April 29, 2012

163: Resonate

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , — paul davis @ 9:10 am

It’s a first: a single photo for photo of the day. Very low light this rainy Kansas City morning–most of it coming from the window behind Jeanne, so f1.4 and still a slow enough shutter that the strings are kerwanging.

April 26, 2012

162: Walk to work

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:41 pm

Today’s photos are from my southern Iowa neighborhood. I walked home from work this evening, changed my clothes, grabbed my camera, and walked back, ending up in the Mac lab with a few shots to edit.

A good candidate for an HDR (high dynamic range) post-process, but I didn’t take the tripod and get the bracketed exposures–just the one shot.

Bed springs dumped in the woods.

There aren’t many flowers in these dark woods this time of year. This was the only big, bright one.

Lots and lots of green, though.

Leaving the woods, I found a few itty-bitty white blossoms way down in the grass.

So I made the best of both sides.

The college where I work has nice hundred-year-old brick…

…brick with good curves.

The art building that houses the Mac lab has this statue of Claude Monet at the entry.

April 25, 2012

161: Backyard

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 6:33 am

Back to my backyard. Shooting into soft light at sunset. Through a flower bed, finding focus part way in.

That would be the sun. Filtered through trees and setting, so not flaring.

Way down deep in the flower patch, where they dance.

Painting with negative space.

Simple profile, antennae on alert.

Way different light: foggy frosty pre-sunrise.

The sun breaks and the world changes.

Less than a minute after sunbreak, the frost is dew.

April 22, 2012

160: Abobo Sagbe-Deux, deux

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , , — paul davis @ 8:31 am

Miles of streets like this in Sagbe-Deux, a neighborhood of Abobo, itself a commune of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. This is pre-civil war of 2011, by a few months.

As I reread yesterday’s post from Sagbe-Deux, in which I included portions of the journal I kept on that trip, I was struck by the contrast between my concerns–having to do with the quality of the food and service I was receiving–and the concerns of those I was photographing. Of course, I don’t really know what their concerns are–I can only imagine, and I lack the ability to imagine well. I’m a tourist with a camera, treating people as subjects. My journal entries prove my distance–the remove of my observer stance–from the people around me.

The observer is observed.

My pride wants me not to include any more journal entries that highlight my remove/selfishness. My other pride says, “Go ahead–only try to select those that make you look more humble.”

Because I spend so much time using the internet connection in Bunda’s hotel room in Abidjan, I’m afraid I’m going to give him my cold. Just now I heard him cough and then sniffle a little, and I said, “Oh no, are you catching my cold?” Bunda: “No, I will never catch your cold. Your muzungu cold is too small for me.” (“Muzungu,” the Swahili word for white folk, literally means “confused person wandering about,” although that’s only one of a half dozen translations I’ve received, on request. All of them have been applicable.)

After yesterday’s ride home in the taxi with no brakes, no shocks, no mirrors, and a driver who didn’t care whether he lived or died, Bunda’s getting pickier about the taxis he selects. For each one that pulled up, Bunda negotiated on price while David and I checked the tread depth on the tires (nearly always perfectly bald on the front) and the ratio of Bondo to sheet metal. Lots of body damage is an indicator that there will be more to come. I’d also like to give it a good jounce to see how the shocks are, but that seems like going too far. I’ve never really appreciated the phrase “bucket of bolts” until now—these taxis sound as if there is an actual bucketful of bolts loose in the vehicle.


On the way home from our excursion on Saturday, as the 15-minute taxi ride hit the 40-minute mark, David asked Bunda, “Why did you tell us that this 40-minute trip would take 15 minutes?” Bunda: “Because if I’d told you it would take 30, you’d have said, ‘No, we’ll just stay at the hotel.’” I had to nod at that logic.

On the taxi drive from Yagoupou to Abobo we mark our progress by the zones of commerce. First is the wooden door makers—shop after shop of variously fancy and plain handmade doors. Next is the Laundromat—hundreds of people knee deep in the chocolate brown river washing clothes. Next is the off-ramp where men go to pee—always several of them lining the curve, neatly, in uniform posture, their backs to us. Next is the goat mart—hundreds to choose from, all sizes and colors, but goat is their essential quality. Next is the place where bright fabric is tied to trees to form parachutes in the gray breeze. Next is the tow trucks, lined up to await the automotive disasters soon to occur. Next is the slum—“the real slum,” Tanoh always says—thousands of lean-tos made of what looks like cardboard but couldn’t be, with the rainy season upon us, stretching up the hillside into the distance. Finally is the bird sellers—men hold large, beautiful, fully feathered chickens upside down by the fistful, raising them high for us to choose from. Then we exit, and we are in the chaos of the free market. Every three feet something different—objects thrust in the window, wooden carts weaving in and out of the cars, stationary vendors perched on stools under umbrellas made of black garbage bags, fire pits with ten or twelve upright chicken carcasses, arms akimbo, on sticks planted festively around the smoldering charcoal. Last night when I wondered, “Why don’t we get one of those chickens for dinner?” I knew I’d turned a corner.

As we were walking yesterday, we passed a long heap of garbage in the road, with three free-range goats standing on it, grazing. It strikes me now that no one in our group commented on the tableau, or glanced at it. My thought at the time: “That’s a pretty good recycling scheme.”

The walk to lunch passes constantly over open sewage trenches. Usually the trenches are covered by short pieces of wood, but the covers have large gaps in them, inviting a birdwatching stroller to trapdoor into the sewer. The cocoon that numberless public safety authorities in the United States have woven around me since birth has made me both secure and oblivious. Without my cocoon, I walk off into space, where landings are comically unmarked, and trip up comically uneven stairs—10″, then 2″—and  step in darkly comical substances. I want to look everywhere as we walk, but it’s best to keep an eye on the ground.

The feeling I’ve had since getting off the plane in Ghana two and a half weeks ago is that my senses can’t keep up. All of them—smell, touch, hearing, sight, taste, ESP—are overfilled. My brain has been scrambling to try to process all of the channels. I always try to take in everything that is happening on “trips like this,” but here I couldn’t keep up.

April 21, 2012

159: Sagbe-Deux, Cote d’Ivoire

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , , , — paul davis @ 1:31 pm

This young woman and the children in her charge tolerated my camera and me for some time one morning in Sagbe-Deux, an enclave of Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. Sagbe-Deux was a part of the city that did not fare well when the second Ivorian civil war broke out in March 2011, eight months after these photos were made.

I’m using this post to share a few of my journal entries from Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire, in no particular sequitur:

Many African men have a way of sitting with one hand resting on top of their heads that I like very much. It’s expressive of a sort of repose that says, “Yes, but what can you do?” The clerk at Ethiopian Airlines often placed his hand on his head when he was searching for the next letter on his keyboard. All three Africans in chairs in the lobby with me right now have their hands on their heads in just this fashion.

The Black & White Club in Buchanan, where we waited out the third truck repair and watched a soccer match, had a sign on the door saying, “No shower slippers.” I believe that means flip-flops, and I believe that the tuxedoed staff here at the Palm Springs Resort are of the opinion that my Tevas are flip-flops. Thus, every time I enter the restaurant, the doorman looks down at my feet, seems ready to say something, then doesn’t. The fact that David is wearing short pants, while I am wearing trousers, probably takes the wind out of their sails. “Yes, but what can you do?”

There’s a hotel guard we can see from the window of the restaurant. His job is to walk down and let guests in from the back street side. Whenever he makes this long trip, he dances the whole way.

I’m still not entirely sure that the small pieces of meat in the jollof rice in Greenville were “some cow.” I finally put it to Tanoh that I hadn’t seen a single cow in Liberia, even though we have driven across the entire country. On the way out of Greenville on Sunday, he had the car stop at a field where a cow was standing. “See, you haven’t been eating monkey.”

Notes I made while riding in a taxi in Monrovia:

  • The taxi driver, asking a motorcyclist to scoot back so he could squeeze through a gap, said, “Go small, my man.”
  • Bumper painting: “God is Awake”
  • Bunda, on learning that Tanoh had been afraid to ride the UN helicopter: “My friend, I have five children and one wife. You have only one child and one wife. What is the problem?”
  • Just before we entered the town of Red Light, our taxi driver stopped his car in the middle of the traffic stream, jumped out, took off all four hubcaps, and stowed them in the trunk. Without a word.
  • Bumper painting: “Life is every day thinking.”
  • A motorcyclist passed with his passenger balancing a full-size mattress on his head.
  • Billboard: “Thanks for not dumping dirts in the street, indeed you are a good citizen.”
  • Motel sign: “Think of Yourself Motel”

Had the mouton du chef with pommes frites for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Bunda asked me how I was enjoying the roast chat (French for cat, which I actually understood). Har. There was a little pile of something on the plate that I took to be minced garlic, because the air around the restaurant was 50/50 with garlic fumes, but it turned out to be brutally hot. Cote d’Ivoire is French-speaking, in case that wasn’t already clear to anyone, so David and I had a good time trying to order before Bunda happened in. I can read French well enough to make out most things on a menu—that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that they didn’t have most things on the menu, or at least they weren’t prepared to serve them at the hayseed dining hour of 6 PM. I was pretty sure the waitress was telling us, “We only serve those items at night.” 6 PM is merely a late lunch for the French and their relatives, and we were trying to order off the dinner menu.

The next hitch came when we asked for bread and butter. She said they only serve bread with the meals. Bunda launched a negotiation to get the bread brought out early. She simply couldn’t understand why we would want that. Bunda (in French): “Do you have bread?” Her: “Oui.” Bunda: “Do you have butter?” Her: “Oui.” Bunda: “Please bring them out now so my friends can enjoy them while waiting for their food.” Her: “Huh?” When she finally did bring them out, she told Bunda that they had never done such a thing before. He explained to her that we are very strange people. Her: “Oui.”

On the drive to Abobo-Nord this morning, we crossed over a small river, about 40 feet wide, with hundreds of people standing in it knee deep, doing their laundry.

Short story from Bunda in the car: one of his friends went to Russia on business and was the only black person anyone in that place had ever seen. They kept touching him to see if his color would transfer. His friend said, “I became very popular in a different way.”

This morning when we arrived at Abobo, children were holding my hands, poking at my knuckles, and most delightedly kneading my elbow skin.

Jesus loves you, but your little sister not so much.

We passed a little storefront café this morning, with the name, “Les Petits Animaux.” The Little Animals. That’s what they serve there. “Something like porcupine,” Bunda says.

Bunda, exasperated with Tanoh about something, asked him why he didn’t do what Bunda wanted him to do. Later, Bunda was telling me: “Tanoh began rubbing his hand back and forth on his head like this.” I said, “Yes, I’m familiar with the gesture.”

At lunch today, as Tanoh, David, and I ate our rolls and drank our Orangina, Bunda sat with no food. David asked him, “Are you not eating?” Bunda: “Yes, Tanoh’s ordered me something. He’s making an experiment to me. He’s seeing if I can become a diabetic before nightfall.”

Bunda refers to Americans as people who eat dead leaves. Meaning salads. Right now I’m craving one. Any kind. A wedge of iceberg with blue cheese dressing, even. And a bowl of cold cereal would be great.

This morning David passed on breakfast, leaving me to explain his absence to the irate waitress. In French. “Non. Mon ami est… Non. Moi seulement. L’homme dans deux-cent-six est…” I made a slashing motion across my throat, saw her horror, and realized I’d announced that there was a dead body in room 206. A few minutes after Bunda and I finished our breakfast, David appeared to say that he usually doesn’t eat breakfast, but would fancy some lunch. When could we go? I said, “Could we wait a bit, we’ve just finished breakfast?” David said, “Well, some of us didn’t have breakfast.”

When we walked out of our hotel for the pizza lunch, I had somehow been under the impression that we were only going across the street for the pizza. Bunda has this lovely phrase, when we ask him how far it is to something: “Yes, it’s just right here.” It turns out that “just right here” can extend as far as a 40-minute taxi ride through the city and out the other side. David pressed Bunda for more detail about how far “just right here” might be today. Bunda said it was a 15-minute taxi ride. In African time, that’s between 30 and 45 minutes, so he was accurate. In fact, when we hit the 30-minute mark, David said, “I thought you said 15 minutes,” and Bunda replied, “Yes, 15 to 20 minutes. It’s just right here.”

“Dormir!” That was the word I was looking for this morning. It came to me in the taxi. “Mon ami est dormir.” My friend is to sleep. Just glad I didn’t come up with “mort,” which was also rummaged around there somewhere on my foreign language shelf.

April 20, 2012

158: Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , — paul davis @ 7:46 am

If you’ve recently come from Monrovia, Buchanan, and Greenville, Liberia, you might notice some differences in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. There is electricity flowing through the power lines and water in the pipes, much of the time, and a great many more (blackly smoking) vehicles on the road. Women and girls have great hair in both places, though.

In both countries women are the schleppers. They carry the world on their heads.

…and like to look sharp no matter what.

Hundreds of people walking everywhere, all the time, and children playing in their neighborhoods, in both Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire.

A “USA” shirt is not necessarily a sign of USA love, in the way that an “Obama mama” shirt is necessarily a sign of Obama love.

Chalk artist.

A surprising number of Ivorian men are very tall and very powerfully built–surprising if you’re coming from Missouri, where we men tend to have lower centers of gravity. Ivorian men also dress a lot better when they go out in public.

And girls tend their little brothers in both Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia.

He’s got to weigh two-thirds what she does.

I’m giving them both maximum style points.

Her, too.

April 18, 2012

Photo of the day: 157

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:26 pm

New shoots on the evergreen outside our front door. As I walked home from work today through the woods, I was looking closely at the low violets for angles. Of course, they don’t look like much to the eye–an eye six feet away. You have to imagine, and it’s not something you can imagine when your regular eyes have such spectacular depth of field. You can’t see with your eye what a macro lens will do to the depth of field–drop everything out of the picture but that one thing.


Old seed pod in early light.

Dried leaves.

Peace lily in low light silhouette.

Another look at a rusted chain hanging from a gate up our street.

Weathered top of a fence post. The softer wood in the growth rings has been eroded by wind, rain, and sun.

Sixteen-penny nail in fence post.

More vividly rusted barbed wire–one of my favorite things.

April 17, 2012

Photo of the day: 156

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — paul davis @ 8:46 pm

Back in Kansas City on the weekend, prowling the ditches in my neighborhood for rusted iron and wildflowers.

When I said to Jeanne on Saturday that I felt like there wasn’t anything new to shoot in our neighborhood, she laughed. She’s heard that before. We both know that an inability to find beauty in what’s right in front of you is an internal, not an external, condition.

So I went out anyway.

This fence is a lot newer than I usually see in my viewfinder. Still some paint on it.

More like it: the rusted threads of a 3″ pipe sticking out of the ground. Why would you want new when you can have this?

Making the best of that millimeter of depth of field you get with macro.

New wire, rusted staple, old fence post.

I like the tiny fronds coming into the frame from the left.

April 16, 2012

Photo of the day: 155 (Liberia 5)

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , , — paul davis @ 12:00 pm

One of the more reassuring ways to travel the road from Greenville to Monrovia.

An upscale dwelling in a village along the road through the rain forest.

Biggest vehicle on the road, for sure. If four is the right number of people to travel at one time on a 125cc dirt bike, imagine how many passengers will be crammed into the back and on the top of this one.

Back in Monrovia, it’s still wash day.

These women are making food to sell at a roadside stand. I’m guessing.

The funniest question I had to answer when requesting a visa for Liberia was, “Address of person you are visiting?” Sackor said, “Just put down, ‘Below the bridge, Bushrod Island’.”

Like there’s a street you could drive up to the house on, and a number on the front of the house, and a mailman to bring you letters…

On the other hand, you can get used tires and bicycle parts at one stop.

Parting shot for the Liberia series. Thank you for looking.

April 15, 2012

Photo of the day: 154 (Greenville, Liberia 4)

Filed under: Photo of the day, Photography — Tags: , , , , , , — paul davis @ 11:05 am

Picking up where I left off yesterday, the equatorial beach of Greenville. In Monrovia, there is, at last count, one surfer. In Greenville, none. Both places use the ocean for diluting their sewage–a practice not limited to Liberia, of course. And they don’t really have a choice in Greenville at the moment–gravity will win.

The labor force patching fishing nets.

Labor force moving blocks. Laundromat in background.

The market is really everywhere, but this is the central everywhere.

Good advice.

When the hope store is closed, the shoe store is open.

Notable for the electric bulb burning. The cell phone store requires electricity, of course, and therefore a generator. You go there to put minutes on your phone and a charge in it.

So, what did we eat in Greenville? Here’s the answer, from my journal of those days:

Spaghetti—plain with neither butter, salt, pepper, garlic, tomato, marinara, basil, olive oil, capers, cream, pancetta, nor parmesan—was waiting for us again tonight at the table, with hard-boiled eggs and raw onion. Since we stopped eating the onion, the flavor’s gone, too. Tonight there were Saltines offered, too, and we found they were the most flavorful item in the dinner. Ah, but there was fresh fruit—bananas about as big as your thumb—for the first time since we’ve arrived here. We were late for dinner, so the room was pitch dark, and we couldn’t see what we were going to eat. David went to fetch his torch. The generator came on as we were eating, though they had to fetch a bulb from the kitchen—there’s only one to be shared. The instant the generator comes on, the TV in the room is fired up, too. They don’t get any broadcast channels, it’s all DVDs, generally an African form of hip-hop music videos. Played at top volume. So we have to shout through dinner. We need not to be late for dinner anymore. It was such an unpleasant dining experience that I laughed through the whole meal. By rich Kansas City standards, you couldn’t put on a worse dinner if you were trying. By Greenville standards, we’re eating quite a bit better than the rest of the people at the conference, whose meals are being cooked over a wood fire outside the mud hut in the courtyard. 

A later entry, after we returned to Monrovia:

We just got back from dinner at the Palm Bar, an open-air place on the fifth floor looking over the old presidential mansion, abandoned since the war (which ended in 2003). The ministry of finance building, unfinished during the war, looms over it. The buildings show the pockmarks of automatic weapons fire. You could see the ocean a few blocks away, and a full moon was rising. Very nearly picturesque, if you didn’t look down at the street.

Dinner for me was the Lebanese mixed grill, which happened to include a small pile of excellent French fries, as well as hommos. And, as I was exclaiming over the French fries, and comparing them favorably to boiled spaghetti with boiled eggs and raw onion, Tanoh mentioned that he had told the cook in Greenville that David and I didn’t like fat with our food. After he and I had left the table with the seventh or eighth round of plain spaghetti mostly untouched, he took a little taste of it and discovered it had no flavor. He went to the cook: “Why have you been giving them food with no flavor?” The cook: “You said no fat!”

There are almost zero vehicles in Greenville larger than a 125cc dirt bike. Every vehicle serves as a taxi, as well. The standard taxi is the dirt bike, generally moving four people at a time. These passengers were riding in high style.

The exception is the United Nations white Toyota 4WD, of which there are several.

Yes, we really should.

About what you’d expect for a gas station in a town with almost no vehicles. Across the street in the background is their competition, well-stocked with two-and-a-half gallons of petrol, and serviced by three attendants.

I mentioned that some houses have no walls. This one has almost no roof, either.

A mansion, back in the day.

Still, life goes thoroughly on.

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