Bhola and Dipendra, two Dalit journalists who I’ve traveled 10 hours to visit, share mangoes with me this morning. I am told I will never eat a mango like the mangoes I will eat in Saptari. Two kilos sell for 50 rupees from piles stacked higher than the children who sell them. I eat mine like an apple before I board a bus to a Dalit settlement 10 kilometers away. We eat food now because we will not find any this afternoon at the settlement.
The bus, like all of Saptari, remains wet during the entirety of the monsoon season. The man next to me drips onto the floor. I don’t mind being wet, but I am concerned about the equipment we carry: two professional video cameras, one professional digital SLR, and two point-and-shoots – totaling 20 times the average Nepali’s yearly income. I could also put it this way: the average Nepali would have to work 20 years saving every rupee to afford to carry the equipment at my feet. Which could break if gotten wet.
We reach the mostly Dalit settlement and the news of our arrival spreads quickly. Bhola, Dipendra and JB, carrying the still cameras, begin to snap pictures of children, who have now flocked around us. They crowd around to see their image appear on the LCD screen. Phoebe and I film the journalists taking the pictures. The whole production is a meditation on image creation. Who has the right to take these pictures? Do we, as white American filmmakers? Do they, as Dalit journalists? Is this exploitation? Is this representation?
A villager who Bhola knows gives a tour of the settlement, and we carefully manuever through the mud from last night’s and this morning’s rains. My boots submerge to the laces, Phoebe sinks to her ankles. We move slowly with the video cameras and the villagers find this hilarious. They point to the side of the path we should walk on, they offer their hands to help us through, they debate which way to take us, they watch our progress, they make side bets as to who will fall.
A woman wants to speak with us. She brings us to her house and tells us her husband has been killed by rebel fighters two months ago and her children are now working to support the family. She cannot find justice from the police. She speaks Madhesi, which Bhola and Dipendra translate into Nepali to JB, who translates into English to us. These translational hurdles are difficult for the details, but she could be speaking any language. I can see, hear and feel her pain.
We leave the settlement after a few more visits with villagers. By this hour, the sun has come out and the day has begun to get hot. We trek back through the mud out to the main road and sit in the shade of a large mango tree. Dipendra says buses pass by every ten or twenty minutes, so we won’t have to wait long. As I wait, I peel another mango.
Posted By Therkelsen
Posted Jul 15th, 2008