Around the World in
© 2005 by Scott Wallace
Note: In early 2004, the World Bank hired Scott Wallace to produce audio and photographic documentaries of Bank-financed development projects in a dozen countries on four continents. In February, Wallace departed on a whirlwind tour that took him around the world in 56 days. Highlights included Morocco’s High Atlas, the Senegal River Basin, Lake Victoria, and Zanzibar. In Eritrea, Wallace documented an all-out effort civic effort to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS. In Bulgaria, he witnessed young Roma (gypsy) professionals striving to pull their people out of a vicious cycle of poverty, discrimination and ignorance. In Yemen, Wallace accompanied young, hip female loan officers, who donned black abayas and veils on their visits to clients in the dusty labyrinth of back streets overlooking the Red Sea port of Aden.
The sheer variety of projects the Bank asked Wallace to document provided him with a rich diversity of experiences – not only geographically, but socially as well. The journey allowed Wallace to take the world’s pulse at a time when Americans seemed to be withdrawing from the world stage. Fewer and fewer Americans are traveling abroad these days, especially to the predominantly Muslim countries Wallace visited. Following is a brief excerpts from Wallace’s journal and a selection of the photographs Wallace took for the World Bank and its Permanent Collection.
Fes, Morocco, February 23, 2004 –We meet Hakima in the parking lot outside the hotel and head straight for the Medina and the tannery where the honey combed vats are. She leads me through the labyrinthine streets and walkways, sometimes barely wide enough for two people to squeeze past each other. The sun is fading behind clouds and lateness of the day, its rays barely filtering down into the snaking passageways. Finally, we turn into a stairway that twists up several flights and into a shop filled floor to ceiling with leather goods – bags, jackets, ottomans, cushions. I’m confused: where are we going? “Keep going up,” she says and points to yet another stairway in the corner of the shop. One more flight and we’re in another shop packed with colorful leatherwares, and now I see the light of day, and we’re looking down from a balcony five floors above the ground. Way down below us are the tanning vats – a honeycomb patchwork spread out over an acre maybe, hemmed in on all sides by ancient buildings such as ours. The vats contain different color dyes – bright red, dark green, brown. “I must go down there,” I say to Hakima, pointing down at the vats and the men who are standing knee-deep in the frothy concoctions, throwing slabs of leather into the pools and wringing them out, and throwing them back in once again. “He will take you,” Hakima says, turning me over to the care of a guy in his 30s who introduces himself with a firm handshake: “Mohammad,” he says.
He leads me back down the stairs, and at each level we cut horizontally into an adjacent shop, then down more stairs till we emerge in the courtyard and stand before the ancient, clay-walled honeycombs of the vats. The stench is overwhelming. “Chanel Number 6,” Mohammad smiles. There must have been at least 100 vats, each about five feet wide, the mud walls separating one from the other perhaps six inches thick. Unfortunately, the direct sunlight had already fled the scene, and I realized it would be difficult to capture the spectacular quality of the place on film. Here and there young men in rubber boots were clambering about, deftly navigating the precarious pathways along the edge of the caldrons. I set out to make the best of the situation. I moved about atop the rims of the vats, nearly slipping and pitching my cameras into the soup on one occasion. I popped 400 ASA into the camera hoping I could steal some extra light, but I recognized the scene was already drained of its most spectacular colors. Still, it was great to be working, to behold such an amazing scene and I hoped one photograph might somehow capture some of the magic of that place and that moment.