I wish I could take pictures and capture all of the things I have seen on my trips to Africa. But I know I am not a photojournalist, nor a tourist. My role here is as a researcher and part of being a researcher is about blending in and not disrupting the environment you are in.
I try to use this blog and my journal to describe what I see instead of the pictures, but as someone who loves taking photos I ache to capture the amazing images I witness. I see women walking down the street balancing objects on their head ranging from a large postal box to a pink patent leather purse. I want to capture the expanse of land with crops from sorghum to millet. The dirt road that seems like it goes to nowhere but somehow we bump along and pass several straw huts down narrow winding roads before arriving at the specific hut for our interview. The cows, goats (especially the teeny kid grazing on the side of the road), roosters and chickens I see everywhere. The color of the dirt here that is unlike any other color in the U.S. – a deep red rust. I sneak a few photos in solo moments, but mostly I try to be invisible and blend into the scenery, not attracting additional attention.
However, being invisible is especially hard because of the color of my skin. When we stopped at a gas station (on our road trip to the north of Uganda) so I could run out and pee a group of teenagers yelled mzungu mzungu at me (white person). Other younger kids stare and when I meet their eye and wave they smirk. I am very aware of being stared at and the fact that here I won’t ever blend in whether I take photos or not.
I feel invisible when it comes to language. I know one word in the local language. When the research assistant and driver I work with are chatting and laughing I stare out the window wishing I could participate or at least laugh at appropriate times. When I hear someone answering my interview question with emotion I wait anxiously for the translation and try not to let my mind wander while I guess what they might be saying.
I know I won’t always be in this role and I remind myself it is a privilege. It is a privilege to be welcomed into people’s homes, work places, communities, and have them tell their personal stories to a stranger. One day I will be a tourist again and be visible in the way tourists are, but for now I will have to be the invisible/visible white woman.
And in the meantime, here are the few photos I snuck in today.