Enough clutter. Enough confusion. Enough complications.

19 August 2010

Cuando llueva... (When it rains)

Today it rained. It very rarely rains all day, nor did it do so today. When the sun rose the skies were clear and blue. When I left school it was downright hot, but the clouds had begun to form. A sudden rise in heat here means two things. First, it means that it's going to rain. More likely than not, it isn't just going to rain it's going to storm. We have beautiful storms here. Second, it means that nobody is gong anywhere. When it rains, nobody leaves their house unless they have to. I'm not sure if this is connected with my earlier observation that Nicas tend not to know how to swim, but I know that if I have a meeting scheduled and it's raining I'm going to be the only one there.
Anyway, today it rained. Luckily, I had only scheduled myself for an afternoon of leisurely planning, so when the first claps of thunder started rumbling and the first relampagos flashed in the distance it wasn't hard to transition into my rainy day routine. Yes, I already have a rainy day routine, and it goes like this. First, I run to the kitchen and put water on to boil. Everybody here loves to drink coffee when it rains. I think it's because they're cold. I don't usually ask questions when people want to drink coffee. Also, most people here either have a finca or have a cousin who has a finca and so they have private coffee sources, café de palo or café puro they call it. It does, however, take awhile to get the water boiling, boil it until it's purified (my chlorine purified water makes horrible coffee... don't even try it), and then get my coffee made. Sometimes it takes longer than the storms, which tend to move in and out pretty quickly, so it is imperative that my first move is to the kitchen. Second, I collect from my room my journal, a few notebooks, and whatever baked good or cajeta that I have stashed away for such occasions. Cajetas are my current go to. My favorites are basically nothing more than shredded coconut and dulce.... a brown sugar-like material made from cane sugar, formed into little bars. They're cheap and delicious. Finally, I retire to my hammock, currently hung in a perfect rain watching spot, strategically positioned to see the rain and take advantage of the breeze coming off the courtyard.
Once I am comfortably settled into my denim hammock (durable, and the mosquitos can't bite you from behind) I adjust my plans away from the first goal of Peace Corps, offering technical assistance in our respective sectors, to the cultural exchange portion of our mandate. As I've already noted, nobody leaves home when it rains. If they do, apparently they come to our home. Today everyone had been out at the finca, so just as I was settling in for the rain storm the whole extended family appeared toting fresh tamales made from new corn (riquísimos!), a new load of plantains, and tons of curiosity about life up north. The rest of my day was therefore: sit in my hammock with my coffee and my cajetas, wait for people to offer me food or sit down and start chatting, and be able to feel perfectly good about it because I'm fulfilling one of the primary goals for which I was sent here.

10 August 2010

Yo debo (I should)

I've been in site for a few weeks now. I've almost earned the privilege of carrying a camera again.

About Wednesday of this week, I let myself highlight the best of the project ideas I've spent the last three months scribbling in my notebook. That was probably a little premature.

I'm in a new place, shouldn't I be taking pictures? I'm starting two years of work, shouldn't I be planning projects? Maybe. There are definitely pictures that need to be taken and projects that need to be planned. I am not yet, however, the person to address those needs.

Currently, I am in the process of trying to understand my new home. I go to work everyday, some days in one of my schools, others at the Cooperativa. I walk around or buy random things from various ventas as an excuse to talk to their owners, but mostly I sit in the park drinking coffee and talking to strangers. Even now I probably don't do this as much as I should. It may be the most important thing I do in the next two years, not only because my most lasting impact may be the impression I leave about North Americans, but because the success of all my other projects and my ability to tell the story of this place when I leave depend on understanding what this place is, who its people are, what they want, what they have, and finally after all of that, what they might need that I can help them with.

This may be my only chance to do things this way. The jobs that offer you the chance to go live in a place for two years and tell you that its OK, even encouraged, to take the first three to six months to get a feel for the area and its people before starting to work on new projects, are few and far between.

I'm not going to lie, it is hard to take things slow. We want to act. In “we” I include both development workers and people in general. We see things that are different to us: different living standards, different patterns of behavior, different social norms, different faces, different landscapes. We see things that we think are beautiful or horrible. We see things that we wish were different or we wish would never change. So what do we do? We think, “I should do something.” Take a picture. Start a program. Give money. But how do we know what we should do if we don't really understand what is going on?

When I take a picture I don't just capture an image; I create an image. My responsibility as a photographer is to make sure that the image faithfully represents the subject and the situation (check out this entry in Ancora Imparo). When you choose a project you decide to spend energy and resources in a way that means other things go undone. It is my responsibility as a project planner to make sure these are well spent and that they serve the interests and needs of their target population, not my desire to be doing something.

Responsible photography is the perfect reminder for me about responsible development work, or responsible decision making. A good picture is a wonderful thing, worth a thousand words so they say. One you understand very well may be worth that much and more. But a picture you don't understand, be it of something beautiful or tragic, may do more harm than ten thousand words can correct. It cements itself into your thinking about a place or group of people. If you use it to teach others, it provides a distorted perspective to your audience which affects the way they feel and act with respect to people they haven't met and places they have never been.

Laguna de Apoyo
The view from one of my schools
I do love photos though... here's a few from my first few months.