Similarly to the last one… but this time I was stuck in the back of a covered pick-up truck on a ride through Yangon. I faced a literal window into Yangon after dark. The car lights were the main form of lighting.
Sometimes you can spend hours trying to get a particular photograph but are never really satisfied with the result. And then you take a couple of single shots out of the window of the moving car that are far more appealing. Both these were taken while driving through Nepal last year.
A man washes the dust from his body on the busiest road going out of Kathmandu. Nepal 2013
Evening sun illuminates grasses in the Terai. Nepal 2013
My first day after landing in Nepal last year was Saturday, a rest day. I was woken up to the sound of drumming and decided to wander down into the valley. In the small village of Tikabhairab I came across two dancing devils, dancing in an energetic and antagonising manner around people until they coughed up some rupees. It was part of some festival, and we encountered a few more over the next week… stopping traffic until drivers gave a small donation. I’ve no idea where the money goes…
Dancing Devil in the streets of Tikabhairab, Lalitpur Valley. Nepal, 2013
A year ago I visited a night market in the suburbs of Yangon. It was a sprawl of food stalls and fairground games. I was photographing a couple of elderly balloon sellers (leprosy-affected of course), who were standing in the green glare of a rather rickety ferris wheel. It took me a while to notice that the wheel was powered by young men climbing up the wooden beams and using their body weight to pull the it around. Naturally I had to have a ride.
While I was photographing my leprosy project in rural Nepal last year I came across an intriguing scene just across from my hotel (a tidy £2 per night). A frail old man was laying down coloured powder into patterns outside a two story mud-and-wood house. There was a group of mainly middle-aged men gathered and with help from one of the leprosy field workers I was with found out that the old man, a Jhankri (the Nepalese equivalent of a witch doctor or Shaiman), was about to perform an exorcism on a young child who had been ill.
I watched as the Jhankri hung up a crab outside the door (covered in red powder, above) and began banging a saucepan covering his head. I watched the ceremony unfurl across two hours, with the patterned powder eventually getting swept away and the crab being trapped under a heated metal dish. Family and neighbours sat around chatting, occasionally observing when the Jhankri did something new.
My understanding is that going to the Jhankri before trying the clinic is still quite common in many of the more rural areas of Nepal.
I had the briefest of visits to Chitwan National park in Nepal last year – I was photographing my leprosy project in the town of Chitwan and the two social workers I was with wondered if I’d like to do an elephant back ride. We went along to the entrance where they do them from.
I must say, this is quite a sensationalist image – the elephant looks particularly gaunt. Having said that, many of the elephants did look gaunt, and many of them were carrying 6 or 7 people. I hadn’t read much before about how cruel it is for elephants and what weight limits are ok for them, but as a result of what I saw, I didn’t feel compelled to ride on one and ultimately opted out.
Having said that, I’m well aware of the importance tourism has on maintaining National parks like Chitwan and the general economy of very poor countries like Nepal.
I stayed in the remote village of Kingangi (in Kasai-Orientale province) in March this year, while photographing part of my Leprosy Eliminated? project. I woke up on the second morning to the sound of singing. The singing itself was uplifting, raw and organic. I went to see what it was all about. Sadly, it turned out that young child of 18 or so months had died unexpectedly the previous evening.
A small crowd of women was gathered, looking inwards, all singing and dancing. But there were no smiles and no laughter. The men sat sombrely to the side. The young father, who was maybe my age came up to me. I asked if it would be ok to photograph. He had said it was no problem. I crouched down and squeezed gently through the crowd of women. The child, less than 12 hours dead was lying on the table.
The dances of the women were rocking up and down, almost like a theatrical wailing. Some of them were crying. The mother sat, clearly numb with disbelief. I took a few photos and put the camera down. I suppose it is tradition of some sort, though I never found out the details as I had a long trek that morning. The cause of the baby’s death was unknown.
While I was on assignment photographing leprosy in Myanmar last year I visited the aforementioned Ma Yan Chaung Leprosy Resettlement Village near Yangon. Frustratingly, due to Myanmar still being a very carefully controlled state, I was only allowed to visit for a few hours, when I would have liked to have stayed there for a week or more.
The area was made up of a leprosy hospital, a church with houses for selected vulnerable former/current leprosy patients, a village made up predominantly of people affected by leprosy and their families, and two dormitories.
The dormitories had about 30 beds each, all of which were occupied, and in which lived individuals affected by leprosy. It wasn’t a hospital, but a community. They all had duties, some of them even had jobs. There was a strict routine each day, getting up early, eating together at specific times and going to bed early. There was little privacy as each dormitory was just one long room with beds facing each other. Some people had been there for many years, others quite recently.
On the face of it, it appeared to be a charitable situation; though there are several social enterprises in place to keep the dormitories going, it still relies on donations of various forms. I know this to be a very simplistic view, and though I wasn’t allowed much time to observe the complexities of this relationship I wanted to turn this view on it’s head somehow.
So I asked them each to think of when they last gave something to someone else – an intrinsic part of the Burmese Buddhist culture. Then I took just one or two shots of them on their bed. I didn’t direct them at all, I just wanted to show them, with their worldly possessions around them, and their quote that makes them the donor, and not the beneficiary. I’m going to try and expand this concept in my long-term project Leprosy Eliminated?.
“10 days ago I gave rice to a teacher in a remote village.” Daw Lone Tin
“Last week I donated some food to a monk living in the forest.” Daw Mya Sein
“Yesterday, on 2nd December I gave some noodles to a monk.” Daw Sun Tint
“2 months ago I gave a longyi to one of the people affected by leprosy.” Daw Than Khin
“On the 15th November I gave a longyi and some noodles and other food to a poor patient.” Daw Tin Shwe
“10 days ago I was given an extra blanket which I felt I didn’t need, so I gave it to someone who needed it more.” U Thein Han
“15 days ago I gave some longyis to some local people.” U Ko Mya Oo
“I donated a thermoplast to a monk on 19th November” U Mg Mg Khin
“Last Saturday I donated packs of noodles to a monk.” U Tao
“10 days ago I gave one shirt and one longyi to a person in the village here.” U Tin Khaing
Last year a doctor specialising in leprosy told me that one aspect of the disease that people don’t necessarily think about is not the pain you can’t feel (as a result of paralysed nerves – which can lead to the damage, such as this woman has on her hands), but the pleasing touches you can no longer feel.
When this woman picked up this puppy it made think of what that doctor told me, and I wondered if she could feel the softness of the puppies hair, or it’s paws scratching her hands.
Woman with puppy, Ma Yan Chaung Leprosy Resettlement Village. Myanmar 2013