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Crying Meri Diaries

Work on photo-documentary project could take many visual forms, from traditional photography, to documentary films and multimedia, or even diaries. During my work on “Crying Meri” I not only documented various forms of violence against women in Papua New Guinea, but used various forms of visual media to show harsh realities of women’s lives. That’s how my personal field notes were transformed to “Crying Meri Diaries”.

I wrote them during several trips to Papua New Guinea. With words and Polaroid images I kept a record of my thoughts and impressions, writing down dialogues with victims and perpetrators, and otherwise capturing the moments and events that surrounded me every day.

The diaries were included in the upcoming “Crying Meri” book. Here are some of them.

Port Moresby – a city where half of the female population is exposed to domestic and street violence. Rape, theft, armed robbery and carjacking are problems in and around the city. In its brothels, teenage girls sell their bodies, having been sent there by their fathers and brothers. Raskol gangs operate in the settlements, raping and killing, but many of their crimes are never reported to the police. Even during the day, drunken men can be seen here beating their ‘meri’: wives, daughters and even mothers. And at night… At night it is better not to leave your fortress with its high wire fence. The city may misinterpret and fail to forgive such unreasonable courage.

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Richard Bal, who cut off his wife’s ear as punishment for disobedience. “I got mad with her. I got a knife and just chopped her ear off. She called her relatives. I got 500 kina in cash and paid the compensation. Her parents released this woman back to me, so we stay together again. Recently I broke her arm. She must understand that I am the head of the family. If she can’t come over to this position, I have to do something to solve the problem.”

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Annie (name changed), 15, in a Mount Hagen brothel. Annie lived with her sister and her sister’s husband. Her brother-in-law forced her to work here so that she could pay for food and accommodation while staying in his house. Annie said that she has four to five clients a day. The owner of the brothel gave me permission to speak with Annie. However, while I was talking to the girl and taking pictures, he burst into the room. I could smell alcohol on his breath. “You have entered the girl’s room, so you must pay!” he said, infuriated, hitting at me with his fists. Drunken brothel clients headed toward us. My guard pushed the brothel owner to the wall and shouted at me to run to the car. I ran down the stairs and jumped into our ‘armored vehicle’, a car with the bars across the windshield, and we left. Later, I called Annie to ask if she was ok. “Everything is alright,” she said, laughing. “Sorry for that guy, he was just drunk. Could you call me later? I can’t talk right now. I’m with a client and have to work.”

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Having documented violence against women in Papua New Guinea for three years, I kept looking for a family without domestic violence. In a small Papuan village called Hanuabada, I met with Dogodo Naime and his wife Gabe Igo, who had been married for more than 16 years. They had not quarreled during their marriage. When I met them, Gabe was seriously ill and had only a few months to live. During the previous four years, Dogodo had taken daily care of her, fed her, helped her to wash and change her clothes. After her death he became weak and almost never left the village. “My friends tell me to find another wife and start enjoying life again. I tell them that until the ground on Gabe’s grave subsides I will not look at any other woman.” In a country where polygamy is standard in some areas and rates of violence against women are among the highest in the world, it is rare to hear statements like this from a man.

You can preorder “Crying Meri” book here.

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