The number of photographers in Uganda is amazing. Everywhere you look, you see signs advertising photography studios. They take headshots but also portraits for special occasions and often document functions and gatherings such as introductions, weddings, graduations etc. In art schools there are courses in photography, and basically everybody that owns a camera can call himself or herself a photographer. This immediately touches on a problem we deal with here in the Bayimba photography workshop. Because who owns a camera? Not the workshop participants… Even though that was one of the conditions for applying. Several of the participants had to hire a camera for an amount that exceeds the average income in Uganda. It makes me respect their drive and ambition even more but also makes it hard to ask them to familiarise themselves with ‘their’ camera. But everyone helps each other. Sometimes it is the lame leading the blind, but we seem to be getting somewhere, nevertheless.
For the workshop, I have tasked the participants to come up with a visual strategy to tell the story of their protagonist. This is something like inventing your own little language that has to be easy for others to figure out. Verone, whose work is presented below, is working together with Sula, one of the garbage collectors in Katanga. First she was a bit scared, she had heard that he hardly ever spoke but once they met her tentativeness was quickly allayed. Her visual strategy is a result of his fast paced walking traversing through the neighbourhood. She invites you to follow in her footsteps and try to keep up with Sula.
BY ANDREA STULTIENS
Sula Our Saviour
Text and images by Akankunda Veronicah
Every morning Sula picks up other people’s garbage bags and empties small dumpsters. “What initially seemed like a nightmare, actually ended up turning out to be one of the greatest jobs I have ever had”, says Sula. It’s not that he loves the idea of being a garbage collector, or even that he enjoys picking up smelly bags of trash; he enjoys the job because it earns him money to sustain his family. He recalls some of his fondest moments, ones that defy the test of time gained during that period where he first began making a living despite those conditions.
I catch up with Sula, commonly known as Kadidi, the garbage collector in Katanga around midday. He is already an hour into his route with his wheelbarrow. Shy to look at me he fumbles, pulling off one thick glove to shake hands amicably, “I have to work hard” he says. He is dedicated to keeping his customers happy as he goes round and round, stall after stall, moving through a large part of Katanga.
Little kids get excited to see him but of course the job is not always a bed of roses there are a few thorns, like needles, broken glass, and rodents. I wonder to myself how he deals with the stench…? He tells me, “You disconnect your nose, you have to!” This job requires physical strength and motivation. Sula makes rounds through small restaurants to feed his family, his wife and three kids. There is nothing left to put aside for savings but despite this, he is still happy and life goes on normally. I ask him whether there are any superstitions on the job, to which he replies “I don’t know if there are any, but on days when it only drizzles we say if you take off your yellow slicker (slang for raincoat), it will rain. So we make one guy keep a slicker on just so that it won’t rain.”
Despite the smells, the weather, the hills and not to mention the 4.8 pounds per person of trash that he carts off every day – this garbage collector likes his work and takes pride in serving the community. Sula goes the extra mile, it comes to me that I wished the community would do the same for him.
These days recycling has become a part of everyday life here. Bottles, cans, bio-degradables each have to be sorted though they are typically blamed for being some of the worst pollutants for the planet. Little is said however about the recycling going on, recycling on a micro scale not seen elsewhere. Sula is one of a handful of independent garbage collectors here in Katanga. What I find fascinating is the scale on which he works. Metal, bottle tops, rotten food, you name it he carries it, he carries everything. On his wheelbarrow or either on his back, he carries sacks with various bags of these sorted items.
There is a fringe benefit; those small corridors and cooking places that Sula traverses are litter free. He calls out as he goes around the neighborhood letting everyone know he’s coming. Once a week he makes his way down the track where he drops his load. Sula mentions something about earning two thousand shillings ($0.70) for all the garbage he picks in a day. I hope he gets a better deal in the future as the world starts to understand the true value of recycling.
Andrea Stultiens does things with photographs. She makes them, collects them, looks at them, thinks and writes about them, and sometimes she makes the results of this visible to the rest of the world. She is amazed by how we are influenced by our environment. By how we take control of that environment, how we mould a fictional variant of ‘real life’ and remember it with the help of photography.
Akankunda Veronicah (b. 1987) is a qualified television producer. She writes television scripts, makes short documentaries, designs TV programmes, edits, as well as produces commercials. She has extensive knowledge in radio and television production, research, report writing and management. Her passion is photography.
All images courtesy of the respective artists. All rights reserved.
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