Above: 10 year-old Neo Makoena on his birthday, playing in the street.
Quick summary: Neo was born HIV positive, by no fault of his own. Even if you don’t need to know the story of the how…all you need to know is that he should have died in December. BUT “H.I.V. can’t kill Happy Birthday”
He’s a fighter and a conquerer with a beautiful heart. He got to enjoy another year’s celebration of being alive. God bless you buddy. May I always remember to dance as carefree as you do.
So, lately I’ve been thinking about how pictures create “a radiating web of associations” in our mind.
Isn’t it crazy how a picture can take us back to that moment, in the snap of the fingers? With just one glance, we are submerged in that memory. We are there. Taken back in time.
I don’t know what that might be for you — a picture of your family, a long-lost relative, a lover, a childhood snapshot…..but it’s powerful isn’t it?
I took that black & white picture this summer, during a photography stint in Capetown, South Africa- documenting the youth of the slums.
The associations a picture creates can be “good” or, in the same regard, “bad”.
I’m not sure how you would label this one…..but I can tell you this. It still haunts me today.
It was…surreal being there. My head was swimming. The reality didn’t (fully) kick in until I returned stateside. I don’t think anyone can truly comprehend a 10 year-old staring down death with a smile…..until you actually meet such a person. Seriously, I don’t. You have to put a face to a name.
Seeing this– suddenly flashes memories from that day: endless talks in the car, driving what seemed hundreds of miles, fighting mental and physical exhaustion, Edwin’s orchestrating of the gigantic party like a proud father, food, the words on the cake – burning into my retina afther the flash, a donated DJ, presents from the community, the whole neighborhood packed into to every square inch of the property- spilling out onto the street, music blaring, Neo’s mad dance moves, children running, Edwin trying to speak over the numbing buzz in my brain, my unsolveable anger for the whole situation……
It’s powerful– somehow I still am transported back there, upon seeing the pictures.
Let me tell you why.
The doctors said that Neo should have died in January. Yet there he was. Smiling. Dancing. Living.
Above: Mother (left), Neo (middle), Edwin (right)
It’s almost as if you could write more than just a few lines to describe some of your memories…..you could write a novel.
It’s a never ending web of associations. One thing sparks another….
[I’d love to hear what pictures do that for you]
Well, I found myself writing this poem, in response to reviewing them. I hope it helps explain things further.
Ode to Neo
Your mother realized she was pregnant, the same night she wrecked her car
checking for blood transfusion, the worried chaos beyond the immediate, a deafening crash of
“what will he think when he finds out?”- -smack, another painful blow, again undeserved
you see, she found out the bad news too, she had been given AIDS from someone else
when she got home, nobody could tell the difference between another black & blue bruise
a broken family, an only twin, you were no stranger to the pain when birth came
without a Dad, but Edwin made sure you had more- a Godfather closer than heaven
he held you, baptized you, bought you clothes, called over the whole neighborhood to play,
one last party to defeat the slurs of death, you danced over your own supposed grave
December’s calling should have given you a new name,
you threw down that badge and entitled your own –
the fighter: one whose feet move too quick for death
now, I know I have no room to talk about shed tears, but
remember, this is hard for me-
a paradox I can’t deceode
a metaphor I can’t create
a picture from which I can’t look away
A party so full of life, amidst the wreckage
It was not our gifts, which gave you grace to smile tonight
I realized the contrary was my lesson
You were slowly teaching us
how to shine
kids and adults alike
how to move to the music, to run in the streets
not denying the darkness
but shining in the midst of it
the very thing we long for as old men
wishing we could have done
*This post goes out with special love and dedication to Edwin Louw from These Numbers : a family man, a mentor, a friend to so many, an inspiration, a role-model, a teacher, and above all– a father to so many.
Edwin, I miss you dearly from this side of the world. Please give Neo a hug for me. I will do my best to continue providing captions to the endless amount of untold pictures. I will do my best to tell the story well.