Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Imperfect lenses and seeing clearly . . .

* A note to regular readers . . . I'm suspending The Wednesday Pop until next week, so I can tell the Nicaragua stories in consecutive posts.  Pop will return!

So, you know I just returned from this amazing trip meeting friends in another land.  Everything is different after you do that - thoughts, the way you 'take in' a regular ole' day, the things you appreciate. Nicaragua was wonderful, from the vivid colors of her landscape to the big open hearts of her people.  I can't wait to go back.

I went to Nicaragua in a confusion that I rarely feel.  I decided, after advice from friends who had been before, that taking my 'real' camera wasn't the thing to do.  I vacillated with that decision from its inception until moments before I boarded the plane.

On the one side of my brain, I heard, I always take my camera!  How will I make it, not recording what I see to the best of my ability?  Will I miss something?  Will I be able to retell the story when I return without crisp, sharp photos?  How will I make it without my 'friend'?  

On the other side, I'll really BE there and live in the moment.  I won't have that albatross around my neck.  There will be no worry at the chance of destroying my investment.  My big camera won't be between me and the wonderful souls I'll meet.  

I went back and forth, back and forth.  I do that too much anyway, and this was serious see-sawing!  It drove me crazy!  I researched meaningful photography with an iphone, I threw the question out and tried to hear what God had to say, and I looked into 'making it work' without a DSLR.  I put myself through the ringer, trying to decide.  I tried to remind myself what I tell people all of the time . . . it's not the camera that makes a great photo.

Okay, you get the point.  I was befuddled.  Folks felt like the dusty conditions weren't the right thing for my camera and some wondered if maybe it would be a good exercise for me to see things through a different lens.   What to do, what to do?

So, I went and boarded the plane, loaded down with small cameras and equipment.  I spent the day of travel convinced that I was forgetting something, as I was so accustomed to carrying my heavy camera bag.  I had a borrowed camera, a new small camera to leave with friends in Nicaragua and my iphone, accompanied with my array of extra little lenses for it.  I was armed and ready.  I would leave my Canon at home and I would head off into a new world and see it with my own eyes.  I wouldn't carry a great big instrument around my neck.  I wouldn't worry about which lens was best for each situation.  I would see what I was seeing, instead of composing it through the viewfinder of my comfort zone.  I would retrain myself to use different equipment, and I would enjoy it.

Want to know how I did?  I'm still not sure!  I did enjoy the freedom my camera choices allowed me.  I often felt closer to what I was living than I sometimes feel behind my usual mechanical friend.  I was lighter.  I was quicker.  I didn't worry about water or dust or sand or where to set things down or whether something was safe.  That was good.  I focused with my own two eyes.  Maybe I was more of a participator instead of the director.  I snapped and snapped and snapped.

I guess I could say it was a success.  I missed things, though.  I missed the artistic part of what I do.  I missed the familiar feel of camera in hand, imagining what stories I could tell with what images.  I missed the work that goes into the choices about light and focus and speed, etc.  I was out of my element, a bit.  And, when I returned home, I really missed the crisp photos I like to see.  I was disappointed with the fuzzy images of the people and place I now love so much.  I missed the art.  I missed the bokeh behind my new friends' faces.  I missed the focus on just a small section of the photo of something special.  I missed the clarity I look to find.

But the trial wasn't a blowout.  It worked.  It really did.  My camera stayed safe at home, ready to get back to work when I returned.  I moved effortlessly around a new home in a new land.  I was with my subjects.  I was there.  Nothing was between me and the people I loved.  I snapped and snapped and snapped like I always do.  All was all right.  I learned.  I learned a lot.

I'll admit that when I look at the photos, I often find myself wishing I could 'do it again' with clearer machinery.  I do.  But, in the end, I made the right decision.  I spent my first trip to a new favorite place with less baggage, and that is always a good thing.  I'll go back.  I'll probably go back with a familiar friend around my neck.  But, nevertheless, I did it right the first time.  This time it was about getting to know this place and her amazing people.  I did that.  Thank God.

As I've edited the photos, I've had to re-assure myself of this epiphany over and over again.  I've had to tell myself, again and again, that the images I returned with are just fine.  And, as usual, I did come back with a few thousand photos too many and I can look at them and immediately bring back the moments that meant so much.  They work.  They help to tell a story.  I'm thankful.

The little cameras were just fine to remind me of what I saw.  Wish you could have seen it, too, friend.

 I wish you could have watched this quiet time between my dear friend and this precious little girl, living in the dump just outside of Chinandega, Nicaragua.

I wish you could know the magic of watching one with nothing tenderly helped by one with plenty.  I wish you could have witnessed the gentleness of this speck of time; this moment with no language.

I long to make you see what this child's face looked like when she looked back at Marta with no words and with a thousand words.  A child who is used to nothing walks by with her gift of oranges from us and works to carry them safely back to her shack to her waiting family to share in the magic.
   She and Marta work together, with a few failed attempts, until they got it right, and this little love looks back with thanks.  It was tender.  It was loving.  It was sad and happy and beautiful at the same time.  I snapped and snapped and snapped.

And I didn't need a fancy camera to see the look in the eyes of this little girl from the same area, as she spotted the familiar face of a friend from far away.  I wouldn't have had time to decide on the right settings on my usual camera, but I was able to grab the little one and click, click, click.  I can't tell you how wonderful it was to watch this sweet girl see the face of my friend and lunge into the air to get to her!  What a moment.  These photos don't follow any rules of composition; but for me, they capture that magic moment - a moment when two people who share no language, no realities, no familiarity, come together in love and understanding.  Snap, snap, snap.

And on the day before I left this new place I love, I was able to jump out of the back of the truck when I saw the looks on the faces of my dear friend and this sweet mother in the village.  They didn't know each other.  They share no commonalities.  But, what I saw convinced me that their eyes screamed out in understanding.  They looked at each other in a way that said, from one to another, "We know that feeding our babies, physically and emotionally, is what we are here to do."  They loved each other without words or shared stories.  I was there.  I grabbed my trusty phone and witnessed the magic.  Snap, snap, snap.

So, I'll get over the fact that the photos aren't perfect.  I'll move past it and remember that they can still tell the story.  These fuzzy photos can still tell the story of folks who came together in ways more meaningful than I could ever imagine.  Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Traveling through Nica and discovering a few things . . .

Looking over these photos, I believe you’ll quickly spot a difference between what I saw in Nicaragua and what we see here.  You might notice a slight contrast in rules and regulations!

I spent a good portion of my time in Nicaragua traveling in the back of a truck.  It was awesome!

I SAW things.  I HEARD things.  I SENSED things that I would have missed in the cab with the windows rolled up tight, the air conditioning blowing and cool tunes playing.  My time with Together Works Nicaragua was a special one, and I’m thankful that was lucky enough to ‘get in the back’ of the truck so often.

The first day or so of the trip, I was baffled by the lack of restraints and laws and safety regulations.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw an entire family happily riding along on the highway atop a small motorcycle.  I was stunned when I saw a bus with folks filling it past comfortable.  I was astonished to see men and women and children hanging off of vehicles in the oddest places, in the most precarious spots.  I could not make sense of it at all.

The longer I spent in that different world, the more okay I got with it all.  I arrived at a different place; I saw the behaviors with a new eye.  (Let me add here that I am not suggesting that we lose our safety laws and throw caution to the wind.  Stay with me, though.  I’m looking at what we might learn from folks who live in a different way.)

I saw people getting around the way they could, taking care of business in the way that worked for the moment.  I think that’s my point . . . I was witnessing people living in the moment.  They weren’t fearing the what ifs or voicing the it can’t be dones.  They were blooming where they were planted and covering territory in the way that proved available.  And sometimes, they were enjoying being close to each other or feeling the cool wind blow.

I don’t contend that the folks in Nicaragua are without transportation woes.  Many roads are often impassable.  Public transport is hit or miss.  People can’t always get where they need to go.  There are problems.  It doesn’t always work.

I will have to admit, though, that it might not be all bad.   They are living in the here and now and smiling a whole lot!

A sweet toddler would relish sliding in between Mama and Daddy on the motorcycle to go see Grandma.

Hanging off of the back of a delivery truck, watching the world through a nice wind, would make a boring job a little more tolerable.

                                Traveling everywhere with your best friend would be nice.

I found the whole scene refreshing.  I know that accidents must happen.  I didn’t see any while I was there, but I’m not completely out of touch with reality.  I’m only suggesting that there was a lot to learn from my friends there.  I won’t forget riding along  in the back of the Toyota truck.  I would have missed so much if I hadn’t been in that spot.  I’m thankful for so much I learned there; and witnessing the way my new friends live in the moment, was among their finest gifts.

We’ve come a long way.  We’ve figured out a lot.  We have fine automobiles that will get us where we want to go and keep us in perfect comfort as we travel; but we miss some things.

I’m hoping I’ll be able to hold on to what I felt in the back of the truck.  I pray I can remember that progress isn’t always a gift and remind myself to open the windows and feel what’s going on outside of my comfy car.  I loved seeing the sights, hearing the sounds, talking to folks along the way and being in the moment.

At present, I’m working to figure out ways for my kids to experience what I did.  I don’t want any horrible accidents, but I sure wish they could feel what I felt.

As a matter of fact, I wish we all could, from time to time.

Friday, February 15, 2013

List 41 - Fifteen pieces of perspective . . .

This week's list is a bit different.  I hope it works.  My intent isn't to make anyone angry or to start a dialogue over the pros and cons with the USA's work on poverty.

A thought just keeps coming up in my head this week, and I can't help but say this . . .

The 'disaster' on the cruise ship this week sounded awful.  It sounded hot and miserable and gross and stinky.  It would be a great disappointment to finance and look forward to a wonderful trip, only to have it end up as a slowly sinking failure.  That's just it, though.  It would be disappointing.

And then the folks from the trip could go back to their 'real lives' and eat a big, juicy hamburger, take an extra long hot shower, adjust the air to their liking and tell some awesome vacation gone wrong stories. There is no doubt that it was a miserable experience.  I'm glad for them that it is over.

Actually, after some of what I saw in Nicaragua, I'm glad for them - period.  The travelers aboard the cruise ship were dealt a shoddy hand.  They had bad luck.  They were forced to endure conditions that most of us don't ever see.  I'm sorry it happened; but oh, how I wish one of them would use their fifteen minutes of fame to underscore the reality that millions of folks live in conditions far worse than the ill-fated cruise ship and they do so every day of their lives.  I wish just one of them would acknowledge that the situation was a complete mess, but that they are fortunate not to live that way all of the time.

I met people who live in a dump; and though they aren't the majority of the fine folks of Nicaragua, their story and their realities haunt me still.  They live in the midst of a mess.  They don't have running water.  There are no bathrooms.  They don't have enough food and no boat comes in with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  The babies didn't choose to be born into that, and I hope I never forget what I saw.

So, today, just a few photos that show people - often smiling, happy people - who were born into something different than you and I know.  Today, a list of photos . . . to help us all remember that sometimes our yucky, smelly, hot, dirty, unlucky, ill-fated disasters might not be the 'worst thing that can happen.'  I hope everybody has a great weekend.   If I have my own cruise ship gone bad story, I hope I'll remember to keep it all in perspective.

(I promise I have stories that aren't about the dump . . . but some memories just scream out to be told first.)

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