I love Vanuatu – 83 islands in the South Pacific, a tropical blend of Melanesian, Europeans and Asian cultures. I’ve visited twice and would do so again in a heartbeat. The people are friendly and generous and open and you feel very much that you are in a different world that runs at an entirely different pace.
Pentecost Island, where this shot was taken is north of the capital, Pt Vila. It’s most famous for ‘land diving,’ the original bungy jump which you can see if you visit between March and June, when the vines are at the proper elasticity. This was when we went, and despite the pouring rain, we trekked across the island in ankle deep mud to where a 30 metre platform had been constructed of bamboo. After much waiting and crowd pumping and cheerleading about a dozen men and a couple of boys who could not have been more then 9 or 10 made the jump. Very impressive, though I felt sorry for the young ones, as they clearly were not feeling particularly courageous, though they came through unscathed.
Afterward, we wandered around and explored the little village. And we came upon this scene. Two of the men who had jumped, still in their traditional penis sheaths, standing in the rain and mud with umbrellas posing for photos. You will note the cardboard box out front – it’s strictly pay per click!
And like the lady in Cartegena, it left me feeling slightly fretful… especially here… amazing how quickly one can go from ‘travel photographer’ to a “rich” white woman taking pictures of a couple of naked natives… there is no contact, no intimacy, no insight into their culture. I could not understand a word of what was said, but I had the idea the man on the left wanted to call it a day, take his snake and go home, but his wife made it clear that there was some foreign cash to be collected even if it was raining…I paid my tribute and clicked away.
I almost deleted this photo when I first looked at it… so staged, the umbrella, the pose, the wife – it just wasn’t a ‘good’ travel photo, which would, of course, involve me capturing some moment of whimsy between the two men with no contemporary artefacts cluttering up the ‘native’ scenery. I felt embarrassed about it in a way I could not quite define. But then I decided that it was in actuality, a very honest photo – the fidgeting, distracted men, the umbrellas and rain and less than happy wife on the side… It’s how they cope with and take advantage of a boatload of “rich” visitors who want to experience something ‘authentic’ but safe and take lots of photos. (Compared to them virtually everyone who visits is wealthy, though of course by our standards, they/we are merely middle class. And for that matter, a mix of colours and cultures – but all western…)
And if I want real intimacy and connection with the locals – show up on a non-show day, just me and the husband…