Still talking about the fantastic trip, folks, but The Wednesday Pop will return! I want to tell these Nicaragua stories while they are filing past in my brain. I want to do justice to the awesomeness I witnessed. Thanks for hanging in with me.
What do the bread lady and dollar store glasses and humor have in common? What's a bread lady? All good questions, my friends. Here goes . . .
In Padre Ramos, the lovely village on the northwest Pacific coast of Nicaragua where we were staying, people would amble by from time to time. Sometimes it would be precious children carrying buckets to gather water who would travel back by toting their heavy buckets back home. Sometimes it would be folks coming by to say, "Hello" or dropping by to see what was going on at the Youth Ranch. Sometimes it was Andre, the sweet elderly man with the delightful smiling eyes, peddling his bananas and huge mangos. And, sometimes it was Maria, who we called the bread lady.
I didn't think much about Maria upon her first few visits, other than noticing her strength and determination and wondering where she fell between 85 and 100 years old. I saw her loaded down with her home-baked breads, hoping that we would buy some and lighten her load. I didn't know where she lived or who she spent her days with or what made her heart happy and sad. I didn't think much about her. I considered her an interesting part of the local color and left it at that. She was picturesque, ambling along with her tired old feet in worn out flip-flops, but I didn't work much to get to know her.
But that all changed with the dollar store glasses. (Dollar Store glasses don't usually change things, do they?) You see, we were having a blast creating a photo booth for the kids at the 'rancho.' I had brought along all sorts of funny glasses and such and we had used a polka-dotted sheet on a turned up table for our backdrop. They didn't take long to warm up to the idea that I would photograph them as long as they could last, coming up one at a time with a crazy face and a few props. It was a blast! It was a moment when you realize that your idea worked and the giggles and wide eyes of the kids was like a balm to this sometimes-crazy world. I was in heaven. The kids were laughing out loud, and I was already dreaming of creating little pieces of this day for them to keep in their homes forever. It was a good time. My camera holding hand was close to falling off and my squinting eye was tired of the view finder, but I was happy. It had worked.
Finally, the kids began to slow down, and it was clear that the photobooth was about to close. Maria, the bread lady, had wandered up and was busy talking with a few of the ladies. I was readying to head out for a refreshing dip in the ocean. We were almost finished. I felt full. But I had no idea I was about to fill up even more.
I finally grabbed a seat in one of the cheap plastic chairs to relish in the glory of a fun time, when I heard the crowd laughing hysterically. I looked towards the cheer in time to see the bread lady smiling sneakily in the largest, most gaudy pair of the dollar store glasses! I loved it! We all loved it! She really loved it! She had beat even the giddy delight of the little children and brought us all to our knees with laughter and joy. She had transcended her hard, hard life and thrown us all up into a place where laughter carries away everything else.
Everyone was talking and laughing, and the excitement in our little part of that beautiful country was happy, to be sure! Maria, the bread lady, was all achatter, though I have no idea what she was saying. I ran over to begin snapping photos of her and we laughed and laughed and laughed. I believe she tried on every pair of cheap, crazy glasses we had. We hugged and slapped each other's shoulders and smiled and smiled. I was telling her how funny she was and how incredibly beautiful she was and what a strong, strong woman she was. I don't know what she was telling me, but I know I felt love. We touched and hugged and laughed and laughed together. Our laughter together transcended reality. It moved past struggles and what we don't know about each other. It rose above the monotony of her days and made my day sweeter than I could have imagined.
Shared laughter does that, huh? We can't laugh all of the time, because everything isn't funny. But when we can laugh - and laugh together - isn't it beautiful? Doesn't it remind us of how alike we all are, when the world tries to tell us otherwise? I believe so, and I'll take this moment with me always as a reminder that laughter is ours to revel in together. I am thankful beyond words for the moment I turned my head to see that sweet Maria's eyes light up with a twinkle that said, "I am funny, no matter what language you speak!" I will never forget it.
I spend my days working to make images tell the story of moments. We can't ever do it exactly, but it's worth trying. I hope when you see these photos you will work to hear the hearty laughter, the quiet giggles, the excitement and the moment when folks let go of worry and reality and just had fun - together. Thanks be to God, and may we always remember the power of laughing with each other - those we know well and those we are yet to love.