A couple of weeks after volunteering to be the Romanian car washers’ unofficial photographer, I started to weave more interactions into the photograph-giving events. I was bursting with questions and felt that there was enough camaraderie between us for some basic information exchange.

There was one little problem, we didn’t have any languages in common.I’d heard a lot of about the lack of integration of the Romanian immigrants in Berlin , the tension it causes on the state benefits and the German desire for the Romanian children be schooled. I wondered if there were points of conversation that could be built into the photographs and wrote: “I am:” and “I wanna be:” on the top and bottom of the prints.    

The result was a little confusing and any attempts to expand didn’t clear anything up. I was already extremely aware of the incidents of women trafficking in Eastern European countries but didn’t want to jump to conclusions or judgements.

If anyone might understand what this is describing, please email me!

The only person within the group that could write was the older man who first took the lead to be photographed. It seemed that the only person with the power to record also had the power to decide.Initially he filled the  I wanna be sections with Romania. When I expressed that I wanted to know what they would do in Romania, he swiftly wrote down their favourite sports.

I explained that “I wanna be” was more of a career aspiration, living condition or even social interaction. I was gesturing like a Sheraz contender a story of a girl wanting to become a singer, an astrophysicist or a computer analyst. My miming obviously wasn’t very convincing. One person nodded while others looked at me with even more confusion and even pity.

My survey participants were obliging in this attempt of  failed correspondence. I realised that what I had missed in our communication was the difference in how we defined our ‘roles’ within the world. I was in, a patriotic way, trying to nurture an answer that might give us a tool to improve their conditions but to them I was only ready to understand their preferences in hobbies. I’d have to invest more time. They were teaching me an etiquette -the art of small talk.

Written by Lisa Ma

Lisa Ma socializes activism. Combining ethnographic research and speculative design, Lisa creates platforms of engagement from surprising insights and processes that deeply resonate with the global technological community. The emergence of clicktivism – to protest at the click of a mouse – is trivializing activism. Lisa argues that although activism doesn’t necessarily benefit from technology, we need to evolve how activism contributes to technological societies. To illustrate this, she designs dilemmas and creates social events that are perceived as activism but function as services.

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