Quick link: The Voyeur at the Wedding

Last Friday I had a piece up at EthnoTraveler about being a guest, a foreigner, a photographer, and the complicated emotions that swell up with that wonderful combination. I love being those things and I don’t love being those things at the same time. I get confused about when it is appropriate to take a picture and when not to, about when I can stare and when not to. How would I feel if a group of foreigners came to my wedding and started taking pictures? I don’t think I would mind but it didn’t happen so how do I know?

the voyeur at the wedding

I had never seen men put on makeup. I knew some men wore makeup, but I had never watched them apply it. That is, until I sat with the groom of an Afar wedding in rural Djibouti. I’ve been to a lot of weddings in Djibouti but always with the women. Friends, or friends of friends. This time I was a tourist visiting an encampment in the mountainous region of northern Djibouti and didn’t know the names of the bride or groom. I never even saw the bride.

We had hired a guide for the weekend. He led us on hikes, or gathered groups of young boys to guide us while he searched out meat for our lunch. While I stumbled over rocky paths and rolled my ankles and slipped down loose scree, these boys in plastic flip flops loped effortlessly over the ground. They carried no water (I had two liters for my family of five) and no food (I had two boxes of granola bars and a tube of Oreo cookies to share with our whole tour group of nine). They needed no rest (we stopped twice on the way up and once on the way down) and they needed no recovery time (I felt like I could barely move that afternoon)…

And later at the wedding:

…A flurry of conflicting emotions swirled in my chest. I felt utterly uncomfortable and out of place. I felt like an invasive species, like the strangling fig tree. I felt honored, a stranger in this inner chamber on an auspicious day. And I felt inspired by the friendship between these two men, the way they understood each other, the willingness to serve, the intimacy of their gestures…

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