Thursday, June 5, 2014

A Picture Paints a Thousand Words

During my recent trip to Africa I saw many wonderful sights; amazing wild animals, beautiful scenery. I also saw images, and captured moments of time on the faces of young Africans, which will live in my mind for a very long time. Our visits to a few of the African tribes in their small villages, were not my favourite part of the trip. I felt like an intruder, an observer of those people's lives; invited to see how they live, to take pictures, to buy some of their trinkets. 'It gives them a little money they'd otherwise not have', said our guide. 'They don't mind.'

As I gazed at their faces, I sensed they minded very much, but felt obliged, even trapped into submitting themselves to this indignity out of desperation. Those of us who stood around, listening to a little of their history, their culture, their circumstances, cast long shadows over the ground of their meagre existence. I found it heart-breaking, and it was all I could do to stay. Even though my heart went out to them, all I could do was to buy a few pieces of jewellery and offer them my thanks.


Someone asked on FB if I was inspired to write a novel based on my time in Africa, but I couldn't even begin to image a story that might have a happy ending for these people. Their culture, their history, is one of subsistence. Women's lives are confined to a few metres of rocky ground where they sit and grind maize and milk into a paste which becomes their staple diet. They carry wood for the fire on their backs, water in buckets on their heads and babies in their arms. They weave grass into roofs for their mud huts, and in their left over time they make trinkets out of stone, plants and bone. Young girls looks around them and sees the wizened women they will become. Their eyes reflect the lack of hope for more.

Young boys can hope to move away from their encampment at least as far as where a little grass might be found for the family's small flock of cows, and there they will sit all day, keeping watch and protecting their animals from predators. The nearest other village or encampment is many kilometres away and one day they may walk there to find a wife for themselves; a wife they will bring back to their village, and build a mud hut for; a wife, perhaps two or three wives, who will bare them sons, so they have the means to watch over more cows. Some people suggest these people are happy enough with their lives, but their faces told me a different story. 

As I reflect on my photos and my time in Africa, I am still saddened. It's hard to see the story of many African tribes changing any time soon. But the story in their faces has changed something in me forever.

I am also left with the very poignant reminder of the truth in the saying, 'A picture paints a thousand words.'

As a novelist, I've almost found myself being jealous of authors of children's books, who can use images and photos to such advantage to tell their stories. It has made me think again how important the cover of a novel may be. An image or photo that grabs a reader, that draws a person into a story, that compels someone to pick up a book, may decide whether our stories will be read at all.

I've also been reminded of the central work of the novelist; to use words to paint pictures. To blend and weave words into paragraphs and chapters which create in the reader wonderful, beautiful, moving, tragic images, so that all of their senses are immersed in our stories.

What a challenge! What a thrill when it works! What a gift when our words transport a reader into another world, another time, another life, and what a privilege to have the opportunity to change a person's world, even for a little while, and perhaps forever.  



Carol writes historical fiction based on her ancestry in Australia.
You can see more about Carol and her novels on her website:
www.carolpreston.com.au
Or on her Amazon Author page :
www.amazon.com/author/carolpreston
or on her FB page:
www.facebook.com/writingtoreach


 






13 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feelings about your recent trip to Africa so honestly, Carol. You painted a beautiful but sad picture here even in this blog. I particularly love that image in the second paragraph of your presence in that village casting 'long shadows over the ground of their meagre existence'. May God bless you as you continue to process all the things you saw while away.

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  2. Carol, I had a similar thought to Jo as I was reading. You were painting pictures with your words and I'm sure the experiences you've had will come out in your writing - If not in a novel, then maybe in other forms like devotions, articles or short stories. It is a challenge and a privilege to be able to paint words that move people. Thanks for sharing.

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  3. I think perhaps a novel might very well emerge from this experience. Let's wait and see. Perhaps something God wants to tell us here in the western world of materialism and constant complaining.

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  4. I agree with Meredith Carol perhaps it is too soon for you to see where it might go but your life has been modified by these experiences and He will point you in His direction when you are able to to process whatever He has in the pipeline.
    Regardless it is a pointed and significant précis of your time away in Afria. Congratulations

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  5. Thanks for the comments. I've not doubt that these experiences shape our thoughts and attitudes deeply and therefore must come out in our writing somehow. I've just work on my new novel, so we'll see how this African experience shapes that.

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    1. That is - just started work on my new novel. I'm sure you would have worked that out.

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  6. Great blog Carol. I felt very sad reading about the reality of life for many on the African continent. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us and opening our eyes too. You've painted a very clear picture with your words. Bless you. One that might change our perceptions and our attitudes too.

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  7. Mary and I can sympathise with you having been on three short term mission trips to Africa. We are still haunted by some of the scenes encountered, especially those involving children in the slums. I'm not a novelist but I did find an outlet in writing my first Devotional 'The Neurotic Rooster' . This has been used by some groups going on short term missions. I'm sure your African trip has had some life changing aspects to it. You would have been a blessing to those you met I'm sure.

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  8. Hi Carol, what an experience you had and I'm not surprised that you think it life-changing. How your words have helped put things in perspective for us all too. And I appreciate your final thoughts about what the time in Africa helped you think in regard to books and writing.

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  9. Thanks again all for your comments. No doubt we all have experiences of other cultures or situations that remind us of how fortunate we are and how we need to be aware of those less fortunate. I believe it changes our attitudes to ourselves, those around us as well as our perspective on the reality of poverty. This surely makes us more generous of spirit and with our resources where we are able to make small differences. I hope so.

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  10. Thank yo so much for the depth and honesty of your report, Carol. Yes, I have had that sense of being an intruder also, in a similar situation. You feel helpless except to help but buy a trinket or too. The problems seem insurmountable. Only those Christians who are called to work sacrificially among such tribal peoples can give them the hope of a future with Jesus.

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    1. Excuse silly mistakes, just wrote from the heart!

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  11. Thanks for sharing some of your experience in Africa with us, Carol and reminding us how blessed we are.

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