There aren’t any seats left on the bus to the Hetauda settlement, so Prakash and I sit in the aisle on bags of rice. This is a new experience not only for me, but for my fellow travelers who stare in unabashed curiosity. An old man comments I’m a real Nepali as he steps around me to get to his seat. A father who sits with his young son, offers me space. I smile and say “tikcha”, which means I’m fine. It seems to worry everyone that I’m traveling like this, like I deserve better than to sit in the aisle. Another man offers me his seat. I decline again. There are Nepalis traveling on the roof of this bus, I want to say. Why are you not offering them seats? A movie begins and diverts attention.
Kamala, the journalist we are visiting here, sits with Phoebe. She is young, maybe 23. Yesterday we taught her the basics of photography: how to focus, how to use aperture, how to think about composition and framing. The Canon XTi is cradled her lap, although she often brings it to her eye to look through the viewfinder and turn the focus ring. She’s never had the opportunity to use a camera before and makes no effort to conceal her excitement.
The bus drops us off on a sharp switchback and I watch it spurt off up the hill. Terraced patches of corn and eggplant stretch along the sides of the road. Small huts of red clay and stone hide among stalks. Once the sound of the bus’s belching fades, I hear the wind through the crops and distant water falling onto rocks. Soon, curious children and adults form a semicircle around us.
I try to place myself in their shoes. Buses and micros pass on these roads every day, but they rarely stop to drop anyone off. Visitors must be a unfamiliar sight, especially camera carrying white visitors. So why wouldn’t our presence merit a semicircle to form around us?
Kamala wants us to meet a 15-year-old girl who had experienced discrimination in her school. We walk to her hut, and our onlookers follow, talking amongst themselves. Her mother, thrilled Kamala has brought us to her house, sends for her daughter and turns back to us with a smile. After a moment, her daughter appears and nervously eyes the crowd behind us. Her mother prepares a straw mat for her to sit, we prep the camera, Kamala snaps pictures, Prakash explains the details of the documentary and the children push in closer to get a view through the Z1U’s LCD screen.
I am troubled with this setup. Kamala knows the girl well and coaxes her to tell us a little about herself, but she is uncomfortable. I am uncomfortable, too. We can’t show up with professional cameras and a crowd of onlookers and expect a child of 15 to open up to us. Phoebe walks off in frustration with the smaller A1U to try to lore some of the children away from me and the Z1U, but many remain. Some reach out to touch the LCD monitor and viewfinder.
I turn the camera off and tell Prakash this isn’t an ideal situation. He understands how important it is to create a comfortable space. He and Kamala are good at this, but we have not establish a trust with this girl and I do not want to continue filming. She is too young and I should know better. We put the cameras back in the bag and head up the mountain to another hut. The children look on in amusement.
Posted By Therkelsen
Posted Jul 13th, 2008