Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Portraits of Tanzania

Portraiture is a peek into someone’s life, personality and story. Emotions can be frozen, tales can be imagined and relationships can be connected through photography. My Canon 350D Rebel, my first dSLR, was just a week old when I traveled to Tanzania in November of 2005, a country in East Africa I have visited twice in the past. I took some time to do some street photography and here are some portraits and their stories.

hint of a smile

There's a certain magnetic sadness in the shopkeeper’s smile. I was buying some souvenirs in a store in Dar when I saw one of the lady tenders sitting in a corner, alone and still. I asked permission to take her photo. i took her silence as a yes and she did not move really when I took pictures of her. She just sat there, staring, looking straight into the camera, perhaps curious at my curiousity in her.

hint of a smile?
Mwegne market, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/30s, f/5.6, 24mm, ISO 100

colorful clothes

These children were whiling their time in front of the seaweed buying station at Paje Beach. Their mothers were busy sorting the seaweed and manually baling 100kg of seaweed. The tide difference in Tanzania is 8-10 meters and there are only 2 (extreme) low tides in a month which allows for the women to plant and harvest the crop farmed almost a kilometer into the sea. I between low tides, it is the turn for the men to fish for seaweed farming for them is too feminine. Ahh, culture.

piqued interest
Paje, Zanzibar, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/4.5, 34mm, ISO 100

making something for himself

There is one moment in the a tour in Zanzibar which rent my heart even up to now. This boy was the most eager one who greeted us at the last stop of the tour- the fruit stalls. It turned out that he was not pining for commissions from any potential sales but was enthusiastic to learn Italian from our guide. We obliged and let the guide free for 30 minutes while he answered the questions the boy peppered rapidly. His dictionary after all was Italian-English and not Italian-Swahili. Later the guide shared to us that he always hope to get a spice tour as he has developed a brotherly affection for the boy. Apparently, the guide learned Italian and English the hard way- by toiling at an Italian-owned restaurant and conversing with guests. Once, he too could not afford formal lessons.

Kzembani-Kdechi, Zanzibar, Tanzania, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/30s, f/5.6, 21mm, ISO 100


In Tanzania, as well as in any other developing country, everybody helps out. Child labor? No, it is responsibility- only that stakes are high. School, free it may be, is even a luxury if your parents don't pull their own weight. It was lunchbreak so this boy dutifully went to the warehouse straight from school to pick up used sacks that were earlier delivered full of dried seaweed. Polypropylene sacks don't come cheap. They have to be imported all the way from afar (the Philippines, Indonesia, Dubai) and warehouses give them out sparingly. So you take care of what was given to you and make sure you get to use them for another day.

Paje, Zanzibar, Tanzania, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/320s, f/5.6, 31mm, ISO 100

girl in hijab

She was a student going home to school. It was lunchtime and school was on a break. I found the seed on her lower lip fascinating. It was pomegranate I think. Why the schoolgirl left it there escaped me. There must some lingering tartness or sweetness that it imparts for I don't think she was oblivious of its presence.

the seed
Paje, Southeast Zanzibar, Tanzania, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/400s, f/5.0, 44mm, ISO 100

public runway

Why did they pose for me? They were across the public market at Dar when they saw me and my camera. I had a ready smile I guess and a faster camera. They began posing and the street became their catwalk. Their eager smiles were a gem.

at the public market at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, East Africa
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/200s, f/10, 55mm, ISO 100

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