Yesterday driving from Ksar Ghilane to the island of Djerba (Tunisia), we pulled off the road in an area called Medhar, because a group of women digging a ditch caught our eyes (women doing such work is very unusual here).
There was an old man sitting nearby, presumably of some stature, so we went to speak with him about allowing me to photograph the women. Turns out, I’d be welling up in his arms soon after.
He proudly told me that thanks to God, he was (is) 86 years old with three daughters, one of whom had a son, who she “gave” to him to raise as his son since he only had daughters.
When it was time for his son to marry, he asked his “son” if he should arrange for a wife, but his son declined saying he’d find his own love marriage. The man agreed, but on the condition that it would be his responsibility to ask the family for her hand in marriage. This too, he told me, was God’s way. His son’s wedding is March 27, just a few weeks away.
He proudly invited me inside to see the house he’s had built for his son and daughter-in-law to be (he was especially proud of the bathroom; it was really nice)…his gift, and responsibility to them, he said.
He introduced me to his daughter, grandchildren, and other family members, and we talked as best you can through language barriers and a translator. I understood perfectly when he told me I was his daughter now too.
He told me it would be his honor for me to stay for the wedding. I told him it would be my honor to stay but could not. So he asked his daughter to bring me this scarf as a gift (the one in my hand). I told him I would wear it on March 27, the day of the wedding to honor him and his family. That’s when the tears started…
He let me take his portrait, and one of him and his grandson. I have so many photos to send to so many people from this trip…none of whom has email, let alone a computer. Thankfully Hamet, my journalist/fixer/friend has agreed to help.
I never ended up taking photos of the women digging the ditch. It hardly mattered by then. But I did speak with them. They’d been at it six months, and it looked like they had a ways to go. A million reminders every single day how lucky I am…how grateful I am and should be.
Postscript: Back in New York, I wore the scarf on the day of the wedding.