I’m standing on the terrace of our temporary office in this small back-suburb of the city, in yet another country on this trip. It’s just turning dusk, and it’s a festival-day here – hence a good excuse for people to set off fireworks. Lots of fireworks: explosions and flashes and sparkling lights fill the skies all round.
Across the road, a large burly man comes out of his house, accompanied by a gaggle of excited kids and, somewhat later, their mother. He drags out a bright paper effigy, upright in large cardboard box, almost into the middle of the street, and sets it ablaze. The kids squabble and squeal over the fireworks; two of the boys grab some of the larger ones to set off in the drains. Cars swerve past, seemingly heedless of the confusion, smoke and hazard.
The box crumbles to flaky ashes; the fireworks are finished, the show’s over. The family go back inside, leaving charred detritus all along the street. And in turn a different, dark-skinned girl comes out, armed with brush and bags and hosepipe, and quietly cleans up the family’s mess.
One of the invisible people.
Invisible. So there’s no picture to show here – in fact it’s unlikely she’ll appear on any of the family photos, except as part of the backdrop for someone else. She’s in the family, you might say, but not of it – a subtle yet important distinction. Unless you look for her, you may not even notice her existence. And yet she’s there, always there, working tirelessly in the background, barely acknowledged, barely respected – but without her, it’s likely the whole household would fall apart, and they all know it. An odd relationship…
Although it faded from my own country fully half a century ago, that uneasy, undiscussable dependence still seems common in most other cultures I’ve known. And whichever country it may be, always, it seems, the maid has a darker skin than anyone else, as if that attribute alone marks her out for invisibility. Strange…
Yet it’s not just the maid that’s invisible: everywhere we look – if we remember to look – there’ll be other unacknowledged, all-but-invisible people. Who are they? What are their stories?
Who are the ‘black sheep’ in your family-history, “the ones we don’t talk about”? Or the children who died young? The uncle or aunt who moved to another town, another county, another country, and seemingly vanished from family memory? What could their stories show you about your own deeper story?
And who are the people working tirelessly in the background, almost unnoticed, within your community, your organisation? The sweepers and cleaners, the secretary, the librarian, the maintenance-man down in that dark dungeon of a sub-basement in your office-building – who are they, really? What can they tell you, that you can’t see right now from your own perhaps too-comfortable view?
Use Zahmoo to help you capture the stories of these ‘invisible people’ – and renew your own story through what you learn from them.