PHOTOGRAPHY AS PRAYER

PHOTOGRAPHY AS PRAYER

or:

Nyitse – the Time when Sunrays Paint the Mountains Red

In a little bookshop in Leh, the owner tells us that the distinguished-looking man who just left the shop is the Ladakhi writer Abdul Ghani Sheikh. Feeling as though we almost met the writer, my friend Doreen and I immediately purchase a copy of Forsaking Paradise – Stories from Ladakh, (1) to read on our travels in Ladakh - the country of High Passes.

“A True Portrait”, the first story in the book tells of an American tourist, eagerly photographing an old Ladakhi man who is spinning his prayer wheel and chanting mantras. The tourist explains to his guide:

He looks like a life specimen of ancient Ladakh and a true representative of the culture (…) Since Tibet became a prohibited area, we come to Ladakh to experience Tibetan culture and Buddhism. But all we see here is young people in jeans and jackets. I fear the culture of this place will be totally erased in a few years. In our country too, the Indians are losing their culture” (2)

These patronizing words, crowned by the reference to American Indians, make one ask if the tourist’s concern for the vanishing cultures is genuine, if he is apprehensive for the sake of the Ladakhis, or, for that matter, the American Indians. Or, does he decry the erasure of traditional cultures because it deprives him of the opportunity to capture the ‘authentic’ – encountering only young Ladakhis in jeans; because it would stop him from bringing home a heroic trophy he shot on his photographic safari – to use the well-known parallel between photography and hunting drawn by Susan Sontag. (3)

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ON SPEAKING PAPIAMENTU - on finding back my native tongue while crossing borders

an essay I wrote in 2007 that is very much in the spirit of liminal space

It starts at Schiphol, the Amsterdam airport. Before that, I am still immersed in my life in Jerusalem, concerned with my family and the escalating violence in this region, while working until the very last minute to finish grant proposals that are due when I am away. I do not have time to connect to my trip, which still feels more like a yearly obligation to visit my elderly mother in my native Curaçao, rather than spending my precious vacation time trekking in Turkey or Nepal.  

I usually have a few hours to kill, not enough to take the train into the city and visit friends, which is what I do on my return trip when I have almost twelve hours between planes. And so I silently wander around the airport, feeling a little like a spy, as I do in Jerusalem when I hear Dutch tourists speaking on the street, not suspecting that I, who looks like a native of this city, would understand. Not yet identifying myself as a speaker of Dutch, I take in the talk, smiling to myself, my little secret.

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WATSU in a Beit Zayit Pool

I float on my back held up by a Watsu practitioner who moves me gently through the water, making sure my head stays above the surface so that I do not get water up my nose.  Watsu, or water shiatsu,  can be a means of water therapy,  but I have been going to Watsu sessions at the Beit Zayit pool to celebrate special occasions, like my birthdays, to enter into a dream state, to sink to the depths of my subconscious and to emerge anew, 


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December 31 - IN LIMINAL TIME

Zalig Uiteinde is what the Dutch wish one another on December 31. Uiteinde is a word that does not exist in English, yet its constituents are similar to out and end – an ending-out? - I would translate the blessing as “a blissful ushering out of the end”. It gives space to that time between the old and the new. It gives duration to the end.

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