Ray Phiri, the lead member of the legendary Stimela, is one of the best musicians to photograph because when the music hits him, Bra Ray lets out heartfelt emotions. I was working with him this past weekend at the Hamptons Jazz Festival in Gaborone and here are some of the emotions I froze in black and white.
I remember when shooting these listening to Passenger’s new single called Setting Suns. In the video released last month and shot in Cape Town at the end of his Whispers Tour, Passenger sounds like he finally received an epiphany while watching the sunset. He went up Table Mountain and ‘sat on a cold hard stones’ and played the guitar. He “saw the seabirds fishing and the sunlight glistening’.
“I felt like I was dreaming,
I’d never seen the sky so red
Gave me the strangest feeling”
I really love the song but I refuse to believe it. Most of Passenger’s music inspires travel but Settings Suns sounds like he a traveller quitting because in the song Passenger says,
“And a voice inside me said
All my life I’ve been chasing setting suns,
See me running up the hill when the evening comes
They get further away the faster I run
I’m getting old and tired of chasing setting suns.”
Not me. I can’t get tired of chasing settings suns. As I shot these images I wonder if I would soon get that ‘strangest feeling’. But I feel this is the most honest feeling one could get when watching a setting sun from a beautiful mountain overlooking the sea.
“Thought back to all the things I’ve seen,
The people I know and the places I’ve been,
The city skylines and the fields of green
It’s a wonder I’ve made it home.
I’m getting old and tired of chasing setting suns.”
I am NOT getting old and tired of chasing settings suns.
Travelling along the A20 road, just before the border between Southern and Kgalagadi District in Botswana, we stopped by a small village called Khakhaea. There is a big pan there named after the village (it could be the other way round). The weather was beautiful so we stopped and photographed the pan.
Every time when photographing these kind of places, I like to pause the photography and consume the landscape. So that I could record everything; the smells, the sounds, temperature, feel the ambience of being here.
Still cameras can only capture visuals but the human senses get everything, more than what technology can capture. The aim is to pause so that later when you’re sitting on your cubicle and watching these images, you can feel and hear the sounds from the images.
Through these stills, I want to hear donkeys sneezing, cows mooing, winds blowing, feel the heat of the sun breaking from the clouds shadows, the smell of cow dung and fresh cattle urine.
This is a photographer’s goal; to capture a picture, a still image, that has a sound, a smell and a feel. That is always our challenge, to photograph pictures that appeal to all senses. You can only achieve that if you have paused the photography and let all your senses work with the location. I wished we had more time here but this is my attempt of A Portrait of Khakhea Pan.
Kebiditsemang is Keiteilemang’s cousin. She is 16 years old and lives at Molapo inside the CKGR. Her biggest wish is to go back to school at Rakops, about 160km away. She says she is bored at Molapo. In the whole of Molapo settlement, with about 60 people, she does not have female age mates. So she misses her friends in Rakops. Friends she can freely share girl talk with. But she is probably stuck here.
Kebiditsemang is a victim caught in an ongoing conflict between Basarwa and government of Botswana. The government wants the Kebiditsemang’s people to get out of the game reserve to resettlement places that government has built for Basarwa with modern facilities. But Kebiditsemang’s people are defiant refusing to move, saying the area is their ancestral land.
British’s Survival International supports them from the comfort of their air-conditioned suites in London. They don’t know Kebiditsemang’s dreams and wishes. They only have the romanticism imagination of her, clad in animal skins and bare breasts gathering wild berries. But Kebiditsemang does not have clothes made from animal skins, she says she likes her Tshirt, written, “Dance your heart out”. Actually no one wears animal skins here.
Botswana government has built free schools, clinics and provided Kebiditsemang’s parents with food handouts and compensations to lure them to get out of the game reserve. But Kebiditsemang’s folks have been defiant, they took the compensations and returned back to the game reserve. It has turned into a conflict that some people have made lucrative careers out of it.
It is not clear why Kebiditsemang left school, but nonetheless, she wants to go back. But she might not make it back. She could be stuck in here. At 16 years she is at a stage where her body is transforming fast for womanhood. She has developed big beautiful breasts. The men and grown-up boys have started eyeing her. Although her 14-year-old male cousin says he is looking out for her, the men could soon get to her. You see here at Molapo, there is no clinic, no school or shops. There are no condoms. And 16-year olds don’t stay virgins for long.
While here, I followed her a bit. At first she was really shy to be photographed but she got used to me. I even asked her whether she wants to come with us to the city. She nodded and said yes. But I was only joking. Imagine if I was human trafficker.
On the day of our departure we went through the settlement handing out sweets and tobacco. I didn’t find her at their hut. I was told she is out herding the goats. I didn’t really want to leave without seeing her so we drove around looking for her. I felt I wanted her last picture before I leave. Plus I reserved more sweets for her. We found her after a short search and I gave her all the remaining sweets. I wished her best luck with her dream to return to school and bid her farewell. On the way out of the game reserve I prayed for Kebiditsemang to find her Malala.
Meet Keiteilemang, a 23year-old mosarwa mother of one from Molapo settlement in the heart of Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR). She is currently building her first own hut.
When she heard that there are visitors in the settlement she abandoned her grass harvesting for her hut and ran towards us. She was, like the rest of her community, expecting gifts. The rare visitors that make it to this remote settlement normally bring gifts. We had brought tobacco for the elders and sweets for the children. Keiteilemang wanted some tobacco too. I suggested she was too young to use tobacco but she just smiled and extended her both hands to receive some tobacco. I could not refuse. I just gave her the tobacco hoping she would pass it to her elders.
After the talk with the elders I followed her together with her mother and little sister who was piggybacking her little niece (Keiteilemang’s daughter).
It was extremely hot and Keiteilemang’s little sister was being burnt by the hot soil because she walked barefooted on the scorching sun. They picked the bundles of grass where they dropped them and headed home. The little sister tiptoed behind them.
Keiteilemang’s hut is about to get finished. Her mother is helping her with the thatching. The house is made entirely of grass and wood. When it is done she will move away from her mother’s hut. She has been sleeping with her parents and little sisters all in a single big hut.
Later in the afternoon, just before the sunset, I came back to find Keiteilemang’s mother on top of the hut, thatching. Keiteilemang was assisting her.
I then started thinking of the few 23-year olds females I know. That in a different time; she could be on her first job, or just started her second degree, maybe newly married with her colourful pictures of the wedding on Facebook, her friends liking and commenting, ‘so adorable’, or she could be Tweeting about bae, hashtag-things, worrying about the phone’s low-battery, her depleting bundles, and why bae sends “K” instead of something sweet and long. She could be taking selfies pouting with her daughter, or she could not be having a daughter.
But she is here, this is her life, where she goes through her monthly periods without sanitary pads and she queues for tobacco from strangers.
She told me that she dreams to leave this place and find work somewhere. I wished her well. But I could not advise her on anything. I tried to place myself on her shoes, and think about me. I wanted to be her, and think about me.
This is Thamalakane River in Maun. It’s the gateway to Okavango Delta in Botswana. Beautiful place. It is best experienced on a Mokoro ride.
They patiently wait along the Trans Kalahari Highway at Lone Tree with their medicine. When vehicles pass on this lonely road, these salesmen wave their products with a rather peculiar hand signals. They jack up their clenched fist like the way Tshekedi Khama used to do the Domkgag jack when he entered politics.
Most motorists just fly past them. We however, stopped to find out what they were selling. Three men ran towards our car. They told us they were selling “molemo o tsholetsang tante” (literally – remedy for pitching the tent).
When they saw our confused looks they clarified, saying it is for men, “keo dirang gore o rage sente” (literally – remedy for you to kick effectively). Still confused looks, they further explained that it is for the waist, so that you can perform well when you’re with your woman. They say is best for treating erectile dysfunction and impotence in men.
One man was holding a 2litre Coca-Cola bottle filled with brownish liquid while the other, seemingly older fella, had his liquid in a 1litre Aquarite water bottle. They were selling for P20 and P15 respectively. We were interested on the 2l bottle. But another guy was holding the roots of the plant that got mixed with the liquid. He told us that with his roots “ngwana wa tswa” (literally – baby comes out). That’s how effective his medicine is.
To clear our doubts, they told us that they have happy customers. Apparently truck drivers that travel along this road always make a stop to stock on the medicine. Truck drivers call it Jack Power. The jack power salesmen even accept Botswana Pula and South African Rands.
When we decided to buy, they told us that they don’t just hand the medicine to the buyer. The buyer has to pull it off from the seller or else it wont work.
So I am waiting for the tent to drop down then I will test the medicine. If it works (ke raga sente), I will be opening a branch in Gaborone.