Babies don’t cry?!

5 weeks became 6 months. When I first arrived
I was mesmerized, by all the colors, the smells, the smiles. I found joy during
the day and magic in the night. Hypnotized by the orange light of the street
lanterns, the bright stars and the earthy smell just after the rain. I was
amazed by the babies on the back of their moms, sleeping so sweetly and quietly
in the middle of the night, while their moms were frying fries in front of a
‘boit de nuit’ (‘nightbox’) with ghetto blasters screaming.

For a couple of months I was thinking that Burkinabe babies don’t cry. That being so close to their mother’s body day and
night, made them so sweet and silent. The more time I spent here, the more
illusions I lose. A few days ago I heard that many mothers give their babies a
little pill to keep them so quiet. Because when they are washing clothes of
people from the neighborhood, for even less than 0,05 eurocent a t-shirt, they
don’t have time to occupy themselves with their babies, while trying to earn
that day’s meal for their families.

While asking some more women about this
‘sleeping potion’ I found out that it is also very useful when the little ones
get a coiffure. They sleep instead of cry, when someone is tearing their hair
to make braids. After hearing this I could imagine how strong these tablets
actually are. A young girl wanted to braid my hair once and it did not let her
longer than five minutes because it was ex-treme-ly painful to me.

When I walked into the pharmacy, the woman
recognised me from last time and she asked me how my ‘bébé’ was doing. I don’t
know if she confused me with another woman or got confused with the age of the
girl I had been consulting her before. To keep it simple I answered her: ‘Yes
the baby is alright but I heard that there is a good medicament against
crying.’ Now leaning over the counter, she was looking very seriously with
hopelessness in her eyes. I was wondering what she was thinking. ‘It’s called
Chlor or something like that? I heard it works really good. Your baby stops
crying and can have a good sleep, isn’t it?’ ‘Madame, it is absolutely not for
babies, not even for children.’ ‘But can I take a look at it?’ Her colleague, another women a few meters away started to interfere. Sitting in
her high chair behind the caisse: ‘Madame s’il vous plaît, c’est pas pour ton
bébé!

The two women started to look very
concerned. I told her that it was not for my bébé and not for someone else’s,
but that I wanted to verify that it was really true what I heard, that women
sometimes drug their babies so they are able to work. She gave me the leaflet
and I read ‘Chlorephenamine Maleate’. 

This seemingly innocent ‘medicament’ is a sedating antihistamine, that enters
the brain and causes drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision and psychomotor
impairment in some patients, which may seriously affect ability to drive and
use machinery. It cost only 100 cent (0,15 eurocent) for a package with at
least 12 tablets. I did not count, I was too shocked to hear that the pharmacy
women confirmed that there are too many mothers who give this to their babies
to sedate them to have their hands free to work. They are compromising the future of their
child’s brains in order to sort out the problems of today.

Although my heart breaks a few times a week
finding out about the harsh realities for most people here, I have almost never
felt more joy and ease in my own experience of life than ever before. It’s the
children that come running at me, waving and smiling, calling me ‘Babu’ and
when I wave back and ask them how they are doing, shyly look down. It is the
wind trough my hair when driving my p50, the freedom to go left or right
depending on the nicest view. It’s the butterfly that decides to die on my
hand, it is the rainbow that appears out of the dark-grey voluptuous clouds.
It’s the sudden scent of ‘fleur d’orange’, that I only knew from macarons from
La Durée, on an evening walk under the full moon.

But under that same romantic moon that I have been photographing so fondly, young girls are circumcised and promised to men way older then them sometimes only at the age of seven. More than half of the daughters of Burkina marry before they turn 18. Families securing the futures of their ‘filles’, not by teaching them how to read and write, but by arranging a monetary matrimony, where they end up as one of the four wives that a man is allowed to have. Real love as I consider it to be, is a very luxurious and rare good, as well for the rich as the poor, for women and men, especially in a society like this. Many girls can’t marry the guy they love because of family arrangements. Marriage with a man seems a necessity, which is actually strange because most of the women do the work and earn the money (and some need to sedate their babies). This sounds very harsh, but it is. Not all the women I spoke to use have used ‘Chlor’ to put their babies to sleep and not all the women in this country can’t write or read, it is only 1 on 3 above age 15 who can read the prescription. And not all men have four wives.

Every day raises more questions than it gives me answers. Wondering every time, how do I take my responsibility as a photographer? Where do I find the balance between being a big romantic adventurer, naïf but with a great eye for beauty and magic and being a compassionate human? Well.. that I can manage I think. But how do I put it in photographs? What do I show you?! When I first came here I thought I arrived in a dream world and for me it was (and still kind of is). But little by little I wake up to their world. And their world can be very harsh and very unromantic. Do I show the magic that I experience? Or do I show the barefoot children begging on the street? What is the ‘reality’? It seems I haven’t found a good solution for this..well.. while writing this I got an idea! So it seems absolutely necessary to stay a little longer….. ;)


when in burkina faso

Two weeks ago, Thursday morning 23rd of February, I woke up and I had barely got any sleep that night. There was so much adrenaline in my body that the whole night I had been twisting and turning, dreaming and worrying about my next adventure. I had decided to go to Africa in two days. I had no ticket, no visa, no nothing. What I did have was a knowing. A knowing that I had to make this real, that I had to go to Burkina Faso with a woman I just met the night before. I didn’t know anything more than that she seemed like a kind woman. In a few days, she was going to the biggest film festival in Africa, and was very open to the idea of me coming with her to collect folktales and take photos with her. Besides all the knowing I felt so much joy when I was talking with her, and at the idea of going to Africa within such a short time. Some people could call this behavior “impulsive.” I’d rather call it “showing up for life.”

Since I was young. I’ve wanted to go to Africa. I wanted to experience the wilderness and the different cultures. I wanted to go there as a doctor and a teacher at the same time. It was before I knew about mosquitoes and other things you could be afraid of (or die). It was before I knew I was so bad at mathematics and physics that I thought that I would never be a doctor because I wouldn’t get through secondary school. It was before my mind was filled with stereotypes and I made myself think that there was only war and starving children in Africa.

It was before I got a little bit afraid of going to a place that just seemed to be a totally other world, so different from the one I had known all my life.

In the beginning of my twenties I was afraid for a lot of things, even going home by night on a bike in Amsterdam was something that have caused me quite some stress even when I was not on my bike yet. I was afraid my father would die, when I would be away, I was afraid that something bad would happen to me and I would die. Traveling was not one of my priorites because of that. I wanted to go but I didn’t really dare to go. But fear takes away the joy. It’s like sugar eating the magnesium in your body. At a sudden point you cannot take it any longer. So when I was 24 I went to Hawaii for two months and I had never felt so happy and free before. It was a beautiful experience but it was not always easy. To swim with dolphins in the wild I had to go far out in the deep deep blue sea (and when I say far, I mean really really really far). I had to trust that there would be no sharks, because there were dolphins. Like there is no darkness when there is light, no fear when there is trust. The first few times were incredibly scary, but the reward of swimming with dolphins in the wild was enormous and I felt like a fish in the sea myself.

Traveling not only took away a big part of my fear but it also made me trust more. It taught and is still teaching me to trust myself, to trust the occasions that arise and to trust in the world I am living in. Traveling pushed me to cross certain boundaries of my comfort zone that I wouldn’t have crossed in Amsterdam. Simply because I sometimes had no other option than sleeping alone in a big empty house and walking home alone in the dark streets of Vancouver, or be home before sunset (they have very little street lighting and no cheap taxis), I started to trust myself more; to trust the walk that I walk. Every time fear got to me, I imagined what it would be like if I didn’t have that feeling. I started to feel marvelous, and I enjoyed the freedom that I gave myself by changing my thoughts. Every walk home after sunset would empower me a little more. When I came back to Holland after a three week road trip with my very dear friend, my sister, Yuliya (A.K.A. Ukrainian Daredevil, who sometimes drove like crazy, wanted to sleep in the car without any curtains no matter where we were, and had totally different take on the concept “safety”), I thought 2017 might be the year I would be ready to go to Africa (thank you Yuliya).

Of course, I have only been here for a little over a week, and I have not seen much yet but I am amazed. I am amazed by all the dusty, rusty beauty, and the smiling people with an enormous amount of kindness in their eyes. I am amazed by the beautifully dressed women everywhere. I am amazed by all the life that is behind the gates at sandy roads. I am amazed by the moon, the light that is poured down in the little sickle and fills up until it is full instead of going from left to right or right to left.

To be continued. Love, Charlotte


one day became tomorrow

Life is miraculous. Today I am flying to a destination that is practically unknown. I know the name but it’s a country I’ve never been to, a culture I’ve never experienced and a language I do not completely understand. Wednesday morning I had no clue that in the evening my life would literally change. I had absolutely no clue that three days later I would be on the plane for a five week adventure. The only thing I knew wednesday morning is that I had asked for a miracle and that it would come when the timing would be right. When I left in march 2016 my plan was to be travelling for two years straight at least. But life called me back in december. My rentalapartment suddenly was in a very bad state, and my friends who were living there had to leave and when I came back two weeks later, the landlord kind of destroyed it so there was no possibility of returning.. It was not that I wanted to return at that moment, or that I thought I needed a house in Amsterdam, because I had learned in the previous nine months, the whole world was my house. I had learned that the mind not always agreed with that but that my heart was always guiding me to the right place at the right time, where I would be challenged or comforted to adjust myself to the situation and to feel at home, always. Not because of the places I found myself in or the people I had met. It was because I had to be at home with my mind, my heart, my body and my shadow.

So when I had to come back and had to wait untill everything was solved, I asked the universe to show me the way, to guide me, to help me to see my true purpose. The only thing I could do was to trust that everything would work out perfectly for me. And again to get comfortable with ‘the unknown’…. Because we never know what is going to happen. Not when we are travelling and not even on a regular wednesday evening in your place of birth.

This morning I cried while waving at my mom while my train was driving away. I was crying because I am afraid of suffering. Because this is no easy peasy North-America where I am going now. 
I don’t know much at this moment except that this is going to be a real adventure and everything worked out in my favor to make this possible in only two days. If I had said no to this opportunity, it would have only been because I was afraid. So I said yes because I did not want to let fear rule the excitement and curiousity of my heart.

Lots of love, Charlotte

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