I was going through my pictures (22,000+) yesterday in order to find a few to print, mat, frame and hang. Needless to say, looking at the pictures brought me back to all sorts of places...Ecuador, Thailand, India, Alaska, Minnesota summers and every season in Chicago.
There were a few images that were begging to have their stories told. I printed six, and just had to share their stories with you. They're just that good.
Above is one of my favorite pictures. Ever. This was taken in the Burmese refugee camp Mae La in Mae Sot, northern Thailand right along the Thai-Burma border. The people who live in Mae La are displaced and, for the most part, forgotten by the government. Though Thailand provides land for Mae La and the other seven surrounding refugee camps, Thai officials are anything but sympathetic toward the refugees. In the eyes of the Thai government, the refugees take up land, resources and jobs from native Thai people. We heard story upon story of the cruelty the Burmese Karin people have endured. Not only did we hear stories, we ourselves witnessed first hand the corruption of the officials who manned the camps and saw how poorly they treated the Burmese.
The Red Cross is one of the few international presences the Thai allow into the camps. The Red Cross' main goal is to provide decent health care for the people living in the camps as they are not allowed to leave unless given approval from the Thais (eg: sponsorship through a refugee program in another country). This picture was taken right outside the hospital in Mae La and the baby in the picture was a patient. I don't know what was wrong with her, but her entire leg was bandaged. She had a make-shift IV and was running a fever. Visitors are not allowed in the hospital, but I made friends with the dad and went in with him. The hospital itself was a series of 'rooms' divided by low (waist high) walls, concrete beds and two or three nurses. Being in the hospital infuriated me. Hearing stories of how Thai officials would gather mass numbers of Burmese refugees, tell them they were being moved to a new camp, put them on a boat, ship them to sea and leave them sans food or water on the boat at sea to die...that was heart breaking. This hospital in a camp where people get food MAYBE once a day and are forced in live in squalor with hardly any hope of leaving, that hit me harder than I explain.
This image reminds me of my refugee friends, my sponsorship and the reality that the 'news' will never come close to covering what goes on behind fences.
Below is a picture of a small shop in the Himalayas somewhere between India and Nepal. As you may know, China and the state/territory/country
of Tibet are in constant turmoil. Many Tibetans flee China occupied Tibet and come to Nepal where they can follow the Dalai Lama, worship and live in peace. In fact, the Nepali and Tibetan peoples' cultures have so blended in northern India that some natives call it 'Little Tibet'. The shop below was, we were told by the owners, a safe house for those Tibetans who were fleeing the Chinese and making their way to southern India. The house fronts as a momo (like gyoza) shop, but the floor lifts up to an underground reprieve. Meeting expat Tibetans and seeing how they lived in fear put an entirely new perspective on peace for me.
The image above is of a lady who lived in Kolkata. Every day, we would get up at six am and take a bus into the worst part of the city. We would walk to the Kali Temple, the place where Mother Teresa built the first of the Missionaries of Charity homes. Each morning, without fail, this precious little lady would be sitting on the steps ready to greet us. Standing a maximum of four feet tall with a severe 70 degree angle in her back, she was by far one of the smallest people I have ever seen. But small does not even touch her spirit. She wasn't looking for money, food, shelter or even acknowledgement. She simply liked to sit on the steps and watch us and come and go from the Home of the Dying. When we'd take breaks, she'd smoke a cigarette with us and rub our backs. She'd braid our hair. She'd sing in Hindi. And she'd smile. Her smile was captivating, illuminating and spacious. This was a woman with whom I shared nothing but the fact that we were both living in what felt like, most of the time, hell on earth. As people were dying, she would sit and wait to care for those who were ushering them into Heaven. When I think of India, of Kolkata, of Kali Temple, I think of her. The woman who I shared no language with other than that of death.