Photohunt: Chipped

The word “chipped” makes me think of three things: ham, china, and attitude.

Chipped ham is what we get in Pittsburgh when visiting my extended family.  No one else does it quite the same, in little pieces so fine that they clump together — little ‘chipped’ pieces of meat.

Everyone’s got some sort of chipped china-ware in their house.  Or if they don’t, they are stressing about where and when it will inevitably come.

Attitude?  It comes from the phrase “chip on the shoulder,” meaning you’ve got some attitude.  Granted, you can’t really have a “chipped” on your shoulder, but I can’t really stop my brain from making word associations, can I?   That is why you must be very careful when talking to me about that round, juicy, sweet produce you picked up at yesterday’s market.

When I thought of attitude, I thought of this picture.

It was taken in the dusty young town of Pachacutec, in the extreme end of the Northern Cone of Lima, Peru.  Lima is a huge city of over 8 million clinging to the strip of desert between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean.  Fresh water is extremely limited; in this community, water is literally trucked in a few times a week, filled by hose into outdoor barrels.  More than half of the city’s population has less water per day than the UNHCR standard allowance of 20 liters.  In this type of environment, “clean” is a relative term: “clean” is when a dirt floor is swept, and the grime on children’s faces is rearranged by a dry, dusty cloth.  Our concept of “hygiene” is not possible, nor can it even be conceptualized, in a place where water is so scarce and poverty so pressing.

There was a big, brightly painted bus outside of one of the health clinics my friend Barbara took the health class to last summer.  The bus was the local government’s response to the paucity of health care facilities in the community (e.g.: 1 pediatrician working 2-3 times a week in for a community of over 200,000).  It boldly sat outside a worn health post, fading into the surrounding buildings in muted grays and browns.  The huge faces of children smiling with toothy grins seemed to make all sorts of unbelievable promises… along side the name of the local mayor.  I took a few pictures of the bus and a makeshift market outside of it, selling decorations for a celebration at one of the schools.  Then, two boys approached me directly and asked to have their pictures taken.  “Por supuesto,” I said.  Then they wiped grins off their faces and posed.  I paused and laughed, “estan seguros?” I wanted to be sure that this was what they wanted.  “SI!”

And I love the picture.  I love it because it’s in front of that damn bus, that although helpful to a few will have no chance of reaching the many.  I love it because the message is to me and all the other immeasurably privileged people that will see it, people with opportunities that they could not dream to have.  I love it because it says to me, ‘what? you want to see how rough it is to live here? well, screw you.  If you want to do something about it, then do it.  But don’t expect me to be all pitiful and thankful to whatever you throw my way.’

Finally, I love it because, underneath it all, they are just kids with senses of humor and pride and love and goodness — savvy enough to understand their perceived place in the world and throw out a little statement about it.

And they are exactly right.

In my view, no one deserves to have more of a chip than these kids.

For more takes on “Chipped” — please check out the rest of the Photohunt at tnchick.

Art & Photography

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“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” (Albert Schweitzer)

The year I struggled the most was right after college.  I was working for the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, DC, and had living expenses that were crippling.  One month, desperate for a suit I could wear to some of awards ceremonies I had privy to attend, I purposely used my overdraft protection to write a check that I knew I couldn’t cover on overdraft — knowing that I was to be paid two days later and therefore would not bounce.  That following month, already starting in the hole because of my $50 suit, I gave $10 to a co-worker in the mail room who was collecting money for his daughter’s school.  Initially after I gave it, I regretted it.  It was the same $10 that was suppose to be my lunch money for the next few days.  But ultimately, when I thought about it, giving that money became one of my proudest moments.  I’d be feeling so strapped for months — living paycheck to paycheck — and it made me feel better about my situation and myself to give to others.  Didn’t Anne Frank say that no one ever became poor by giving?

I’ve written before about the importance of spending a little more to lend support to local organizations, local business owners, and local products.  As 2008 drew to a close, I was thinking more and more about the things I’m most proud of this year and wanting to talk about giving… but I felt like it would come across as showy or superior, which is not how I feel about it nor how I want to come across.  So I stayed quiet about things like money and giving.  Then Jen and Mad posted about giving and encouraged it from others.  So here I go.

I’m proud at how we give.  And each year, we strive to give more.  I’ve read a lot about folks trying to get back to basics, reusing and recycling, all that jargon that is so popular these days.  But what about giving your time and money?  That, in my opinion, is the giving that matters.  If you’re just giving away stuff from your attic or closet or basement that you don’t use anyway, is it really an effort to be a better person and community member, or just to improve your own life?  And while that’s good in it’s own place, what about setting examples for our children on giving more than our old things: our time, our attention, our energy, our talents, our hard-earned money… to help others?  Isn’t teaching compassion and empathy the whole point of living simply — and if it isn’t, well, then shouldn’t it be?

This year, we gave more than 5% of our total income in cash donations, donated our services to local fundraisers, served on nonprofit boards, sponsored local events, volunteered on committees, showed up for work days, assisted with computer help to organizations and individuals, wrote grants, taught English, and offered translation.  All of these called for our time and took us away from paying work.  We don’t have money to burn or family inheritance safe guards.  If we just had made our donations in-kind and saved the cash, we could have done all sorts of things we’d have loved to do: spent more time at the beach, gone to Disney World, finally replaced that 12 year old mattress with a king-sized set, upgraded my 6 year old camera, or hired help to finish some of the many renovations we’ve been working on for years.  But we believe that the only way to give is to plan for it every month as a necessity.  There is never enough for anyone to feel secure, it’s always that way.  So giving has to be a priority.

No one has ever become poor through giving.

And really, what will happen if you gave an extra $20 or $50 or $100 a month?  Would you starve?  Would you lose your home?  Because within that month, there are many many many many many in our world who will.  What will you have lost?  I’m not trying to be preachy… this is what I feel, what I say to myself when I feel frustrated or stretched thin or like I’m denying myself or my family things that could make our lives easier or brighter.  Because in the end, we are better than great.

And ultimately, when we came to the end of the year, I didn’t regret the things I hadn’t bought or done.  (Even if I still wish we had that big bed and am bummed that we are stepping over construction debris each day.)  All that really doesn’t matter.  Instead, I wished I would have given more during the year and encouraged others to do the same.

When you come right down to it, we live extravagantly compared to most of the world.  So we should do more.  There is so much more to do.

In the first few months of this year, we are giving monthly donations to Abeona House, the preschool we helped start after Katrina.  While Abeona House is just one of the organizations we give to, it’s one of the ones closest to our hearts and the one we pledged to give the most to.  Having helped start the organization, we know how it works, where the money goes, and how it is managed.  We know that the people employed are being paid a good wage (although childcare professionals are paid a pathetically low salary across the board everywhere) and full-time employees receive benefits, which is rare in this field in our city.  There are Abeona employees who lost homes in Katrina; one is still living in a FEMA trailer.  Abeona is one of the only preschools in the city to offer a sliding scale tuition.  Donations to the school help it offer placement to more lower-to-middle income families (teachers, social workers, nonprofit organization workers, artists) who would otherwise not qualify for State-based assistance programs.  If you are looking for a 501c3 organization that will use your donation in the service of children’s programming and family support: this is one that applies.

Other organizations we feel similar about and give to are Ecole Bilingue (where our kids currently attend school) and Planting Magic Beans (founded and run by good friends of ours in Peru).

No matter what happens, I know that we will be okay in the ways that matter.  And ultimately… No le hará rico; no me hará pobre.

Mi Familia

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Life in Pachacutec… growing up out of the sand

This day of the trip was facilitated in part by me, only because I met Barbara by a fabulous stroke of luck when we lived in Lima in 2006 and subsequently introduced her to Valerie (the course instructor).  I arranged with Barbara to have the class spend the day in Pacha, the community where Barbara has worked and lived within for several years.  Barbara has medical training and has served as a Medical Mission Sister for longer than I have been alive: she is one of the most patient, compassionate, and genuine people I have ever met.  We were so lucky to spend the day with her, visiting several levels of health systems within the community (local posts, clinics, and a new hospital) and having lunch in a community kitchen.

More information about the community, our visit, and details about the day are given in the gallery.


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Travelouge Introduction: Peru 2008

For 20 days in May, Paul and I traveled through Peru with a graduate course on Health and Development from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.  I was hired as a teaching assistant for the course and also hired by the Dean’s Office of Communication to photograph it for Global Health Magazine.  Having a research faculty based in Peru is a tremendous strength for the Department and the School, so they wanted to have photographs to use in publications, specifically, the School’s Magazine.

Paul and I naively anticipated two weeks of working during the day and then enjoying long, causal evenings where we would go out to dinner, see movies, and read books.  It sounds silly in retrospect, but the fact is that I packed two novels to read during the trip.  Neither were opened.  In reality, the coordination of travel, daily scheduling snafus, and especially keeping up with the equipment and photography responsibilities were incredibly demanding.  Our days were long and often began well before sunrise in order to reach a destination or activity.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of our lives — from start to finish — and we feel blessed to have been afforded the opportunity.  I learned so much about photography: how to approach this sort of assignment, what to strive for, how to manage equipment and supplies, and how to negotiate the two jobs concurrently.  Unfortunately, I realized most of these lessons towards the end of the experience… I can only hope that I am lucky enough to secure a similar job in the future!

Paul and I fell in love with Peru more than ever; we cannot wait for the opportunity to return.

The Office of Communication seemed excited about the product I turned over… I am so excited about the upcoming article and hope that it draws great interest to Peru.  Until then, I am turning over photographs with detailed descriptions and captions for viewing.  I’ll post when each is open.  I will probably be adding to them over time, but to start will be my favorites.


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