30 August 2011

A picture is worth...

Mom sent me this article (see below) the other day about a neat initiative one woman started to return photos lost during this year's tornado in Missouri. It hit home not only because of my love of photography, but more so because of my love of personal photos. We're a photo-centric family, and every time we packed to evacuate for a hurricane or forest fire, boxes and boxes of precious photos were the first things we secured after important documents. With tornados, people don't have that luxury. Sure, I have my computer and facebook accounts loaded with photos I can peruse any time, but I also packed dozens and dozens of prints to bring with me down here. I couldn't decide which ones I wanted to put on my wall (and painting is a hassle) so instead, my wall is one giant scrapbook: 

It makes me happy. Every image is a memory of places traveled, experiences had, and people loved. It's my story sans words. There are thousands of powerful/pretty/impacting images out there, but the ones that we cherish are usually simple snapshots of the people and places that are important to us. The lighting might be bad, the subject mundane, and the composition uninspired, but we don't really hold dear the photograph so much as the memory. Speaking of memories, I just recalled that I actually did my I.B. senior art show installation back in high school about the relationship between photographs and memory. 

IB Senior Art Show- 2004

I'm so thankful for the blessing of photography and the ability to hang on to snippets of the past. I can only imagine the sadness of losing all of that in an instant. How wonderful that people are working to restore family memories to those who lost so much. 

first family portrait

Joplin Tornado Volunteers Seek Out Owners Of 27,000 Photos Found In Rubble

SHARON COHEN   08/20/11 
CARTHAGE, Mo. — White-gloved workers line the long tables, carefully sifting through photos of proms and weddings, baby's first day, proud soldiers in their uniforms. They gently clean off any dirt, dry rain-damaged pictures – and salvage a city's lost treasures.
The history of Joplin, Mo., is slowly coming into focus here, one snapshot, one portrait at a time. A church room in this nearby town has been converted into collection central for more than 27,000 photos buried or blown away in the monster May tornado that left 160 dead and obliterated a third of Joplin.
Amazingly, even as 200 mph winds reduced homes to splinters, fragile photos survived. Even more incredible was where some turned up: Trees. Barns. Barbed wire fences. In Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Tennessee. And, of course, all across Missouri.
Days after the May 22 storm, Angela Walters, a genealogist in Oklahoma, noticed some of these photos on Facebook pages. Many listed bare-bones information: streets where the pictures were found, a contact phone number. Why not put all of them in one place, Walters thought, so their owners could find them? So many people had lost so much, surely they'd cherish any trace of their past.
"When a disaster happens, as soon as you hear a family is safe, the next thing you always think about is photos," she says. "They're irreplaceable. We can go back to the time and place and people we don't have in front of us anymore. They're the record of our lives."
Walters created a Facebook page – the Lost Photos of Joplin – to post pictures found in the storm-ravaged city and far beyond. She joined forces with a similar local project, and the First Baptist Church in Carthage stepped up to help.
Volunteers at the church – about a dozen miles from Joplin_ clean and dry each photo. They record anything written on the images, then number, scan and send them to Walters. She plans to post about 1,000 a week. (DVDs, letters and other personal mementoes also are being returned.)
"We're trying to let people know there's a community here that wants to preserve their memories ... help them move forward and assure them everything is going to be OK," says Thad Beeler, head of the church's photo rescue team.
It's slow going. Almost 500 photos have been returned so far. For every "find," there's reason to celebrate.
 Judy Lowe, a real estate agent, lost everything in the twister; all that remained of her house were bathroom tiles. So finding a photo of her son, Scott, on the Facebook page "was like claiming a victory from the tornado," she says. "Every day you realize everything you had is gone," Lowe explains. "You think, I don't have this or that.' Then to get one part of your life back – it's overwhelming. You just cry."
The battered, orange-tinted picture shows Scott, then 2 (he's now 8) mugging for the camera in the bathroom, pretending to be shaving with foam on his chin.
"It's a day and a memory and a piece of time," she says of the photo. "That's all I have now. I don't have a baby blanket. I don't have his first little outfit he came home in. I don't want you to think I'm a pack rat, but it's honestly something that takes me back to happier times. ... Since the tornado, they've been few and far between."
Holly Wilson found comfort, too, in a photo, after losing her grandmother in the tornado. The elderly woman suffered a fatal heart attack while trying to ride out the storm huddled in a closet with her daughter (Wilson's mother) and another family member.
Wilson turned to the Facebook page, searching for familiar faces. "I thought maybe if I look every second of every day, I can find a little piece of hope," she says.
She did. She found a vintage black-and-white photo of her great-grandparents with their first grandchild. She was so excited she woke her mother – who'd lost her house and job – even though it was 3 a.m. "My mother was grinning ear to ear," Wilson says. "It was like my grandmother was there a little bit." Wilson says the picture was old so she wouldn't have known that was her family if the names weren't on it.
About 25 percent of the `lost' photos have some written information. Walters has used clues – school logos and team uniforms, for instance – to help identify others.
The photos span more than a century, ranging from sepia-tinted studio portraits to digital snapshots. They capture changes in cars and clothes, hemlines and hairdos, along with enduring milestones: a bride's glow, a child's glee at his birthday party, a graduate's proud smile.
This is one town's history through a lens.
There are individual portraits: One of the grandest is a giant 1904 photo of a man named Sylvester Clarence Couch, dapper with his hair parted down the middle, a derby and pearl-like tie pin. Noted on the back: his Oct, 18, 1884, birthdate, and the fact that he was 20 in the photo.
There are class pictures: The smiling first graders at Emerson Elementary School (which was severely damaged by the tornado) are seen in 1942, sitting next to a war-themed placard: "We do our part for V."
And there are family albums: One large cardboard collage features a faded image of World War I soldier, a handsome World War II soldier bookended by two women, little boys in cowboy hats and jodhpurs, a young man in a graduation cap and gown, couples in bridal wear, cars from almost every decade, and more. Will someone recognize a cousin or aunt and come forward?
The project is mostly about photos, but organizers also hope to match people with other lost possessions including recipes, wedding DVDs, military papers and letters, many poignant or funny.
In one, an aunt and uncle lovingly celebrate their niece's first birthday, writing: "You have brought joy to so many people." In another, a soldier updates his health in a March 17, 1945, correspondence: "The stitches are out and I can lay on my back a little – that is with a pillow. ... Ha, ha, they sewed me up with the silver wire, ..."
Walters hopes to post everything online, then have a public display. Anything not claimed will be given to a local museum or library.
The Facebook page is one of a handful of efforts to return cherished possessions to the people of Joplin.
The Joplin Museum Complex will give away tens of thousands of negatives of portraits, wedding and yearbook pictures to those photographed or their families. The pictures were taken by Murwin Mosler, a studio photographer who chronicled Joplin's people and buildings over nearly 50 years.
Some images belonged to the museum; others come from the late photographer's tornado-damaged studio.
"This is one thing that can be of value to people," says Brad Belk, the museum's executive director. "This is their history and we want to get it back to them."
There still is much collecting to do from the streets; hundreds of photos arrive at the church daily. Judy Lowe and her son, Scott, donated about 65 they found while walking the rubble-strewn street where their house once stood. Lowe is assembling a scrapbook of the tornado for her two young sons. It will include three photos of them that were returned to her. "It's something my boys will keep and hopefully," she says, "it'll bring them peace."
She says they've all learned a lesson – treasures have no price tag.
"All this other stuff is just stuff," she says. "It's the memories that count – and the photos."

27 August 2011

Internet Guilt

 It has been a momentous couple of weeks. We started work, became legal Peruvian residents, and most amazing of all...we got INTERNET. 

I never considered myself a technology junkie. We didn't have a DVD player until I left for college, and when I graduated in 2008 (and for a year or so after that) my mother was still clinging to dial-up internet. In the states I had a 6-year-old laptop, a cell-phone that was falling apart, and I checked my email and Facebook once or twice a day (if I remembered). I never even wanted a smartphone... Enter Peru. 

Communication technology is great, but it doesn't seem all that important in a busy American life where you see most of the people you care about frequently, and it's hard to find enough time just to call a friend on the phone. We take it for granted. When you're 3000 miles away from your loved ones, it suddenly takes on a paramount importance. The internet feels more like a lifeline than a convenient tool. Of course, when you work on a communications team, and you work from home, it's also a very important requirement to do your job. Peru has this silly (read: so logical maybe America should try it) rule about not letting you sign contracts with a com company for them to install internet, phone, or cable until you're actually a legal resident of the country. So, since we left Costa Rica more than two months ago we have not had actual internet. We did get iPhones with international calling, so we haven't been completely out of touch with the world. And, of course, there's always Starbucks! But packing up all of your stuff to camp in Starbucks for a few hours, and praying the signal is strong enough to actually connect, gets old pretty fast. So last week, when we got the call that we could go to immigration and complete the process of getting our residency cards we could only think of one thing...INTERNET! 

We interrupt this story for a stroll down memory lane:
I am thankful that I am old enough, and have lived overseas before, so that the last couple of months without internet really didn't seem like too much of a strain. I was thinking back to the first time I lived in France in early 2005. Only 6 years ago and yet technology has changed so much. Facebook was still just something for select universities, Skype was mostly unknown, and blogs weren't popular with the average Joe. The bizarre French internet in my apartment (ethernet only) wouldn't connect to my Mac, so my only internet access in the house came from my lovely roommate Lori who would let me check my emails when I needed to. 
Dinner with Lori in our apartment in the Marais
Other than that I had to go set up in the drafty creaky library of Reid Hall and was limited to emails and AOL Instant Messenger. I talked to my parents on the phone on Sunday afternoons: we used international calling cards. (Unrelated, but I also didn't own a digital camera. The film developing costs were almost as much as the semester abroad!) 

The courtyard of Reid Hall in the snow. 
Things had progressed when I moved back to Paris in late 2007. Then I had WiFi in my apartment and an internet phone that enabled me to call the states from time to time. Facebook and blogs were mainstream (you can read mine from Paris here), but Skype still required an attached webcam and the connection was pretty worthless. It was still mostly emails and AIM to stay in touch, but at least I could watch foxnews.com videos in the mornings to keep up on things. 
Now back to your regularly scheduled blog:

Claro workers running wires across the street from the top of our building.
Like most things, the process to get internet installed seemed more convoluted than it needed to be, but all in all I was surprised by the efficacy of the company, and by Tuesday evening I was browsing the web from the comfort of my finely appointed bedroom/office. After jumping on my bed and dancing around (shhh don't tell the Baptists) I settled down to catch up on my interneting. Reading blogs of friends serving around the world I began to feel pretty selfish. They serve in places where they don't have real beds, they pay $12 for cereal bars, can't wear blue jeans, only get mail when they travel to a neighboring country, and often have to boil water just to bathe. I read about the places and cultures they work in and I start to feel guilty that I have been called to serve in a fairly modernized city in a pretty safe country with more comforts of home than I could have hoped for. The biggest inconveniences this week have been dealing with the hassles of coordinating internet installation and waking up to a team of plumbers drilling into my walls and a guy installing lovely new curtains in our spacious three-bedroom apartment. Oh, and the grocery store was out of the hot dogs I like. Don't get me wrong, life in a foreign culture and language thousands of miles from home isn't easy no matter where you are or what you're doing. But so soon I forget how good I have it here, especially when it comes to creature comforts. However, I remember something that was said in training, about not being envious or feeling guilty if you are called to serve in a "comfortable" place. It reminds me of what Oswald Chambers writes:

"Abraham did not choose the sacrifice. Always guard against self-chosen service for God; self-sacrifice may be a disease. If God has made your cup sweet, drink it with grace; if He has made it bitter, drink it in communion with Him. If the providential order of God for you is a hard time of difficulty, go through with it, but never choose the scene of your martyrdom. [...] God is working for His highest ends until His purpose and man's purpose become one." 

I don't have to feel guilty that I am serving where I am, but it is good not to take for granted the blessings we have. And it's good to remember others elsewhere that need our prayers and encouragement. I'd love to link you to their blogs, but for security it's best if I don't, so check out this digest of blogs of others serving around the world. Also take a minute to watch this great video about the price that many have paid and the continuing need for work among unreached peoples: Don't Drop the Cross

22 August 2011

Lyndsey's New Groove

-“It’ll be good once you start work. Once you kinda get...uh…once, you know, you get into a…uh…”
-“Once I get into my groove?”

I was skyping with a fabulous friend and discussing how, as of Friday, August 12th, the official portion of language study would be over, and I’d be transitioning to my actual job [insert happy dance here].  I was talking about how it’d be nice to finally get started with the task that I came here to do. Sure, there’s still plenty of learning and training to be done, and I’m sure it’ll take a while yet before it’s completely comfortable. However, after a year filled with more change than the ’08 Obama campaign, I have begun to idealize anything stable, or at least anything with a longevity beyond two months.  It feels a little like I’ve been living in a constant state of transition almost since the day I was offered this opportunity. The end of 2010 was spent largely with wrapping up things at work and beginning to prepare for this adventure. I started 2011 in Florida, moved to Virginia for training for two months, went back to Florida for a month, moved to Costa Rica for language school for 4 months which ended up being only two months, was moved to Peru on 4 days notice, went straight to a week long General Meeting out of town, came back to Lima and lived in a hotel for a while, restarted language study and have attempted to cram every verb tense of the Spanish language into a few weeks of study while setting up our apartment and learning the ins and outs of Lima life.  Until now there has been something in the back of my mind saying, “Listen kid, don’t even bother getting comfy. You won’t be here that long, anyway.” So it’s nice to think that, for now, I can give myself permission to mentally unpack. And that’s what we were discussing, how it’ll be nice to be busy, have projects and goals, invest in relationships, and start to find my rhythm…my groove.

I laughed when I said it, “My new groove!” And that’s when I realized that I never have taken the time to explain the title of this blog.  Hopefully you’re familiar with a quaint little film called The Emperor’s New Groove. If you are not, you’re missing out BIG time, so GO…NOW! Go watch it right this minute, I’ll wait….

You back? Ok, good. Excellent movie, right?! Yes, it has been one of my favorites from the first time I saw it. Funny plot, nice moral, and of course…LLAMAS. You can’t lose. To be honest, those caricatures of indigenous life here were some of the only things I knew about Peru when I accepted this job: Machu Picchu, Incas, Andes, llamas…the end. But thankfully The Emperor’s New Groove had given me such positive associations with Peru that it was easier to get excited about moving here when South America had never been high on my list of places to go. But even more than that, the movie has a lot to do with change.

In the film the elderly man in the beginning gets tossed out a window for throwing off the Emperor’s groove. Pacha asks what he means, “groove?” The old man replies:

“His groove!  The rhythm in which he lives his life! His pattern of behavior!”

We all have a groove, a certain way we live from day to day. It’s our home, our food, our friends, our music, our activities, our T.V. shows, our sports, our stores, our relationships, the way we talk, the way we think, and a thousand and one other little things that are part of our typical life. I knew taking this opportunity and making this move would mean giving up all of that. It would mean starting from scratch and trying to make a new life in Peru. It would mean finding a new groove. And thus, my blog was named because I hope it is a bit of a chronicle of that new way of life.  I want to share the new parts of my physical life that are shaped by living in a different culture doing a new job, but also the new parts of my life in Christ. No matter the outward changes that take place in our lives, the real “new groove” comes from the way God changes us on the inside. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away, and all things have become new.” I have been following Jesus for more than 15 years, but I’m still in the process of being molded and shaped to reflect more of Christ and less of me. I’m still learning to live in His new groove.