Istalif village in Afghanistan is high up in the mountains, and surrounded by pleasant lands. It’s also rather famous for its colourful and somewhat rustic pottery. I bought a few pieces of pottery here 10 years ago. The people then were very happy to have their photos taken and to show-off their pottery. The village itself has been through quite a few traumas over the years, and its heritage and livelihood are at risk. Construction and security can certainly help, but it needs visitors, or a way to get its pottery to a wider market. Here, a young lad took me into his store and was very keen to show me the brightly coloured ceramics.
We had made a very early start to the day, it was well before sunrise, for our journey to some fields near Hpa An in Myanmar. Traipsing across the fields, surrounded by the irregularity of the karst landscape, we soon reached our objective where we saw a handful of women hand-cutting the crops. Here, an older woman greeted us with a smile, perhaps somewhat surprised that we wanted to take photographs of her and her co-workers.
We headed up into the hills in our van, hoping to come across remote Padaung villages. The dirt track, however, proved too much for the poor vehicle, and we couldn’t proceed much further. There was a road construction crew that we had passed a few minutes earlier and we were able to negotiate the usage of one of their “tractors” that is normally used to haul raw materials.
We jumped into the back of the tractor, and upward and onward we went into the hills, following dirt tracks that we hoped would reach some interesting villages. Even the tractor found the going tough, and we had had to dismount several times to give the thing a fighting chance to negotiate through the rough terrain. Shake, rattle, and roll; sitting on solid metal was pretty uncomfortable!
After a while we were soon at our target, the tractor chugging its way into the centre of a Padaung village. The villagers informed us that we were the first foreigners they had seen since the British left Burma in 1948. I took that with a pinch of salt though. But the journey was worth it, as the village still practised many traditional techniques. This is a photo of a young schoolgirl from the village.
However, we were filled with dread of the return journey in that tractor.
But the pain of the return trip in the tractor was short lived as we, instead, soon ditched the tractor and hiked through the hills heading in a direction that we thought would lead us to a road. The hike was memorable as it enabled us to take in the wonderful scenery and interact more sociably with the people we met along the way. A good day!
The annual Lake Turkana festivities see around a dozen tribes, mainly from northern Kenya, take part in cultural exchanges and traditional dances. It’s quite a fascinating couple of days and provides opportunities to see local tribes who are not normally on a safarist’s bucket list. For example, I found one local El Molo village to be just a few rudimentary huts loosely strewn together, surviving largely through fishing. A dwindling tribe, the El Molo may soon disappear through assimilation and intermarriage with other local tribes.
With the day’s festivities finished and with the onset of twilight, a few miles from the nearest village, the tribes of the Turkana and Samburu dance well into dusk on the windswept shores of Lake Turkana. Seeing the tribes enjoying each other’s company, it can sometimes be difficult to remember that cattle-stealing is causing much strife between the different tribes. But initiatives such as the Lake Turkana festival will help promote trust and understanding.
When I took this shot a few years ago in Myanmar, I thought that the photo would be a failure due to the extreme dynamic range involved. It was hand-held, shot into the sun, with the main subject being the Padaung woman in the shade. I revisited that photo quite recently and found, to my surprise, that it actually had a lot of information, and was close to my vision. So here it is in all its glory.