Note: I was drawn to the work of Fati Abubakar from Bits of Borno who is chronicling daily life in Borno in a much more multifaceted way than the typical Boko Haram centered statistics you may see in the news. Fati’s work is a confrontation. I am drawn to how she is weaving beauty and resilience out of what may simply be catalogued into another story of war from Africa. I am also stunned by how circumstance, our gifts, and the simple act of caring collide into creating impactful life work.
Who is Fati?
My name is Fati Abubakar. I am a nurse by profession but currently have a job as a humanitarian aid worker after a Masters in public health. I am very passionate about community work and would love to spend my life helping vulnerable people.
How did the idea of Bits of Borno come about?
What inspired the page was the fact that I was unhappy with the media portrayal of our beloved state. Granted Borno has experienced a lot of death, destruction and despair and it continues to take a hit from the dreaded Boko Haram insurgency currently destroying our home, but what people fail to see is the strength that emanates from our people. So I wanted to show the world that against all odds we live, we breathe, we go about our daily lives even in the turmoil. Another reason was the fact most states had pages that did amazing photography on their towns and I was inspired by that. But I wanted a photojournalism direction that would highlight the good, bad and the ugly without focusing only on one facet.
Why did you choose photography as a medium?
I chose photography as the best medium to tell our stories because I felt articles would not do justice to the current situation. Imagery is very powerful. It can evoke all kinds of emotion in people and added with a narrative it will give the audience not only the true picture, literally, but also tell the human stories that abound here.
What does Borno mean to you?
Borno means the world to me. I know that sounds cliche. But it is the only home I’ve ever known. I can never go anywhere else in the world and feel at home like I do here. Our lifestyle is simple and our culture very colorful. I have an attachment to this town that might be hard to disentangle. It is our haven. I view Borno as my own jewel and it would give me great satisfaction to see it rebuilt.
What thoughts and emotions go through your mind as you photograph?
The emotions I feel when I am photographing someone right after I interview them are very intense. Sometimes I’m choked with empathy. Some people are teary eyed as they recollect their harrowing experiences, so it definitely affects you. I go through stages of pain, unhappiness and ultimately I end up with ‘I wish I could give you everything you need’. But sometimes the person loosens up as the crowd cheers them on to crack a smile. It occasionally neutralizes the situation. And children, especially, are incredible to photograph; they always love the camera, follow you around and are jealous when you take a photo of a sibling and not of them. They are a joy.
How do you select a person to capture?
I always meet people everywhere I go. And here in Borno State, there’s no person you will meet who has not been affected in one way or the other by this crisis. I tend to walk up to people on the street and ask them if I can photograph and interview them. I’m not selective nor do I have a criteria for people who fit. I just think everyone has an experience that I want the world to hear about. Everyone is important.
I imagine it would be hard to choose, but what one story stays with you the most ?
It is incredibly hard being a photojournalist in a war zone. Your days are filled with pain and trauma. But there was a particular 6year old street child I saw that haunts me. I still remember his hesitant smile and later the joy in his eyes after the photo. I started with the older street boys but they insisted to wait for the 6year old who they had named ‘last born’. He came running with a shirt that said ‘Princess’. And my heart melted and broke at the same time. They later wanted a printed copy which I made for everyone. The elderly men and women I photograph also stay with me. I think no one deserves to suffer like this. I just think we need to do better as a society.
How do you take care of yourself and deal with potential feelings of overwhelm and exhaustion?
I am certainly becoming overwhelmed as the project gets bigger but the joy that comes with helping people removes all of that. I make sure I sleep at least 7 hours a day so I can have energy to continue. I make sure I end the day early around 5pm so I can unwind at home. I try to take care of the overwhelming emotional aspect of this journey by ensuring I have someone help attend to the cases I find. It helps to know I’ve tried and that heals me also. And I’m learning to multitask and plan my day properly too.
Are you concerned about safety or are such concerns an exaggeration?
I’ve thrown caution to the wind a long time ago as I believe in destiny. Whatever is meant to happen to you will happen no matter wherever you are in the world. As I always tell people who refuse to come here, even a mosquito can kill you in the comfort of your room.
But notwithstanding, the tensions are real and so is the potential for the unknown but I try for the sanity of my family to avoid going out right after an incident.
What would be your wildest dream in terms of the impact you would like your work to have?
I didn’t really expect much out of the page except to change the narrative and humanize the people beyond the statistics we have become to the media. So to say dreams for the project would mean something else. I am even shocked by the donations coming in, much less have a dream or a wish list. My only aim is to tell our stories so the world can see we are thriving even in adversity. And the impact so far has been that the world can see we are strong. That has been my main goal: to show resilience.
Where can people follow/support your work?