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In a recent edition of Orion, photographer Ed Panar shared some of his photographs of “Animals That Saw Me”.  I was instantly connected to the images — empathizing and wondering what the animals were thinking, or how they felt when they connected with the photographer eye to eye. Were they lonely, surprised, confused, content, or happy? Where are they? I genuinely wanted to know their story and what their world is like.

An animal that saw me; melanistic groundhog.
Photo by D. Kowal

There is something magical and life lifting about witnessing wildlife, about creatures, insects and trees, and the worms and critters that crawl beneath.  Even the rocks and the lichens and the moss “speak” to me. There are moments of connection and soul-touching that happen when I am in their presence. Something clicks (not just a camera button). I pause, sometimes for long periods of time. I admire, wonder, ponder, imagine, and respect.Panar’s animal images prompted me to consider how people relate to each other. How we treat each other. How we see other.

“Sawubona” is a Zulu tribal expression that means, “We see you.” The proper response is “Yebo, sawubona,” or “We see you too.”  Youth worker and community leader Orland Bishop explains that this exchange begins an immediate dialogue that incorporates the accumulated knowledge and experience, even family, of the participants — the “We.”

In an interview for the Global Oneness Project, he translates it as an invitation to a deep witnessing that forms an agreement to affirm and investigate the mutual potential and obligation present in a given moment. At its deepest level, Bishop explains, this “seeing” is essential to human freedom.

I think many of us can admit that at one time or another (or maybe many) we have passed colleagues or students with a quick, “Hi, how are you?” to which the other replies “Good, and you?” As you both continue in opposite directions, you each respond with a slightly audible “Good” and carry on.

How much more satisfying “Sawubona” seems.

Bringing people together for a dialogue is a privilege I enjoy at Pace Academy. We organize many events, conferences, and meetings. The subject matter is always compelling, but the real magnet is the opportunity to have a face-to-face connection and interaction with people from around the region.

EarthDesk is a forum that I hope will bring people together in a similar spirit of respect, and freedom, as if we are meeting in person and greeting each other.

“Sawubona,” we might say. To which you would reply, “Yebo, sawubona.”