This Sunday was Palm Sunday, celebrating Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. We had the traditional palm branches in church, and afterwards the Lisu community had a picnic in the park.
Palm Sunday a deceptively festive occasion, celebrating when the Jews who gathered in Jerusalem treated Jesus like a king, anticipating that he had come to liberate them from the Romans. Several days later, no one would come forward to speak on behalf of Jesus at his trial. Jesus turned out not to be the king they expected. I was reminded this Palm Sunday to measure my expectations of this king against the reality of who he is. I want a king that gives me everything I ask for and excludes all the people I hate, but just because I want Jesus to be something, doesn’t make it so.
It’s not strange for people to sit in the middle of Monument Avenue here in Richmond to sunbathe, play cornhole, or have picnics. I was out on a run today, when I spotted a group of beautiful people doing some amazing acrobatics in this grassy median. Like good journalist and totally not a creeper, I ran home and came back with my camera.
This was one of the most fun ways I’ve spent a Saturday afternoon!
The summer after my first year of college, I took a job at a small church in a small rural town in eastern North Carolina. It had one blinking yellow light, a Baptist Church, a closed hardware store, and many, many tobacco fields. As you can imagine, there were no apartments for rent. Instead I stayed with a church member: an old German woman who’d lost her husband the year before. Her home was furnished with coocoo clocks and crocheted doilies.
The first morning I stayed there, I woke at 9am, a respectable time for a college student. She greeted me in her thick accent with, “Good afternoon! I should have put your coffee in a thermos!” She shouted everything over the sound of potatoes frying or game shows on tv, until she got her hearing aids later that summer. She shouted at the doctors on speakerphone while they tried to make an appointment for getting her hearing tested. Once, she accidentally leaned on the counter and set off her life alert button while she was frying chicken, but the fan on the stove and the tv made it too loud for her to hear. When she finally noticed it beeping away, she unplugged the transmitter and went back to cooking. “Me don’t have time to figure out that goohickey,” she always says when reciting this story. By that time, the fire department was on its way, but naturally she couldn’t hear the sirens, knocks at the door, or telephone ringing. When someone finally flung open the back door and ran in to save her, she demanded to know what they were doing in her house.
We almost instantly became friends. She taught me a card game called canasta, and I washed the dishes after lunch and dinner, which we almost always ate together. We shared a healthy appetite for afternoon coffee and laughing at ourselves. Even after she got her hearing aids, she would always turn speakerphone on, and if you were in the house, you could hear her shouting away and laughing with her friends or her sisters in Germany. It was never obvious exactly what language she was speaking; sometimes her thick accent and mispronunciations made English difficult to decipher, but her German was delivered with exactly the same cadence and pauses as her English. Sometimes I swear I understood what she was saying when she recounted the adventures of her week to her sisters.
Throughout the summer she would tell me little stories about her life. She was a young woman in Germany during World War Two, but she didn’t like being asked questions about the war. Instead, she told me about how she worked cleaning houses for the American soldiers. She had only just met a certain handsome soldier when he asked her to come back to America with him. She refused, and he extended his tour in Germany two years to court her. She married him after those two years, though she knew little English. She moved to a small house in a small town in rural North Carolina and lived close to his family for mere months before he was called back for a tour in Korea. She stayed with his family and learned English from teacher at the one-room schoolhouse down the street. She taught herself to drive and learned to garden while he was away. She would say proudly, “You gotta have gumption when you somewhere new.”These words came back to me years after I first heard them when I moved to an unfamiliar rural town in Arkansas to marry my husband. One monumental regret I have is not recording all these stories in her own words.
Last summer, seven years after we met, she had a stroke and lost her speech, and though she is doing speech and physical therapy, it hasn’t yet returned. Now we have no more phone calls or long letters. When I visit we hold hands the whole time, and she tries to tell me about the ways she spends her days, but almost all her words turn into repetitions of the sound ”zu.” When she looks at me with question marks, we both cry when I tell her I don’t understand. Still, she keeps talking. I recognize her cadence and the way she laughs at her own stories. Sometimes I think I know just what she’s saying and that makes me laugh too.
Earlier in November I had the chance to spend an hour with this family at Bryan Park in Richmond. Can you even believe how sweet they are? It’s not even like work when you shoot with a family who clearly loves to be together. And a special thanks to their family friend who volunteered her time as a kid wrangler, coat rack, and comedian.
My friend Ashley is a creative genius with a gift for throwing great themed parties. Last year she and her awesome roommate threw a hipster-themed birthday party where everything was decorated with mustaches, including the guests. So, Halloween is like a freebie for her. For her party, Rob and I set up this high-fun, low-budget video booth and we were really pleased by how it turned out.
Earlier this month, Rob and I shot a wedding video for a fun, young couple here in central VA.
A traditional Armenian ceremony was held on Saturday afternoon, and the following day the couple had a beautiful wedding at the Manor House in Mechanicsville. The ceremony was simple and heartfelt, and afterwards everyone danced and sang and ate and talked and had a great time. The groom even wrote a song just for the reception!
I think My favorite moment from this wedding was during the ceremony on Sunday, when Katherine finished reading her vows to Mike, and she looked at him and added at the end “…and I love you.” Mike immediately said, “I love you too!” and everyone just awwww’d in unison.
Husband and I have been back in our home in Richmond for four days now, and we’re finally getting some time to reflect on our trip to China and Thailand. In coming back to my blogging and little media business in the wake of our six weeks of travel, work, and sightseeing, I think I’m seeing my work and my goals more clearly.
I don’t enjoy writing about myself, and blogging has become a real chore over the past few months. I realize that I’ve been trying to find some common ground between a journal of my life and a promotion of my work. (And cats, obviously.) Am I just hosting an inconvenient facebook page about myself?
What makes me a different photographer, video producer, observer, and hopefully blogger, is not my superior equipment or skills, it’s that I care deeply about people and I want to provide an outlet for expression instead of being a subject. I’ve cut down my master’s program classes to just two this semester, and I’ve committed myself to seeking out the stories of the people around me. I am still taking commercial clients for story-driven weddings and photoshoots, and I hope you will contact me if audio, photo, or video can give a voice to your narrative.
Today is the first day of my second year of graduate school. I’ve got my books on Kindle and I just finished downloading most of my lectures. Doing a distance program is difficult when you need personalized attention, but being able to start my classes on this trip has made the value of online classes really clear.
This afternoon, I worked on reading the first chapter in my textbook. The friends we are staying with made an afternoon cup of coffee, and so I sat reading my book, sipping good coffee, listening to the neighbors’ pet birds singing and the palm trees tapping on the window.
We’re staying here for the next few days, so it feels like we can settle a little bit. We’ve been traveling almost every day since we got here. I’m thankful for the next few days to wake up and go to sleep in the same place.
On our way to Xichang, Rob and I got delayed at every point of layover, and we ended up staying the night in every city we stopped in. We stayed one night in a sketchy, overpriced Travel Lodge in the armpit of San Francisco.
Then when we got to Beijing, we waited in line for three hours to change our ticket after our flight was cancelled. Because I had never been to China before, this was when I learned that the concept of a queue isn’t quite universal. First to push their way to the front, first served. We had just gotten our tickets changed and went off to find a hotel, when we heard hundreds of people shouting and screaming at the Air China counter. I believe we only narrowly avoided a people’s uprising against the airline. We found this great hotel by first going to the “Beijing Tourism” counter, being depressed by the prices ($300+ USD), then asking a friendly-looking cleaning lady, who called some guy on the phone, who came and rushed us off into a van, which drove us a little ways out of town to a brand-new hotel with low prices and rock-hard beds.
Our next layover-turned-overnight-stay was in Chengdu, where we stayed at Holly’s Hostel, ate some noodles, and chatted with cab drivers. Finally we got to Xichang where we spent time with Rob’s friends. We got to stay in his old apartment, which is still being used by visitors.
After a few days there, we went to Hinan Island, and stayed with some friends-of-friends there. We went to a water-splashing festival, which was really intense, and we were the only group of foreigners, so the whole town was playing “splash the white people.” Hopefully it was more fun for them.
Anyway, now we’re in Kunming for the day and I’m almost out of power on my computer!