Faces in the Crowd
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Most people only know about my cartooning, but I drew the portraits you see here. They are all from my travels around the globe and all carry special memories. Sometimes I take photos of people I know. Other portraits are of people who cross my path for a few brief moments. But, thanks to a zoom lens, I also snap portraits of people who have no idea they ever captured my eye.
From left to right, here are their stories.
Ten Gallons and a Half Pint
There was a lot of Mexican food involved during my visit to Piedras Negras. One celebration with a whole lot of food was at church where I found this little boy. Not only was there food, but there were embroidered dresses, western boots and cowboy hats for big and small alike.
During preparation for yet another feast, I was asked if I liked "chile". Now, when you ask someone from the United States if they like "chili", they always think of piping hot soup with beans and meat (and hopefully topped with grated cheese and/or sour cream). That's not what it means in Mexico. If you ask someone in Piedras Negras about "chile", they are talking about salsa with chile peppers.
My chefs used all kinds of peppers including serrano, chile de árbol and chipotle. No recipe included jalapeños. Those little bits of fire were reserved especially for nachos. And, one small hint if you want to cut down on the fire. Take out the seeds before you make your chile. No matter if you were as young as this half pint or a whole lot older, I appeared to like salsa hotter than most Mexicans.
Maasai Young Man
As in many cultures around the world, when a young man or woman reaches a certain age in Tanzania, there are traditional rites that usher them into adulthood. For Maasai males, the most celebrated age-group is the Morani, or warrior group. The initiated belong in this group for approximately 10 years, beginning in their late teens or early twenties.
It's not all that common to witness the celebration. I traveled with a small group as we zipped past about half a dozen young men, dressed in black with white designs smeared across their bodies. The van sped by before I could grab my camera. Well, I made sure that if we ever saw this again that the driver knew this was a photo opportunity not to be missed.
Sometimes I get embarrassed about asking strangers for photos. However, these boys were thrilled. Actually, they waited along the roadside for interested tourists just like me to stop. They knew that they would attract attention -- and -- that they would get good tips. Everybody was happy.
The actual photo was not in focus. I had a zoom lens that seemed to work correctly about half the time. That just wasn’t acceptable when snapping once in a lifetime photos on safari in Africa or in rural village markets in the Andes Mountains. However, even with an unfocused photo of this girl walking with her mother, I knew I had the makings for a good portrait.
However, I’d had it with that zoom lens. I stuffed it in my luggage instead of my carry on. I didn’t need to worry about the extra space or weight that it took up in my bag. I was done with that lens! It would ruin no more photo opportunities.
As it turned out, I was really done with that lens. It was stolen from my luggage at the airport in Ecuador (and I couldn’t have been happier!) On one of those rare occasions when I did something correctly, I had travel insurance that reimbursed me the full value of that worthless lens. I used it as a down payment to purchase my next camera, with a lens that no longer frustrated me like the previous one.
The Chakirs, my Moroccan family, were such gracious hosts. It wasn't just for me. My friends were also welcomed into the Chakir home on several occasions. However, all welcome mats were thrown out and no holds were barred when my mother, brother and sister came to Casablanca, Morocco.
Mom always came with presents and introduced them to American treats like buckeyes and Jiffy Pop popcorn. But, it was seriously impossible to out give the Chakirs. On one of my mother's three visits, they had Moroccan gowns for Mom (as well as my brother and sister who weren't even there). Once the gowns were distributed, there was naturally a photo session with my mother, Mama Chakir and Grandma Chakir, all decked out in their best djellabahs. Mr. Chakir wanted in the photos but I said he was dressed like an American. If he wanted to sit with these ladies, he had to dress like a Moroccan and put on a djellabah.
Grandma Chakir just chuckled. She couldn't believe I said that to her son.
My mother’s grandparents were from the German / French region of Alsace-Lorraine. According to family legend, grandfather was too short to get into (or out of) the military. He would have suffered (and probably not survived) simply because the German military didn’t really tolerate those vertically challenged. He fled to the USA. Grandmother was a different challenge. She got caught with her sister’s fiancé and was promptly sent off to America. I think I would have liked her.
Mom wanted to explore her roots and we headed off to Europe together. We knew there was a Roth family home somewhere in Gundershoffen, most likely in the town center. We just didn’t know where. I thought the best way to find it was a trip to city hall. They were closed and I failed on my mission. Mom, on the other hand, went to the local bar (probably for the first time in her life) and looked for the oldest man there. Of course, he knew where the Roth house was located. Along the way, we met this chimney sweep. I knew that chimneys still needed to be cleaned, but I didn’t know that any of the men still dressed like Dick Van Dyke.
Girl from Angkor Wat
To be honest, this is one of my most favorite portraits. If you really look at that scarf, you’ll see the tedious detail and can only imagine the amount of time it took to draw. When I completed it, I seriously considered stopping with the portraits. Perhaps I did my best one here? Not sure, but I’m glad I didn’t quit.
The girl is wearing a Khmer scarf called a “krama”. Traditionally red and white, they can also be used as bandanas to cover the face or even carry a baby. I took this photo as she worked at one of the archaeological sites at Angkor Wat.
I visited Cambodia before Angelina Jolie / Lara Croft, tomb raider, found her way there. Tourism changed at Angkor Wat after that movie. So, where I visited with a few hundred people, now days you are likely to visit with thousands. It might not be the same experience, but it is still worth it to view this Hindu/Buddhist complex that is the largest religious monument in the world as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Center.