Photo challenges

Alyssa Cleland
Alyssa Cleland

Editor’s note: This is one of a series of posts by students from Michigan State University in the U.S. and LUANAR University in Malawi who participated in the Frugal Innovations Program of the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation.

By Alyssa Cleland

Ndinga ku jamba laiya ko? In Chichewa that means,  “Can I take  your picture?” (I’m 100% sure I bombed the spelling on that)
I knew my experience as a videographer would be different here, but I had no idea the extent of how difficult it would be.
In the U.S., it’s pretty easy to approach people and ask them to be on camera. I’v e been denied numerous times, but usually people are polite. It’s also not a big deal to carry a camera around and take photos, just as a tourist. I can easily focus on multiple aspects of storytelling, because I do not have to worry about the reactions to me filming in public.

Since I’ve been here, I’ve had someone chase me and yell things in Chichewa that I do not understand. I’ve had glares and more phrases said to me that I do not understand, but I can tell from the voice tone that they’re not friendly phrases.
I’ve had my lens cap on, camera pointed down, followed by a man staring me straight in the eyes, threatening me, “If you do that to me, I will SLAP you.”
I have also had people so excited to see me, begging me to take their photo. I’m touched by the excitement in people’s eyes when I show them a photo of themselves. I’ve had crowds of people around me, wanting me to take their photo, or wanting to have my photo taken with them.
Each market is extremely different. Each has its own mood. In Tsoka, people love the camera and love to have their picture taken. In 25, I have to be careful. A lot of people assume that I am doing something bad with the camera, and they develop negative thoughts of me without even knowing me or what I’m doing here.
I do not completely understand the negative reactions to the camera, but I do not make judgments of people who glare at me or yell at me. Like I said, I don’t understand why they judge me so quickly, but I’m sure they have their reasoning, and that’s ok. Besides, if I let that determine my view of them, I would be no different from them judging me for having a camera in the first place.
I wish I could inform everyone in the markets why I’m here with my camera. Perhaps if I could speak the language it would be easier. I do not like when I walk into a market and some people automatically dislike me because  I have a camera, but I love when people respond so happily to having their photo taken. It certainly has been an adjustment as a videographer, but it has also helped me to understand and appreciate the people and culture here.

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