Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Back Story | The Recalcitrant Red Dzao of Sa Pa

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
During my Vietnam: North of the 16th Parallel Photo Expedition, I came across a Red Dzao vendor in a small village not too far from Sa Pa. Having an interesting face, not to mention her keen fashion sense of combining her traditional red head dress with a Burberry scarf, I thought she'd make an excellent model for some of the group's members who sought to have photographs of her standing on a rather rickety rope bridge.

She was sitting on the side of the dirt road which was the village's main street, selling some vegetables or fruits. Through an interpreter, I asked if she was agreeable to pose for us for a few minutes. She had a wide smile on her face all through the rapid to and fro, so I imagined she was about to agree....but I was mistaken.

Her response was that she couldn't leave her spot on the dirt road because she'd lose business. I pointed out that there was not a single soul visible, except for our group and we weren't interested in buying her  vegetables...and that the photo shoot would take a maximum of 5 minutes at most.

The to and fro with the interpreter started again, and I could feel the smiling Red Dzao was either really determined to drive a hard bargain or was just so accustomed to selling her small bunch of vegetables from the same spot, that she would never leave it for a minute until all was sold.

I didn't want to break my rule to pay for photographs, so I offered to buy her whole inventory of vegetables for what they were worth (probably $2 or so), against her acceding to our wishes. She hummed and hawed  for a while, but after I paid her for the vegetables and distributed those to some people in a nearby restaurant, she  finally -but still hesitantly- accompanied us to the bridge a few yards away.

To cut a long story short, we eventually realized that the tiny Red Dzao's reluctance to pose for us wasn't motivated by mercenary reasons at all...she was just scared by the thought of standing on the swaying old bridge.

It wasn't as bad as she thought it would be, and all ending well, she eventually returned home with the proceeds of her vegetable sales much earlier than usual...probably shaking her head at the crazy foreigners's persistence.

My being 6'3" tall meant I had to crouch a lot to be as short as Ms Red Dzao.