Four to Follow #10
Sharing stories from across the African continent by the talented members of the African Photojournalism Database (APJD).
This article is part of the ‘Four to Follow’ series, originally published by Witness. Click here to see the rest of the series on Witness.
In this ‘Four to Follow’, meet the CairoRollers, Egypt’s own roller derby team; ask what it means to ‘move on’ for survivors of terrorism and violent conflict in Nigeria; find out about the women working for ‘semolina and gas’ in esparto fields in Tunisia; and glimpse daily life on the streets of the Republic of Congo.
Whilst the issues, regions and approaches of this month’s stories are incredibly diverse, a passion for visual storytelling links the four APJD members — Eman Helal, Nourredine Ahmed, Etinosa Yvonne and Victoire Douniama each began a career in a different field, before deciding to pursue photography full time.
‘Derby Girls’ by Eman Helal
“The derby sport gave me self confidence, and a way to vent negative energy.”
“The game made me stronger, liberated, more independent and happier.”
“It taught me how to stand tall quickly after a fall and let pain overpower me. It relieved me off my depression”.
— members of the CairoRollers, the Egyptian roller derby team, on why they joined the team.
The team was established in 2012 by two American teachers who were working in Egypt and had played in roller derbys before. After years of practicing in the school’s parking lot, today the team practices twice a week at the Cairo stadium and includes 22 players — only two are not Egyptian.
The games are referred to as a ‘bouts’, where two teams of five compete against each other. Each team has four ‘blockers’, and a ‘jammer’ — the scoring skater. The two teams skate together in a ‘pack’ as both jammers attempt to pass the pack to score points. Opposing team members try to keep the other jammer from getting through, while teammates try to help their jammer pass the pack.
Despite the broad smiles, it’s a difficult and sometimes dangerous contact sport, as they get knocked down to rise again and engage harder. For this reason, it is often seen as a challenge to social traditions in Cairo.
“It is quite acceptable in Egyptian society for men to engage in violent sports such as wrestling, while it is frowned upon for women to do so. It’s feared she will lose some of her femininity; if she wears a dress revealing scars or bruises on her body, she’ll be seen as flawed.”
When starting up, the team contacted different sport clubs but failed to find a sponsor to risk money on a new female sport. Eventually, the CairoRollers received support from international teams who donated their old gear. Not only because it’s not available in Egypt, but because its very expensive for the growing team.
Eman Helal is an Egyptian freelance photographer based in Cairo, covering the Middle East, Africa and US. She has recently completed her diploma in photography from the Danish school of Media and Journalism. She was selected as a Magnum fellow in 2013 and as a participant in World Press Photo’s Joop Swart Masterclass in 2015, and received funding from both Magnum Foundation and World Press Photo to complete her project about sexual harassment in Egypt.
Eman’s work has been published in international publications such as the New York Times, Time, Stern magazine, Polka magazine, The Guardian, and CNN. She has worked as a stringer with AP in Cairo. Her work has received the Portenier Human Rights Bursay in 2016 , and 1st Place in the Egypt Press Photo Awards in 2014, and 3rd Place in the Egypt Press Photo Awards in 2011.
‘Semolina and Gas’ by Nourredine Ahmed
Women in Chàanbi, Tunisia gain their bread by harvesting the esparto plant which grows naturally and covers large areas in the region. Esparto is collected in order to manufacture cellulose in the SNCPA company which is considered to be the most important industrial complex in the center-west of Tunisia. It currently employs 897 permanent agents, and supports around 6,000 families in the governorates of Kasserine, Gafsa, Sidi Bouzid and Kairouan through the collection of esparto.
“In my first conversation with one of the women collecting, 60-year-old Mah’dheya, said: ‘I am working to buy a semolina bag and to load the gas tank’. She has worked in the same field since she was a child, to feed herself. This is where the title of the project comes from.”
“I was in the fields for the first time when filming a documentary for the UGTT (Tunisian General Labour Union) about working conditions in the SNCPA company. I witnessed the pain that this tough job causes.This hard work starts from 4am and goes on until dusk. The harvesting leaves marks and scars on hands, and harms the face and the lips because of the cold and dry climate. Yet, each collector earns between 5 to 8 Dinars only.
Men don’t like to work in this job because they say it breaks their back and harms their hands, but when it comes to taking the pay of their wives and daughter, they do it. I’ve see that women are working hard to provide for their families but some of them don’t even touch their pay.”
“This field is near Chaambi Mountain area in southwest Tunisia, only 80 kilometres from the Algerian border. The Chaambi Mountain is often described as a stronghold for militants, including those affiliated to the Islamic State group. Many of the women live at least 5–10 kilometers away, so they all get into the back of a truck and pay someone to bring them to the field. It’s a very dangerous place to be but the women can’t find other jobs so they keep working in the fields of esparto.”
Born in Tunis in 1992, Noureddine Ahmed left his classes at the law school of Tunis to become a photojournalist. He switched to studying photography at the Art Academy of Carthage and La maison de l’image of Tunis. His photos have been published on the website of Tunis Afrique Presse Agency (TAP) where he completed an internship.
‘It’s all in my head’ by Etinosa Yvonne
What does it mean to ‘move on’ when a survivor is burdened with the thoughts of what they witnessed, and lost? ‘It’s all in my head’ is an ongoing, personal project that explores the coping mechanisms of those who have survived terrorism and violent conflict.
Whilst Boko Haram’s violence or the attacks in the Plateu region in Nigeria have been widely reported, the stories of the survivors whose lives have been so affected are rarely heard. In finding a way to rebuild and adapt to their new lives, many of the survivors had never got to talk of their experiences before, of losing a loved one, or all they had owned or worked for.
The layered portraits were created after long interviews with each survivor, working together to select scenes or objects which best represented their feelings of before the incident they witnessed occurred, and their present realities.
For Etinosa, ‘It’s all in my head’ is a way of advocating for increased access to support and mental health facilities for survivors of terrorism and violent conflict.
“When I wake up in the morning and just before I go to bed I think of all that
happened. I went through hell and I can’t get it out of my head. Boko Haram
is the worst thing that happened to me.” — Hajara Abubakar, 24, Borno
“During the 2001 and 2008 crisis in Jos, my shop was looted. I lost all my sewing tools and equipment. I’ve always been a tailor, it’s the one thing I know how to do best. Each time I go to my shop, I’m assured that I will rise again”. — Saleh Adams, 45, Jos
“I was shot in the leg in 2008, when there was a conflict in my state. These days, whenever I hear a loud bang I get scared. Worse still, my leg swells because I still have two bullets in it. I have a picture of when I was using crutches, although I don’t like looking at the picture, but it reminds me of what I went through. It’s the only picture I keep close to me at all times, I protect it dearly.” — Vou Choji, 36, Jos
“I’ve gotten pregnant three times but I have had a miscarriage and two stillbirths. I think it’s because anytime I get pregnant I get scared and I remember the things I witnessed during the attack by Boko Haram in my hometown, maybe that’s why the babies keep dying.” — Sarah Gideon, 25, Borno
“Food was never an issue when I was in Borno. I was a peasant, with my harvest I would store food that would be enough for my family and I for a year and then I would sell off what was left. Now I live like a beggar in an IDP camp in Abuja. It has been tough. I can barely take care of my family. I’ve not been happy in a long time. I am still trying to adjust and accept all that happened, but it’s really not easy.” — Umaru Adamu, 57, Borno, Nigeria
Etinosa Yvonne is a self taught documentary photographer from Benin, Nigeria who focuses on underreported societal issues. In 2018, she was selected to partake in The Nlele Institute 2 years’ photography mentorship program and awarded the Women Photograph + Nikon 2018 Grant. Yvonne has worked for The Wall Street Journal, De Correspondent and NGO’s such as Marie-Stopes International Nigeria, Alliance for International Medical Action, YIAGA Africa and Connected Development.
‘This is Congo’ by Victoire Douniama
‘This is Congo’ is a personal, long-term project highlighting what Victoire feels is not usually seen or known of the Republic of Congo. The series is made up of street photographs documenting everyday life in Congo, particularly remote areas.
“This project is personally aimed at giving the world an insight into what the Republic of Congo really looks like, for us. I want to connect viewers to the real cultural side of Congo, and not the poverty-stricken or civil war country that western media has buried Congo under for years.”
“The process of selecting what to photograph is a total blur. I don’t know what will capture my interest until I am out in the streets, so I just go with the flow.”
Victoire Douniama is a documentary photographer and writer from the Republic of Congo. Her work focuses on capturing the beauty of the Congolese nation’s culture, people and way of life. Victoire has worked with many online publications, and has written a number of articles about the Republic of Congo.
The African Photojournalism Database is a collaboration of the World Press Photo Foundation and Everyday Africa. The database identifies professional African photographers, photojournalists and documentary photographers reporting on cultural, economic, environmental, political and social issues on the continent, as well as sports, nature, and stories of everyday life. The database better connects local photographers with the global media industry and offers a more diverse representation of the African continent.
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