We wait for Mohamad to call us this morning. It is difficult to wait, feeling like we are losing time. Then, too, there is the fear that someone will change his mind and refuse us access. We depend on others’ good graces to do this work, and we seek to make the best of our time.
Yesterday was sunny, and Mieke searched for locations around the school to shoot using light bouncing from nearby buildings.
The buildings are so close together that it is hard to find such light — mostly, the sun hits the top parts of a building and the side streets are left dim. After a few test shots, Mieke decided on a few places that might work. A scowling young Turkish woman interrupted us to ask what we were doing there, taking pictures next to her building. My Turkish failed, but strangely, she spoke some English, and we were able to explain we were taking pictures of children at the school downstairs. In the end, she smiled and let us be — but a minute later, an angry, large mustachioed man started screaming from the fifth floor “No Photo!” I got angry but Mieke hustled us away, figuring we had finished our work anyway.
I hate it when random people decide to get in my face about shooting a picture of, say, a corner of a building. Perhaps that’s an American attitude, that I have “the right” to shoot on the street. Why would he be upset? The woman had told us that she was worried about people coming and going around their building, what with all the Syrians around. Perhaps he wasn’t happy about the extra 100,000 people who had come into the area in the last year. Perhaps he was simply the local jerk — every building has one. I hate being shouted at.
Today, however, the weather is cold (32°F/0°C) and the sky overcast. Mieke will have to rethink where she shoots, now the sun is gone. Perhaps it will give her more locations now she is free of the harsh, sharp sunlight?
I have been studying my pictures, seeking advice from friends. Do the backgrounds work just right (no)? Should I tone down the gel on the flash (yes)? After so many years of doing this, I still worry each morning about whether I’m getting good pictures. Truth be told, it’s hard to get a good picture, and I should be happy if I get two or three good pictures from each shoot.
Last time, we brought oil pastels for the children to draw with. They give brighter, stronger colors than colored pencils, and the new artwork they created under the guidance of the psychological support staffer is horrifying, but now it is also very colorful. This morning, I am ready to show the kids how to use the bright gouache paints we bought, and perhaps they will draw some happier thoughts or memories. That’s not up to us, but we know the right exercise could bring out something other than grim scenes of destruction.
So, we head out — I’m carrying the light stand, flashes, cameras, paper, paint, tripod, etc., in two packs; Mieke has her gear in a small backpack, and for once, I’m envious of the simplicity of the heavy Hasselblad camera.
We walked across the street to the felafel & hummus joint that has served us well, and we ordered only hummus and tea for breakfast. They heat the bread on a radiant space heater. Meanwhile, a traditionally dressed Arab man in a keffiyeh and robe strode in and took a table above and behind us. Over time, a number of young men in dark leather jackets joined him. Two young men sat at a table near us, one limping on his prosthetic leg. The second saw Mieke cradling her tea for warmth and laughed while pointing and gesturing for his companion to look. Since neither of us speak Arabic, we have no idea what is going on.
This is the curse of going to a new place without knowing the language. We can get around in five languages, but now we are in a Turkish/Arabic town, and we cannot follow anyone’s conversation. When your falafel joint turns sinister, filled with scowling, young men of fighting-age, the lack of comprehension is less exotic and more worrying.
The phone rings with today’s news — we will go to the school at 2:30 for a boys’ class. So, this morning, since it is too cold to go outside, we write these blog posts.