I always ask permission to take someone’s portrait, but I don’t ask them to pose or become someone else. It was easier to communicate in the English and French-speaking countries. But in many of the rural areas with various dialects, my guide, Noah, had to translate for me. Generally, people were curious and enthusiastic when I asked to take their photograph and it felt like a genuine exchange. In Ethiopia, I used basic Amharic words and hand gestures to communicate.
When I saw someone I wanted to photograph, I would slowly approach them with my best, unthreatening smile, raise my hand in the air and say a word that sounded like, "Jalla, jalla, jalla", which my guide, Assefa told me was a universal Omo word for friend. Sometimes people were not interested, bu, more often than not, they would give me a few minutes to take their photo in exchange for the sum of Ethiopian Birr that they felt was appropriate. Afterwards, on several occasions, I saw people I had photographed at the market and we would exchange smiles and handshakes like old friends.
“I was raised with the belief that travel and exposure to other cultures was one of the best forms of education. I learned that while I could never walk in someone else’s shoes, with compassion and quiet observation I might learn from another’s experience and find common ground.”