Global Lens Reflections on life, the universe, and everything

Laughing woman

It was one of those interminable hot days in the tropics. I’d eaten a big lunch and was sleepy, yet my local hosts were enthusiastic about showing me another six projects before sunset. I bounced around in the Land Cruiser as they drove me to a couple of projects where people were growing and processing nim, the magic tree whose leaves will do everything, then to a place where women were pressing sunflower seeds for oil, then to a well digging project, and so on. Then they said we were going to visit a project where young people were enrolled in a novel training program combining academic studies with agricultural field work. Sponsored by United Methodist Women, it was on my to-do list in Kamina, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo where I was spending a few days. So we parked the rig and began to walk across some fields. It’s mid afternoon in the tropics, I’m feeling grumpy and thirsty, I haven’t had a good internet connection for hours, and now I gotta walk some more in the sun. And a sun that’s almost straight up in the air, which causes horrible shadows on people’s face, especially those with skin that doesn’t reflect light as much as others. (Photography in inherently racist.)

After an eternity that must have been at least five minutes, we found a bunch of young people out hoeing in the middle of a field. Two young women were off to one side, so I started capturing images of them. Some clouds drifted in front of the sun, miraculously softening the harsh light. One of the women had a baby on her back, which always scores well on the cute scale, so I started shooting some images of her. But the other, a 17-year old named Ngoy Wa Ngoy Euphrasi (for obvious reasons, I had my translator write people’s names down in my notebook), had both this fun hairstyle and a delightful smile. Pretty soon I was shooting just her, and she stopped and stood still, alternately giving me looks that ranged from stern to determined to confident to amused to delighted to almost ROFL. She was a natural actress, and I must have clicked off several dozen frames. For most of them, I had to stand on my tip toes to keep her head well below the horizon, providing a continuous out-of-focus green background. Watching this sweaty, camera-laden muzungu standing on his tip toes in the middle of a field in the middle of Africa may have contributed to her sense of delight. Hey, whatever works.

After a while I felt sorry for everyone else, so spent a while capturing images of them at work as well, but I knew Ngoy was going to look great. And she does. Remember I said I was going to once in a while show examples here of how my images actually get used? This is one such time. This is one of a series of images designed by Emily Miller, the creative ninja for United Methodist Women. She took several of my images (and, inexplicably, a few images by others) and placed one-word adjectives on them. All are from projects or programs related to United Methodist Women, and they flesh out the best of what UMW does around the world. (They’ve been showing up one each day over recent days on the UMW Facebook page.) The one-word descriptor on each image is clean and simple and evocative. In a concession to people like me who are always whining about including captions, Emily added the basics but did it non-intrusively. All in all an effective way to use images. Especially one that was such a gift from the young woman whose image graces it.

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