Such a wonderful place…the two weeks have gone by far too quickly!
The first drawing class at Mabinti was yesterday and was a great success. It felt so good to be back with the women again especially as they were now so much more confident. The feeling at Mabinti is so very different from that at the CCBRT Fistula clinic. The women seem to have regained their sense of self, and the sadness, though still there, seems to have lifted out of the despair that always lurked in the shadows of themselves.
I am working with half the group of trainees this week and with the other half next week. With such a small group – only five women – it is easier to get to know the individual personalities. This time the smiles are genuine and happy, they no longer lower their eyes and we are equals – as it should be!
The first lesson is about pattern and colour. The thick book full of pattern examples is eagerly accepted and pored over. I show them the colour wheel, I teach them ‘first’ colours and ‘second’ colours. I continuously use my Swahili dictionary and my phrase book to try to smatter my explanations with nouns and adverbs of their own language. I wanted to show respect and they joined in the struggle with much laughter and giggling as I stumbled through colours – ‘rangi’ – and the relation between hot (‘johto’) and cold (‘baridi’). They had fun and so …so very much…did I.
The images below are examples of the work done by the women.
The next lesson today was about drawing and decorating feet (mgoo). Much laughter accompanied the drawing around of each others feet and once everybody had their two feet outlined on the page they began to decorate one with ‘hot’ colours and one with ‘cold’. Inevitably hands were next and the designs became increasingly complex. The remainder of the session – which continued for over three hours – was taken up by my demonstrating the difference between shape and form and how to ‘construct’ a convincing three-dimensional bottle on the page. All this was obediently copied but it wasn’t long before I was showing them how to draw far more interesting things – a zebra for example, a giraffe, and of course an elephant. The women just love copying and multi-coloured elephants soon presided over boring wine bottles!!
Lunch was a deep pleasure. I ate together with the whole group, shoulder to shoulder at makeshift tables in the sunshine. We ate rice from plastic boxes ordered in as every day from a local café. I was the only one eating with a spoon, which had been politely and thoughtfully provided for me. I had been prepared to eat with my fingers as everybody else did but I have to admit I was secretly relieved! I felt warmly accepted, I felt real and full of life. I felt as if I was close to something – a way of being – that has become unreachable in the western society to which I am more accustomed.
I teach in the mornings and I focus on my own work in the afternoons. The following images are some of the sketches I’ve made in the last couple of days. Together with photographs I am taking they will provide a basis for studio work when I get home.
In Dar! After a long but reasonably comfortable journey (I recommend Emirates!) am now happily settled in the Eureka Pool House, which is everything you would expect from the name. The place is basic yet very comfortable and very ‘arty’ for all that. The calling from the nearby church, a beautiful garden and the pool itself makes for a feeling of a relaxation and peace. An oasis indeed in the middle of chaos outside that I remember from my first trip, but is no less unfamiliar (nor less daunting!) to my western eyes. Power cuts are a common thing in Dar and last night some borrowed candles and the head torch I had brought with me ‘just in case’ came in very useful. The morning sunshine however made up for any electrical misbehaviour.
Tomorrow I will go to the Mabinti Centre….today a staff meeting ensured that, unusually, it was closed to visitors.(For anyone who may be visiting Dar es Salaam The Eureka Pool House along with the Eureka Garden house on the same compound can be rented out through the Airbnb website)
Here is a clay head that I made as a piece for the current exhibition at the Waterloo Teahouse gallery in Cardiff. It is based on some of the drawings and portraits in the show. My thanks to all those who are continuing to support the exhibition as it runs to the end of the month, your feedback has been very encouraging and sometimes very moving. I am looking forward to seeing some of you there tomorrow evening when I and Professor Alison Fiander will be giving a talk and inviting discussion about the Drawing Out Obstetric Fistula Project. For those of you unable to attend I will post a transcript of Alison’s talk here on the site after the event.
I am looking forward also to traveling back to Tanzania next month where I will be visiting the The Mabinti Centre. I will be running creative workshops with the women there who are learning how to build new lives for themselves, having undergone fistula surgery. I am hoping to create another body of work when I get back for an exhibition next year in the US.
She looks tiny. Very young
as she lay covered in the rough cotton sheet
one thin arm visible
the sole of a foot
under the window
through which the soft, warm breeze is blowing.
A woman comes
brings her food and wakes her.
She is tiny. But not young.
Drenched in urine
the pale blue gown is soaked through.
The woman who has come helps her up
and she follows
out of the ward.
As she passes she glances at me
an old face, careworn
full of emotional pain
all defiance gone
all defences down.
She glances at me but only for a second
before she lowers her eyes.
Urine runs down her legs.
She looks tiny.