look & listen

Felix

I haven’t said much yet about Sujeylin’s current partner, Felix. He has kindly introduced her into their family home on the outskirts of Managua, but he’s not an easy guy to live with I think. They have a lot of fights and I believe that, if she had the means, Sujeylin would have left to go live somewhere else months ago.

Felix works and provides for his parents, Sujeylin, Karla and himself. He makes less than $150 a month. They have a house and a garden, kept by his retired parents. Inside the two-room house about 20% of the space is taken up by a pile of cement bricks, which Felix wants to use to build a separate room for him and Sujeylin. These bricks have been there for as long as I’ve come to the place, which is at least eight months.

Like I said, they fight a lot. Felix was raised in an extremely sexist way (his father is the same) and has certain ideas about Sujeylin’s duties as his “wife” which the latter doesn’t share. He also believes that it’s ok to hit your wife when necessary, adding to this that this wouldn’t happen if women wouldn’t give men reasons to do so. Although I always say that I don’t want to judge the characters of this film, you can imagine that I do have a few things to say about this particular issue.

The difficult thing is that it seems that we are becoming part of the problem. He doesn’t like it at all that we’re out and about filming with Sujeylin, when she should be at home washing his clothes, etc. What’s more, we buy her stuff (medicine, lunch, etc) which has made him suspect that there must be more that just the relationship subject-filmmaker (!). So, although he is welcoming and we can film in the house, at the same time it seems he is an extremely difficult person to be with, not in the least for Sujeylin. Who, by the way, resolves issues in her own classic way: with complete resignation to anything, aggravating the issue even more, while dreaming of a better world for herself and her girls.

Some images

Am now able to post screen grabs again from my video footage. Here’s the closed park. The pile of concrete on the left is from the paths which are being dug out. The park will be cut up in pieces and sold on to build commercial spaces on. The group now lives across the road, behind a petrol station.

Parent reunion on the second day of our visit.

The fight in which Karla was used as a human shield. Sujeylin is keeping the woman in yellow from attacking the one who’s holding Karla. A pretty tense moment. And inexplicable decision for any parent. But it worked.

My editor also ordered some general shots of Managua. I’m sure he meant shots with people going about their business, and not this image, but it’s an interesting building. It’s Managua’s earthquake proof cathedral which, according to my American producer, looks like a nuclear power plant.

And we also do nice shots! You might know I am doing a series of sunrises and sunsets, to be used as transitional scenes between important moments in the film. This is one taken from the roof of the Crowne Plaza hotel.

Photos (or: lack of)

You might have noticed I have not posted many pictures. I’m having some problems inserting video grabs (straight from the filmed material). I am fixing this today and later on I will post some images related to previous posts.

Oh, her lungs!

Yesterday we spent the morning filming at the health clinic. I believe Karla has chronic lung problems, but here it’s being treated on a case-by-case basis. She often has colds or bronchitis, and produces a lot of slime causing coughing fits which are extremely painful to witness. She’s ill again, so we went to the doctor.

For the first time they are giving her injections (in combination with other treatment) to get rid of it. I had never seen this and know so little about medicine that I can only suspect it is some kind of a horse remedy. The doctor also insisted she be in clean air, avoiding dust (although they clean regularly, there’s an incredible amount of windy sand dust in the neighborhood they live in), smoke (they cook outside on a wood fire which produces a lot of smoke and makes the pots and pans go blacker than black), contamination (I can’t even begin to tell you the stuff that some of the vehicles spit out here) and other risks (yesterday for quite a while  she was only 15 centimeters away from the aggressive smell of glue). It’s somewhat hopeless, really.

I believe it is chronic because she was born underweight (2040 gr) and most-likely before her due date. Her lungs have always been a problem. I’m afraid though that, unless there is a systematic change in the way she lives, she’ll just keep dragging this around for the rest of her life. And that change depends a lot on her mother, and their economic capabilities.

It makes me realize over and over again that poverty is the evil of all evils, because it generates a host of secondary problems which are often trapped in vicious circles. Sujeylin cannot change the way they live. First, she pretty much lacks the education to consider that there might be an alternative (she’s smart and knows how she could sustain herself, but I think she believes she’s in the best quality home she’s lived in all her life). She’s simply living her life the way she knows it. Lack of education is a poverty related problem. Then, even if she wanted to do something, she lacks the means to make changes. She couldn’t move to another home. Or one better protected from dust, or for instance with a kitchen operating on butane gas…

All throughout the making of this film I have learned a lot about the effects of poverty. When you live hand-to-mouth, like so many people here, it’s like a stone around your ankle which keeps on drawing you back. Lack of means creates a negative domino effect on many fronts, and it’s not simply a matter of receiving more money. It’s something which envolves your entire being affecting all areas of your life, not in the least your health.

Karla the human shield

Yesterday (Wednesday) was our first productive shooting day. In effect it was the second, but on day 1 I was only able to get about 10 minutes of (most likely) useless material. Yesterday we witnessed a meeting between Sujeylin and Juan Carlos (Karla’s father) which turned out to be a very interesting scene, and afterwards when I suggested to Sujeylin we go home she said: “No, let’s go the park.”

As regular followers of this story know, the park has now been closed. The group now hangs out in front of its gates, on the sidewalk. And soon after we got there and started filming some of the interaction of Sujeylin’s friends with Karla, a serious fight broke out between two of the women. They were painfully physical with each other for a while, until Sujeylin got up and tried to get in-between them. Having been separated, one of the women looks in her bag for a razor blade and positions it on top of her tongue, threatening the other one by sticking out her tongue repeatedly. At this point the incredible happens: Sujeylin picks up Karla and shoves her in the arms of the other woman (who is one of her better friends), then turns to the razor blade one and starts screaming: “Are you threatening my daughter? Are you hitting the little one??”

Little poor Karla, without knowing it, just turned into a human shield. It surprises me tremendously that Sujeylin would offer her one-year old as protection for a fight in which at least one of the characters is stoned out of her head on glue. But it works. Besides lots of sobbing and some screaming, the physical element of the fight disappears. We stick around for another half hour or so, but when Sujeylin believes the other woman has calmed down sufficiently, she picks up Karla and returns to the relative comfort of her home in the outskirts of the city.

This has been an event I have had to digest. Is she a bad mother? I don’t think so. Is she stupid? Not at all. Would I ever do something like that? Never. So, what am I to make of this? How can I support and believe in a person who puts a baby at risk in this way?

Talking it over this morning with Emily, my U.S. co-producer and currently also sound recordist, I had to remind myself not to judge her. Sujeylin’s complicated personal history have made her who she is, beyond her own fault, and I will never be in a situation where I can sufficiently understand the complexities of her life and the dynamics of her relationships with people (including her own daughter). It’s easily done, and very common to many Westerners all over the globe, but judging from the perspective of a person in the developed world is not only not fair but can never be accurate. I could only ever try to look at Sujeylin’s actions from her point of view, something very hard to do without having lived her life myself, and then I suspect I might come to understand what happened here. But it’s a suspicion, something I feel is out there but hard to grasp. I know it can be explained somehow, but feel incapable of trying to.

A 1000 words

As for our first shooting day in Managua, I think I should just shut up. After all, one picture is better than…