Cinematographer's Journey: Rightfooted in Ethiopia April 3rd
COW Library : Cinematography : Bill Megalos : Cinematographer's Journey: Rightfooted in Ethiopia April 3rd
WOW! Another incredible day. I love showing up in a new place after dark and not having a clue until waking what it really looks like. By the time we left the airport last night, it was dark and we didn't get out until this morning, when we found Dire Dawa to be a town from another time, beautiful stone walls, trees overhanging the streets and horse-drawn carriages (with rubber car wheels) trotting through the streets. Much more interesting street activity than in Addis, too: simpler stalls, a man sitting with an ancient foot-pumped Singer, vendors selling qat, street markets under cloth and tarps, all around pretty magical. Nice as the city looked in the early morning, there was no way of knowing just how great the day would turn out.
Following a quick courtesy visit to the HI office, we hit the first school. We have a new crew of HI staff and it always takes a little to get the up to speed as to Jessica's and our needs as a doc crew. We told them we would need to wire Jessica and two others who would translate for her. Of course, the driver headed straight into the gate of the school, where a huge crowd was waiting outside for Jessica. I insisted we drive on even though the crowd had seen her and started clapping and calling her name. A few hundred feet down the road we got ready and drove back.
It turns out the crowd outside the gates was unofficial and the real greeting was inside where hundreds of students, many in traditional costumes, lined the path and danced and chanted and gave Jessica a real African welcome. After she gave a short press conference to local press, Jessica visited two classrooms, where she spoke to the students and met a girl in each classroom whom we would visit in the afternoon. Both classrooms had disabled students, some deaf, some blind, some physically disabled, some with mental handicaps, some with multiple issues, like Heepo, whom we later visited at her home.
Jessica spoke with students and teachers and though it was impossible to connect one-on-one in the very excited atmosphere, everybody was energized by her presence and her stories made a big impression on all. We ended the visit with a coffee ceremony in the room that served as the staff lounge, where Jessica was presented with a traditional outfit that she wore and charmed everyone. This brought on a rush for even more photos than usual. As we left, there was another near-panic as students tried to get close to Jessica and wave her goodbye.
After lunch we set out to visit Heepo at her home several kilometers from the school. By this time it had started to rain and we rushed in to meet with her and her family under a tin roof. After getting a few cutaways to explain the rain noise, we shot a difficult meeting, difficult because of needing to translate every exchange, plus hearing of her hardships. Just getting to school is a major problem because of her spinal problems. She has no wheelchair (the one she used for a short time gave her severe kidney pains) and she needs her brother to take her to and from school. That was her biggest wish, to be able to independently get around.
Our next visit was with Nabiya, whose leg was amputated when she was a child. She met us at the road and we walked with and through a crowd through a market and then tiny alley after alley until we reached her home. We had to struggle to keep up with her on her crutches. The house was black inside with no windows. Again, the LED light saved the day. We left the door open and bounced the light into a side wall and cranked up the gain. A huge crowd stayed outside and it was impossible for them to keep quiet. I went out and spoke with them, telling them we needed them to be actors in the film and encouraging them to talk a lot while we were getting ready and then to try to be quiet to help Nabiya and Jessica. Basically it worked, although we needed to shush them a few times as the younger people got restless.
Dire Dawa is a lot more conservative than Addis and Hilary wore a long sleeved shirt, a skirt to the ground to cover her jeans and a headscarf. I doubt anyone who knows her would have recognized her today. We'll get to enjoy this outfit the next few days!
So why was today so special? For me, there's nowhere I'd rather be, no matter how hot, how sweaty, how wet, how chaotic, the gift of being invited into people's homes, of seeing how they live, of hearing them tell us of their lives, and of letting us tell their stories and of trusting us to get their hopes and voices out there is such an honor that I can't believe I'm allowed inside, time after time. I have easily the best job in the world and I'm committed to doing it as well as I can, and after all this time, that is very well. In addition to the gifts and experiences given to us today, I took satisfaction knowing that I did a great job, getting the coverage we needed, handling every surprise with good solutions, showing respect to all the people who let us into their lives and making it as pleasant and memorable a day as possible for everybody. There is no substitute for experience and I hope to continue to have these amazing opportunities for years to come.
We went out after dark to a restaurant a few minutes from our hotel. In this tiny dark street, a child's voice cried out from a passing tuk-tuk, "Jessica, we love you!" Two minutes later, a woman smiled and thanked her for coming to Ethiopia. In the states, where we're inundated with media, it's often easy to forget what a powerful voice we have with our work. There's no question to me that after this short trip, with Jessica advocating for them, the lives of the disabled in Ethiopia will never be the same. Wow, to be a part of that!
Plus, I managed to get a short run in at sunset, after downloading the cards!