Have Camera, Will Travel

The tickets are paid for, the seat assignments are locked in, and at this time next Tuesday I will be headed to Africa.

This trip is part of my commitment to “be like Barack,” that is to do everything Obama does: hail from Chicago (check); have two daughters and a lovely wife (check); play a not-embarassing game of hoops (check); rule the world (hehe). Still working on the Portuguese water dog.

Ah, but I jest (at least about the dog).

No, in my non-blogging life, which the astute reader will recognize as being 100% of my time since late June, I write/shoot/edit articles, photos, and videos (and the occasional CD or other project). Basically if a project involves producing words, sounds, or pictures (moving or still) I’m in.

And what I’m in this time is a sojourn to Malawi to begin shooting two short documentary films1.

14,000 Miles East of Cool (give or take a few thousand miles)
Our first location is the Mchinji District, a region in central-west Malawi which borders Zambia and Mozambique. The film focuses on the MaiMwana project, which you can read about on the web here. In short, MaiMwana translates to “mother child” and the project seeks to change the way health care operates in Malawi.

The Quick Version
Lots of women die during pregnancy or during/post delivery in Malawi. They die at a rate higher than anywhere else in the world (tied actually with neighbor Mozambique and the Centeral African Republic). Why?

Sure, the quality of medical care and access to it might reasons, but that doesn’t completely explain the huge discrepancies in the number of deaths. What about the demand for those services? What about cultural and gender taboos that often prevent women from seeking medical attention or even discussing their bodies? MaiMwana is a community-based outreach program that works with existing women’s community groups (or seeks to help create them) in the hopes of developing and supporting local, community-based women health advocates.

In short, and in the terms of economics, they are working on the demand side of this issue rather than a supply-side approach.

Ah yes, I can hear you asking: why send a white male to this work? Good question. I guess cause I work for cheap. That and the project has some excellent local women who will lead and guide the project. I hope to be as invisible as a 6’4″ white dude with a large camera strapped to his shoulder can be!.(actually, for the camera nerds, this is one reason I’ll be trying to shoot a majority of this film with a DSLR, a Canon 5dMarkII to be precise. The camera is rather inconspicuous in comparison.)

Film 2: more like working towards a trailer
I can’t tell you much about the second one as we have no permits to shoot where we plan to shoot and there are those that would rather not have us there so I’d rather not warn them (not that I actually think they’re reading this blog, but ya never know!.). Plus, it sounds dangerous and exciting in ways far beyond what it actually is. Frankly, we’ll be lucky if we come away with enough for a trailer to generate interest (funding) for more intensive research, writing, and shooting.

Let’s just say it asks questions such as: is there a difference between active acts of terrorism and aggression and “peaceful” acts of aggression often traveling under various guises (capital expansion, economic development, etc.)?

Wendell Berry sets it up this way: “Were the catastrophes of Love Canal, Bhopal, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez episodes of war or of peace? They were, in fact, peacetime acts of aggression, intentional to the extent that the risks were known and ignored.”

The project isn’t one that is down on economic development just to be down on economic development. It’s looking at the knotty issues of technology and economic development in places that invite development but have not the infrastructure to monitor nor even the political policies in place to decide what to monitor. Mix that combination with highly volatile strategic minerals markets, leveraged funding models that create pressure throughout the system to produce, and substantial environmental risk.

More on this throughout the week. Stay tuned!

Malawi, from Google Maps

1 And by short I mean non-feature length. And this word should really be video but people and organizations don’t fund videos, they fund “films.”

The photo of the girl in Malawi is from this Flickr location: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gunnisal/1051248315/in/set-72157603733114100/