Dum spiro spero (while I breathe, I hope)

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Once I looked up at the word “woman” in many different languages and noticed that out of the long list an exception caught my attention: the word woman in Vietnamese is written separately as wo man (đàn bà). First, I found this ‘grammatical separation’ just interesting but I soon realized the paradox this hides.

As a father, partner and son I grew up surrounded by women. Women who were able to go to school, to work, to dream, to vote, to fall in love, to live in freedom. Delicate, fragile, passionate, yet strong and determined. Though there are deep scars of oppression in our society in which a woman is not able to be herself or to express the core of her essence; like the beauty, light and love living inside her soul. Imagine a butterfly entrapped within a tiny cage not allowing her to spread her wings to fly away. I wonder……how would I feel?…How do they feel?...

Despite the gains in women’s rights of the last decades, women’s oppression remains a multi-layered and established issue in the 21st century. It is often easy for people to ignore the social and cultural manifestations of women’s oppression. It is a complex reality that includes overall sexualization of women in popular culture, the association of women with products that can be traded, the acceptance of abusive behaviour towards women, the classification of women as both intellectually and physically inferior to men.

She is visible, yet unreachable.

A woman put under pressure by society, wrapped into a visible and still invisible veil. Imprisoned and confined within a multi-dimensional and inconvenient truth that silently spreads inside her soul. A woman who wants to break out of her silk confinement but no one is there. A woman with no rights to use her voice that cannot be heard to reach out for help. A woman that does not feel safe and disappears behind the veils like dust. Yet a woman with a strong willpower to break out, spread hope, share strength and breathe through.

I could not be more grateful to all the beautiful women that have crossed my path. To them I owe my presence in this world and the person I am today.

Thank you.

People portraits in Cuba

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I walked so many kilometers around the streets of Havana. I met so many people, faces and characters that if I could have taken thousands of shots. Although I was tempted to take countless number of photos, I chose to talk to them and get to know who they were. However, in some cases our conversations landed onto photography and having a camera at hands made things easier. I picked some subjects to photograph. If you ask me why, it is actually a blend of feelings and not necessary a specific stereotype. Whether it was the moment, the place, our conversations.....it does not matter. What matters is the images I am sharing.

Vladimir and his farm

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I met so many wonderful people during my staying in Cuba. One of them is Vladimir, the hardest worker I have ever met. Fortunately I met him but unfortunately I could not spend enough time with Vladimir till a couple of days before the end of my trip. He is a truly multi tasking person. He is into constructions building a new house for his son. He owns a typical old American car driving people around whenever possible. By the way, he does his own maintenance, assembling, disassembling and fixing his car. He owns a small farm that gives him food and money when he is able to see his grown up pigs. Icing on the cake, he is a fantastic, friendly and open minded person. I wish, I had enough time to tell his story but time wasn't on my side due to his fully packed days. Nevertheless, I agreed to go with him to feed his animals the day before my flight.

I joined him in his car to drove to his farm. It was a 10 minutes drive into a remote area. Only a few homes where visible and a few farmers.

We stopped in front of a rusty red metal gate leading to a banana field. After a couple of minutes walking we arrived at another metal gate hidden between the woods: the entrance to Vladimir small world. As we approached the gate, a dog inside was excited to see him (and to get some food). As the door opened, the cute black dog came along. I do not remember his name but Vladimir explained me that the dog is there to keep him company, to guard his farm and to kill rats.

The space looked like an old garage however with no roof but well protected by surrounding trees, including mango. As we walked through I could hear the pigs impatiently waiting for their dinner. The aisle became narrower with a small hand-assembled space: the home of his animals. Every day, he collects food left over from the neighbors into a plastic bucket. He took the bucket and added corn and powder milk to it. Breakfast was served. There were two very large pigs, rabbits into small cages and a goat standing still in front of us. Vladimir took his time to feed all his animals with parent-like care and love. His dedicating was outstanding. When done, he took his goat on a leash to take him back to the banana field where he will be spending the night eating banana leaves.

A street life

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Animals are regularly part of Cubans’life. They are found everywhere on the streets, in every corner mostly as silent spectators of the life around. Only few are lucky to have a stable home and a roof to sleep. They share the struggle to survive and rely on what they find on the streets. Street animals are so normal that it is easy to just not seen them as you walk along the streets. Sometimes people feed them with whatever left overs they have. Sometime they will need to find their own meal. Dogs, more than cats, impressed me for their expression. Their eyes speak a silent language that go straight to your heart. Every small sign of care or food is enough to trigger their attention. I happen to see daily a small, cute black dog not belonging to any specific breed. He had big eyes and he was always up for a happy greeting and some caresses.

Faith to heal

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Faith is an important element for many Cubans. Their believes fill their souls with hopes, strength and joy letting them forget the everyday challenge. I visited a Christian church and emotions and vibes were overwhelming. The church itself used to be the living room of a small apartment now completely filled with chairs and believers twice a week. Hands up as a sign of hope, young and old, white and black united under the same roof on the name of God. The pastor was an energetic leader giving you shivers each time he opened his mouth. I witness the baptisms of two young boys whom have decided to accept God in their lives.
Emotions were all over and even my hands were shaking. People gather around the small pool to witness these joyful moments. They all started to sing with their hands up. The pastor started to pray out loud. One of the boys becomes so emotional before being immersed into the pool that he started to cry. The pastor assistant holds him tight with care and comforting him. After he came out of the water a new life started and everyone was crying out “alleluia”.


Living behind the bars

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When you walk around the streets, it looks like that people live locked as prisoners in their own homes. Every door, every window, every home, every balcony is secured behind bars to protect the little they have. For the Cubans is a kind of normal and give a great sense of safety to live behind metals bars. It is so normal that conversation often happen from door to door through the bars. To outsides it feels like to walk through place with a missing sense of freedom and tranquility. In reality, happy faces, music, happy running kids and normal lives happens daily behind the bars. When I was personally behind the bars, life seems to run from another dimension. It feels like a filter between you and the outside. A semi-invisible wall between the safe and the unsafe world where lives go on at different speeds.