I was born on the 17 June, on the year of my 44th birthday I was working in Tanzania on my day job, meeting the people at grassroots who implement my organizations projects. We travelled in the early hours of the morning from Dar es Salaam to Mbeya by plane. I was with my colleagues and those working on the projects. At 7.15 am I saw the sun rise over the hills as we climbed on a bus that drove us 3 hours down a windy road to Kyela near the border with Malawi. I have done many journeys like this, by car or bus and have been privileged to visit the most basic of facilities. I am always humbled by the dedication of the health workers and the few resources that they have to work with.
Over the next two days we visited many facilities, I always take photos, I talk, but more importantly I listen, and I look. This work is part of who I am and I give of myself what I can. I am not here to judge, I am not here to lecture, I am here to understand the limitations of health access in their country and to understand how new technologies and medicines could help. I give my time and a little piece of who I am, my ear - a hand to hold, or maybe a piece of chocolate I have brought from Switzerland.
I write up the outcomes in my report back in Geneva where I work, but these people have moved me beyond work with their stories their resilience in the face of adversity. On this visit we met with a local group of people all living with HIV, one gentleman told me of a small plot of land that he and a few others tend. They save the money they make from selling the vegetables and when one of them or their family needs it for health reasons they share it. The accounts are numerous; I am touched by all of them and want to help them all. As you have seen from these pages, I have chosen to help the children and the only means for me today is to use the gift I have of being able to paint. I paint what I have seen; I paint what I feel. The shape of a face, a view from a car window, a colour, texture. Painting is about emotion; the trips shape my emotions that I express through art. I paint with a palette knife and with acrylics, I prefer larger canvases, and I spend a lot of time building the background, looking for texture. As for the viewer, you, you have your own emotions. What makes a good painting is how it makes you feel, we are all different we see and feel in a different way, that is what makes life beautiful and interesting.
I did not train as an artist. I went to a very academic school in France that praised math and economics; it did not stop me painting, but I never had the grounding to follow art at University. I found a happy medium and studied Communication in Edinburgh. I excelled at photography and video editing. My first proper job, in Leeds 1992, was as an account handler in an advertising agency. I secretly envied the art directors and their palette of felt tip pens. Later for health reasons (ulcerative colitis) I went back to study textile design. I loved it! I dabbled in paint and enjoyed the mechanics of the loom but I just wanted to paint. I had my first son and by the end of the course I was pregnant with my second son. With a house too small to accommodate our growing family, we moved just outside Geneva in France (1998). With two small boys I was kept busy. I sat on the Board of a large and prosperous playgroup as craft director. For many years I created the curriculum, the projects were ambitious I admit; there was always a lot of paint, glitter and glue. My husband and I did a distance learning professional photography course; I started painting classes with Alain Gegout. Alain taught me to let go, to let the inspiration take me, to enter the trance of painting let the journey take me. He taught me what to look for and when to put the palette knife down.
To supplement our income, I started doing communication consultancy work. My clients were UN organizations and the subject was health related. I found the work fascinating; I could never know enough about the subject matter and found my knowledge limitations frustrating. In 2004, I had my third son, but that did not stop my working and painting. I even took up the guitar, which I enjoyed the sound of but where I have no skill.
In 2006, I decided to do a master’s degree in Public Health, it was by distance learning with LSHTM and my husband did it with me. The idea was to keep me at home with the boys a little longer but within six months I was working full time. The masters took four years, and I loved the subjects. I focused on health promotion as it fitted well with my communication background. I also studied infectious diseases, namely HIV, TB and malaria. Over those four years, the painting was put on hold. My work developed and forged what I do today. When I finally got my masters in 2010, I knew I needed to paint again.
Much happened the week of my 44th birthday. On the evening of my birthday, I went with my new friends for dinner in Mbeya’s city café. We drank beer from the bottle and ate chicken, goat and chip(i)s with our fingers. I even had a birthday cake with four candles that Janee and Nicky had carefully carried in a box from Dar es Salaam that morning (it had just a few knocks). I had only known them since Monday, the gesture touched me.
We return to Dar es Salaam and more meetings filled the week. The whole trip had been a success and we had excellent recommendations to take home, I had a few photos that I was keen to paint. I was confident and happy. Back at the Hotel I prepared my bag for the return journey. That evening a few of us had dinner on the Oysterbay Peninsular, more roasted meat. After dinner, we said our goodbyes slowly outside the restaurant. I had been up since five writing wrap up presentations for the meeting that day I was keen to get to bed. Four of us turned to go to Mwilu’s parked car, when I spotted this white car with tinted windows coming very close, almost at me. It was all over in a matter of seconds, and it amazes me how just a few seconds can change so much.