptions. I think I captured both sides.
At the same time, I can only take photographs of those who want to be photographed. I am not a professional photographer, not even close; I am a journalist who takes photos for a hobby and, occasionally, to accompany her stories in print. One of the biggest obstacles I’ve encountered over the years of shuttering (for fun) across the globe is getting over my shyness of sticking a camera in someone’s face without permission. I still feel weird about it.
And I will continue to put my Canon away the second the subject flinches or expresses some sign of discomfort. I am in their land, their domain. Who am I, a seemingly entitled Westerner, to barge in with my fancy equipment, start snapping shots left and right, and disrupting the easy flow of a town? Nobody, is the answer. I am no one special, no one deserving of the love and smiles offered up to a complete stranger without hesitation by so many people from this warm, welcoming country.
So, all the photos you see here are of locals who either agreed to be photographed or, even better, asked me if I would take their picture. They were not chosen by race, by age, by class or by looks. They were willing subjects, eager to give me a glimpse into their lives, lives of which are so foreign and incomprehensible to me, and while I still don’t claim to know much, this I know: I am grateful for their trust, eternally grateful for them letting me in, if only for one fleeting moment.
I stand by what I’ve shot, by what I’ve posted, by the few words I’ve written to accompany each picture. This is what I saw. This is my Rwanda. And this is not the end; there’s so much more left to tell.
Last photo taken by the incredibly talented Peter Stuckings.