It has been about 10 months since I have posted a new blog entry but I am back to announce that Natán and I got married 3 weeks ago on the dreamy island of Roatan, Honduras!! All I have to say is that we are loving married life and are in the preparation stage of a new ministry opportunity (that we’ll share soon) aaaannnddd are still just oogling over our photos from David Díaz Photography:
Here are some of my absolute favorite shots from the last couple of years. ❤ See more on my Facebook photography page.
Marcela and Francisco got engaged last year and we had a beautiful shoot in Omoa, Honduras at the Fortaleza de San Fernando. We used this dreamy sunset lighting in an open field right outside Nashville, TN for Eric & Katherine’s engagement shoot last Fall. Incredible view of a lone house on a hill in Copán, Honduras during our medical trip in 2013. My all time favorite portrait: a little Tolupan Indian girl in Honduras holds her baby brother right before their bath time. She sits against the outside wall of their hut. They now live in a new home with a laminate roof that will prevent parasites.
I didn’t ask permission. I didn’t have any foundation of friendship with her; I hadn’t even met her before. She didn’t know my story and I didn’t know hers. I was passing her on the trail on my way out of her Honduran village and she was coming home after a tiresome day of work in the fields, machete in hand.
I had spent the afternoon with a couple local pastors getting to know some of her neighbors in the village and hearing their stories. After talking with them a bit, they agreed to let me take photos and video. They got comfortable with my camera and I got “in the zone.” I didn’t really think twice about snapping photos on my way back down the mountain.
The set up was perfect for a photo – she and another lady from the tribe trudging up the hill in their skirts, hauling farming tools, framed by mountains and tropical plants. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
“NO! No pictures!” she yelled at me in Spanish after the shutter of my camera had already clicked twice. My eyes went straight to the machete she gripped in her right hand. I put my lens cap on as fast as I could and slung my camera around my back out of view. I had no idea what to say. Do I offer an apology? Introduce myself? Offer to delete the pictures? …and then explain exactly what deleting a picture even meant?
My boyfriend, Natán, who was next to me, stepped in as a mediator. He began to explain to her that I was not from here, I didn’t speak Spanish (a lie), and I didn’t understand… she should excuse my mistake. It reminded me of the market scene from Disney’s Aladdin where he saves Jasmine from getting her hand cut off for committing a social faux pas. “She’s a little crazy.”
The lady calmed down and we continued on our separate ways. I still have her photo but I will never post it online out of respect for her. She has most likely never seen a computer in her life, much less ever gotten on the internet, and will never know if I ever used her photo for anything.
In the moment, tensions were a little high and I was embarrassed. I am usually careful about pulling my camera out and I always try to engage in some kind of interaction before taking someone’s photo. But in retrospect, I admire that woman. Good for her for telling the strange foreigner visiting her neighborhood that she did not appreciate being objectified on the other end of the lens. If someone I didn’t know started snapping pics of me one day on my way home from work I would be ticked off too!
One of my favorite bloggers wrote a hilarious (and sadly true) blog post about what it would be like if the tables were turned and we were the ones visited and pitied by the super rich.
There have been a lot of blogs and articles in Christian missions circles written recently about the negative effects of “poverty tourism” (or slum tourism) – how we should avoid reducing our short-term service trips to an event that the affluent should experience at least once in their life in order to put everything into perspective. Yes, these trips usually do this. We go back home a little more appreciative of our country and comforts and material things. We keep the photos of the poor in their lean-to homes to remind us that we are blessed. But see how the focus is still… US?
What must the family of six living in a one-room mud house be thinking when a van full of foreign missionaries pile out with their cameras and phones snapping away… documenting intimate parts of their everyday lives…
If we approach these beautiful human beings and we first think, “I can’t wait until everyone back home sees this!” before we think “I wonder what this family’s story is…” we are in the wrong. There is certainly a time and place for photography during missions trips but this should be discussed and carefully considered before getting on the plane. Some cultures have superstitions about photography and some have deep fears for safety reasons – it is always best to check before taking a picture.
For someone who loves photography and documenting moments, this is especially hard for me! (as in the above example) In almost every situation I am thinking about what might make good photography. There are times when that is my role and my main objective. If I have been assigned as the photographer or videographer, I do my job… while still wrestling with the awareness to be respectful of those I photograph.
Photographer Jimmy Nelson who has captured beautiful photographs of tribal cultures all over the world warns against patronizing the subjects of one’s photography. He shares that in humanitarian photography we often see “foreign cultures represented as exotic and inferior – curiosities to amuse and bewilder more civilized eyes.”
I think that when our focus is restoring broken relationships (which is the eradication of poverty in it’s truest form) it will come as second nature to protect the dignity of those we serve, and all of our interactions will follow accordingly.
If I don’t write a new blog post right now I might explode. I have no way to put into words what the past 10 days of my life have been like. Not even a couple of adjectives would cover it.
Before I recap/summarize/struggle with what all to disclose to an undefined cyber audience… I need to start with what all I experienced yesterday. Yes, I am about to post something out of chronological order but guess what – this is my blog. 🙂 I do what I want.
Saturday, Sept 29, 2012
Some friends from the church and I left bright and early Saturday morning for Copán, a beautiful rural mountainous region in west Honduras. The four of us set out on behalf of the church’s Christian Social Ministry to distribute food staples and water filtration systems to more than a dozen families with extreme needs. These selected families live in a village of Copán called El Limón. I have visited El Limón a couple times on medical brigades with missions teams from the states including last year’s trip in July. The Christian Social Ministry distributes food to this region monthly.
I joined Doctor Yanela, Jonathan and Gabriela on Saturday with the purpose of documenting the trip for a promotional video. Almost 20 gigabytes of footage and photos later, I am feeling the itch to work on a documentary some day soon. 🙂
When we arrived, all the families met us at the truck and received their food. I recognized many families from the year before and chatted a little with them. After food distribution we went house to house to explain the water filtration to each family. In comparison to seeing these families when they come to us at a certain location for the clinics, I really enjoyed being able to step foot in each of their homes. Yanela checked on the health conditions of each family we visited and gave hygiene speeches everywhere we went. The kids were told to bathe daily, wash their hands with soap after using the bathroom and to only drink the filtered water. The families showered us with gifts of bananas, oranges and eggs. I got to see children’s schoolwork proudly displayed on doors made of wood scraps sometimes with hinges made of tire pieces. I saw the single bed or two where a family of six sleeps and the swinging hammocks holding napping babies. I heard stories that many in the village are fearful at night and sleep together in groups.
I recognized one 11-year-old girl, Nohemí, although she had to remind me of her name because I had forgotten. She ran up and said, “Your name is Kristen!” I was stunned… How did she remember my name from over a year ago without any photo of me? I was one member among a large team of Americans. That meant so much to me.
I was snapping photos and recording video when another sweet little girl came up and told me that she also remembered me from the year before. She asked if I had any photos of her mom so I started going through my camera to see. I asked her what her mom was wearing so that I could identify her but she stopped me and told me that her mom had died seven months ago when her baby brother was born. She was asking if I had any photos of her mother because she remembered I had my camera last year when their family came to our clinic. The only picture the family had of their mother was an old polaroid that a missions group had taken years before. That moment confirmed that my photography, my videography, is my ministry. Documenting people and events and telling stories is how I want to spend my life. Keeping the memory of loved ones alive like this girl’s mother is what I want to do. We take it for granted. We keep stacks of photo albums, slides, polaroids, computer files brimming over with moments that we’ve captured. Imagine how differently we would grieve for someone if we had no image or reminder of them left after they’re gone.
So I am going through my files from last year’s trip searching for anything I might have with the image this precious child’s mother. That got me thinking. One organization that I love, Help Portrait, takes family portraits around Christmas time for needy communities. I would love to organize a trip back to El Limón soon to give these families the gift of their first family portrait. I would have the photos printed and framed in time for Christmas.
One little boy we met, named Elder, rode in the truck with us as we drove around from house to house explaining the water filtration systems. It was his first time in a vehicle and Jonathan let him sit up front and “drive.” He was so excited! Yanela told him that one day he could get a car of his own. 🙂
We stopped by El Paraiso, which serves as our base while on medical trips, and I got to see my friend, Maily, and her new baby boy, Carlos José!
On our last stop before heading home and right before sunset, we visited the last family that needed to receive the water filter and food. I won’t go into detail but a mother living in the house was battling with some strong depression and feelings of hopelessness. I was amazed at how Yanela handled the situation. She told the lady who had been laying in bed for months, not bathing and rarely getting up, that she had plenty of reasons for getting out of bed in the morning and that the desire for her children to have a better life should be one of them. She shared the hope of Christ with her and we prayed. I could not contain the tears. Receiving food or clean water is not enough to give sustainable hope. But the good news of salvation through Christ is enough hope to sustain us and give us joy and peace and strength for the day. I pray that this precious mom grasps hold of that truth. Yanela asked the daughters to promise to pray for their mother each day and speak healing over her. She also encouraged them to hug her often and tell her that they loved her.
My go-to song in moments like this is “How He Loves” by John Mark McMillan.
And all of a sudden, I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory. I realize just how beautiful You are and how great Your affections are for me.
I want the people of Copán, Honduras to understand how great Christ’s affections are for them. Oh, how He loves us.
And then I find it ironic that in the midst of so much desperation and suffering that I feel so much closer to my Savior. Everything else is stripped away and I am left with the simple truth that He alone satisfies. My typical life in the U.S. is so clouded with trivial distractions that I lose perspective. I need to be here to be reminded of what really matters.
And in the midst of prompting others toward their liberation, I am becoming more liberated myself… I would have otherwise never realized I was so restricted.
I love being a teacher. I really never planned on being one. But I love it. I have 45+ students calling me Miss (which is pronounced more like Meess) and they listen in awe when I tell them the story about flying here from the United States. I know I only have two days under my belt but I can already tell that it is going to be an eventful year. The classroom is like a breeding ground for hilarious writing material. Kids really do say the darndest things…
Things I have been told so far:
- Two “I love you’s” and one “la quiero,” (which also means “I love you”) from a soft-spoken first grade girl whom I did not understand the first two times and repeated it until I got it. Love is an unfortunate thing to misunderstand.
- One “Meess, the color of your eyes is beeyooteefull!“
- I was asked, “What does ‘When I see your face…’ mean in Spanish?” And after I told him he proceeded to sing the entire chorus of Bruno Mars’ top hit. Without. Understanding. A word.
- I gave a brief introduction of myself and my family to the first grade class. One child offered the information that her mother was pregnant. Then the class erupted as all fifteen students had to raise their hand and tell me about their pregnant mother, aunt or dog. (But I certainly remember being that age and being proud that my mom was pregnant with my first baby brother)
- Really any time I say anything about anything my students have a related story… like how they have a friend or a relative who lives in the U.S. or that the shoes that they are wearing were sent to them from the states or how their older sister is the same age as me. All wonderful little facts that bring us closer together and blur the line of difference between us.
These last three days of this week is called Ambientación. We don’t have an English word for it but it is pretty much “environment adjustment.” The kids come for short days and we don’t keep to a strict schedule. They are pretty much easing back into school. We will begin the real coursework on Monday.
Lesson planning is just short of killing me. But is it weird that I get excited to teach the four different types of sentences, creative writing and then eventually sentence diagramming?! Yay!
I have been waking up before the sun and going to bed by 9:00 pm. I know. Pick your jaw up off the floor.
In other news: I have a photography gig this weekend at a quinceañera birthday party and I am working on some updates for the children’s home, Hope House.
Yesterday, Angie and I took baby Nohe and her dog, Lilly, to the park for a little photo shoot that I have been asking to do for a little while. We coordinated Nohe’s outfit to match Lilly’s bows and had it all planned out. I got a few cute shots (out of 700+) but I think the odds were against us. I felt like I was on a reality TV show doing a photography challenge. Nohe was feeling under the weather and was very leery about the location we chose… mainly because of the itchy grass. Meanwhile, I was stepping/kneeling in horse manure and Lilly darted into the street twice after Angie took her leash off. (I also have a few photos of the chase scene) I know Angie was scared to death for her dog but I couldn’t help but laugh. The whole situation was cracking me up. The only one who wasn’t giggling was the usually-bubbly and camera-ready Nohe. She was more interested in pulling her cute new hot pink bows out of her hair and trying to eat her new beaded bracelets. She was a tough model to work with that day. But I am not dismayed… There will be other photo ops. I will be here for the next year after all. 🙂
By my friend & phenomenal photographer, Shashank Shrestha.