Guest post today on D.L. Mayfield’s blog. Her series, “War Photography” is about how to write and photograph the stories of others, of people who aren’t necessarily like us. How do we do that with integrity and truth and vision? How do we do it without stereotyping or dehumanizing? This essay is my small attempt to continue addressing these questions.
“I am in the proposal-writing stage of a book about Djibouti, Somali women, Muslims, and faith. This is dangerous and slightly terrifying because though I do have faith, which has evolved over ten years in Somalia and Djibouti, I am not Djiboutian or Somali or Muslim. And yet.
I am compelled to write. Because, like Boo says, after years living among people, you find out their stories are really not so different. I’m compelled to write their stories and my stories and the way they interact. Awkward, painful, life-giving, thrilling. Always in process.
Part of writing these stories is selfish. Writing helps decompress and life in this developing country overwhelms. If I don’t take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the weight and emotions and confusions cloud my ability to see and hear. A mentor used to say, “Thoughts untangle themselves over the lips and through the fingertips.” In life outside writing, my words emerge in Somali or French and tangle themselves so badly in the speaking that to untangle them, I turn to the written word.
But also, this compelling comes from what I hear in Djibouti and what I hear in Minnesota, from what I see on bookshelves. Or don’t see on bookshelves.