Only one word was exchanged between us, but this photograph captures the words that were not spoken. It is the essence of this photograph that became the first inspiration to share my journey.
Her eyes look at me with fascination and gentleness. Hidden beneath is something more. Gesturing to take a picture of me, I nod and kindly accept.
“Cantik,” she says (pronounced Chawn-teek). Beautiful.
What does she see? The fairness of my skin? The sun bleached waves in my hair? The blue hue of my eyes? A foreigner.
Or does she see beyond my physical appearance? I wonder.
I gesture to take a picture of her and the child in her arms. She smiles with approval. I look into her eyes and I see a glimpse of insecurity but beyond that a warm surge of motherly love and compassion radiating from within.
“Cantik,” I say. Beautiful.
The child in her arms looks beyond my eyes to the self that is formless. Within her I see the innocence and curiosity of a child not yet mutilated by the words of society that tell her what beauty is supposed to look like from the eyes of the inner blind. If we removed the external projections then everyone would see that we are one and the same.
(Jakarta, Indonesia, March 2017)