Friday, December 4, 2009

Since we are getting ourselves ready to leave for Durban, South Africa tonight, my travel photography juices are flowing. Here is one of my favorites of all so far...

The Photograph

The Story

Wandering around the Forbidden City, overwhelmed, somehow finding the far side, where the Temple of Heaven looms, reaching to join earth to sky. Jostling people from the wide-world over lining up to take the exact same picture everyone else just took....and here's something unexpected: Chinese people in what look like traditional dress, but playing tourist. I don't know why that should be so arresting to me, but they pulled my attention more than anything else that day. A cluster of perhaps 20 women and men all dressed in the same traditional clothing. The women in bright blue tops, black skirts, and pink accents; dainty caps on their heads topping impossibly long dark braids. In the distance, clustered to themselves, their menfolk complement their dress in black pants, dark brown fur jackets and matching round fur hats. I asked our guide, and anyone around who looked like they might know, but no one could tell me much about them except that they were most likely from a tribal part of far western China, and Muslim because of the women's modest head coverings.

I made eye contact with one of the women, smiled. Her face remained neutral, but attentive as I held up my camera, mimicking taking a picture of her while I asked her permission, sure that she wouldn't understand my words. Sudden understanding lit up her face, and with a huge smile, she turned and walked away. I stood a moment longer unsure if I had offended her so that she left, or if I was to follow her. But she only walked a little ways off to take the hands of two other women (I called them sisters) and leading them with her, she returned to smile in the center of my photograph. I smiled back and thanked her. We both said things the other didn't comprehend. But there was understanding between us, and happiness shared in reaching out to know the unknown.

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