"The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." - Dorothea Lange

Saturday, January 09, 2010


I’ve been home just over a week now, but I still can’t seem to wake up in the morning on Kansas City time. 4:00 a.m. seems to be the magic hour.

This morning I am lying here thinking about:

The homeless in my city and hoping they all found shelter during the night because the temperature here dropped below 0 degrees.

The finishing touches I need to put on my talk for the Nelson next weekend.

A certain basement that needs a thorough cleaning.

A competition deadline that is looming.

And Tony.

Sometimes (especially in these wee hours) my mind travels thousands of miles to the orphanage in Kajjansi and hovers there trying to check in on the kids, often a particular one. Tony’s been on my mind a lot lately.

When I first saw him in 2006, he was a little guy who stayed very quiet and hung around the edges of activities. I’d often see him standing outside the “art room” just tall enough to stare in through the window. He had a round, expressionless face, topped off with huge sad brown eyes. He always looked very serious. He held back and kept to himself.

I never really officially met him on that trip, though I did see him come alive one day toward the end of my visit – he was playing football (soccer) with his friends and was quite good at it. Even though he was engaged with friends and playing well, he didn’t smile.

Each time I’ve gone back, I’ve made it a point to pay special attention to Tony. Over these three years, he has blossomed. Serious demeanor still in tow, Tony ‘s little face can spread into a contagious smile – one that never fails to make me feel better no matter what. He no longer lurks around the perimeter of things; he’s a trombone player in the marching band, he is one of the singers/dancers in the traditional African music troupe, and he loves to draw and paint. I saw him in the computer lab a few times this visit, and he was really into making friendship bracelets and giving them to his American friends. One day Eddie and I taught him and a couple of his pals to play “Go Fish” and that was when I first saw him laugh. In fact, he had us all laughing.

I don’t know Tony’s full story yet. I do know that his father died. He never speaks of his mother; I assume she, too is dead.

Anyway, as I am lying here thinking about my friend Tony, I want to share the portrait I made of him in my makeshift studio. As we were walking through the red mud to get to it one afternoon, I asked him if he’d like to include his favorite possession in the portrait. All I know is that he has everything he owns in a small trunk on his bed… I’ve not looked inside his to know what’s there. (Oh, he also owns a very small change purse that he keeps in his pocket at all times. On the day we first arrived, he pulled it out to show me one of the things he keeps there. It was a small, creased and faded photo of him and me. Gulped back the tears, yes I did.)

Tony ran off to his bunk to get his prized possession, then we met up at the “studio.” I turned to see him holding a pair of black shoes. He told me they were his school shoes. He keeps them very clean and was proud to pose with them as he took his place on the backdrop.

Can you see why details like this keep me from falling back to sleep?

1 comment:

Brian said...