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  • Melissa Knowles

Sawubona

Updated: Mar 2




Ben McBride introduces us to sawubona the Zulu greeting for “hello” in his book Troubling the Water. It translates to “we see you,” and the response, sikhona, “because you see me, I am here.” 


To quote McBride: The sawubona and sikhona greetings remind us that people aren’t seen just because they are in a particular physical space; something must happen, collectively, for people to be seen. To truly see one another means being willing to bring people’s lived experiences into ours. To truly see another – and to be seen– is an act of radical, reciprocal belonging. 


It’s a greeting that suggests how urgent it is for us to see each other. It’s almost like neither of us can exist apart from the other. Do I truly see you? Do you truly see me?


Ben McBride is talking about bridging the racial divide and bias that we all have. It does, for my way of thinking, apply to everything. Every... little... thing.


To people, and to nature also. We are experiencing the fallout of a long divide with nature. Yes, we still see the beautiful sunset, but do you see the a blade of grass, my mentor John Diamond, M.D. would ask?


Do you see that pebble over there, silent, still, yet imprinted with the memories of a history that we can only glimpse at. Do you see the broken parts of our landscapes?


When I connect to these things, I see, and invite, a redefined sense of beauty, into my life. When I pay attention to these overlooked aspects in my life, I also begin to sense those overlooked parts in people calling for attention. This is the invisible work, that often transforms simply sharing a space to being in a space together, and infusing it with a creative spirit. This is artistry, and there's an artist in all of us.


Learning to see beyond what someone initially presents that's a powerful thing, because that is what we all want... to be really seen, even if the journey to revealing oursleves is something we're not comfortable with. Photography that’s all it is really about; the photographer and subject both are looking to make a true connection. You often sense this in a photograph - it goes beyond the obvious connection and might what the paper the photo is printed on at surface level presents, giving the viewer something positive to walk away with, and in turn for them, to give that feeling, albeit fleeting, to someone else, and so on.


So let us, today, with camera in hand take a first step in expanding our definition of we so that people, plants, and even the rocks that we mistakenly refer to as inanimate are included.  This eliminates the widely accepted separation of “us” and “them.” 


Let's expand our definition of “we” in the context of our school community. 


What is the “we” at school? 


Students, teachers, yes, but how can we expand that?  


The building, the playground, the plants, the water, and even the pebbles outside. 


Yes, this is the “we” maybe. 


By taking this approach you connect in a different way to your surroundings because you’re no longer a stranger from it. And you connect to people, even if they are very different from you. It doesn’t mean that you are friends necessarily, but you are connected, you truly see each other, you exist together. It takes work, and hard work sometimes, to as Ben McBride says to bring people's lives experience into your own, as well as bringing yourself into other peoples lives, but it's nonetheless vital and urgent.


And the beauty is that with photography you can capture that. In that photographic moment, the photographer looking through the camera and lens, and the subject  looking back, are not separate, and each picture is a lasting memory of “we.” Not "good", not "bad", not "you", not "me", but "we."


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