A few days ago, my husband posted the following photograph that I took on our trip to Angola on his Facebook page. The title he gave it was: Hope.
For me, the photograph brought back lovely memories of a beautiful day we spent exploring the countryside on our way back from a road trip to Luanda.
We drove past riverside villages, passed through sunshine-bathed towns and zigzagged along lush jungle roads fringed with thatched-roof huts. Every now and then, we would stop to see a waterfall, walk through a village and get some food at a roadside market.
On one of these stops, in a postcard-pretty village – the kind we imagine when we think of romanticized Africa – neat little huts on a palm tree-lined river bank – this gang of children encircled us. We were a total novelty, as was my camera.
They laughed, smiled, whispered and giggled and couldn’t get enough of me snapping photos and showing them their own faces on the display.
It was all warm, comforting and friendly yet the rags on their half-naked bodies, the scars on their soft skins, their protruding bellies and the thinness of their arms told a different story. They were malnourished; there was no way around it.
I walked away that afternoon with the memory of the sparks in the eyes and the gorgeous smiles of these children. But there was no denying these children needed food and treatment. Perhaps I could have stayed in Angola, placed my nomadic life on hold and picked up work at an NGO.
One of my idols, after all, is my friend Christine who left her job as a pediatric nurse in New York a few years ago and has since been working for Médecins Sans Frontières in troubled areas of the world such as Niger, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. Yet I chose to return to New York and continue my life as I know it.
That gets me thinking about travel as a double-edged sword. As we move through different environments in countries far and wide, we become messengers. We bring stories from distant lands, some pretty and fun, some grim and gloomy.
The images that stay with me for the longest time are the grim and gloomy ones, the harsh realities of everyday life for most people on this planet. Yet what pays my bills and makes for good dinnertime stories is the fun and pretty.
So, going back to the photograph… Hope without losing sight of the context is what I’d like to think of when I see the picture of these children in the Angolan countryside. I’d like to remember that afternoon as a fun and pretty one without turning the blind eye to the grim and gloomy reality.
Like my husband said: “Seeing these kids’ innocent smiles is certainly a fond memory, despite their actual social and financial background. Their smiles and faces make me feel that there is still hope for the future.”