A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Pt 1

I ought to be in bed.  I have been up at five every day for a week.

I readied myself. Soaked in a bath up to my chin, so that the suds blushed pinkly as the water rinsed deeply engrained red, red earth from my skin, my hair, beneath my nails.

I tried to watch mindless television. Eat a bowl of pasta, post prandial carb high guaranteed to have me nodding off on the sofa in no time. Normally.

But my week hasn’t been normal. Thoughts jangle and nag and tug and pull. I cannot settle. I haul my laptop from my desk and sit on the floor in front of the fire where the dogs normally curl. They’re briefly indignant to be ousted but return to rest heads upon my lap as I tap.

We debated this in the car one day on the way to the camp – the boys with their cameras and I: which tells the better story – an image or a narrative? A picture is worth a thousand words, they said. I concurred. Because I was outnumbered. But now, now home, I still struggle to find the right ones. The right words to do justice to a big story.

Can I paint the scene with language?  Select each word – a thousand of them – as the artist does his colours? Carefully. Pause. Stand back. Consider my work?

The camp is in the middle of nowhere. A three hour drive on a dirt road from a town flung so far to the west of Tanzania that it almost drops off the map into the great lake that spills all around.  An aid official tells me, ‘governments are not known for granting the best land to those that seek refuge from violence in their own countries. They must make do with what they’re given’.

So we drive towards the middle of nowhere where the skinny earth is ribbed with gullies gouged by rushing rain during the wet,  and where the miombo forests dwindle because humanity has needed to swarm through here before and people need food and fuel and the wood was there.

The land cruiser we are in kicks up dust.  Great suffocating plumes of it. We are tightly packed. Six of us in all, with filming paraphernalia for the boys piled high, cameras, tripods, reflectors, lights. And a satchel, a Dictaphone, and a hat for the pretendwriter.  Vehicles drive with their lights on. It’s two hours past dawn but the dust chokes visibility dangerously.

We know where to turn off for the camp. It’s well marked, this place, this home to 100 000 homeless; signs jostle for attention, as if pushing the other out of the way to be first in line. I read only Nyarugusu Refugee Camp UNHCR.

Five miles later and you encounter row upon row upon row of tents, once – and so recently – they were white and emblazoned with the logos of humanitarian rescue agencies. Now they are dredged with ochre dust, like sieved cinnamon powder.  It is quieter than you imagine, normal Africa wakingup sounds; I cannot hear despair. I think I can hear laughter.

Wood smoke from hundreds of cooking fires rises softly to kiss an early morning haze and they embrace as a pall that hangs low and smudges the ends of my view.

And it is as if the ranks of tents march unto eternity.

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14 Responses to “A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Pt 1”

  1. daisyfae Says:

    As always, your words paint a compelling picture…

  2. D. Says:

    Please please please stop with the word pretendwriter. Please own your ambition and your talent. We, your readers – real readers not pretendreaders – wait eagerly for your writing, the pictures you create, the stories you tell, the truths you make us all see.

    • reluctantmemsahib Says:

      thank you D 🙂 here’s the thing though. my business card says ‘journalist editor blogger’. the ‘writer’ is a trickier one. if you are a ‘writer’ it is assumed you must have published a book: ‘i’m a writer’. ‘ooooo! are you? anything i might have read (meaning any ‘books’ i might have read, for they are unlikely to have read much of what i’m writing at the moment). that’s why the ‘pretendwriter’ but it is a little tongue in cheek. for i am certainly a journalist editor blogger. thank you reading.

      • D. Says:

        Now I understand. To me you are most certainly a writer and I am grateful to have found your work, your words.

  3. bamongo Says:

    Reblogged this on Bamongo and commented:
    Well written piece, Anthea. I am not sure anymore if indeed a picture is worth a thousand words. To capture what you have here, I’d need more than 7 pictures.

  4. mwaonline Says:

    I don’t like the pretendwriter either. It may be tongue in cheek, but to me, a completely unpublished writer trying to get published, it sounds like a journalist, editor and blogger who has been published should at least acknowledge she is a writer. You write, we read. There’s no pretend.

  5. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thanks mwaonline. i am suitably chastened 🙂 i am a writer. a real one. thank you for reading.

  6. bamongo Says:

    I am happy we met, Anthea! Just to think of your writing I could have never discovered!

  7. Kimm X Jayne Says:

    You truly, truly have a gift. So many writers try to write beautiful, lyrical prose but you can all too often tell that they’re trying too hard, something about the author intrudes into the words. You find yourself thinking, “they’re trying to be fancy or erudite or clever” and it comes across as the author trying to be fancy, erudite or clever. You, my friend, have a rare talent. There is absolutely no author intrusion. Instead, the reader is immediately sucked in and caught up in the image, the story. Truly talented!

  8. connie Says:

    wonderful to see your new posts. that ‘scream’ seems to have accomplished more than you could have imagined.

  9. Ad dy Says:

    Vividly described. I can just picture it. You are not a pretendwriter.

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