The Art of Storytelling

Throughout history, stories have been told and retold for many reasons, but namely, so that the happenings, occurrences, and movements surrounding a group of people can be recorded and remembered.

I remember my Old Testament TA, Parker Diggory, saying something about storytelling that I’ll never forget:

History is always told by the victor.

Whoever wins the battle, whoever has the upper hand, whoever is the one in the position of power has the ability to not only tell a story, but manufacture, reconfigure, and shape the way a story is told.

Being a storyteller is a powerful, powerful position.

Think about the stories of marginalized people all over the world, the ones you’ve read in history books.

Who were the authors of these stories? Where they the indigenous people of the land or those who were on the “losing” side of history (the oppressed?) Or where they by scholars and theologians and historians or journalists who, for all intents and purposes, sit in positions of power who, if they so will, can paint a story to fancy whatever angle they like.

Being a storyteller is a powerful, powerful position.

I understand the power of storytelling and the ways in which our own narratives and position of power get in the way of effective storytelling — the kind where the subject of the story gets the opportunity to tell their own story in their own way…

But what happens when the subject does not have the platform or ability to tell their story? When their socioeconomic, cultural, religious, or even geographical location do not allow for them to tell their story to the masses — the kind of story that undoes preconceived notions of what it means to be a part of their community. The kind of story that reverses longstanding ideas about a people, culture, or condition.

I wrestled all day, and I mean all day, with this very thing — this person with the power to tell a story about a group of people whose story has gone unheard for a very long time. People who have suffered with an easily curable condition that even their own government won’t recognize is an epidemic.

I struggled with coming into spaces of which I was unfamiliar, pointing cameras into strangers’ faces, taking well angled photos with dope filters as if they were new objects of my affection. I had difficulty trying to formulate into words what I was seeing, hearing, experiencing and, if by telling their story to the masses, I would be violating some kind of sanctity of community, some level of sacredness of which  I was only a voyeur.

I asked two workers of the Outreach House today about how they felt about us coming into their space — taking photos, asking questions, loving on their babies, all the things that we knew God was calling us to do — was it too much? Was it ever unwelcome?

“No, we need you to tell our stories. We want all of Uganda and the world to know that we are here.”

Bright eyes met my teary-glazed eyes as both people pushed aside any notion that the work I was doing was in some way invasive.

“We love when people come here — it is a public place — when people come here and see they try to do something about [what they see.]”

This is where the art of storytelling begins to take shape — when the subject of your writing or photography or research desires to be an active participant in the development of their narrative. Sole Hope workers, clients, and volunteers are eager to tell the story of what is happening in Jinja, and they do so with vulnerability skirting around their feet.

You’ve seen my #microstory posts on Instagram. I’ll write longer posts here throughout the week to share indepth stories about what is happening here in Jinja, like what it means to have a health condition that many consider a curse that leaves you ostracized from your community… or to be a single mom who has worked through her nursing degree despite the odds…
or a mother with HIV, two HIV infected children, and having something like Jiggers just exasperating the disease that is ravaging your body…

Storytelling is a powerful, powerful position. A position that, through the graces of the people in Jinja we’ve been invited to tell. INVITED to tell.

To learn more about how you can further the story of the people in Jinja, Uganda and to learn about what a Jigger is, visit www.solehope.org.

On the storytelling chase,

Alisha L.

all photos by Gary S. Chapman

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2 thoughts on “The Art of Storytelling

  1. lisha eppersonsh says:

    I remember a similar saying, an African proverb I read in a black studies class in college. “Until lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter”. It changed me, changed my world. Helped me to think critically avout any information I took in. Thank you for honoring the work of the story teller. Looking forward to sharing in your journey by following your posts and updates. Safe travels.

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