Moving on.

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This is Mario.  He is one of the boys that was detained by the police and is now being sent to Guatemala City.  We have his camera, but he only took two photos.  He was resistant to the project, though present most of the time.  Taking photos of life isn't that fun when life is only hard.  I remember talking to the kids the day we told them their assignment was to take photos of things that bring them hope.  They mostly looked confused, and as a way to explain the concept, Melanie asked, "What made you smile yesterday?"  One of the boys just shrugged, and she said, "You didn't smile yesterday?" in a teasing tone, and he shook his head no.

Honestly, I'm not really sure what you do with loss like this other than to be sad.  There is no silver lining here.  You can try to find the good, but it feels like we've been digging for it and its just not to be found.  Knowing kids are walking into abuse is horrible.  It all feels hopeless as we stand by with our hands tied, waiting to hear news.

Thank you to those who have sent emails of encouragement, as well as your prayers.  They are received with appreciation and gratitude.  Thank you for caring.  It has been hard to pick up and keep the project going, and though everything feels heavy, we look for slivers of joy as we continue.

Day 4: Thanksgiving

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We arrived at the park near eight to meet with the boys for portraits and a quick lesson.  The guys work all day, and time in the morning is precious as they find customers, so we planned to meet early and get things rolling.  We found Melanie and Victor sitting on a bench chatting, his eyes still droopy from just waking up after spending the night in the park.  Just as Chris walked up to join us, Victor pointed at a police truck and said Mario (another one of our kids) was inside. 

Chris flagged the truck, and it circled the park, where they began talking about why Mario was detained.  In the meantime, the police requested that Victor also go with them, and a struggle ensued when he refused.  The police said that they had orders to take the boys because they were sleeping on the street, when they've been told not to, and that they weren't cooperating.  Present at the time as well, were several journalists from the news stations and paper there ready to document what was happening.  It felt too coincidental, and indeed they were there to do a story about the police "cleaning up" the streets.

The photo below appeared in the paper the next morning, with the journalist commentary about the way Victor was treated.

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I feel helpless.  There really isn't anything that can be done at this point.  Melanie explained to the police that one of the reasons the boys sleep in the park is that they are physically and sexually abused in the dorms and children's homes, that they would rather be cold than violated.  They boys were still taken away.  We are told that they will be sent to a large boys home in Guatemala City, which isn't good.  They are currently at the home in Xela, where one of the little boys broke his arm, climbing the wall as he escaped.  The hardest part is that there are not better places available for kids.   Life is rough when your best option to stay safe is to sleep on the street. 

We are heartbroken, completely.  The system is messed up.  The fact that we don't have better choices for the kids and a way to keep them safe is equally awful.  They should be protected, but they are not.  Instead, it feels like they are managed and displaced so they aren't an eyesore. 

What a struggle.

Day 3: Rule of Thirds

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This day we considered photography as a means of storytelling.  We studied photos and tried to guess at the story being told.  We looked at emotion, and environment, the general feeling we got when looking at the scene, and tried to see the details we may have otherwise overlooked.  Matt then divided the photos into a grid and talked about where our eye travels based on the rule of thirds.

The boys left with an assignment, as usual.

Take seven photos of a current struggle.

Some said they would take photos of food, because they don't know where their next meal will come from, others said they would take a photo of their wooden box and stool alone to signify that they struggle when they cannot find customers.  I am anxious to see their photos, not only for the sake of the show, but rather the stories they will tell, and the things these boys find hard.  I imagine it will be different for each of them, as it is for us.  You see a group, and think you understand the way people work until we learn that some of us are anxious about relationships, others with money, and the list continues.  We all worry, just not about the same things.

Day 2: Framing

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Teaching in the park has been a challenge.  Originally, we thought we'd be indoors, and it was made available, but the boys said they wanted to stay in the park, so that is the plan.  Instead of projecting photos on the wall and discussing concepts, Matthew has been talking briefly about a concept, then the boys walk the park and they snap shots on his camera, and learn that way. 

Day two, we saw the boys sillier and easier with their smiles, but also more focused on what was being taught.  Their second assignment was:

This is my job.

We said they could take photos on the job, of themselves or others working, their supplies, things that represent the way they feel when they work.  Maybe frustration when they can't find a customer, or brushes from making others' shoes clean- hands dirtied in the process.

As a side note, and we'll post more today or tomorrow with details, but two of our kids were detained by the police yesterday morning for sleeping in the park after they've been told not to.  They are currently at a children's home in Xela, but will be sent to a huge home for boys in Guatemala City next week.  This is not positive, and all involved are incredibly, incredibly heartbroken.  Pray for us.  Pray for them.

Day 1: Perspective

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By the time I arrived, the sun was already setting- the park in Calvario full of kids running around, playing on the minimal equipment; their older counterparts huddled in groups, watching the soccer match and having an afternoon chat.  Matthew had finished teaching the first session.  Some of our kids were already playing in the game.  Two of the youngest hung around and emphatically showed me all they had learned about perspective, laying on the ground, then popping up and twisting their bodies to show different angles for potential shots.

Cameras were distributed when the game finished, with a refresher of the lesson, and a brief discussion of their assignment:

Take five photos of your neighborhood.

Matthew told the kids that your neighborhood could be a building, or a street, or the trashcan on the corner, or someone you pass every day.  One of the little boys was getting squirrely, and when asked what his photos would be, he said the church and the corner, and a dog.  He was mildly chastised on the spot for not paying attention to the assignment, but really, maybe those things are his neighborhood.  I see Central Park as a place I sit for coffee and walk through it to get somewhere else, but to him, that is where life happens.  The big black and white street dog, Oso, may be his neighbor.  I know for certain that there are days when a bench is bed, and his home.

            We see the kids again today at four, and look forward to hearing about what was good, and what was hard about their assignment, and their day.  We only get to hang with these kids for two weeks, but for the InnerCHANGE team, this is every day.  Their dedication and investment in the youth is unbelievable.  They walk the park, checking in with the kids, making sure that even if they are not entirely well, that they know they are consistently loved, and heard- no matter what.

Take a look at Melanie’s blog, really.  She writes beautifully, but more than that, the stories she tells will challenge you.  I don’t wonder if she watches over her neighbors.  I can already imagine what her photos would be if she were given this assignment- people and practical love. 

If you were to take five photos of your neighborhood, what would they contain?

Finally...

I finally finished putting all of our participant's portraits, artist statements, and photos on the website.  If you click on Johnny from Goodwill, or Liz from St. Margaret's house, it should patch you through.  Under each artist, you will find their photos, and a lightbox should appear with the enlarged photo when you click on them.  *should*

If you would be kind enough to take a look and tell me what works and what doesn't, I would be very thankful.  I'm trying the new layout and there are bugs to be fix for certain.  To find the site, either go to www.thedarkroomproject.org, or you can click on "The Darkroom Project" in the navigation bar at the top of this page, or click the giant logo above.

Thank you for your help and being a part of our story as we continue to improve and grow.

The Darkroom Project: Guatemala

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Unbelievably, we're here again.

Every time I think about starting again, I get butterflies.  Partly because its so much to plan in such a short amount of time, with the teaching schedule, meeting with the gallery, ordering frames, creating flyers, printing photos, and the list continues.  The rest of the fluttering comes from wonder, and that I get to watch and be a part of others tell their stories again.

Since our last show in Indiana, I've received an email from Johnny, with photos of the continued public speaking he's done.  He looks amazing.  I've heard stories of the participants and how life has changed for them just because they were brave enough to share their lives.  I'm not saying that The Darkroom Project is responsible, only that we are so thankful to just be here.  Bianca has an attorney helping her get the felony expunged from her record.  He heard her tell her story.  Darlene now has a job, because someone heard her story.  I keep at it with The Darkroom Project because Johnny reminds me of his story, our story.

This time, things will be a bit different.  We will be working with a group of boys (and maybe a girl or two?) that shoe shine for a living.  We will teach, and get annihilated in soccer every afternoon, and eventually have a show.  This project is dear to my heart, as I live the same streets and corners as these kids- we share a home.  I see them run through the park with their boxes, talking every businessman with dirty, and clean shoes, into a good shine.  There are two that continually waggle their eyebrows at me while I roll my eyes at them, and buy them lunch when my shoes don't need care- when I beg them to not shine my converse kicks. 

The party starts on Sunday.  Are you ready?

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Peanut butter isn't easy to find in Guatemala, and its expensive, and its not chunky Skippy, so it really doesn't count anyway.  And really, that is the case with most specialty food items from the U.S..  Earlier this week I had a meeting with a parent who happened to be from the states.  After we got done talking business, we continued chatting about her child, and I mentioned that I noticed her eating Chef Boyardee raviolis for lunch one day, and that it brought me back.  Not that raviolis, or that kind anyway, are incredibly delicious, but that its a taste you can count on and its familiar.  Folks from the states rush to McDonalds the minute they get pangs on homesickness for the same reason.  Though awful, it is a taste remains the same no matter where you go, and its comforting.

I wasn't in my office on Monday for most of the day, but when I returned, I found this can sitting on my desk.  On Tuesday, I ate the raviolis (which were not as good as I remember) with the first graders during lunch, and heard about the upcoming Christmas pageant, and how they predict they could eat a whole elephant if they were hungry enough.  We also debated the merits of dried seaweed and how nasty mushrooms are, and then they ran off to recess and probably forgot the whole thing.  As for me, it made my day.  Their silliness and seriousness about life in elementary was light and renewing, and they are just downright hilarious.

In this month, where we celebrate how grateful we are to have one another, I find myself thankful for the small things like raviolis and the push to hang with my littles.

Panorama

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Tonight, we celebrated a birthday by eating outdoors, wrapped in blankets.  I get so used to seeing this valley from the other side that I forget there is another perspective.  There is a sermon in there somewhere, I'm sure, but I'm too tired to dig deep.  It is only Wednesday, but it feels like it has been a full week.  Progress reports go out on Thursday, meaning we are 1.5 quarters in.  I can't believe it. 

Tonight, I will finish my last paper for a class, edit my dissertation, and look over the frame quote for The Darkroom Project.  Details about the project will follow, but know the date for the opening is rapidly approaching.  This is all well and good, but the details, which I am not great at, fall in my lap this time around.  Mix that with a Guatemalan sense of time in getting things accomplished and its quite a cocktail.

Anyway, I just wanted to check in.  After posting a few times last week, I found myself back in a writing rhythm that felt right.  Skipping days due to the weekend and busyness is okay, but I feel better when I get the days down on paper.

How is everyone?  Has your week started well?

Did I remember the dead today?

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“So often we try to make other people feel better by minimizing their pain, by telling them that it will get better (which it will) or that there are worse things in the world (which there are). But that’s not what I actually needed. What I actually needed was for someone to tell me that it hurt because it mattered. I have found this very useful to think about over the years, and I find that it is a lot easier and more bearable to be sad when you aren’t constantly berating yourself for being sad.” -John Green

When I posted yesterday, I received a note from a friend commenting on the fact that he thought I would have written about my grandma since we were celebrating those had passed.  I wrote back, expressing my intention to do just that, but that it isn't necessarily easy.  First, it requires me to reflect and sit with the residual pain of heartbreaking loss, and that isn't fun for anyone.  Second, cultures deal with death and loss in completely different ways, and I don't want to offend anyone or pass judgement on the way anyone grieves.  There isn't a right way.

I love that in Guatemala, they (we) take a day to really celebrate life and spend time visiting graves, appreciating family.  In the states, I feel like we handle things differently.  Perhaps some of it has to do with the speed of life and all of the things we (I) like to cram into a single day, but when someone passes, it seems like the mentality is to move on as quickly as possible.  The idea of "she's gone, there's nothing you can do about it," prevails.  And she is, and there wasn't anything I could do then, and there isn't anything I can do now.  And knowing there is nothing that can be done is hard, and sad, and since we can't fix it, we just move on and try to minimize the hurt.  In Guatemala, you are forced at least once a year to think of those you loved, and continue to process what the loss means in everyday life because you see an actual grave, and are forced to revisit those feelings.  It felt good on Friday to walk through a cemetery and consider my own loss and experience.  My Grandma was everything.     

Almost daily, I think of her and imagine what she would make of the madness in Guatemala.  She would hate the traffic like I do, and she would love the crepe bistro downtown.  I smile when I hear the letters "wh" over pronounced like she did, in the words "white" and "what", and the face she would make and the way she would say my name when I mimicked her.  I wished this afternoon, after a tedious day, that we could watch "You've Got Mail," and drink black coffee or red wine, and it all suddenly just felt so unfair.   The thing is, whether we stuff our grief, or celebrate it every year, it is still a process.  We still suffer, we are still thankful for the time we had.  While I don't want to dwell on the past, it felt good to sit with the sadness for minute and recognize that the only reason the pain still exists is because of depth of impact she had on my life and the love we shared.  How lucky I am.

El Dia de los Muertos: El Cementerio

You'd think that the cemetery would be the last place you'd want to spend a beautiful morning, but no, it was full of life.  There were vendors selling snacks, and there was music and kite flying.  Family members were stacked on one another to reach to place flowers, laughing when they nearly toppled over.  Tombs were cleaned, and there was laughing and crying.  Some families had clear traditions, it was evident in the way they moved, others took naps in the grass while the young in the family hummed a tune.  I felt like there was just so much identity and belonging displayed in the simple act of visiting loved ones.  To me, it was a celebration of what was lost, but what is also present in what remains.

El Dia de los Muertos: Las Flores

On Friday we had the day off to celebrate el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead).  My morning was spent in the Calvario neighborhood where for blocks around the cemetery, vendors were selling flowers and making wreaths.  We arrived before eight, but the streets were already packed.  Case in point, on my way home, my neck started itching and I felt some strange bumps the spanned down my shoulder.  I couldn't figure out where the rash came from, when my friend reminded me that in the course of the morning, we'd both been hit in the face with bouquets at least ten times.  About four of those times the carrier realized it was happening and we had a good laugh, the other six flower slaps in the face, not so much.  I know I was whacked with one bouquet three times as the man turned around when he heard someone call his name.  But then again, all things considered, I'm sure I bumped into people without realizing- it was a zoo.

These are the times, honestly, when I pinch myself and wonder if life can get any better.  The Day of the Dead sounds morbid, but it is really a celebration of the things that we love and miss about those who aren't with us anymore.   In Guatemala, they are brought bright flowers and greenery that is alive and fresh, and people hang out with family, cleaning tombs, and I imagine, telling stories. 

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Halloween

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I'm not much into Halloween or anything scary for that matter.  I can almost promise that you will never catch me in a haunted house or watching a horror movie.  I get that some people consider it entertainment, but to me, the world is falling apart, and life is hard enough already without manufactured gore.  I just don't need it. 

But, I do believe in community, and when the community says that I have to dress up to be admitted to the gathering, fine.  Just for the grins I set up a little photo booth to catch some fun.  I went as Katniss from the Hunger Games, and the photo above is me opening up a can on my favorite luchador. 

Did anyone else dress up? 

Tell me I'm not alone.  Does anyone else hate all things scary? 

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   The questions I post will not follow any particular order, nor are any necessarily more significant.  The question discussed is whichever was on my mind. 

   What did I begin today that might endure? 

   Because of my current lifestyle choices (grad school, work, etc.), I've had to become very disciplined when it comes to my time.  For those who know me personally, you can attest that deadlines and arriving exactly on time has always been a challenge, and regarded more as a suggestion or far off goal, rather than reality.  Its one of those things I really struggle with.  For those of you who have been frustrated that I'm late, I promise that my intentions are always to arrive five minutes early, but I just never seem to get there.  However, I have improved and that is worth something. 

   So now, I am mostly on time (which is fantastic, since no else seems to be "en punto" here), and I rarely miss deadlines.  My time is scheduled out to the minute.  Wake early, work on grad work for an hour, shower, dress, wake the dog to take her out, and fly out of the house.  Notice anything missing?  The most important meal of the day never makes the list.  Now, in my defense, I have had many weeks where I pre-bake muffins and breakfast burritos so I can take my food to go.  But, there are also plenty of weeks that doesn't happen.  Today I woke a bit earlier, prepared the french press, and cooked myself a couple eggs.  All of a sudden, I felt like an adult.  Its a strange, rare feeling that passed quickly, but I'd like to see it again soon.  

   I'm setting my alarm back so that this breakfast routine may endure.

   Did anyone else begin something today that might last?

"I pray that you will understand the words of Jesus, 'Love one another as I have loved you.'  Ask yourself, 'How has he loved me?  Do I really love others in the same way?'  Unless this love is among us, we can kill ourselves with work and it will only be work, not love.  Work without love is slavery."     -Mother Teresa

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Anyone up for some real talk?  Until now, my late summer and fall was a mess of grad work and actual work and moving homes and and and...

And really, it sucks- to have everything blur by to the point where I can barely recall September.  Weekends disappearing, and sweating Sundays because everything is due, and nothing feels quite complete, and the rest that comes with the Sabbath nowhere to be found.  What this looks like in real life is survival mode.  Trying to do everything, but having basics like exercising, and eating well, and doing anything for fun fall to the wayside, and feeling like I'm doing nothing well.  Reflection?  There is no room for that in that scenario.  Reflection at that point was deep sighs and saying to myself, "this. sucks."  I don't mean to complain, because it was something that I considered and a path that I chose.  

But now, now I have time.  Thanksgiving is my second favorite holiday, and as I consider the meal and the guests, I also consider the things I have overlooked in my recent haste.  I have a friend that sent me a list of questions for personal reflection.  I was exhausted after considering the second of twenty, making me realize I need the exercise.  The above quote rings true, and its time I start recognizing it.

If you stop back, we can answering these questions together, one or two at a time

Lately

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It has been such a long time since I've created an actual update that I don't really even know where to begin. 

  • I finished my first three chapters for my dissertation (hooray!) and am now waiting for feedback from my committee so I can move forward with research. 
  • Dagny and I have been cruising between Xela and Guatemala City for flights and relaxing weekends.   More on that soon.
  • I have been tinkering with The Darkroom Project website, but just hit a major roadblock.  It is nice to have the time to re-think and try new things without grad work looming overhead.
  • Speaking of The Darkroom Project, our next project begins in Guatemala in less than a month!  We are working with some of the boys on the street who shine shoes.
  • My second favorite holiday is coming up and I am already planning Thanksgiving dinner. 
  • Just when we thought rainy season had come to an end, torrential downpour and landslides have convinced us that the celebration started to soon.   Ugh.
  • The students and teachers are doing well.  Everyday feels like a welcome challenge. 

Glad to be back, friends.  Drop me a line and tell me what you've been up to lately.

La Casita

Posts with real words and stories to come.  In the meantime, take a look at my new house.   The lighting wasn't perfect, so forgive that if you can.  I moved about a month and a half ago, but finally have furniture as of this week.  I had the staff over on Saturday for game night and the space was perfect. 

Anyone want to come for a stay?

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The Reserve

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This photo was taken at Reserva Natural Privada Manchon Guamuchal, or that is our best guess.  We looked at Google Maps on Monday to see if we could nail down where we’d been.  No roads are charted, but we knew we hadn’t hit Mexico, so the reserve is our conclusion.  Since, I have heard about kayaking at that reserve and people and tents, leading me to believe that perhaps we found a portal to another dimension and it wasn’t the reserve after all. 

Saturday was a day for exploring and guessing and landing on an empty beach with black sand, not a soul in sight.  We headed out mid-morning, swimsuits and a cooler, with less than a sure destination.  The road was completely gutted, with mud puddles that spanned yards and pot holes in which we could have lost my pickup.  There are days without power and days without water in Guatemala, landslides and earthquakes, which is annoying and frustrating and I shake my head, wondering what I was thinking choosing this nonsense.  And then there are days like Saturday when I feel like I find a sliver of heaven.  And places where I feel a little bit wild and a lot a bit free.

Field notes from the home front:

·         I moved.  My new house and neighborhood are quiet and a bit out of town, but completely worth it.  Dagny and I are both settled and have never been happier to just hang out at home.

·         My dissertation is coming along.  Much of my spare time is devoted to school, and though I would rather be doing other things (it is hard to imagine unallocated time), I am confident that it will be over shortly. 

·         I finally started working out again and Jillian Michaels is ruining my life with Ripped in 30.  I’m a sick person, I know, but it feels good to be sore.

·         I’m cooking again.  I try to make things like breakfast burritos that I can freeze, and pack lunches for the week before it begins.  My dinners, as is common in Guatemala, are small and are often smoothies, or something else minimal that gets the job done.

·         I love, love, love twitter these days for connecting with other educators around the world.  I have a few friends in the capital, but finding a professional network has been tough.  I’m loving the chance to connect and stand on the shoulders of giants.  My handle is @peoplecallmesky if you are interested.

I hope this finds you well.  May your weekend be restful and enjoyable.  See you next week when I'm back on my game.