Meet Hazem. He’s fifteen years old and was born deafblind. He’s a strong boy. When he gets angry or upset, it takes several adult men to hold him down, preventing him from hurting himself. Most of the time, he just likes to cuddle. He will press his head so firm against yours that it will hurt. It is pretty much impossible not to love him.
One of the most serious implications of deafness is a severe sense of isolation, especially for children growing up in developing countries. Learning sign language can break down communication barriers. Working with deaf and deafblind children in the Middle-East has taught me the basics of their local sign language, just enough to make that first important connection and being rewarded with smiles, love and enthousiasm.
This image was shot at Za’atari camp for Syrian refugees in Jordan, during a sign language class for deaf children. They were eager to learn, not only being denied their sense of hearing, but also their country, their homes and their friends and relatives.
About 5% of the Jordanian population is Christian. These children are attending an open-air service, led by the archbishop of Jerusalem, at the banks of the River Jordan, about 100 metres away from the place where, according to legend, Jesus Christ was baptized by John the Baptist at Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan.
Issa is fifteen years old. He was born deaf-blind and lives at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt, Jordan. With the help of a hearing aid, he is able to distinguish certain sounds. He likes to hum the same tune all day long and listen to his plastic radio. In this image, he is cutting an apple with the help of his patient teacher Mohammed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cambodia is by far my favourite destination in Southeast Asia. Basically for two reasons: the Cambodian people are amongst the friendliest - and easily the most relaxed - people I’ve met in twenty years of travelling the planet, and outside Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, there’s hardly a tourist in sight.
This image was shot in the floating village of Chong Kos, near Kompong Chnang, from a small leaking boat. Although I’m Dutch, I’m not exactly a sailor. In fact, we nearly capsized while I was trying to get my focus right.
Yazd, central Iran. While I was shooting this portrait of this lovely young muslim girl in her black chador, suddenly a car pulled over next to us. A window was rolled down. The driver stuck his head out and demanded to know why I - a white, western guy - was harassing this local girl by taking her picture.
After she’d explained several times that she had given her permission to have her photograph taken and that she wasn’t being harassed at all, the driver reluctantly nodded and drove off. Very, very slowly.
When you’re in Iran, especially as a westerner, never ever take a photograph of a local woman without asking for her explicit permission first. In more traditional areas, it’s also wise to ask the permission of any male accompanying her.
For some reason, I’ve always felt at home in the Kurdish regions I’ve visited, be it in Iran, Turkey, Syria or Iraq. A little rough on the edges, never too comfortable, but the people always warm, open and friendly.
One of my favourite places to wander is the lively bazaar of Sulaymaniyah (Slemani, Sulaymaniya) in Kurdistan Region, Iraq. Live chickens for sale here. Free cups of tea with it. I hope it will remain this peaceful.
I have introduced Hadeel a few weeks earlier on this blog. She was born both deaf and blind and lives at the Holy Land Institute for the Deaf in Salt, Jordan. Last Saturday, she celebrated her 11th birthday. Birthdays at the Deaf-blind Unit are usually a reason for cake, presents, dancing and very, very loud music.
This image shows what Hadeel loves most: sports. She loves to be up in the air, be it swinging on a trapeze that’s three metres above the ground, or on this little plastic swing in the gym.
During my recent stay in Jordan, I visited Hadeel almost daily. I have learnt a lot just by watching her. Life is full of possibilities, even when you are still wearing a diaper on your 11th birthday.