On all of my wanderings, along the roads and through the countryside high up in the hill country, I’ve felt a little like the Pied Piper, my western appearance and swinging camera the pipe drawing out groups of children from the surrounding villages.
The braver (more precocious) ones come chasing after me, keen to practise their English (a rapid fire of Hello miss what is your name what is your father’s name what is your country????). Others huddle back in groups, pointing and giggling, or walk past, flashing a smile and ‘hello!’, and laughing in delight when I do the same in reply.
And, like it’s a phrase, a series of questions or desires they’ve been taught, they all ask for the same, in the same order: Pen? Candy? Money? Not having any pens on me (and I heard they sell them anyway – not that I begrudge them for this early entrepreneurism) nor candy (not that I’d give this out), and not wanting to hand out money, they move on to the next question: photo?
A word of warning: take one photo, be prepared to get stuck taking twenty. Some parents wrote down their addresses for me – I have already printed and mailed a few photos to one address guessed from a semi-indecipherable scrawl in my notepad. But in general, they just want to pose for photos. I have never seen such delight in children’s faces upon seeing their own image coming up on my DSLR screen.
Here are some of the beautiful faces I have managed to capture during these past few days.
Their smiles and joy are infectious.
I have begun to smile and say hello to everyone I pass. Initially it was just in response to a ‘hello miss!’ or a wave out a window, but now, it’s just instinct. It feels natural. Back home, it’s easy to get stuck in the ‘head down, don’t interact’ bubble; if you said hello to everyone you passed people might think you were a bit loopy.
But here, when you know that every smile you give will be returned, magnified in the beaming, gappy, betel-nut-red stained smile of an old woman, or the excited smile of a child; when you see gruff men’s faces transformed into a welcoming grin, why would you not?