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Zuleyka

Something can beat down on you hard enough until you’re faded, like the sun beats down on fresh paint eventually robbing it of hue and saturation. A life can beat down on you like the sun and rob you of time, satisfaction or happiness. No one is born with any guarantee of those elements. Webster’s tells me that the condition “jaded” can occur after doing too much of something. Could that be living?

She stood in the doorway of the shack of a store outlined by the muted colors surrounding her. I had been watching the comings and goings at the coastal tiendita for about 20 minutes, hunting images north of Esmeraldas. This is an area where things beat down on other things. That action is certainly in the history of the area where captured African peoples, shipped north to be sold into slavery, overcame their captors. After a shipwreck and in a bid for freedom, they escaped to the northern shores of Ecuador. To this day, the inhabitants of the region demonstrate the physical characteristics of the escapees. Most inhabitants of this area are of African descent. They are a lively and wonderful people who enjoy celebrating the simpleness of coastal life with food, drink and dance. Hard work is the way of the coast. Serious celebration creates a balance.

The toes of her sandals kicked up dust from the weathered wooden porch where an ancient flyswatter had dropped. An advertisement poster hung crookedly from the back of a door that had been built crooked to match the floor. It informed me of the value in drinking “Orangene” a multi-flavored beverage available for only a buck sixty- five for three liters. Folks ought to be lining up, right? She adjusted her posture by shifting her weight from one foot to the other, dropping one shoulder and then the opposite. Occasionally, various shirtless fellows would walk up and sit on those palm stumps to pass a little time with her. Nobody was in much of a hurry. Kicking off a sandal for a moment, she scratched the fuzzy belly of a sleeping dog with her bare foot. The red toenail polish matched her lipstick. I wondered if she was jaded. So, I kept watching for clues … through my viewfinder.

About that time she spied me in my little piece of shade under a palm frond in a sandy spot beside some banana trees. I was hard to see since there was a lot of contrast between me and the sun which was coming on hotter than blazes by then. Her sighting signaled the beginning of demonstrations of one theatrical gesture or facial expression after another. Apparently upon realizing I had a camera in my hands, she elected to accelerate the frequency. This is actually a pretty common response, by some subjects, to street photography. I chuckled to myself while swatting at an intrepid fly. Her looks ran the full gamut too, I’m not joking! At one point she was looking really angry and then, within two minutes, she was blowing me a kiss. I loved it all, it was a fun exchange for me and I made a few frames while she and I interacted.

I still couldn’t decide whether I thought she was jaded or not; I was about to find out. She might have just been faded. Her duds were kind of faded, her cut-off jean shorts and her pastel top. But if you’re jaded, you’re supposed to be feeling bored or tired and be lacking in enthusiasm. Does that mean you spend ten or fifteen minutes having facial and body language exchanges with a gringo photographer? I’m not sure … is that an action born of boredom? I don’t think she’s jaded at all, just a little faded around her edges … kinda like me. Matter of fact, I’m sure of it now that we’ve met. Her name’s Zuleyka and she’s pretty far from jaded. Actually, she’s vibrant in a number of ways being both an excellent conversationalist and studied in the history of her culture.

You can misunderstand something by not choosing to see past its surface. Or, by listening to the empty rhetoric of others who seek to convince you of the validity of their pre-expectations. Why not wade on in and find out how things really are? Be an explorer in every way! Go ahead, buy a fedora to grace your noggin if that’s what you need to push you over the edge. No need to feel awkward, the folks I engage usually make it easy for me. Most people are as curious about me and my life as I am about theirs. You’ll find out a lot in a hurry; then you’ll really be informed about a country, its people and its culture. If you’re in the area, stroll right on up and take a seat on one of those palm stumps out front. Go ahead, chat Zuleyka up awhile … she’ll enjoy that. Matter of fact, I told her to be expecting you.