The Grand Finale: The Hamar Tribe

The Hamar (or Hamer) were the fourth and last tribe we visited on my trip to the Lower Omo Valley.  One of the largest tribal groups in the region (their number is estimated to be about 20,000), the Hamar is a peaceful and friendly tribe.  As with the other tribes of the area, the Hamar’s life centers on cattle and goats. But the Hamar also farm and they barter their surplus livestock and produce at the weekly markets in neighboring small towns.  The Hamar (as well as the Kara although they practice it a little differently) have a very distinctive ritual, a bull-jumping ceremony as a rite of passage for young men.  But more on this later.

Visiting the Hamar tribe was not easy for us.  It was at least a 3 hours ride from our camp to Turmi, where a weekly market was held, and when there were roads at all they were not what you would call smooth.  We arrived fully jostled.  Before heading to the market, we made a stop at a small Hamar village (that is, after we stopped for a flat tire which, amazingly, occurred only once during the trip). The village was rather quiet as a lot of the women were on their way to the market by then.  We spent some time with a small group of young (mostly unmarried) women that had stayed in the village, presumably to tend to the children.   The Hamar women are just soooo beautiful! I know I have said this about other tribes, but judge for yourself.  As with the other tribes, they have their own stylish way of dressing that is very elaborate.  They too wear goatskin skirts; theirs are longer in the back than in the front, and the back tappers down in a way that is often described as resembling the tail of a gazelle.  They also wear goatskin aprons or frocks covering their breasts and both the aprons and the skirts are always decorated with colored glass beads.  They also wear cowry (a type of snail) shell necklaces as well as earrings made of seeds and glass beads.   Brass and copper wires are wound tightly around the arms.  One of the women kindly put one on my arm, probably thinking that I needed a little embellishment.

The Hamar women also use their adornment as a way of signaling their social and marital status.  For instance, while unmarried women and young girls wear beautiful beaded necklaces and hair bands, engaged or married women wear at least one solid metal necklace.  A woman wearing a “burkule”, a necklace made of leather and metal that has a distinctive detail in the front, is the “first wife”.  She is the lucky one, life for any Hamar woman is hard, but life as a second and third wife is even harder as they are often more like slaves than wives.  If a woman wears a burkule and has two more simple necklaces around her neck, it means her husband took 2 more wives.  A man can marry as many wives as he can afford cattle-wise (as the dowry is paid in cattle) but we rarely see more than 3 wives.  Elder married women also wear leg “bangles”.  Once on, these are never removed.

But I was quite impressed at how creative the Hamar women were at finding unique ways to adorn themselves. They will make “jewelry” out of anything they find, safety pins, buttons, keys and yes, a dreidel.  But the “hot” fashion item these days, for men and women are metallic watchbands. They use them to ornate their heads, chest or sometimes … wrist.  In fact you may have noticed in my previous blogs that a number of the men of the other tribes were wearing watches.  Well, none of these watches can give a clue about what time it is since they do not work (not that the exact time matters a great deal for them anyway) but the tribal men were proudly wearing them.  Seeing their reaction to my plastic Swatch, it was clear that metal bands are the thing.  Once again I had failed to impress.

The Hamar women’s hairstyle is also quite distinctive. Most women put in their hair a mixture of red-ocher coloring and animal fat then style it in plaits over their foreheads.  Men also have a unique hairstyle that mostly seems to provide a good way to hold the feathers they proudly wear.

We finally ended up at the Turmi market.  The markets are held once a week and the Hamar from nearby villages and other neighboring tribes come there to sell or trade their produce.  These markets are simple transactions; purchases and exchanges are made of fruit, honey, butter, sorghum and coffee mostly based on the weekly needs.

The town of Turmi was also interesting as it gave us the opportunity to see not only Omo tribal people in their traditional style but also others that have adopted a more western lifestyle at least in terms of clothing.  We had a coffee (a very Ethiopian thing to do) in a small local shop adjacent to the market. Coffee in Ethiopia is amazingly good.  There, we met an attractive young boy sitting in front of a wall painted a deep shade of blue.  A young man joined in later, wearing his best outfit, namely his soccer jersey (a prized possession as they are all very enthusiastic and informed soccer fans) as well as his watchband proudly displayed below his neck, not to mention the bullets on his belt.

But of course the main event of the day was the bull-leaping ceremony, the “bulla” that we were able to attend.  This is a ceremony to determine whether a young Hamar male is ready to make the social jump from youth to adult, and is ready for the responsibilities of marriage, raising a family and owning cattle.  (I couldn’t help but wonder whether we should we have an equivalent test.).  This event is put on by the young man’s family and is very costly so it does not happen very frequently.  A young man may have to wait quite a long time before his family can have the resource to have the ceremony (some even get to be in their thirties) especially if the family has many boys.  As a result, they marry women that are typically younger than they are and will be outlived by their widow by many years.

But back to the ceremony, which is a multi-part event.  There are many important players taking part in this ritual.  First, there are the women relatives or close family friends of the to-be-initiated boy.  These women will volunteer to be whipped as a sign of commitment for the young man (and as a result will secure the boy’s loyalty.)  Then there are young men who are still single but have recently gone through the bull-jumping ceremony.  These men are called the “maz” or “maza”and will be the ones doing the whipping and holding the bulls during the jumping ritual.  Finally of course, the initiated young man who will have to leap from one bull to another, until he finally reaches the end of a row of 10 to 15 of them.  He has to complete this feat four times in a row without falling off to have the right to become a husband.  The young man we watched slipped and fell on his first try, but later succeeded, thankfully.

The women come highly decorated, their hair and bodies totally covered with grease (to either help with the scaring or with the pain depending on whom you ask).  For this occasion, they wear some clothing on their upper body to prevent their breasts from being injured.  At the beginning of the ceremony, after much drinking of sorghum beer and wine, women sing and dance in circles while blowing their trumpets and whistles.   The maz, decorated with feathers, necklaces and bracelets approach the area carrying long thin flexible branches, which will be used as whips.  The maz choose their whips so that they cause the least amount of pain possible and leave a clean mark.   At some point, one of the girls gets in front of the maz and sings the praise of the initiated, declaring her love for him and also her desire to be marked by the whips of the maz.  Eventually the maz reluctantly concedes to the continuous demands of the girls.  With careful aim, the maz strikes the girls so that the end of the whip hits her on the back.  The rest of the women are sitting and watching with some anxiety, as they will go next.   The whole spectacle is highly disturbing to watch. We were told that the whipping of the women during a “bulla” ceremony is one of the “harmful traditional practices” that the Ethiopian government is trying to ban. But again, changing a practice that has been so central to a culture is a slow process and women are apparently resisting such a ban that would prevent them from showing their courage and commitment to a young man related to them.

Once the “whipping” ceremony is over, the maz take part in the ritual of painting their faces as leopards in red and white with spots while the women start assembling the herd of oxen.  The herd is then brought into a clear land, the women circling it, screaming and shouting.  The maz then head for the animals and with great skill, they gather them side by side until a line is formed.  The naked young man has to jump up and then run over the backs of the oxen, which are held in place by the maz.  I am not sure whether anyone ever fails the bull-jumping test, but the young boy we saw looked quite anxious before starting.

When the event was over, the whole crowd moved on, probably to continue the celebration elsewhere.  We went back to our vehicle, discovering that its mirrors had been of great interest to the local women, providing an opportunity for one last shot. Then we were on the road to start our long way back; first to the camp, and then eventually back home (after a little more exploring in northern Ethiopia).

So this is the last installment of my Omo tribe’s saga.  It was a wonderful journey, which sometimes feels like a dream (and so I go back to my photos to make sure it was real).  Is it possible that there are still people living this way in our modern world, still untouched by most of our modern trappings (except soccer perhaps)? Should they be left alone or be urged to join the modern world?  These are, of course, hard questions, ones I still ponder. New cell towers are getting closer and closer to these tribal areas, which means that they will not be as isolated for long.  More of a concern, the largest dam in the world (the Gilgel Gibe III) is being built a few hundred miles upriver from where the tribes currently live.  By diverting the water of the Omo River, the dam will generate much needed electricity for the country, but the water the tribes rely on for cattle and farming may go dry.  What will happen to the tribes? Will they still be there in 10 years; will they have disappeared, been destroyed, or integrated to the modern world? Are they really the vanishing tribes? I don’t know but they sure will stay with me.

France

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The Nyangatom: in guns we trust!

Just getting back home from another unique journey, a trip to the largest gathering of human beings in the world (30 million of people in a given day).  If you think you have seen crowded, just wait!!!  I am looking forward to sharing this experience in a future post, but all in due time.  For now, I would like to get back to the Omo tribes of Ethiopia.  As you may remember (or not) from previous posts, we first visited with the Surma and the Kara.  The third tribe we met was described to us as the most bellicose of all, the Nyangatom.  I certainly thought their name sounded scary enough, but their story is as well.

Whereas the Kara are agriculturalists, the Nyangatom are pastoralists, cattle people. Tribal wars between the Nyangatom and the surrounding tribes have been a way of life for ages as they have been fighting over the limited (and diminishing) resources they need for their precious cattle: water and land.  The Nyangatom are believed to be the first tribe to acquire automatic weapons.  They could do so, in the early 80s, because of their proximity to Southern Sudan, with which they share a border.  As they were the only tribe with guns for over a decade, the Nyangatom could successfully (and bloodily) grow their territory at the expense of all neighboring tribes.  Now that all tribes have access to guns, the tribal feuds can get rather merciless.  The Nyangatom are viewed as fierce warriors and until recently were proud of showing the number of scars on their bodies as an indication of their prowess since every time they kill, they scar their bodies to release the bad blood.  Currently there is a “peace agreement” among tribes, but one (too) close look at another tribe’s cattle and raids and counter-raids will start again.

The Nyangatom live on the west side of the Omo River.  To get to Lokulan, the closest Nyangatom village to us, we cruised on the Omo River among numerous ferocious-looking crocodiles and magnificently elegant goliath herons.  From time to time, we also saw Colobus monkeys looking at us from their perches on fig trees, which make them look like they are actually growing on them.   (It is Africa; I had to put wildlife in here somewhere!) From shore, you walk about two miles to the village and carrying all the camera gear made it feel like twice that distance. On the way, we saw a number of young men escorting their cattle to graze as well as women carrying yellow jerry cans on their head to bring water from the river back to the village.  We finally arrived at the village where, thankfully, the Nyangatom famous animosity was not on display.  In fact, in the midday sun, the village was rather quiet with woman dealing with their innumerable daily chores, lots of children playing with goats, and the elders trying to stay away from the sun.

Once again, I was amazed at how the women dress everyday.  To adorn their long and lean bodies, they wear numerous necklaces and long skirts from goatskins that are richly decorated.   As usual in the tribal world, the style adopted does not only convey beauty but signals the woman’s social status as well.  For instance, the married women and the young unmarried ones dress quite differently.  A single woman will wear colorful beads on her necklaces as well as on her “apron”, the front part of the skirt, which for them is shaped as a rectangle.  Married women will limit themselves to more neutral colors, like beige and taupe (a color palette that I can relate to very well, as anyone who knows me can attest) but they will wear even more necklaces than their younger single counterparts.  A married woman’s “apron” is shaped as an elongated triangle and is likely to be embellished with metal all around.  In some cases, presumably if the woman is of higher status, the skirt will be decorated with ostrich egg shells.

Although the men were traditionally naked, most of them have now adopted a large piece of cloth that they usually wear tied across their shoulder or wrapped around their hips.  Interestingly, some of them like to wear a local version of a “gaiter” on their lower legs.  Trying to find out why, I was told that it was making them feel like warriors.  I guess the uniform makes the man.  A number of the Nyangatom men we saw were also wearing T-shirts and some very strange (and all identical) plastic shoes probably also coming from their contacts with the Sudanese.

As we visit the village, some women are feeding their children.  I spent time with a mother while she was feeding her two sons.  To do so, she uses a spoon to put a honey-based liquid in their hands that they then lick.   I also hung out with a number of kids eating from a bowl of sorghum.  When they finished, every little drop had been consumed.  I was left amazed that there was still a bowl; so much effort had been spent scraping it.  Sadly, we really had a strong sense that for these children, a little more food would have been very welcome.

And finally at night, we were invited to a courtship dance.  Here again, men show up first and start dancing.  But first they all drop their riffles in a pile, which is probably the only time I saw them putting their guns down (and I have to admit that this was quite comforting to me after having witnessed the Surma shooting their weapons in the midst of their dance).   For the Nyangatom, jumping seems to be the skill to impress the ladies.  As a warm up, men will go one after the other jumping as high as they can.  For the occasion, numerous men have also decorated their legs all in white but with different patterns.  At some point, the (mostly) unmarried women show up.  They really look spectacular as a group.  The women seem to appreciate the jumping skills displayed by the men, and partake in the festivities.  At least for now, the warriors can rest.

France

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The Kara Tribe: A Dinner Invitation and an Evening of Dance

First I want to convey my heartfelt thanks to each of you who commented on my previous post.  I am new to blogging and this was really an amazing response.  I was particularly touched by comments from some Ethiopian readers.  It pleased me greatly that they were supportive of an outsider sharing photos of their beautiful country and people.

Reading all the comments also made me feel that I should introduce myself a little better.   I am not an anthropologist, nor an activist, nor a journalist though I often wish I were all three.  I don’t pretend to understand or endorse the various cultural practices I witness nor do I claim to depict fully people’s challenging daily lives.  I am a traveler and a photographer.  I care deeply about the people I photograph and I respect them.  I will try to bring attention to their particular plights if I think I can help.  But my main focus is that there is beauty in all cultures (even when we don’t see it initially) and that it should be shared.  And I am, like many of you, very distressed by the idea that some cultures, traditions, beliefs are now disappearing as a result of globalization and/or geo-political forces.  It would be sad if the world became completely homogenous.  (Still, it is also the case that I would not be sorry to see ethnic groups abandon some of their harmful practices.  Visiting such tribes always produces complex, mixed emotions.) I am hoping, maybe naively, that photographing diversity will at least raise awareness of the existence and richness of these cultures and perhaps help preserved some aspects of them.  Others may argue (and have argued) just the opposite; that photographing these cultures will hasten their assimilation and disappearance.  I fervently hope they are wrong, but no one can be sure about such things.

Enough philosophizing and back to the Omo valley, where after spending time with the Surma, the tribe shown in the previous post, we went on to visit with the Kara (or Karo) tribe on the eastern side of the Omo river.  The Kara tribe is the smallest ethnic group of the Omo valley with less than 2,000 members left.

We visited two Kara villages, one of them, Dus, is considered the capital of the Kara. Lebouk, the other one, is slightly smaller.  These villages are clusters of conical huts.  We mostly traveled by boat from our camp to the villages because the dirt roads barely qualify for that term, and everything turns into deep mud at the slightest rain (something we got to experience first hand at the end of a very long day trying to get back by car from a visit to the Turmi market.)

Even though cattle and goats are prized possessions, the Karas are primarily an agriculture-based society.   They mostly grow sorghum, a grass species cultivated for its grain, but also maize and beans.  One can see women grinding flour out of sorghum in the village.   The Kara women are very attractive and fashionable.  They don’t wear a lip plate as the Surma women do, although a number of them sport a nail (or nail-shaped object) sticking out of their chin (as do some men and children).  They wear their hair short and typically use a mixture of red clay and butterfat to shape it into what look like beads. Women wear beautiful skirts made of goatskin that are slightly longer in the back.  Little girls wear them as well, but often they tuck the back part in their belt so that they can play and run like the boys.  Kara women also decorate themselves with several colorful necklaces as well as beaded headbands.

Kara men, not to be outdone, adopt an impressive headdress once they become “elders”.  As I mentioned in my last post, the Kara and Hamar men go through a bull-jumping initiation.  (Stay tuned for pictures in my post about the Hamar tribe.) Once they have been initiated and become an “elder”, men will often wear what looks like a skullcap made of mud that is typically decorated with an ostrich feather.  Also, after initiation the men have their left ear notched, presumably to indicate that now they are able to listen.  (If the ear notch makes one a better listener, perhaps I should consider this procedure for my husband!) Only men with their left ear notched have access to the ceremony house where men speak of important matters about the tribe.  Kara men and women also do body painting, mostly with white or ochre paint.

Kara men, as well as men from some other tribes, constantly carry with them a small stool called a borkoto.  They sit on these stools and look princely while women sit directly on the ground with their legs extended straight in front of them. I am not sure whether the men have adopted the use of this stool as a reflection of their status or because of a lack of physical flexibility.  We were told that these stools are also used as a pillow when they sleep so as not to damage their headdresses.

Like all kids, Kara children are very playful when they can be.  Not surprisingly, a rain shower was an opportunity for splashing and a small home-made soccer ball provided them with endless hours of play.

We were fortunate enough to be invited to the roasting of a goat.  This is a rare event as goats or cattle are only killed on special occasions.  Luckily for us, our tour guide had contributed, on a previous visit, to the Dus’ Women Association to try to help them to start a local market.  As a way to thank him (and I suspect, subsequently ask for more funds), the women’s group treated us to this feast.  First around noon, a group of women came to the camp, dancing and playing the trumpet as a way of a formal invitation.  The normal response would have been for us to follow them to the their village immediately but since we had a visit to another village planned for the afternoon, we joined them later in the day.  Kara men did the roasting of the goat. When the goat was ready, the meat was first offered to us, then to the men, the women and finally the children whose evident delight confirmed the rarity of the event.  Homemade honey beer was consumed as well by men and women.

The next evening, we were informed that there would be a dance at Lebouk.  The Karas dance beautifully with their bodies colored with ochre.  Initially men mostly jumped in groups in front of the women. The vertical height of these jumps was very impressive, although I was told that some tribes jump even higher.  Later, women responded with their own leaps and moves, joined by young girls imitating them flawlessly.    At the end, men and women got together and danced all under the careful watch of the elders.  It went on for a very long time, until sunset, generating a lot of golden dust on the way, which made for a magical moment at the end of our visit.

Come eat and dance with the Karas.

France

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The Omo Tribes: Ethiopia’s natural beauties.

Last fall I had the chance to fulfill my one of my long-held dreams to visit the Omo valley and spend time with its remaining tribes.  The Omo valley is in the Southern part of Ethiopia and the lack of roads and infrastructure in the area makes it very difficult to reach and to explore.  Staying at two different camps over two weeks, seven of us were able to meet with four of the sixteen or so different tribal groups found in the region.  We spent time with members of the Surma (also called Suri) tribe, the Kara (Karo) tribe and their archenemies the Nyagathom and finally we had a brief but colorful encounter with the Hamar, one of the largest tribal groups in the area.  Two weeks was obviously not enough time to understand the richness of these vanishing cultures, but I got a few insights and a few photos that I thought were worth sharing.

Having been isolated from the outside world, the Omo tribes have adopted a number of unique rituals and practices.  But before I get to that, one of the most jarring things I faced when I arrived is the fact that, as some of you may know, Omo tribesmen have adopted the practice of demanding money for “each” picture taken (which can obviously be tricky with a digital camera).  This is obviously not a practice appreciated by travel photographers and not one that I had participated in before, at least not explicitly.

When I heard about this initially I envisioned a situation similar to what I have seen in many other less developed countries namely, a few “model-wannabes” asking for money who can easily (well sometimes not so easily) be avoided and then access to the real locals who would not mind me taking pictures of their daily activities.  In fact, this is the way it was in other areas of Ethiopia that I visited.  But for some reasons that are still unclear to me, the Omo people take this money/photo exchange very seriously (even the remote tribes do, including some of the ones we met who see very few travelers.)  There is a set price: 5 birr –about 30 cents- for an adult, 2 birr for a child.   Thank goodness babies are free otherwise I would be broke. There is also an elaborate exchange procedure, including the fact that everyone wants to be paid in birr notes even if birr coins are now available.  So for two weeks, we were walking around feeling rich with large wads of birr.

Everyone is in on the deal and if you take a photo of someone’s back without them noticing you can be sure that he or she will be told that you did so and that a payment will be claimed.  And since most tribesmen walk around with an AK-47 on their shoulders, I decided it would be unwise to object to this policy.

As expected, children were showing their interest in having us taking their pictures, but surprisingly adults were not.  If we wanted to take a picture of someone we had to “ask permission” and then pay.  When we were invited to events such as dances, our guide would pay to compensate for each of us being there. So for the sake of full disclosure, I guess it is fair to say that most of these tribe people were “paid” for allowing me to photograph them.

Has this practice impacted my photography?  I am sure it has.  But I realized that what was the most problematic was not the money per se, as it was very little money for us, and I was more than happy to make some small contribution to their economic welfare.  And strangely, it sometimes felt that the money transaction was just a way for them to get an acknowledgement that we value their pictures.  The worry, of course, is that this commercial exchange might change the behavior of the locals; that they would end up posing or acting as they thought I wanted them to act instead of just being themselves. Upon reflection and looking at my photos, I felt that this may have been the case with body painting where some youngsters were clearly trying to outdo one another.  But overall, I had the impression that for the most part, the Omo tribe people just did not know how to be anything else other than themselves.  Of course, I cannot know for sure, I wish I had been there longer to be able to confirm that impression. And I am not saying that this is a practice that I favor, far from that. But I felt that after I had overcome my discomfort with the process, I was able to capture some real moments.  Well, I hope I did.

Some of the rituals and practices adopted by the various tribes are quite intriguing to the modern world like the cattle-jumping initiation rite in which young men run along the backs of cattle to prove they are ready to marry.  Others are shocking to us such as women asking to be whipped until they bleed as a sign of commitment to a relative.  And there are some practices that challenge all we believe in.  For example, the Kara and Hamar tribes have a tradition of practicing what they called “mingi”.  This requires the tribe members to kill a child who is born out of wedlock or with a birth defect as a way to control the bad luck (mingi) associated with such a birth.   Luckily, mingi and other “harmful traditional practices” are now banned by the Ethiopian government, though as is often the case, such bans are not easy to implement.  Luckily also, a wonderful organization, The Omo Child (www.omochild.org), is trying to rescue and take care of these children before the worst happens.

I thought the best way to illustrate the similarities and differences among the four tribes we visited was to present them one at a time.  I will discuss each one of them one in the order in which I visited them.  In this post, I’ll talk about my experience with the Surma while subsequent posts will cover the remaining tribes (so stay tuned if you are interested).  I hope these comments provide some useful background to help you understand what you are seeing in the images that follow.

If you meet the Surma, few things will stay with you (well they sure stayed with me).  Married Surma women wear lip-plates, at least they are expected to wear them when strangers are around.   These plates are thought of being a symbol of beauty, and according to some, the size of the lip plate may also be a function of the price (in cattle) the husband paid for his bride. The lip plate is considered another of the “harmful ritual practices” the government has banned.  Surma women also stretch their ears using clay plates similar to those used to stretch the lip.  They also often use what looks like giant wood plugs that they paint or decorate (and sometimes anything else that is available such as a small plastic cups.)

As we know from the beautiful work of Hans Silvester among others, the Surma enjoy decorating themselves. They use colors from nature (chalk, charcoal, ochre and red clay) and paint their face or body in quite intricate ways.  They also started using flowers, fruits, leaves and whatever else they think will improve their appearance or catch attention.  Surma people also beautify themselves, in their eyes, by practicing scarification.  To do so, they use a razor blade to cut the skin and an acacia thorn to create bumpy scars to form simple or elaborate designs.

The lives of the Surma tribesmen revolve around cattle.  Cows (and goats) are some of the most prized possessions, and men spent a lot of time with them.  Most young boys will spend extended time away from the village caring for the cattle so that they develop the necessary skills and knowledge to tend them.  The cows are very rarely killed but young cattlemen drink cow’s blood to get stronger. As a couple of the photos show, an arrow is used to pierce a vein, and the blood is drank quickly before it coagulates, either directly from the cow or from a calabash.

Finally, the Surma have their own dance rituals. The one we witnessed involved a large group of people dancing in a large circle.  From time to time, two men or a man and a woman would venture to dance in the middle of the circle. Surprisingly, guns were shot repeatedly during this dance, perhaps because the dance was in honor of someone who had recently died.

Meet the Surma.

France

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Children of the Philippines

Back by popular demand (yes I have one fan)!

At the beginning of a new year, it seems appropriate to focus on the world’s children.  One image of the Philippines that will stay with me forever is the many lovely children that one meets while traveling in different parts of this beautiful country.  As I traveled, I had a chance to interact with children in a number of settings such as a school in Bohol, a grandparents’ house in Vigan, and urban neighborhoods in Manila.  Filipinos have strong family values and most of the children I met were part of a caring family.  Sadly in Manila, I also met with kids living on the streets, still beautiful children but with lots of challenges to overcome.  As in many overcrowded urban environments all over the world, some kids are left to fend for themselves and often end up dealing with drugs, as were these young kids I saw when I drove through a blue painted underpass.  I stopped to talk to them and ask if I could take their pictures.  They did not even stop sniffing glue while I was around as you can see in one of the pictures below.  It was a very sad thing to witness.  We should all think about how to help children in needs.  Let’s hope the New Year brings some relief to their challenging lives.   Meet the children of the Philippines.

Best wishes,

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Welcome, bienvenue, mabuhay!

Hello World,

This is my first blog and may be my last as I am not sure whether I’ll enjoy this process, or whether anyone will want to read it, but you have to start somewhere and I really care about this story so here it goes.

Last June, I was in the Philippines on a photography tour.  Manila, the Philippines’ capital, is a very vibrant but overpopulated city. It was ranked the most densely populated city by Forbes magazine (2010).  As a result, some Pinos, as the locals call themselves, have to be creative in finding affordable places to live. To be at a convenient distance to their workplace, they have built communities around railroad tracks, underpasses and yes, cemeteries. We had the opportunity to visit some of these “neighborhoods”. As you will see, the living conditions are challenging but the people are cheerful, warm and welcoming. We went back to visit with the people living there several times and were always welcomed with smiles and questions.  They were happy to share their stories. An older lady, Virginia, revealed to us that she had been living near the railroad tracks under the bridge since 1972.  Below are some of the photos I have taken during these visits including two of Virginia.

Three weeks ago, as I am sure you’ve heard, Manila experienced serious flooding in the midst of their monsoon season. I contacted a (very nice and very talented) local photographer we had spent time with, Red Santos, to try to find out what had happened to the people we visited and what I could do to help. Not surprisingly, most of these neighborhoods were completely flooded, so people had to be evacuated and everything they own was lost. To help, Red suggested making a donation to the Kapuso foundation (www.kapusofoundation.com). This foundation is a trusted non-government organization that provides relief and life rehabilitation assistance to victims of the monsoon rains.  If you can, please join me in helping these people get their lives back.

Maraming Salamat.

France




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