The Tattooed Women of Myanmar’s Chin Tribes

I’m excited to announce that my new travel photography project is out! Called “Tattooed Women of Myanmar,” it showcases portraits of ethnic minority women with facial tattoos.

Though these women are now elderly, they were just teens when it was decided that face tattoos would enhance their worth. A week of intense pain and a lifetime with these markings made these few women immensely beautiful, and thus easily married off. While in Myanmar I was able to work on a project with several members of a remote tribe. In fact, I was the first person ever to photograph some of the women in remote and off-limits areas of southern Chin State.

I’m posting a few photos here, but you’ll get a better sense of the project’s scope by seeing it in its entirety.

To view the project, visit http://www.KathrynCooperPhotography.com/tattoos

I’m in Myanmar

Yes, I’m in Myanmar, where internet is just about as bad as the acne all the oily food here is causing. Too much info, sorry. But I will be back in March to write an inevitably scathing review of this country. Just you wait! Until then, enjoy a small photo and get ready for some beautiful temple landscapes, sunrises, and more!

Working as an NGO Photographer in Africa [and How to Not Contract Ebola]

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There are few things I love more than traveling, photographing remote areas of the world, helping others, and not contracting Ebola. Luckily I was able to fulfill all four of those dreams on my recent work trip as a travel photographer to Africa.

I was able to spend my time getting sunburned in a couple of African countries, but my work was all done in The Gambia. It’s a small sliver of a country that’s smaller than the state of Connecticut. The Gambia is sandwiched smack in the middle of Senegal and rhymes with Zambia, but has a pretentious official article in front.

I worked for Penny Appeal, a UK-based nonprofit operating in more than 30 countries around the world. They provide emergency relief, house and educate orphans, build wells, and more. They have dozens of locals working in their own villages. They’re awesome people. They also happen to be a British Muslim organization.

While many I know have issues with this religion and way of life, I felt fine 99% of the time. Seeing little kids memorize the Qur’an doesn’t really make sense to me, but then again, I’m no Muslim. Yes, I am a pretty devout Christian—or spiritual, as might be more appropriate—but I saw no reason not to work with these folks. While I find many of their practices odd and limiting—and oftentimes sexist—I’m quite sure they feel similarly confused about me. Given this particular group’s comments on my clothing (I wore proper attire while working in the field, of course, but shorts when at the “resort”—like the men and holiday-goers), they likely think that females wearing shorts are a sign of physical and moral indecency. But we talked about these issues quite a bit, and I did my best to learn as much as I could. Besides, I’m friends with Muslims in several different countries around the world, and know that just like Jews, Catholics, Christians, and virtually every other religion, interpretations of religion and practices vary widely.

But why does any of this matter? It doesn’t, unless you’re stuck in times of the past or choose to group everyone of a religion into one category. What matters is that these were the nicest, most delightful folks I’ve worked with, and if I can participate in helping orphans, villagers, and needy people, why shouldn’t I—whether I agree with the religion or not? The group does wonderful work, and they’re great people, so I was delighted to work with them for the first of what I hope is many times. I now consider many of them my good friends–they were that awesome.

While photographing the poverty, well projects, orphans, school systems, and more in West Africa, I heard about quite a few ways to not contract Ebola. Tips include:

– Don’t shake hands, as this spreads germs. || In certain villages—or when meeting entire orphanages, we’d shake hands with 40 different kids and adults in the span of just a few minutes.

– Don’t make out with the locals or foreigners while in West Africa. || Though many tried getting me to stay (I was married off over half a dozen times, but I don’t think any of the marriages stuck), I avoided official wedlock—and therefore did not kiss anyone while there.

– Resist making out with any water buffalo. || I already made this mistake somewhere in Asia*, hence why I came back sick years ago.   *This is not actually true.

– Don’t go to West Africa. || Whoops.

– Avoid contacts with bats and nonhuman primates, as well as their raw meat. || I really wish someone had told me this before I ate all that ape. But seriously, they eat rat in The Gambia (huge, HUGE rats), because it apparently helps lower blood pressure. No, that’s not really related.

– Don’t be a doctor treating patients in West Africa. || Shirley you can’t be serious.

Now that you know how to stay Ebola free, I’ve included some non-Ebola photos from my trip. Check back soon for another update, where I’ll be ranting about husbands in Gambia, Moroccan tea, and so much more.

 

2012: A Rather Serious Look Back

Fact: My posts here on Anti-Tourist Traveler are sometimes rather lengthy.

Fact: The above statement is an understatement.

Fact: I sometimes like to write serious bits, and I’m about to do that. You came to be amused, you say? Hey, then don’t read it! Skip to my post above or click HERE if you’d rather see the not-so-serious year-end summary. Ready to cry? I warned you. Oh come on, I’m not THAT bad. Am I?

People seem to be under the impression that I did not work hard this year. Just because I post photos and stories of adventures—from my weekends—does not mean I am living care-free and flouncing about mountaintops and clouds seven days a week. I strictly limit that to four days a week, obviously. But in India I usually worked extremely stressful 10-, 12-, or even 14-hour workdays six days a week. In Malta, I was often up quite early researching and late writing, and had to sit down for hours every day interviewing, gathering information, forcing myself to write articles on the spot, and editing photos. Many times I was extremely ill while at work. Am I complaining? No, because I chose said jobs. Was it an experience? A lot of the time, yes! And sure—not many folks get to scuba dive on the job or conduct college workshops on innovation as “work,” but for that I sacrificed anything even moderately resembling a real paycheck, comfort, stability, or any sense of normalcy. I made these choices, and I’m pleased with them, but please don’t think I haven’t been working or have been living off of someone else’s dime.

People ask me when I’m going to actually get a real job and settle down, and to that, here’s what I have to say. 2012 has been a terrible year for so many people. There have been multiple mass shootings. Innocent children have been gunned down. I just learned that a childhood friend exactly my age was thrown from her horse and killed. Another friend of mine was found dead in his home this year. And I saw violent death more than once while abroad. Of course it changes you a little. Tragedy has been seemingly rampant in 2012, and these sad events really make you sit down and wonder. Life’s just too short to not be enjoying ourselves every day we can. At this point in my life, my years still aren’t about working all year with 10 days of freedom and perhaps a few sick days. I’ve made choices: Choices not to have kids, not to have a high-paying job, not to know what I’m doing a month or a year from now. Those are choices I’ve made that I’m pleased with, for what makes me happy–still–is exploring. 2012 has been the most incredible year of my life, but I ran through nearly every emotion possible. Who said my year’s been easy? I didn’t know if I’d walk normally again with my leg injury in India, and was alone and scared. I didn’t know what was wrong with me when I came back from Thailand and had to see four doctors with no real health insurance (and I’m still battling an extreme case of Lyme Disease). I earned virtually no money and sometimes didn’t know where I’d sleep at night. But again, this is the life I made for myself in 2012. Sustainable? No, but I’ve paid for it with my savings. I work hard in between my adventures to make the life I want for myself, so please don’t assume it’s been a.) easy, b.) free, or c.) lucky. We needn’t compare, because while jobs, marriage, and a family may be your thing, I used my time, money, and energy to make myself excited and happy. We’re going to have a different set of photos and stories to share from our years, and hopefully we’re both happy with that. We don’t have enough time in this lifetime to whine, to think what could have been, or to wish. We need to do what makes us excited to live, because we only have one chance at that. 

Also, it’s gotten to the point where the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend, have not given birth, and do not have a stable job or income makes people actually think I’m not in control, but I see it as just the opposite. I’m not hurting anyone else and am making choices for myself. And please, don’t think that whether it’s amazing Facebook status updates or hundreds of baby photos, any of us are having fun 100% of the time. We as people don’t post the average; we only advertise the amazingly good or terribly bad. You won’t hear the stories of loneliness, money problems, fighting, or dilemmas we all go through on a daily basis, but in reality we all battle these things. In short, don’t assume. Just make sure you’re happy with your own life, and if you’re not, work on making changes.

People have talked about my Malta and Italy photos a whole lot more than anything else, which surprises me. I think it’s beach scenes, hiking views…accessible vistas that are different but not too far away from the unknown. My trip photos from India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, however, draw far fewer comments. Why? I’m not sure, but perhaps it’s because it’s not very attainable. People aren’t about to go to those random, far-out places that require sketchy night buses, dangerous motorcycle rides up and down mountains in torrential rains, and uncomfortable nights alongside no one who speaks English. There are awesome places, people who look like they’re from another century, crazy bugs, and scenes that are just plain odd, but I’m guessing people can’t identify with them very well. It makes me feel bad, because I want to transport people with my photos and stories. I don’t know what I can do differently, but here’s an example of what I mean:

The most popular photos of the year, based on Anti-Tourist Traveler comments, Facebook comments, and friends who wouldn’t stop talking about me in the purple red-carpet event dress: 

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Some of my personal favorite photos of the year:

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Notice the difference? Sunsets, me doing activities, me dressed up, food, and camels vs. portraits, moments, bugs, and scenes. Well, to each his own I suppose.

I’m still, STILL so shocked at how many people travel or live abroad, know “facts” about where they are, and still have not lived, really lived there. I understand to some degree; if I were living abroad for a substantial length of time, I’d want to be comfortable if possible. Still, hang out with locals and eat their food, even if it’s difficult. No one said living in a foreign place was easy. But travelers? If you’re going on a 2-week vacation to relax in the sun, fine, be that way. But if you’re going to a truly foreign place…why are you complaining? Isn’t the point to experience things, and to learn? I complain about rice and traditional clothing as much as the next gal, but when all is said and done I accept it and follow suit, whether it’s covering any exposed skin in 110 degree heat or not making out with my multiple husbands in public. But most people: Why are you partying like you would at home? Why are you all comfortable when, if you were really experiencing a place, you’d be with the locals and feel…well, awkward? You can feel at ease, but you should not feel as if you’re in your normal Western home. Doesn’t that beg the point of travel?

Now that my rant is over (Though there’s plenty more, so if I haven’t yet bored you, please–when you see me in person—ask anything! I love opposing viewpoints and am curious to hear your opinions), I leave you with a very long thank-you list. If not for everyone I met this year or re-visited—or kept in touch with while away—I don’t know what this all would have been like. To all of you: Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

In no order whatsoever: Mady, Tobie, Larvin, Varun, Signe, Jared, Vic, Ola, Daniel, Jay, Anwar, Kristine, Claire, Paul, Ruth, Deepak, Rajesh, Sanit, Anshul, Gregor, Katia, Jay, Martin, Mithin, Rapunky, Rohit, Rohan, Roshan, Vadiraj, Vanessa, Krishnaveni, Polly, Whitney, Frida, Jimbo, Kate, Niel, James, Harpreet, Vinoth, Amir, Timothy, Reilly, the Bih, the Blem, Greg, Piero, Ron, Tim, Jennie, Katie, Gina, Omar, Brenna, Ana, Ken, Martijn, Kemal, Nina, Tanya, Marta, Niels, Roy, Brett, Colleen, Azeem, Jessi, Noel, Sally, Krishna, Amrut, Geeta, Shashi, Savio, Jibin, Jimmy, Chris, Jared, Sarah, David, Satvik, Shridhar, Lhakpa, Tsering, Tashi, Pasang, Billy, Sergio, Juan, and my wonderful, wonderful students of DFP7, DFP8, DSF3, DSF4, and DSK. You guys made my 2012.