Stealing souls

Until two years ago, Rwanda was officially Francophone–the enfranchised spoke both Kinyarwanda and French. Then President Kagame declared (after recognizing the economic advantages, not to mention some political upheaval) that Rwanda would be Anglophone. Of course, the transition could not be immediate. Given my limited French, in meetings with NGOs and aid organizations, I’ve relied at times on an interpreter.

Over Fantas and biscuits during a break, my interpreter F and I got into a discussion about decorum in our respective countries. I asked about, among other things, the protocol for introductions (shake hands, say “Mister” or “Ms.,” the usual, as it turns out). Then, earnestly, he asked, “In the U.S., do people just take pictures of each other without asking?”

“Well, no,” I said, embarassed. “We tourists just tend to forget that people are not just part of the landscape.”

When traveling, I try hard to ask for permission when taking pictures of human beings, but, of course, it’s impossible to get a candid photo of daily life unless you take a–well, candid shot. In Tibet, the locals have the photo racket down, refusing to stay still as tourists try to take pictures but immediately assuming a stock pose once paid. If that’s my option, I’d rather just buy a postcard.

I spent the day taking pictures of the amazingly lush flora all around Kigali.


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