by Lindeka Qampi
Hectic preparations for Visa
It was such a hard experience applying for a visa to Norway. Time was against me, I was stressing myself about how to manage my busy schedule, as I was documenting the daily lives of the people who appear in the book ‘Faces and Phases’, also known as the ‘lesbian bible’ – a photographic publication by Zanele Muholi. My mobile phone was faulty causing poor communication with people. It also made it difficult to reach Christie, who is part of the team that I would travel to Norway with. All my plans were heading in the wrong direction and the worst thing was losing money while I was going to meet her. I felt so bad because it was not the right time to lose money. Finally we connected on Facebook and were able to meet at her flat in Woodstock to apply online for a visa. After several attempts at booking an appointment to submit our documents, we finally secured an appointment for the 25th of May 2015.
I woke up early to print my visa photos first and later I contacted Christie for directions. I met her inside the VFS Global offices; the wait was short and service was fast. We went to the desk to deliver our documents and I was amazed when the man at the counter rejected my visa photos – they had too much colour in the background and my face was not clear enough. I immediately went out to reprint the photos and went to the desk again. He looked at all of our documents, and then proceeded to tell us that there is a R420 processing fee, which we were not aware of. The Schengen states have just recently outsourced their immigration/visa services to VFS Global so their website was not working properly. We should have been notified at the end of our appointment booking process about the cost but because the website was down, we were not aware.
Shock and disgrace was playing its game. I looked all around with no solution; I was dampened inside with no hope, thinking about the next step and the lack of time. Christie was still explaining that we were not aware of process and the truth was that it is on paper. I am the kind of person who does not cry over spilt milk instead I focus on the next best thing and stay quiet. I was saying to myself, ‘God the decisions are yours, if you want me there you will make miracles’.
We were fortunate that God heard us and solved our problem. We asked the man to transfer our collections to Pretoria because we were leaving Cape Town to Johannesburg, he instructed us to call the embassy – to which the embassy responded with referring us back to VFS Global. We were given the run around but had to be patient because we needed the visas. The most stressful part of process was that they delayed alerting Christie about sending documentation verifying that she is a volunteer with Inkanyiso. We had been waiting for a collection notification until Christie had to eventually call them continuously until the last minute. We only received full approval of the visas the day before Christie had to leave for America. Finally we went to Pretoria and were excited to receive the visas.
The Journey and our Arrival
My suitcase life was hectic. I had a long journey, so many rivers to cross until the ending point.
I left Johannesburg on Thursday night traveling to Umlazi Township in the KwaZulu-Natal Province to document a funeral. I arrived safely in the early hours of Friday morning. We attended night vigil the whole night and went to the funeral the next day. I was so exhausted, my body and my soul were demanding me to sleep. On Sunday early morning. I left Umlazi rushing for a 6:45am flight to Port Elizabeth for a documentary journey with the Manenberg Girls High school from Cape Town. I was invited by Sue Johnson of Iliso Labantu photographers, to take part in capturing behind the scenes of the journey of these young girls on a road trip documenting people’s lives.
I slept on the flight and when I arrived there I decided to travel with a Cab (metered taxi) because I had an address. I asked the taxi driver for directions and he insisted that he knew the place. He dropped me off at the tourism park. The place was quiet and it was closed, but I saw two men nearby. I went to those men and asked for directions. When I came closer to them the vapour of alcohol was the first to answer me. The fear started creeping in, from knowing that I am in a danger zone. He directed me but I was not convinced. My eyes crossed the road and found an old hotel building. I went there and approached the man who was standing at the entrance. I am sorry but I judge him according to the way he looked – like a thug, but I greeted him. I tried to go inside the hotel without asking him anything and he said to me that the hotel was closed. I was feeling that this was the wrong day to be dealing with wrong directions, and I was carrying a tripod which can attract thugs. I heard a song and that song reminds the first steps of my career to the world of a camera.
My first approach was the song which went straight to the veins of my ears and sent me to the story. I went straight next to the church building with my back pack, sports bag and tripod. While I was standing there, I sensed that I need to vanish and went to God’s house. I went inside with my bags, God was calling me protecting me from thugs and so I entered. I sat down, looking straight at the pulpit, a teenage girl was praying and crying; then a young man followed with his bold voice which made me to open my hurt and talk to God. I trust that God is covering me with His big wing; He knew that I was in a danger zone and He lured me to safety with songs of praise. There were few people, but as the time went on the church was over crowded. Visitors were called to introduce themselves. I told the congregation that I got lost and God called me to safety inside His house. Later I tried to contact Sue and the girls, and two guys from the church went with me to find their location. Finally I met them and I was safe. We worked from Sunday, travelled into different townships, the road trip was long and we arrived in Cape Town on Tuesday at about seven o’clock at night.
I dropped all my parcels and went to my family home to fetch my kids. I was excited to see my grandson for the first time, he was one week old. My daughter got into labour while I was away but I just transferred her from God’s hand to keep her safe from the hardship of this world. I had a busy day on Wednesday and the following day was my traveling day to Oslo. I booked a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. It arrived to Johannesburg after one o’clock and I hired a cab at home. The cab was so expensive for just one way and I met the crew. We left together to the airport as usual.
We met Collen Mfazwe who is one of ‘Faces and Phases’ participants. We followed all the processes through check-in and passport control, until we reached the flight with excitement. I listened to opera music while we were on our flight. My soul was filled with a lot of emotions and deep memories. It reminded me of my sister who was an opera singer. It always worries me that Phumla is just sitting with her musical skill and I hope that one day God can make a difference in her career. My sister your pain is my pain. We changed flights in Dubai and boarded an Oslo flight. One of our colleagues did not print all the required documents and we were referred to the back office of customs to verify information that they needed. Fortunately, we showed them our documents and we left. We waited until Zanele Muholi came. Meeting Henrietta was exciting.
Our arrival in Oslo
Henrietta came to meet us, I was the last to greet her, I just saw a huge smile with dimple on her face, all people with dimples have a good heart and they always smile with joy. I introduced myself and we went to their gallery for the first time with Zanele Muholi; who connected us all together through the weapon of art activism, so that we could document the Pride process. We went to start documenting the opening of Pride House which was housed at Literature house. Every day we made different program collections with the aim of collecting a LGBTI archive which will make future history for the next generation. In order to create an awareness of the stubborn bosses of homophobia, decreasing crime practice and stopping rape and murder.
Differences to other Prides
Norwegian government provides a strong support system which comes with good results among the nation and builds the country with no homophobia war. Conferences and meetings are major tools for resolving issues amongst different people in order to mix together cultural norms. Pride week in Oslo was well dignified with different ages speaking one language of embracing Pride with the support from the community and no question marks. Rainbow flags fly like ambitious birds boasting in the sky with their beautiful wings. Performances are a good source of engaging people and expression through art.
A residency was one of the wishes on my bucket list and I was excited to receive the news of attending one. I thought that it is something far from me and complicated to engage. I learnt a lot on how to prepare myself for a residency, involvement and being organized to fulfill deadlines.
What I learnt for the exhibition process is that time management is important. Organizing all the needs for the installation process, measuring equipment and creating easy moving space for the people is vital to a successful exhibition. Art works must be exhibited with themes and complimented by the printing and framing process. Preparations must be made for welcoming people. Preparing the mindset to work properly and engage creativeness for uniqueness. Set up different invitations in time.
End feeling and the way forward
We appreciate the love and support we had from our family Vibeke Hermanrud and Henriette Stendstal of Kunstplass  gallery. We felt happy even from the first day when I received the news that we would meet them. Everyday life kept us busy with positive results. Working together encouraged us all to be involved and know our role as part of the team. I learnt that time management is important; transport systems run according to time with strict rules. You cannot get off at any space when you miss the right stop. I also learnt of a more focused way to handle things. Language is a major barrier to communicate.
Shooting inside the conference was a good experience of capturing different expressions and involvement on different topics. Government support was a vital tool for the long road to freedom with access for all. I appreciate everyone who supported us from the start up to end. I was also excited to meet people from South Africa and visiting the embassy was such a good experience. I am hoping that we can all work together to build a better world like the strong support of a Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra. Women can make a difference by working together.
Seeing an exhibition of my work is like looking at reflection of myself in the mirror. I felt emotional the first day I saw my images hanging on the wall. I was overwhelmed with a weak feeling of pain sensing the memories a grave environment – the work that we were exhibiting encompassed the documentation of the funerals of young lesbians; at the same time I had an opportunity to capture a suspect inside the court.
The exhibition environment was encouraging to us, sharing the visual activism was a key to abolishing rape and murder; breaking the silence to all find themselves in the caves of homophobia community. I am looking forward to us collecting a bible of pride events in different parts of the world. We had a vast array of images that we combined together to create the documentation of the Oslo 2015 Pride celebration. I think it is about time to fulfill our goals to establish more documentaries by working together with the hope of involving us all; for good exposure with positive results. I appreciate every one with all the four corners of my heart.
Henriette and Vibeke God bless you. South Africa we are there. Oslo sisters and brothers, we thank you for this opportunity .Thank you for the support, God bless you all with a million blessings.