Sunday, March 15, 2009

capturing their stories...

Today along with my photography class, I went to a small little town about 30 minutes away from Guayaquil called 'Nobol.' This is a very unique town, known for being the place where "Narcisa de Jesus" was born and is now laid. While I do not know much about her life and what she accomplished, I do know that the people in this little town are fanatics about this woman and give all of their time and energy into worshipping her. Stores are named after her, there are shrines of her old clothing in sealed glass displays, there is a fountain of pouring water that people believe is blessed by her, and her actual body is lying front and center of the sanctuary in the center of the town. Yes, her actual body! Imagine the look on my face when I asked who the replica was in the coffin in front of me; there she was... the woman this town worshipped. This was a very interesting and eye-opening experience for me! Here's a little of what I saw...

Overall, I found this town to be extremely friendly and warm-hearted. Everyone came to know our group and were so amazing about letting us take pictures. I took over 350 pictures in this town, with about 50 that I want to super-size and frame on my wall right now. I loved each and every person that I met. I didn't feel like I was just doing my "homework" for a class. I felt like I was getting into their world a bit... that's exactly what I think a photograph should do: tell a story. I'd like to share a little of my experience (through photographs) so you can see what I mean.

When I see these pictures, I am amazed at powerful they are in significantly different ways. This woman was a precious jewel who sat on the streets of Nobol with a display of jewelry wrapped around her neck and religious candles in her hands. When we asked if we could photograph her, she hesitated at first, but began to smile and let us into her world a bit. I found this man, on the other hand, standing in the back of a truck with a teeshirt wrapped around his head to keep the sweat from dripping down his face. I could tell he was a hard worker, and his eyes are proof of that. I cannot look at them without knowing he has a story of pain, and what I hope, triumph.

This woman had to be at least 85 years old and about 4'8'' tall. We found her standing at her window, watching as people passed by. When I saw her, I just knew I had to photograph her. She captured my attention. Me and one of my classmates approached her and she said we could photograph her, as long as we knew she was "going to look so ugly" in the pictures. I assured her the opposite was true... the lighting was perfect; I imagined that each wrinkle so deeply embedded in her skin was a memory of her long, lived life. She was absolutely stunning! After we spent about five minutes with her, my classmate took a picture with her at my side, and she handed us a bag full of fresh mangoes as a gift. This was surprising, as people very rarely give gifts on occasions like this; actually, as a foreigner, I have never before been given something for no reason at all (usually people ask me to BUY their mangoes). I was surprised and completely humbled; she had so little, yet her gift meant so much to me and she had no idea!

These little girls actually asked ME to take their picture! I assumed they had already been photographed by other students, so I figured I'd play along and then let them see their picture on the screen. They had a blast, and were adorable to photograph. Only problem was that after this, they began to follow me around and wanting me to take their picture in every single place in Nobol. You have to admit, their persistence and spunk is inspiring and irresistible!

This man I call "Sandilla Man" which means "watermelon man." I found him when we were walking out of the church and he just so HAPPENED to be standing in the perfect light. The moment was going to pass me by, so without even asking, I got extremely close to his face with my camera and began shooting. Surprisingly enough, he did not seem to mind! He was so excited about life and just loved his watermelons. His smile was contagious; I had to keep telling him NOT to smile so I could get some pictures with "attitude." Most ended up with his BIG, toothless smile... but what I learned is that you cannot photograph who you want a person to be (no matter what you professor says); you have to photograph them for who they really are... let them be, toothless smile and all :)

I'm not sure I'll ever fully understand this man. I found him in this awkward position and told him to STAY THERE so I could take his picture. I'm sure he thought I was JUST as awkward for asking such a question (he obviously was not comfortable). Again, for whatever reason, he was a sweet reminder of how simple life truly is. How being ourselves is a gift; how masks are not meant to worn, and how moments are meant to be lived. His mystery reminds me of how mysterious life and the world around us really is. It makes me WANT to know his story, which again, is why I think we take pictures in the first place.

After spending about 2 hours in Nobol, we decided to take a canoe down the river to see what we could find. Here's a picture of my classmates in the canoe, and me, being a tourist and looking pretty cool in my bandana :)

In the canoe, we saw little villages that seemed nearly inaccessabile by land. We passed by, and children would come running to the edge of their land to wave at us and scream "CANOA!" It was as if the outside world was something they did not know very well; perhaps I'm exaggerating (considering they do not live in the depths of the Amazon or anything), but that was surely how it felt.

We passed by this little 'pueblo' and our photography professor asked them if we could "climb up" (basically this consisted of stepping your shoe into ankle deep mud and pulling it out, over and over again until you reached the top). It was WELL WORTH IT. This family was so sweet and everyone in the surrounding houses came running to be a part of all the "fun." They were especially surprised to see me, a foreigner, on their river-side home. They didn't say much, but you could tell they enjoyed having company. Here are a few of the last shots I'm going to share... (for now). This first one is probably my favorite shot of the entire day...

Afterwards, we got back in our canoe and headed back to Nobol, where we said our goodbyes and drove back to the city where we came from.

Truly this was an amazing day! I keep thinking how much I wish that I could just travel around the world and get paid to capture these moments, meet amazing people, and show them that someone cares about them... definitely a dream that's worth dreaming :)

hasta luego.
enjoy :)


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

give me a set of fresh eyes...

It truly amazes me how each of us have been given such a distinct pair of eyes to perceive the world around us, and in turn how this perception is impacted and inspired by things that in an instant have the power and ability to change everything about who we are.

I want to share a story about my dear friend Leeana (below), who just got back from a week-long trip to the Galapagos Islands here in Ecuador. When Leeana left, I assumed that she would come back to Guayaquil with beautiful island snapshots, a bikini line to show off the tan she got, and tiki-hut souvenirs of her cruise ship and of all the wonderful places she visited. While she did come back with such things, truth be told, I never really imagined that she would come back the way she did. She came back with a piece of her heart completely transformed; she came back with a story that would not only change her life as she knows it, but one that would inspire the world around her to step out and dare to see their world with a fresh set of eyes.

When she arrived back to Guayaquil, she struggled to find the words to tell me how she felt; all she could say was that she felt "full." I scrambled in my head to try to understand the many things this could mean... full of delicious island food (doesn't sound too bad to me!), full of joy, full of life? It wasn't until I read her recent blog entry that I truly grasped what she meant by this statement.

On May 10, she reflected in her blog about how much being on those islands had opened her eyes; how beautiful they were, and how they taught her to truly appreciate what she had been given in her life. I was so blessed to read her thoughts and to be even the smallest part of her journey. She was experiencing for the first time how being in a new and unknown place has the ability and the power to change you from the inside out. Living abroad absolutely changes everything about you. For some, such changes take place when they see the dirt-ridden streets and are convicted of their own selfishness and gluttony; some see the sun rise in shades of purple and pink that whisper inside their hearts that there is 'something more' to this life; some, like my dear friend Leeana, walk upon sandy white beaches and swim in clear blue waters, only to find themselves face to face with a sea lion that rejuvenates the sense of child-like wonder and joy that has somehow been lost in the busyness of life and conformity. Now that is what I call living.

You see, I am fully convinced that our lives were meant to be lived in this way... with open eyes and open hearts, allowing change to happen where it needs to happen, allowing what has been somehow lost to be fully restored. Perhaps when we take risks in our lives, we are surprised to be restored in ways we never realized we needed. We are surprised to be given gifts that we never knew we had lost along the way. Like being given the gift of knowing that we were created to smile, to be filled with joy, to take off our shoes and skip through the streets and stop for moment to talk to our neighbors; that we were created to get dirty, to get down on the ground and roll around with precious little children, to grasp their hands and remember what it was like to be careless and free from the opinions of others; that we were created to take risks, to jump off of bridges and to climb to mountain tops that leave our hearts wondering; that we were created to be changed by our surroundings; that we were created to see beauty and to know that beauty has been created by the God of the universe who has given us all of these things to make us feel exactly what Leeana said: completely and utterly full.

I will end with one more reflection that speaks louder than any word I have written; Leeana wrote, "The grace of the Andes mountains, the feeling of jumping off of a bridge, and the beauty of the coast have all renewed feelings of overwhelming wonder and awe. Every day is full of the opportunity to discover something new and precious and glorious...It makes me want to cry thinking about how much this experience has changed me. I feel so different, in the best way possible. I feel like before I was holding myself back. I can't say how, exactly, but I just know now that I am different. I am stronger."

What a precious reminder of how we were created to be affected and inspired by that which surrounds us. What a precious reminder that God has not left us aimlessly in this world; He shows up, sometimes in places in which we least expect to see Him. He shows up because He wants us to live lives of fullness and contentment. All we have to do is allow these changes to take place, and before we know it, there will come a day in which we will open our eyes only to realize that we do not see the world in the same way as we did the day before. The sky appears much bluer, inconveniences seem to be less inconvenient, we intentionally leave our watches on our dressers, and we are in less of a hurry to 'make something' of ourselves or please those around us. Instead, our hearts learn to beat and we learn to be ourselves in a world that tells us we should be nothing but.

Such lessons, I am certain, are lessons we were created not only to learn, but to seek after with our whole hearts. May this be a challenge to us all to risk it all to have the blessed opportunity to see the world with a fresh set of eyes that never leave us feeling the same.

be blessed,

Monday, March 9, 2009

remaining in the 'not yet'

This is the second time in three months that I have watched the clock tick, right into the hour that I was supposed to get on an airplane and leave Ecuador. This is the second time in three months that I have stayed behind, wondering what is next while calmly resting in the unknown of being in this desert place.

You see, my life doesn't necessarily "make sense" to those around me; it is not about the plans or about doing what people my age 'should do.' When I was considering leaving Ecuador today, one question was on the minds of nearly everyone I spoke to: So Shelly, what is next? For far too long in my adolescent life, I have believed that conformity would make me who I am; it would keep me safe and ensure that I had the life that I have always wanted. I felt that not only having a plan indicated success, but that having a plan that everyone agreed with would get you most out of life. What I have realized through far too many 'downfalls' is that the exact opposite is true. Life was meant to be lived. Sometimes, organized plans must be forsaken and we must press forward in confidence that God has intended for our lives to be an adventure. In this adventure, we will far too often fall to our faces only to realize that we cannot make it up past our knees; so there we remain, lifting our voices to heaven and crying out that God would be real to us and near to our hearts. There, and only there, is where we must remain until He lifts us up and calls us to move forward.

If I have learned anything throughout this journey thus far, it is that knowing God has nothing to do with religion. To truly know God is to know that your heart is beating; that there is something 'bigger' out there that determines your very essence and being. It is the air you breathe, the power that gives you eyes to see the world around you, and the love that enables you pour out your life on behalf of others. It is something real; something you see when the sun sets in the sky, when the wind sweetly whispers into your ear, and when the arms of a suffering child wrap themselves around you and somehow help you to remember that there is hope in this life. It is something that is best manifested in lives that are willing to risk it all; lives that are willing to step out and take the time to seek Him in ways 'religion' doesn't understand and in places where many aren't sure He can be found. It is something genuine, something powerful, something completely life changing.

I am blessed beyond measure to be on this journey and have such an opportunity to grow and to change. It is by no means easy, but I know with everything I have inside of me, it is well worth it to remain in the 'not yet.'

how is that for an 'update?' I am planning a sola 'get away' to the beach this week, so I'll be sure to write afterwards since I will have a lot of time to write and reflect.

until then,