7 Super Shots

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My friend and fellow travel blogger, Pablo, (www.wherespablo.com) recently tagged me in a fun photography game created by HostelBookers. The game urges you to find your own 7 ‘super’ shots for several categories. I though that sifting through my loads of photos would be a painstaking activity, but I found that the task ignited inspiration and nostalgia, and the photos seemed to jump out at me rather quickly.

The following 7 pictures are my super shots:

1. A photo that takes my breath away

Although most photographs taken in India are vivid and colorful beyond belief, this happened to be my only photograph from India which appears bleary and dull. However, I love it because the woman in it seems almost ethereal, and her hennaed hair matches the muted rosy tones of the walls.

The day this photo was taken, I was jet lagged and weary from touring India in its scorching summer heat, so I honestly can’t even remember what site or monument this was, but I do remember the sweet, gentle presence of this old, Indian woman.

2. A photo that makes me laugh or smile

I took this at the base of the Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Families of monkeys sat comfortably in Buddha’s lap.. need I say more?

3. A photo that makes me dream

My girls at the top of the hill in Morne a Bruler, Haiti. Despite boxes of books, pipe cleaners, beads, markers, string, and every other imaginable craft, these girls were only interested in an un-inflated red balloon. Immediately after I blew up the balloon, they understood its fragility, without ever even having seen a balloon before, and they fought to keep it in the air.

To me, this picture demonstrates the innate understanding kids have, and I can only dream of what these girls will accomplish, with or without a formal education.

4. A photo that makes me think

Doors always make me think. Maybe its because several really good quotes about life have to do with doors, or maybe its because more stories lurk behind them than we could ever know. Although I enjoy sightseeing, I always catch myself wondering what’s behind the locked doors, and sometimes I even scheme up stories about the people who used the door 500 years ago. Darn red tape.

5. A photo that makes my mouth water

I’ll admit it, the picture doesn’t exactly look appetizing, but this was hands down the best fish I have ever eaten. At the southern most tip of India, in the small fishing town of Cochin, we bought several fresh fish from the local market (the local market being a mangy Indian man selling fish in a small white tent). Following the locals, we took our purchases to a small, nearby restaurant that specialized in taking your fish, and doctoring it up like nobody’s business.

That fish was grilled to perfection, and the piquant Indian spices occasionally fused with bursts of lime completely seduced my tastebuds. Plus, eating a whole fish straight down to bones was an experience in itself.

6. A photo that tells a story

While working in the slums of Film Nagar, India, I spent a significant amount of time with these two boys. As part of my work with Kriti, an NGO aiming to improve the Film Nagar slums, I helped coordinate a field trip to the Hyderabad Zoo. It was the first time that these boys had ever been outside of the limits of their ‘slum’…

Although I enjoy the story of our zoo trip, judging by the intensity of their brown, piercing eyes, something tells me that it just doesn’t compare to the stories they have lived through.

7. A photo that I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

This was taken insanely early in the morning as the sun began to rise over the Ganges River in Varanasi, India. I love the intensity of the sun’s reflection on the water and how the reflection creeps up to the raggedy, pastel-colored fishing boats.

It’s ironic because it seems so serene, but India, especially along the Ganges in the morning, is anything but.

Of all of our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.” -Walt Disney

I invite some of the people I follow to partake in this challenge as well!

Found at (http://blog.hostelbookers.com/travel/7-super-shots/)

Lisa at http://www.chickybus.com/

Annette at http://mslistologist.com/

Ana at http://1001scribbles.wordpress.com/

Jennifer at http://laavventura.wordpress.com/

Katy and Chris at http://ayearintrim.wordpress.com/about/

Pipe Cleaners, Rocks & Globalization

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Often, I associate the term ‘Globalization’ with grand, sweeping gestures of domination and upstaging, and rightly so; the deprivation and disposal of culture that can accompany globalization are devastating, but benefits are reaped as well.

Globalization makes it easier for us to travel, to experience an array of cultures and colors, and because of this convenience, we should be striving to share in this experience together. However, in order to think big, we must think small. Simple things like rocks & pipe cleaners…

Who knew that one bag of pipe cleaners could generate a creative, inspiration-filled afternoon? This summer, at children’s camps nudged in the hillsides of Haiti, little Haitian hands molded pipe cleaners for hours on end crafting bracelets, glasses, and endless inventive designs; they twisted gorgeous fake bouquets until their hands were sore.

 The older Haitian male teachers were just as enthralled with pipe cleaners, and it was heart warming to see the teacher’s enthusiasm and curiosity equaling that of the children’s. I loved seeing one of the Haitian teachers, Maurice, wear a pair of lime-green pipe cleaner glasses all day, and I couldn’t help but laugh as he started to have a serious conversation with me about our lesson plans for tomorrow, still wearing them.

About a week later, we passed by a town meeting being held by some of the women, and I noted that an old, Haitian woman was wearing a fancy pair of blue pipe cleaner earrings.

To this day, pipe cleaners never cease to amaze me. What universal, useful items!

Outside the aura of the children’s creative spirits, the Morne a Brule schoolhouse was a devastating wreck, still in bad shape from the earthquake. Had this school been in the U.S., caution tape would have sealed off the premises, and kids would have been scolded for going near the dangerous mounds of dirt and rubble. The main concrete schoolhouse on top of the hill was falling apart, and chunks of concrete and rocks were scattered all over the uneven landscape.

On the last day of the children’s camp in Haiti, we used this to our advantage. We had the kids collect their favorite rocks and falling-apart-school-bits from the piles. The students then wrote words and painted pictures on the rocks, and all of them ended up going to get second pieces of rock to decorate. The energy when doing this project was explosive; it was so moving to see these children personalize and be able to take part in renewing something that had been so devastating in their lives. I realized that they weren’t just painting, but they were reclaiming their land, their school, their hearts. After the rocks had dried, the children were able to go set them in their own special place outside. This was such a simple, yet inspiring activity, and this can be done almost anywhere in the world. A small, universal activity, which leaves a big impact on the souls involved.

An old, happy, Haitian man, Gerard, who had always looked out for the children during the day, gestured for me to paint him a rock. I took my time and made it very sparkly, and his face lit up when I gave it to him. Every time we crossed paths for the rest of the day, he would give me a bright smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up.

It’s the little things like this that count. He got a present, a rock. But I got a flame ignited in the pit of my stomach that urges me to do more, to see more, to meet more people like this man. It was a lively push to keep exchanging with people, to partake in the little experiences, like this, which make the world a little smaller, and a little friendlier. Maybe globalization doesn’t have to mean showy Coca-Cola advertisements… it can mean painting a rock for a new friend whose smile will be dearly missed.

Globalization is funny, fickle thing.

And just when I thought globalization couldn’t get any fickli-er, up in the rolling hills of Haiti in La Vallee, four hours outside Port Au Prince, I saw a kid eating a starburst, and I sang Akon songs with my Haitian friends. How is it that Haiti is so far behind in infrastructure and common sanitation practices yet I can still hear the infamous, irritating Nokia ring tone wherever I walk? If you’re cooking over a fire, while texting are you new wave, or old school?

Because of globalization, Haiti is an inexplicable, explosive combination of old and new; it’s fashionable & acceptable for everyone to wear second hand clothes that have been shipped from U.S. thrift stores in large quantities. I have never laughed harder than when I saw a scrawny Haitian man wearing a shirt that said, “Don’t let my big tits scare you, I’m really a nice lady.”

Globalization can also makes things hilarious.

Some of the most dazzlingly hilarious moments of my life included participating with the Haitian children in the insanely intense, enthusiastic game of duck-duck-goose and other nonsense American games. And I will never, EVER forget the whole group belting out the call and repeat joy song A TOOTIE TOT; its repeated motions had all of us sticking out our tongues, and butts, spinning around in circles, and simply acting silly together… everyday. For me, these moments make globalization worth it.

Globalization: it’s happening, & the fight against it is not worth it. However, we can preserve the integrity and character of every location by cherishing our connections with those around us, and of course, savoring the little things.

Vote pipe cleaners and rocks for globalization.

First World Failures & Haiti

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Americans came to Haiti expecting to change lives and to supply the students with material goods, which they are ‘deprived’ of. Silly, because people here are deprived of absolutely nothing, in fact, they are teeming with enthusiasm, gratitude and youth. Embarrassingly enough, we came with bags of pencils, paper, string, markers, and every possible medium of coloring and crafting. We had beads and parachutes, and yes, it was beyond exciting to partake in crafts with these kids, but in all honesty, the most practical and repeatedly used item I had brought was my Leatherman pocketknife.

We came into this experience expecting to make a difference, and maybe we did. But we learned more from the Haitians than we could ever expect to teach them.

Hey Americans, jokes on us; no Haitian needs a lesson about life, love, goods or work. Even if I made a difference in my children’s lives, they taught me a better way to live mine, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

People come to Haiti with deficit modes of thought. But, it would be so disrespectful, degrading, and pointless to pity these people. Sure, compared to our standards, we can feel bad, but our perceptions, tainted with un-necessary and extravagant material things prove to be a poor judge of fulfillment. Every day I remember that my children in Haiti are choosing today whether they want to use their ration of water for bathing or for drinking. Then I have to ask the age-old question, why do Americans, who have so much, seem so deprived, when societies like Haiti who have ‘nothing’ are so happy and fulfilled? Does it take nothing to truly appreciate? If this is the case, America is surely going about fulfillment in the wrong way.

Their pencils and paper will eventually run out, but they will still walk barefoot over the rocky terrain for 2 hours just to be able to sit in a broken school desk for a little while. The bracelets that we all made together will eventually fall off and disintegrate into the dirt, but that won’t fade their shining smiles, energy, and zeal.

I miss, most of all, the rolling velvety green hills, which span the entire Vallee, and wrap people into Haiti like a hug. America practically steam rolls down our hills and any other imperfections in order to have a completely flat land on which we build cookie-cutter houses, with fences to keep the neighbors out. And I wonder, when the land is flattened out like this, does it teach our kids not to climb mountains? Where kids learn on the rocky terrain in the rolling hills in Haiti, they are not afraid of climbing, or falling; their caution is thrown into the wind, and they boundlessly chase soccer balls across drops and rocky areas. I can only imagine that ones imagination, inspiration, and willpower for life is embedded in the land they grew up in. And our children in America who walk on sidewalks and who can only play on manicured lawns without so much as a rock out of place may never be able to learn how to climb over obstacles or push themselves to higher places.

As I lay in my comfy bed I think about how I would give anything to be back on the concrete floors with our dusty, lumpy thin mats listening to Haitian and American voices combining in a sweet symphony with the strumming of guitar chords and the tsk tsking of nearby cockroaches coming through the windowless windows.

It’s the ripple affect; I don’t know how far our impact will go, but I do know that it starts with educating our children. And our children recognized the love and passion we came with, which makes my volunteer work a success.

But our passion is minuscule compared to the passion and perseverance of these kids, better yet, the whole country, which is destined for great things despite the physical environment.

I believe that the ways we gauge success are skewed. America likes to measure success by the amount of resources we consume; with our consumption of materials, resources, and unnecessary things, yes, we are number one. But, as Haiti taught me, what if a country was defined as successful when everyone felt belonging in a community? When everyone you cross paths with lets you in with a smile and a wave, which raises up every soul in the country with unconditional love … What if we measured countries in terms of the love they share and their ability to support each other despite life-shattering conditions?

Then, for the first time, Haiti would be first world.

Haitian Encounters

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My First official Post! Enjoy reading, and feel free to leave comments/feedback! :)

 As the plane dipped down lower and created that euphoric falling sensation in stomach pits, the entire plane erupted into loud, hearty laughter and then subsequent, jubilant conversations. And this is where the old man next to me, who had no teeth, and couldn’t read or write, smiled at me and handed me his passport and customs documents so that I could fill them out for him. From just these few moments, I knew that Haitians were young at heart, and while they possessed a quiet poise, they were never too proud to ask for help.

Haitians are the most genuinely friendly people I have ever met, and I love that the bonds immediately transcended language abilities. In fact, language itself broke the language barrier. Waiting at the airport in Port Au Prince, I discovered this in less than ten minutes. With my trusty Haitian Creole phrasebook and our new Haitian friend Jameson, I tested out my broken creole, and he would respond back in broken English. We lightheartedly laughed at each other’s silly sentence bits, but praised each other’s efforts and abilities (or lack thereof).

Late that night, we arrived at CODEHA’s home base, the site from which over the next month we would span out into 5 schools across the region of ‘La Vallee.’ It served as the site to which all volunteers return on the weekends to reflect, build fences, create gardens, and work on other projects.

CODEHA is a grassroots organization of Haiti, which grounds volunteer and community efforts in educating the children of Haiti. CODEHA stands for Corde Enfants Haitian, which literally means ‘a rope of Haitian children’.  In a larger sense, when we all work together to educate our children, we climb the rope that pulls communities, and the country, to higher places.

The home base of CODEHA completely reflected this vision. It was a miniature, thriving community with energy of electrifying proportions, complete with guitars and slack-lines. This oasis hosted a rainbow of international volunteers and Haitian leaders, children and families who came together to play, work, love, teach, learn, and to share.

Gody, a middle-aged Haitian man and the passionate leader of CODEHA, immediately and vehemently shared with us that we are not here to ‘help,’ but share in the experience. CODEHA was well known and highly respected because of Gody’s relationships with the community. Although his candor and childlike attitude pushed my buttons so many times, his ever-radiant energy and poignant enthusiasm proved him to be the epitome of young at heart.

He shared with us CODEHA’s motto: Konstwi ak sa nou ye kote. In Haitian Creole, this means build who you are, where you are, and I made this my mission while in Haiti: to build solid connections with those around me, and to relish every experience. Gody, in part, inspired me to do this. He was (is) a role model for being fully dedicated and present to those around him, and he lives for the relationships he so easily creates with people.

He always said, “You are not my friend.” I was taken aback the first time he said this to me, but he continued, “you are not my sister, either, or my brother…

…you are my existence.”

And he said this with such extraordinary authenticity that it took my breath away every time.  This is a true testimony to his character, and it completely embodies the spirit of the Haitians.

They let you in, swiftly.

This held true when we helped the older Haitian women cook. It’s amazing how the little things here can be a great bonding experience. We sorted through bags of grains and corn and picked out bad pieces for hours on end. Very quickly, I learned that this was a delightful afternoon bonding experience rather than a mundane chore.

Haitians can joyously engage in seemingly tedious tasking while completely enjoying life.

While doing this, we became fast best friends with the young Haitian girls by singing Bieber’s hits together. Eager to break the cultural bonds and transcend language barriers, we came up with cool handshakes, braided each others hair, painted nails, and they taught us ‘peche,’ a game similar to jacks, except it’s played with rocks- the Haitian twist. And when we ran out of international pop hits to sing together, it was never awkward to just be silent and bask in each other’s peaceful presence.

It was about being who you are, where you are. It was about sharing in the experience with each other.

Church further exemplified these cross-cultural capabilities. As the Haitians sang, their voices carried a mellow sadness but an even more powerful undertone of hope and optimism, which seemed to cleanse the air of the surrounding rubble and turmoil. Their dark eyes penetrated our souls as the priest openly thanked us for our help and support. His attitude was neither a plea for more help nor an insincere thank-you-but-we-can take-it-from-here. There was no underlying power struggles, no arguments of authority, no ‘us versus them’ mentality. It was an honest moment of the community appreciating that we were willing to share in the experience with them.

I am so grateful that they were willing to let us share in their frustrations, efforts and struggles. Although I may not have carried a burden as heavy as they do, not a day goes by that I don’t think about these vivaciously happy, enduring people with indestructible spirits.

I miss walking in town and continually uttering a friendly “bonswa” to everyone I see. It was always said in return with a genuine, large smile and an excited wave. In Haiti, greetings were always reciprocated with an unparalleled openness, optimism and excitement. (I fear that here in the states, the process of saying ‘hi’ to everyone you saw would be a very daunting and discouraging task.)

At one point, us volunteers and fellow Haitians even shared a bumpy 3 hour ride packed in the back of a cattle truck. The young American volunteers mixed with the older Haitian generation made for a youthful combination of never-ending sing-alongs consisting of nonsense creole phrases. I laughed as the oldest mama sang her heart out to these “joy” songs. Her voice, though wildly off key and hoarse, radiated her lively, youthful spirit. My heart felt so full as I belted out call and repeat songs in Creole, and to think that this is an everyday occurrence in Haiti…

Many people have an erroneous notion that you would have to pay money and attend a fancy spiritual yoga retreat in order to have these insta-connections, but there are some places in the world where duets of fast connections and ever-friendly exchanges are an everyday, ordinary dance.

Haiti is one of these few places.

As Gody would preach, it’s not about “bringing” anything; it’s about the gift-less exchange, sharing in the experience a junto, together.

Always while traveling, we must embrace and cherish the raw, heart to heart, cross-cultural connections; we all have something to share with each other.