Faces of India

Two young slumdogs at Calcutta’s Sealdah Railway Station

There is little doubt that India is the most photogenic place in the world. Yes, the landscape is beautiful and diverse, and the monuments tremendous, but most of this is due to the incredibly colorful and beautiful people of the country. Derek likes to say that Indians, northern ones in particular, have wet eyes (he suggests maybe it’s all the ghee) that make them particularly good photo subjects. And of course they are some of the most accommodating, playful and gracious anywhere, making for ideal models. With no further ado, some portraits from India.

Indian soldiers at Delhi Airport flying out to serve as UN peacekeeping forces. UN peacekeeping is a financially attractive proposition for relatively poor countries.

Celebrating Holi in Calcutta

Local boy on the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway Toy Train. The Indian Himalayas see many more Asian faces, including those of Tibetan refugees.

Bengali man, Calcutta. Calcutta’s fame to the rest of the world is, unfortunately in part due to Mother Teresa’s work, that of wretched poverty, but within India it is actually a center of culture and high education.

In this man, who was praying at the Nakhoda Mosque in Calcutta, one can see perhaps an ethnic residue of the Mughal’s Central Asian heritage

On the steps of Fatehpur Sikri’s Friday Mosque

Inside Fatehpur Sikri’s Friday Mosque. The keffiyeh, an Arab accessory, is not common in India, but looks cute on the first boy!

A Rajput woman, taking in Agra Rajasthan. Even among Indians, Rajputs stand out as exotic and beautifully accoutered.

Rajput woman at Tirumalai Temple in Tamil Nadu

Handsome Rajputs near Rasathani, Rajasthan

Sufi, Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi

At Delhi’s Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah

Sikh man, Old Delhi

A fashionable young hijra in Delhi (see post of 2008.08.29)

In Old Delhi

Young man near Daulatabad, Maharashtra

Schoolgirl in Bombay

Porter in Bombay’s Crawford Market

Fellow tourists at Golconda Fort outside Hyderabad. The dress is austere, the attitudes not.

Cochin, Kerala. Indian smiles can be among the fullest and most ecstastic. The relatively dark skin of this South Indian man contrasts sharply against his perfect set of pearly whites.

Schoolgirl in the Keralan backwaters

Young Girl in Varkala, Kerala

Domestic tourist at Kanniyakumari, or Cape Comorin, the southern tip of India

A Nepali guard in a Pondicherry store. To the rest of the world, India may seem a poor country and a source of labor, but for even poorer Nepalis, India is a destination to look for work.

Young girl, Karaikkudi, Tamil Nadu

Bus Station, Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu. In a country of great extremes, some look crazier than most!

Boy with puppies, Madurai, Tamil Nadu

Cute little beggar in Kumbakonam, Tamil Nadu

Homeless woman in Madras

A (playful) young priest inside Thanjavur’s big temple in Tamil Nadu

From inside Madurai’s Sri Meenakshi Temple

Sadhu, Varanasi

Faces of Morocco

Since I’ve already written so much about ethnicity and race in Morocco (see posts of 09.01.11 and 09.01.24), this post will be mostly pictures and not words. In my post of 08.11.09, I thanked the Turks (Turkic men in particular) for being so accommodating in posing for pictures, perhaps to the point of vanity. Moroccans deserve to be known for the opposite; we encountered in Morocco outright hostility, even from people who just happened to fall within the frame of, say, a picture of a market. Given the volume of tourism in Morocco, one wonders whether the locals might take a more relaxed approach to tourists’ snapshots.

On to more photos…

One of the things that makes Morocco so colorful a destination, especially in winter, is the dress of the local men–most Moroccan men wear peak-hooded djellabas (or galabiyas), almost druid-like in appearance.

Even better, worn with a fez underneath.

Some “traditional dress” is of course in part for show, in this country of much tourism, but is nonetheless colorful.

The water salesman–sometimes actually selling water!

Women and girls are more out and about and visible in Morocco, in both rural areas and in cities, than in any of the other Arab countries that we visited.

A relatively rare degree of cover.

Faces of Mauritania

As I mentioned in my post of 08.12.12, Mauritania is about 30% Moor, 40% mixed Moor/black African and 30% black African. As one might expect of a country with such a complicated and evenly balanced racial makeup, identity politics is complicated in Mauritania: while the country’s leadership, at least since the 70s, has identified itself with the Arab world (becoming a member of the Arab League in 1973), a significant part of the country essentially forms a continuation of black French West Africa. Aside from the by-color black population that has been integrated into the now-dominant Moorish, Arabic-speaking culture, there are also sub-Saharan black Africans, especially in the bigger cities.

For all of the mixedness of the country, the riots of 1989 (when the Moorish and sub-Saharan black African populations came into violent conflict, leading to the forced migration of many Moors from Senegal and black Africans from Mauritania) and the August 2008 coup, Mauritania seemed quite peaceful and stable to us, a sparsely-populated desert country with room for all.

Some of the black African residents of Mauritania

Some of the Moorish residents of Mauritania

By skin color, black, but, as far as we could tell, individuals whose families have long been culturally integrated into the Hassaniya-Arabic speaking culture of the Moors

Faces of Senegal and Mali

For all of its political and economic problems, and relative lack of tourist sites and infrastructure, there are some things about sub-Saharan Africa that are for travelers just about incomparable to anywhere else in the world. The two things that pop up most easily in our mind are the colors and the people. Both can be described with the same adjectives: brash, engaging, exuberant. It is something of a paradox for us; in some ways, Africans can be incredibly timid and mild-mannered, but most of the rest of the time, they can be among the most engaging, gregarious and openly friendly people in the world. This is not the sort of polite welcome and forbearance that one receives in Southeast Asia, or the almost formal hospitality one receives in the Middle East, but a sort of slap-on-the-back friendliness that is not afraid to make jokes and laugh, a smile that is almost overly broad, full of life.

I do not have too much to say about these photos, but consider them with this in mind: Africans may be poor but their persons do not speak poverty and despair, but vitality and joy. I begin first with photographs from Senegal, with its Wolof ethnic plurality, then move on to Mali, where up north around Timbuktu live the fair-skinned berber Tuareg.

Ile de Goree, near Dakar, Senegal

This elegant older woman was awaiting her son, who was supposed to arrive by ferry to celebrate her birthday but was running late. For whatever reason, we imagined her as a sort of Miss Havisham, coming to the ferry dock every day, thinking that it was her birthday and looking for her estranged son.

St. Louis, Senegal

The stick in her mouth is a sort of toothbrush; the apparent effectiveness of such traditional tools makes one wonder why we bother with plastic brushes and saccharine-laden paste.


A Fula/Peul herder in characteristic hat

A girl exhibiting a confidence that seems, to me, typically African

Tattoos, especially on women and quite often on faces, are worn by “tribal” women around the world.

From Timbuktu. The fairer people are Tuareg, a berber people who inhabit the regions around the Sahara in Mali, Niger, Algeria and Libya. The Tuareg held black Africans as slaves until quite recently, and are said by some to continue to hold slaves. The practice was defended to us as a domestic/familial link at this point rather than mere ownership.

From the Dogon Country

Back to Bamako

Faces of Muslim Balkans

Just a few pictures from our few days among Muslims in the Balkans. The first picture below is of the Albanian-ethnic attendant of a mosque in Belgrade, Serbia; the rest are of Bosnians in Sarajevo. At an “ethnic” level, the story of Bosnia and Hercegovina is remarkably similar to the story of Cyprus (see posts of 10.27 and 10.28). Before the recent conflict, we were told, Muslim and Christian Bosnians thought of each other as people of the same “nationality” but merely different religions. Since the disintegration of the Yugoslav Republic and the subsequent conflicts, Christian Bosnians have been restyled as Serbs or Croats, with the “Serbian” Bosnians in particular identifying themselves with the Serbs of Serbia (even flying the Serbian flag within their semi-autonomous breakaway Republika Srpska) rather than the Muslim Bosnians, or Bosniaks, with whom they had lived together for hundreds of years. We were told that it is not possible to tell Christian and Muslim Bosnians apart, just as with Christian and Muslim Cypriots, but as all of the pictures of Bosnians below were taken within the city of Sarajevo, the subjects are most likely Muslim. As you can see, Muslims Bosnians look typically Slavic–they are genetically no different from their Christian neighbors. Few Bosnian women wear headscarves and few Bosnian men beards.