Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Travels by Textiles - My Guatemalan Sleeping Bag

I learned a long time ago that the best souvenirs to bring home were things that were easy to pack, wouldn't break, and didn't weigh too much. In my shopping abroad, my further requirement was that souvenirs be specific to the country where obtained, and ideally handmade as opposed to factory produced in China (unless I am, in fact, at a factory in China). It was during a solo backpacking trip through Central America, many passports ago, that I discovered and purchased my first such souvenir. A textile.

With this blog as my loom, please join me as I thread the writer's needle and weave some travel tales around images of textiles. I'll start where my collection officially began, Guatemala. I hope you enjoy.


When I stumbled off the bus at Chichicastenango in the highlands of Guatemala, all I could think about was getting to the market to take pictures. I was wandering with all my senses, seeking faces to immortalize, moments to freeze, and scenes to turn into art. I was fully absorbed in my mission when, through my lens, I noticed a color - a green unlike any green I had seen before. A green that even the Velvia film in my camera could not do justice. A green that simply had to be touched to prove its existence.

I approached the green object billowing in the gentle breeze. Nearer inspection revealed that it was a quilt of sorts, a bedspread or blanket, and the closer I looked, the more enchanted I became. The green I saw from a distance was in fact comprised of several small multi-colored scraps - "pixels" of fabrics - each in itself providing a different tone and texture which, sewn together, harmonized with the others and orchestrated this incredible magnificent green.

My eyes still questioned it all, so I explored it by hand. I shut my eyes, and felt my way along a row of "pixels". Sure enough, each color and each fabric scrap had it's own feel, and no two were alike.

"Te gusta? Tengo otros colores..."

I was seeing colors, touching colors, and now, I was hearing colors too.


I glanced at the others, all beautiful and unique, but none moved me like this palette of green.

"Quando cuesta?" I asked, ready to sulk away at the cost of such an extravagance. As it so happened, I really needed to replace my sleeping bag, but I didn't want to be spending my travel budget on an item I could easily buy at home. I had put it off for days, but now here I was about to blow my sleeping bag budget on some fancy bedspre...BUT OF COURSE!!

I did my bartering, claimed my souvenir, rolled it up and stashed it in my backpack - using it as necessary, though sparingly, during my journey. Together we shared crowded bumpy overnight buses from the capital, Guate. We lazed in hammocks on the Caribbean coast in Livingston. We absorbed the smells of home cooked Guatemalan meals in Panajachel. We fended off throngs of ferocious mosquitos in the jungles of Tikal. By the end of my travels, every patch on that bedspread represented another experience, and together symbolized the whole of my Guatemalan adventure.

When I got home, I hand washed it in cold salt water (as advised to preserve color), and transformed my simple bed into a cultural exhibit and conversation starter. I'd backpacked through Guatemala. And this textile tells the tale.

This post is part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby, check it out!

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Listening with the Lens - filming a documentary

As many of you know, last October I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Nepal as a videographer/filmmaker, to document the story of Loving Arms Mission Orphanage. It was a profoundly moving experience, much of which I have previously blogged about (see links at end of this post).

This was my first effort at documentary film making. When the opportunity arose, I had only a portfolio of still images and my passion and enthusiasm to offer...not to mention my camera - the Canon 5D Mark II, with the technology to shoot HD video in addition to stills. Fortunately, the experience mattered less than the ability to dedicate my heart, mind, and spirit into my work, and for me, that's just a given in everything I do! So after only a short 2-day intensive film making workshop with Pat Darrin, and a significant investment in audio equipment, I was on a plane to Kathmandu.

Today, I couldn't be more honored and proud to share with you these three shorts, produced and edited by the team at Loving Arms Mission. Each is about 6-8 minutes long, and all three are different. I had no idea what the final pieces would be like, there was no specific shoot list nor storyboard; I was entrusted with full confidence to simply shoot what I saw and let the camera "tell it like it is", which is what documentary film making is all about. As I began taping, the story just began to tell itself, and all I did was listen...with the lens.

1) Stranger in a Strange Land Part II

* THIS IS MY PERSONAL FAVORITE - the children are truly inspirational for their triumphs and resilience; and to see their joyous spirit now, their love for music, their complete comfort with self and others, well, listening with the lens couldn't have been easier!
* 4:00 minutes in - this song echoed through the home as the girls rehearsed, learning the lyrics off an ipod

1) Stranger in a Strange Land Part I

* .30 seconds in, camera on tripod, you'll see me on the right - the joy of being welcomed into the family as "Auntie Kymri" and to both document and participate in everyday life at the orphanage was truly a special experience.
* 3:45 minutes in, this was how dinner happened every night, with all the children helping with the cooking and serving and cleaning. Shovah, the mother, is a wonderful cook of tasty and healthy vegetarian meals.

3) Stranger in a Strange Land Part III

* Opening - the longer I was there, the more I relied on the tri-pod, because too often I'd be drawn out from behind the camera to be included in this amazing loving family.
* 4:50 minutes in - nice montage of still images to tell the story.
* throughout - more great scenes of life with the children

In the end, it is Kent's words that sum it all up best, for himself, for the children, and for my own experience in the making of this film:

"...to embrace life without fear....is just a great, beautiful reward"

Indeed it is.

And, like Kent, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Kids Around the World: On Location in Nepal - my story in stills, behind the scenes
Goats and Gods - the celebration of Dashain and a vegetarian alternative to slaughtering a goat
Kathmandu, Nepal: Homecomings - the simple things which keep me feeling at home away from home
Kids Around the World: Orphans with a Home - my Nepali nieces and nephews
Landslides and Leeches: a trekking journal, Nepal - after the filming, the crew were rewarded with a 7-day trek, and here I share my journal and experience