Tag Archives: Africa

Addae’s Birthday Gift

Addae opened his eyes. Dim light was filtering through shutters but the sun was not yet up. His little sister, Echo, was sleeping quietly on a mat beside him. He could hear noise outside. Momma and Lale, Addae’s older sister, were preparing the morning meal. Poppa would already be out gleaning grain in the fields, but would return in time to eat before catching a tro tro into the city for work.

Addea jumped up and ran from the hut. He loved to run. He would run everywhere. This morning was no exception. He looked at the sky. It was pink.

He ran faster.

He would wash himself at the village well and race back before the sun touched his hut. Addae’s name meant Morning Sun. Momma said he earned that name by making her wait all night for delivery.

Addae arrived at the well only to find that Raziya and her mother were already there. Raziyah was two months older than Addae. She was fast, for a girl, but Addae would never concede that  she could out run him. He must have slept too long.

“Greetings, Addae.” Raziya’s mother smiled at him.

Addae bowed his head. “Good morning, Auntie. Hope you slept well.”  Addae was still breathing hard, making it difficult to speak the greeting. Raziya smiled. Addae frowned.

Raziya’s mother drew a pitcher of water from the well and poured it in a bucket. “Does the morning sun withhold its smile from our humble village?”  Raziya held the bucket for her mother.

“No, Auntie.” Addae grimaced.

“That is not much better. Come closer, Addae.”

Addae approached Raziya’s mother. Raziya scowled.

“Today is an important day. You must look your best.”

Addae nodded.

“Bow your head.”

Addae obeyed.

Raziya’s mother poured cool water over Addae’s head and torso. He sputtered, scrubbing his head, then his chest with his hands. He wiped the water and sleep from his eyes and smiled for the first time. Raziya and her mother smiled back.

“I thank  you for your kindness.”

Raziya watched Addae as her mother once again dipped the pitcher in the well. Addae looked up as morning rays touched tree tops.” He must hurry, he thought.  “God’s blessings, Auntie.”

“God’s blessings, Addae.”

Addae sprinted from the well, down a dusty path. He wove between huts with great speed. When he rounded a corner and came upon his own hut, he stopped, abruptly. Something  was different.

He looked to the sky. In spite of not being first to the well he had raced the sun and had won. Morning rays had not yet touched his hut.

“Momma?  Poppa?” he called.

No one answered.

The charcoal fire was burning, serpentine smoke snaking in the gentle morning breeze, and there were cakes on the fire. The clay oven was lit and bread was baking, but neither Momma, Lale or Echo were close by.

Addae entered the hut.

Momma? Lale? Echo?

He heard something outside and ran out of the hut.

“SURPRISE.”

Addae jumped. Momma, Poppa, Lale and Echo were all there smiling and laughing as the morning sun washed over them.  Addae laughed too.

“Greetings, my son, and birthday wishes,” Poppa said.

“Greetings, Poppa, and thank you,” Addae replied.

“We have a gift for you.”

“A gift?” He could see no gift.

“For your birthday,” Echo said, as Poppa drew a bundle wrapped in brown paper from behind his back. Addae’s eyes grew big and Poppa laughed. The paper crinkled as Addae took the package from Poppa.

“What is it?” Addae asked.

“You must open it, brother,” Lale said.

“Your sister speaks truth,” Momma laughed. “Open it.”

Addae beamed then tore into the package. When the paper fell away, he held up a brilliant blue, long sleeved polo shirt with three stripes on it and the word, Adidas.

“Put it on,” Momma said.

“It is Adidas,” Poppa said. “It will make you fast.”

“Addaedas,” Echo said. “like you.”

Addae put the shirt on over his naked chest and they all laughed. It was much too big.

“He will grow into it,” Lale said.

“He will grow out of it,” Momma said.

Poppa smiled. “Run, Addae. Run, before the morning sun climbs too high.”

Behind the scenes

The boy in the photograph was very proud of his  Adidas shirt. He told us it made him fast. He received it for his birthday. His parents bought it at a store in Accra which sold used clothing donated from the United States. In Lubumbashi, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I saw one child with a Los Angeles Lakers jersey . I live near Lone Peak High School in Cedar Hills, Utah and was surprised to see a boy in Sierra Leone wearing a Lone Peak High School jersey.

I have been to Africa many times. It is a continent of contrasts not free from turmoil or strife. Yet, in my travels throughout the continent, I have been blessed by many people of kindness, faith and love. The story above is based on a visit to the village of Yamoransah, Ghana. There I met a family I grew to admire in a very short period of time. Their lives are much different from my own. Yet, we share a common desire, to see our children grow up in the light of the morning sun.

African Adidas
While his little sister shyly watches, this African boy stands proud in his Adidas.

 

Moroccan Mint Tea

Women on the Bou Regreg River.
A moment on the banks of the Bou Regreg River in Rabat, Morocco, across from the old city of Salé.

“When did we grow so old?”

Fatima scowled as she handed a steaming cup of mint tea to her sister. Jamila accepted the tea as Fatima settled her bones on the river bulkhead.

“I am not so old as you, sister,” Jamila said, sipping her tea. The tea fragrance carried them back to fall harvest in their mountain  village. As young girls, Fatima and Jamila had worked long hours in their father’s fields.

Now, fall was gone and the damp winters of Rabat pained Fatima’s arthritis. They sat in silence, sipping their tea as the green black waters of Bou Regreg sludged past.

“I do not know why we still come here,” Jamila said.

“Because our husbands do not like it,” Fatima replied and they laughed. There are few satisfying rebellions for a Muslim woman and Fatima and Jamila practiced them often.

“What did the doctor say?” Jamila ventured.

“Youssef is too stubborn to tell me,” Fatima said. She savored a sip of tea. “But I know.”

“What?”

“Prostate.”

“How do you know this?” Jamila realized when she asked the question that she shouldn’t have asked the question. Her cheeks colored and Fatima laughed.

“You are too modest, little sister.”

A gusty breeze fluttered the silks of Jamila’s hijab and she drew the scarf tight under her chin. “Mamma had a remedy for such things,” Jamila said, not looking at her sister.

“I know,” Fatima said. “I have been mixing the herbs with his breakfast meal for weeks.

“You have?” Jamila looked up at her sister, eyes wide.

“What our men don’t know…,” and the sisters giggled as girls.

“Has it helped?” Jamila asked and the women laughed again.

“Shush,” Fatima said. “The Imam will see us laughing.”

“As will the All-Seeing-Eye.”

Bou Regreg River.
The Bou Regreg river divides the sister cities of Rabat and Salé, Morocco.

Fatima shivered in the moist river air as the culture of silence settled on the women. She sipped her tea as a lone seagull squawked above.

“How does Saïd at University?”

“Good. Good. He’ll be home in another month.” Jamila watched a fisherman rowing a worn wooden boat against the current. “And how is Asmae and the babies?”

“The babies are noisy, and hungry,” Fatima smiled. “I love having them here. Asmae says that Hakim wants her to come home.”

“It is too soon.”

“That is what I tell her.”

“She must rest, and feed her little ones.”

“So says the Prophet.”

Jamila took a sip of her mint tea and frowned. “My tea grows cold.”

“As do my old bones.”

Hassan Tower Minaret.
Built of red sandstone in the 10th century, Hassan Tower in Rabat, Morocco, was intended to be the tallest minaret in the world

Fatima and Jamila both twisted their bodies and stood up as old women. When the  Adhan call to prayer echoed across the river they looked up to the minaret.

“The Muezzin is in good voice today.”

“He always sounds good on those days when we aren’t required to be there.” The sisters exchanged guilty smirks.

“Next Friday?”

“Until then.”

“You bring the tea.”

They smiled and embraced.

“Allāhu Akbar.”

“Allāhu Akbar.”

The mournful Muezzin’s call echoed across the cobblestones as the sisters plodded toward home.

Rabat, Morocco cobblestones.
Cobblestones, replaced through the centuries, still provide the foundation for streets in the ancient quarter of Rabat, Morocco.

Morocco–Kingdom of the West

On assignment, I flew in to Rabat, Morocco, on a private jet. As our team proceeded through customs, the agents held us up.

What were we planning to do?
What were we planning to film?
Where would we be going?

Moroccan media is tightly controlled and monitored by the Government. King Mohammed VI takes a personal interest in the message of his country. Foreigners can’t be trusted to portray an accurate or truthful picture of life in Morocco.

Hassan Tower, Rabat, Morocco.
Built of red sandstone in the 10th century, Hassan Tower in Rabat, Morocco, was intended to be the tallest minaret in the world.

Rabat is the capitol city of The Kingdom of Morocco. Casablanca, made famous by the movie, is the country’s largest city. For more than a thousand years, the Western Kingdom of Morocco, or Marrakesh, was a powerful African dynasty.

Gun turrets of the Kasbah of the Udayas.
Built in the 10th Century A.D.,cannons of the Kasbah of the Udayas in Rabat, Morocco would fire on Barbary pirates as they sailed up the Bou Regreg River.

Morocco is one of only three countries which have both a Mediterranean and Atlantic coast. From the 16th through 19th centuries, Barbary Pirates attacked ships and traded slaves along the Berber Coasts of Morocco, Algiers, Tunisia and Libya. In 1805, the United States executed a marginally successful military action against members of the Ottoman Empire in an effort to destroy the pirates and free American slaves.  With European colonialism seeking to dominate much of Africa, political and economic tensions grew during the latter part of the 19th century. Moroccan independence essentially ended when France signed a treaty designating Morocco as a French protectorate in 1912. The French governed Morocco until 1956 when Sultan Mohammed V successfully negotiated Moroccan independence.

Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is the resting place of the late King of Morocco, along with his two sons, King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah.

With Mohammed V’s succession to the throne, the spirit of independence and the power of the Monarchy re-emerged in Morocco. Mohammed V ruled for just 5 years. His son, Hassan II, became king upon his father’s death. Hassan II died in 1999 and his son, Mohammed VI, ascended to the throne.

As King, Mohammed VI has implemented progressive changes in Morocco, adopting a new constitution reducing the overall powers of the Monarchy while implementing a Parliamentary government with an  appointed  Prime Minister. Yet, Mohammed VI still wields tremendous power and controls much of the country’s resources.  He personally owns the country’s phosphate mines, which account for 75% of the world’s reserves and he has a net worth greater than the Queen of England.

Fisherman on the Bou Regreg river.
A man watches the waters of Bou Regreg river for signs of fish, while empty boats rest on the opposite shore.

According to the World Health Organization, poverty remains high in Morocco. While Mohammed VI has placed modest emphasis on reducing the widening gap between rich and poor, civil rights abuses, government corruption and economic distress account for an increasingly disaffected populous. On the world stage, The United Nations has criticized Morocco for military action and occupation of a Western Saharan region populated by the indigenous Sahwari people who claim Western Sahara belongs to them.

As we stood in the customs office, the agents explained that we could not bring our equipment into their country. We must return our equipment to the airplane or we would not be allowed to enter. So, we shlepped our heavy black pelican cases back out on to the tarmac and stowed them on the plane.

I keep a camera in my backpack.

Traditional Palace Guards, Rabat, Morocco.
Ceremonial Palace Guards in traditional costume, stand watch on horseback over the official residence of King Mohammed VI.

Politics and customs agents aside,  a highlight of my visit to Morocco was eating lunch at a traditional restaurant which required ritual hand washing before eating.  I held my hands over a beautiful ceramic basin as the Maitre d’ poured warm water from a hand painted glazed pitcher. Another waiter provided a warm towel to dry with. I don’t remember much about the food, but, as we were leaving the restaurant, the Maitre d’ repeated the washing experience by pouring warm rose water over our hands. The scent was strong and pleasing and stayed with me throughout the day.

Now, when I catch the scent of roses, I am transported back to that tiny restaurant in Rabat. I hear the call to prayer echoing across the ancient city and I want to reach in my backpack and check to see if my camera is still there.

Mat Maker, Yamoransah Village, Ghana

Cedar City Art Walk Image 10.

This is the last of ten images in my show at the Cedar City Art Walk, in Cedar City, Utah. If you haven’t yet seen the show, there is still time. The show runs through the end of the month. If you can’t see the show check out each of the images on my blog. Thanks for stopping by.

Woman works with root fibers
Working with root fibers in Yamoransah village, Ghana.

Her fingers were relentless, working the root fibers back and forth, back and forth, smooth; arms and shoulders made strong with the repetition of mat making. In a crumbling stone building, the women of Yamoransah toil daily to transform roots into food. Mats are a useful by-product.

She showed me how she made them; the same way her mother made them, and her grandmother before her; the heat of West Africa bringing nothing more than a sheen to her chocolate smooth skin, while I was drenched in sweat.

Without words we watched each other work, I with my camera, she with her body. When I motioned for permission to take her photograph, she held my gaze. I looked in her eyes and she did not look away. Our worlds were separated by barely bridgeable miles and Lifetimes of experience. Our lives were mutually incomprehensible. Yet, in this moment I was blessed by her grace. I left Yamoransah with more than I expected.

 

For more info on my show check out a June 11th article in The Spectrum.

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2015/06/09/suu-features-exhibition-stories-tell/28764023/

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Lubumbashi Uncle

Cedar City Art Walk Image 8.

Lubumbashi Uncle
After the storm, Uncle watched as we played with his brother’s family.

We’d been invited to visit a family in the town of Lubumbashi. The journey was rugged. It had rained. Roads were muddy. Occasional lighting flashed and thunder cracked. Their home was modest, brick and stone. Uncle sat outside watching us pull up in our Land Rover. He did not speak English. We could not communicate in words. As we played with his brother’s children, Uncle remained in his chair, following us with his eyes, perspiration glistening his skin in the moist afternoon heat. When I asked about his story, they simply said, “He has seen much.” I showed him my camera, hoping for permission to take his picture.

Our eyes met. He nodded, but did not smile.

For more info on my show check out a June 11th article in The Spectrum.

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2015/06/09/suu-features-exhibition-stories-tell/28764023/

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Village Matriarch, Yamoransah, Ghana

Cedar City Art Walk Image 7.

Village Matriarch
Though she is old, she leads–perhaps because she is old.

Three hours from Accra and the roads got really rough. We had been driving into the bush and each mile seemed to take a millennium. The more we drove, the farther back in time we went. As we drove into the village of Yamoransah, young girls stared at us as they mashed roots for food. Young children surrounded us, posing for our cameras. The village Matriarch watched our approach, proudly. She did not speak English. There was no need. This was her village.

As we approached, she slowly rose and the children quieted. She did not need her walking stick for authority. Her voice was soft and quiet, yet the young mothers gathered their children and went inside.

Somewhere, in the delicate balance of past and present, she kept her village safe. The old ways still worked, although her eyes were growing dim.

Teenagers charged their cell phones at a generator near the village well.

 

For more info on my show check out a June 11th article in The Spectrum.

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2015/06/09/suu-features-exhibition-stories-tell/28764023/

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Happy Face, Lubumbashi, DR Congo

Cedar City Art Walk Image 4.

Crazy Face
When I showed him this picture, he laughed and laughed. So did his buddies.

Just before sunset, we stopped on the banks of the Lubumbashi river in the DR Congo. Families were washing clothes and bathing in the river. It was hot, and humid. When I pulled out my camera, I was surrounded by children, laughing, dancing and posing. We did not speak the same language, in words. But, the joy of the children was contagious. In a land so different from my own, we shared a laugh, and a smile.

For more info on my show check out a June 11th article in The Spectrum.

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2015/06/09/suu-features-exhibition-stories-tell/28764023/

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Leopard Dress

Cedar City Art Walk Image 2.

Leopard Print Dress
Stylishly dressed in a green leopard print, this young girl has just one dress.

She was taller than the boys she played with. Her green leopard-print dress fluttered in a breeze of fluid motion. A dirt street in Kinshasa had become an earthy futbol stadium; I, the paparazzi, she, the star. When she kicked a well-worn ball through a makeshift goal, her teammates cheered. As the game resumed, she turned and looked at me, wary. Our eyes met. She seemed to hold a world of experience behind questioning eyes. I smiled. A small boy kicked the ball. I took her picture. She darted away, leopard dress clinging to her graceful form.

For more info on my show check out a June 11th article in The Spectrum.

http://www.thespectrum.com/story/entertainment/2015/06/09/suu-features-exhibition-stories-tell/28764023/

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Cedar City Art Walk June 5 – August 31.

African Elephants

The Range Rover bounced through the trees like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, then, mercifully, stopped. Our guide shut off the engine. I could hear the ticking of hot stressed metal. My body was just as stressed. I may have developed a tick.

Over there.

I could see him, hiding, a giant bull elephant, trying, it seemed to me, to be inconspicuous.

I began taking photographs. Through the lens, the elephant looked annoyed. With crunching footsteps, he lumbered out of the trees into the open, staring at us. We stared back at him. He came closer. Closer. CLOSER. I reached for a wider lens.

Hold very still, our guide whispered. He reached for his rifle.

The giant elephant stopped, three feet away. I could hear him panting. Snorting. I could SMELL him. VERY BAD BREATH.

From my open seat in the Range Rover, he was massive. His tusks were stained red near the sharpened points. He looked down at me with huge, tired eyes.

What are you doing here?

I came to see you.

He sniffed, his snake-like trunk sampling the air around me. His giant eyes blinked. I could see myself reflected in their rich, deep brown. He looked…sad, maybe. Resignedly tolerant, perhaps. Proud, certainly.

He moved on.

I realized that the pounding I could hear was my heart, not his footsteps.

Our guide put down his gun and started the Range Rover. The roar of the engine shattered the quiet surrounding us and we moved on.

Sierra Leone–Malaria meds and a touch of Melodrama

I sat on the balcony of a nice restaurant having dinner with a Doctor and his wife who were serving a medical mission in Sierra Leone.  A large orange sun was slowly sinking into the cool blueness of Freetown bay, and, in spite of the heaviness in the tropical air, I felt a relaxing peace.  The blaring horns and raucous city noise below us were quieting. If it wasn’t so hard to get there, I thought, this might be a nice place to come on vacation.

“Did you take your malaria meds?” the Doctor asked me.

I began to notice the tiny whine of mosquitoes joining us for dinner.

“I did. Yes. Of course.” I had to think back to whether or not really I did take my pill that morning. I thought so, yes, maybe.

“When we first arrived, we had over thirty cases of malaria each month, among the missionaries. Now, with better precautions and proper meds, that number is down to only four.”

My skin began to itch. I buttoned the collar of my shirt, even though I was sweating in the heat.

“We no longer allow the missionaries to hang their laundry outside to dry,” the Doctor continued, “because a certain type of fly they have here buries it’s larvae in the wet laundry. When you put your clothes on, the larvae buries into your skin. You develop a sore and then, two-weeks later, the flies come out.”

Gross.

I looked down. To be honest, I wasn’t even really sure what was on my plate. A few moments ago it had tasted okay, acceptable, good even. Now, I wasn’t hungry.

I looked up at the doctor. “Here,” he said, handing me a packet of pills. “Take these if you start to feel sick. They’ll help. Then, go to the doctor as soon as you get home.”

“Would you excuse me,” I said, “I think I’ll turn in early.”

He smiled. His wife smiled. I rushed from the table as the Doctor said something I couldn’t quite make out.

Later that night, after brushing my teeth with bottled water and taking another malaria pill, just to be sure, I turned out the light and climbed into bed, pulling the mosquito netting close around me. Closing my eyes, I heard it again, that unmistakable tiny whine. That’s when it came to me, what the Doctor had said as I left the table.

“There are many ways to die in Africa.”

As I slowly fell asleep, I was sure there were giant mosquitoes landing on the netting surrounding me. I vowed never to hang my laundry outside to dry. And, I thought that a staycation might be a good idea this year, just as soon as I got home–if I got home.