Tag Archives: Travel
The day had an ominous look to it, with a dark foreboding sky and choppy water on the great Amazon River. Erin and I were staying at the APECA base camp upriver from the town of Belen, one of the poorest towns along the river. We were planning to go there that day, by boat – everything is done by boat – there are no roads.
Pablo, Gina Low’s partner at APECA, assessed the situation and decided to go as planned, but he told us it was going to rain and to prepare for it. The trip to Belen took about an hour if my memory serves me well. It was open water with just a few villages along the way and aside from the sound of our motor and those of other boats off in the distance; there was an eerie silence.
When we got to Belen, the skies let loose. Pablo quickly navigated our boat to one of the shacks along the river. We took refuge in this machine shop and watched the storm play out. We were thankful for the cover over our heads and grateful to Pablo for knowing exactly what to do. I think that is what continually impressed me the most about the people in our film, like Pablo. They were all incredibly independent and resilient in difficult situations. They were people you could trust and that says a lot.
When my daughter Erin, and I were planning our 99-day adventure around the world, we built in some buffer time, between our scheduled times with our subjects. We needed flexibility, in the event things didn’t go perfectly according to plan, which had a high probability, considering the scope of our trip. Ultimately we had very few glitches and that buffer time gave us the opportunity to get more involved with the culture we were. It also gave us time to shoot still images.
We spent 5 days in Moscow. It was June and the days were long. One Saturday, everywhere we went, there were weddings. It was amazing because each bride and groom seemed to have his or her own style – everything from a pirate theme to pure “glam”.
Click here to see other still images from our journey.
This photograph was taken when my daughter Erin and I were filming in a
small hill tribe village in the northern mountains of Thailand. We were following Dr. David Mar Naw, as he trekked through the villages, a “one man band”, dispensing medical care and building latrines for Burmese refugees. Some of them had never seen a doctor before. This lady was waiting to have her tooth pulled.
It was painful to watch as the doctor pulled this woman’s tooth, without anything to ease her pain. She was stoic and barely winced. Perhaps she was thinking about the relief she would have, after the tooth was removed.
These people humbled me, in fact I was humbled by all the people we met, along our journey around the world. I will be forever grateful for that journey. It opened my eyes to so many things and I am a better person because of it.
This is just one story that makes up the film, Opening Our Eyes, a documentary about the “power of one” and “making a difference” in the the world.
We had friends over this past weekend, and we started talking about technology and the impact it’s had on our career, photography and life in general. I was talking about traveling and how much different it is now in regards to ease of communication and staying connected.
When I backpacked around the world, as a solo 19-year-old woman in the early 70’s, I pretty much left most communication with my family and friends behind. In a year’s time, I probably only called home 3 times and it was a lengthy and expensive process, going to a call center and waiting until an operator could put your call through to the other side of the world. And there wasn’t any Internet or email or cells phones and texting. When I left home for that yearlong sabbatical, I was really going out on a limb as far as disconnecting from the world I knew.
I’m always asked, “Were you scared?” I suppose I was afraid at times, when I thought about what I was doing and what could go wrong. But most of the time, I was too much in awe of what I was experiencing. I was very tuned in though, to my surroundings and I quickly developed a sixth sense about people, determining if they were good or bad. Those instincts stay with me to this day and have managed to keep me safe in my travels.
I could not have imagined what the future would bring to my life in terms of technology. The world we live in now is far different than it was some 40 years ago. We are more aware – of other cultures, world politics and global news. You would think that would help in bridging the gap of understanding between different cultures. I think it has in many ways, but we have a long way to go.
Our fears keep most of us from “daring” to do something different, especially if our life seems to be working. Usually, it takes a big change in our lives for us to muster up the courage to face the unknown. And when we do venture outside our norm, we are almost always glad we did and wonder why we had hesitated for so long.
I’ve been lucky. I had parents who encouraged me to take some risks. When I was hesitant about doing something, my dad used to say to me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and when I couldn’t come up with any really horrible potential scenario, I’d take the plunge and face my fears.
I wonder, what’s in store for me now? The future hasn’t been written yet and the choices are mine to make. Is it scary? Only if I imagine it that way. The story isn’t over yet.
“My Voice” and not being afraid to use it. To be truthful, there are plenty of times that I’m afraid to exercise my voice, but I am much more fearful of the consequences if I don’t. There have been times when I have distanced friends or made colleagues step away from me because I have spoken up for what I feel is the right thing to do. It is never easy but I would rather live in a world where I fight to give my protagonists the right to exercise their voices, rather than be quieted by them.
To be born at a time in America when all it’s people had a shot at the “American Dream”. Sadly, that has changed over the last 40-50 years. It used to be if you got an education and worked hard, you could provide for yourself and your family. That dream has become harder and harder to achieve as the gap between the “have’s” and “have not’s“ has widened. How much wealth and power is enough for the smallest percentage of Americans? And why does it come at the cost of so many? I am a true patriot of this country because I still believe that we can get back to the beliefs and principles that our country’s founders held true.
My health even though I pray each day that I remain healthy. Even though I spend a small fortune for my annual health insurance premium, it comes with a very high deductible. Because of the high deductible, it’s really catastrophe insurance and in paying the rising costs of those annual premiums, I find it very hard at times to find the necessary funds to cover the out of pocket costs for preventative care. How does that make sense in a civilized country – that only the very wealthy or the ones lucky enough to still have benefits at work can afford to maintain their health?
My family and friends. I have come to learn the true importance of having a family and a handful of friends that I know I can really count on to always be there for me. We may disagree at times and even become estranged, but it’s those “real” relationships that have weathered the ups and the downs and are my foundation.
That I have shelter, food and other basic human needs because so many people don’t. I have traveled far and wide throughout my entire life and have seen the desperate situations that some people have to live with in all corners of the world. But I don’t have to go far anymore to see first hand, homeless people and hungry children. It’s so easy to turn a blind eye to those in need and make judgments about how those folks got to that point. It’s so easy to tell yourself that there is nothing you can do about that and that you can’t possibly help all those people. But it’s really not that difficult to do even the simplest of kind acts for somebody who doesn’t have as much as you. Try it and in doing so you get so much more in return.
My vision and that I’m bold enough at times to trust it . Sometimes, it is far too easy to follow the trends and think that is the safest route to take, but in the process you end up robbing yourself from who you really are and have to offer. Whenever, I have looked into my heart and followed my path, good things follow. It may not happen immediately, and along the way the “misses” sometimes are more than the “hits”, but I know if I stay on course, it will lead to what I am meant to do.
What are your thankful for this Thanksgiving?
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.
Chris Guillebeau wrote in his blog today “When I became an optimist after years of seeing the glass half-full, it was largely a practical choice. I just realized I was tired (literally) of putting my energy toward negative thoughts. It was draining and decapacitating. I vowed to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore anything else as much as possible.” I can’t wait to meet Chris next week at his World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. In fact I can’t wait to meet all the people who attend this conference and think the same way Chris does.
Chris went on to say “Embrace the WOW. When someone does something interesting, appreciate it for what it is. Stop judging or discounting their achievements.” That sentence really resonated with me because there are days when I feel that no matter how much I have accomplished in my career and in my life, there are people who try to marginalize my achievements.
When I start to feel frustrated by people like that, I remind myself of what Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me on a July day in Sydney, Australia “Don’t do something for the recognition – do it for the sake of doing.” Ronni was one of the many inspirational people my daughter Erin and I interviewed, on our trip around the world in the summer of 2010, during the making of our documentary, Opening Our Eyes.
I think back on all the travel logistics I needed to coordinate – our itinerary would have made one of the best travel agents panic – let alone figuring out how to do it using airline miles and hotel rewards. I also needed to think about the gear we would need to shoot both stills and video, that would fit into 2 backpacks. And I needed to make sure we had the necessary visas and vaccinations.
When we got back, I had over 5000 images and 150 hours of film to edit. Within two very long, bleak winter months in early 2011, I managed to lay down an initial rough cut of 3 hours of interviews. While I was doing the rough edit, I was also running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to get funds to pay for a professional editor. I knew that would ultimately make all the difference in the world as far as how the film was cut – and it did.
It will be a year, next month since we screened our first “sneak preview” at the State Theatre in Traverse City, MI. Since that time, we’ve been honored at film festivals receiving awards for Best Documentary, Best Humanitarian Documentary and Best Trailer. But that stuff is for the ego and while it was sweet to receive those awards, the biggest reward for me, was the “journey” itself. I don’t mean just the trip itself, but all that I learned along the way. That’s the part that’s hard to explain, especially to the people who seem to “judge and discount” the achievements of others.
Like Chris Guillebeau, I made a decision some years ago to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore everything else as much as possible. I need to remind myself of that every day and walk away from the things and the people who don’t bring value to my life. Life’s too short for that. When I keep that in mind, I stay on purpose and that’s when the good stuff happens.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” - John Ruskin
Last Friday marked a milestone in my life and this project. It was two years ago, on May 25, 2010 that my daughter, Erin and I departed on our journey around the world. Our quest was to set foot on six continents, seeking the change makers – people who were making our world a better place. It seems like it was a lifetime ago.
Last week, I was almost too exhausted to remember the anniversary of our departure – I was still depleted from my month long sojourn in China – teaching. While I loved the “teaching” part of the trip, it had its challenges in other ways. It pushed me out of my norm in many ways. It is taking me a bit longer to bounce back this time after a long trip, but I’m not fighting my body’s natural instincts to rest.
So much has changed since that spring day in 2010 when Erin and I boarded a flight bound for Kampala, Uganda for the first leg of our 99-day journey around the world. There have been a lot of ups and downs and hits and misses since then. If I dwelled on the misses, I would only get myself down. I remember Maggie Doyne talking about her own trials and tribulations and how she tried to focus on the good and the positive. I try to adopt Maggie’s attitude but it’s not always easy, as I’m sure it’s not for Maggie.
When I do take time to look back over the last two years of my life, I’m amazed at what has transpired – the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been to, and the opportunities I have been given and able to share with my family. I’m so grateful – mostly for having the courage to live life. But I’ve had plenty of help and encouragement from friends and family. I could not have done half of what I did in the past two years without the support of my friends in the way of emails, phone calls, blog comments and Facebook posts. It was especially meaningful to hear from friends when I was on the road – like a lifeline connection.
I stay in contact with many of the subjects from the film even though we are all scattered on different continents. These days it’s not hard to stay in touch with friends via emails, Skype and social media and I love having friends all over the world.
I think I will enjoy being home for a while and all the little things that come with it.
I got home on Saturday night after an arduous four-week trip to China. God, it is great to be home.
Yesterday was a glorious day and other than doing my laundry, it was a day devoted to rest – both physically and spiritually. China had been hard, so my body and mind were in desperate need of doing nothing and having nothing to do. One of the most difficult aspects of being in China for me was losing control over what I did with my time – even my free time. While it was gracious of our hosts to put on banquets in our honor and take us to sites, I grew weary of having to be “on” all the time.
It takes a trip outside my country, to remind me of some of the most simple, yet important freedoms I have, living in the United States. I have the freedom to go pretty much anywhere I want to go and when I want to go there. Sounds simple, and it is but I found out how important that is when I couldn’t do that for the past month. Yesterday, I didn’t have anyone telling me what to do and I didn’t have anything that needed doing. So, I took a drive in the country. I don’t have to go far from home (maybe 10 minutes) to get into the rolling, rural hills of Northern New Jersey. It was precisely what I needed, to get out in the country with no particular place to go.
This has been one of the longest weekends of my life, certainly the longest Saturday. We left Beijing at 5PM on Saturday and arrived in Newark at 6PM on Saturday! The flight had been delayed an hour and a half. After being away from home for a month, it was really hard to hear about the delay, but I went to the lounge and took it in stride. When we arrived in Newark, just past 6 o’clock, I turned on my phone and saw hundreds of tweets that Chen Guangcheng, a Chinese activist was on my flight, after leaving China abruptly to seek a new life in the US. I had been following the news about this Chinese activist while I was in China, other than the times that CNN was blocked. China controls what their people get to see and/or hear about.
It took a long time getting people off the aircraft. The officials needed to get Guangcheng and his family off the plane and away from the waiting press first. While, waiting I was talking to one of the flight attendants, who was Chinese. She had heard me talking about Guangcheng with another passenger and she asked us what he was protesting? She thought Tibet. When we told her, that he was against China’s “one child” policy and forced abortions, she acted surprised.
After getting off the plane and waiting in an endless line for Immigration, I got to baggage claim, grabbed my two bags and headed to exit Customs. The agent at the gate, looked at my tripod bag and asked me what was in it – “clubs?” I said no, it was a tripod and he asked if I had a carnet. I told him that I didn’t since I had been traveling for personal reasons, not business, but that I had my US Customs Registration forms with me with all my gear listed. He told me to go into another area. I walked in and saw almost two hundred people who looked like they had been waiting for a week. I knew I was in for hours of waiting. At one point, after about 15 minutes, an agent came over to the desk, picked up the passports and mine ended up underneath one that had arrived after mine. I was about to say something to one of the authorities and voice a mild complaint, but I stopped myself. I took myself to a more Zen like place in my mind and just let it go. I sat there and watched as a couple went up to an agent with their luggage and were asked if they had any food or alcohol to which they replied “no”. The agent opened their suitcases and found hams, cheeses, alcohol, cigarettes and other undeclared contraband and she immediately summoned SP (whoever they were) who came and started slicing packages with their knives. I was next, and I opened my camera bag, showed my Customs forms and I was out in of there in 10 minutes. I was so glad I hadn’t said anything.
I had learned from a dear friend while I was in China, how to not let other people or circumstances control my emotions. There had been people who tried to control what we did while we were in China; but we didn’t need to let them control our emotions. That was a good lesson that needed reinforcing for me. It usually takes a trip out of the country to remind me of what I cherish the most – my freedom.
It’s early on a Monday morning in New Jersey and I’m just happy to have a good cup of coffee and be able to do whatever I want to today.
The last Christmas I spent with my mother was the Christmas of 2003. I didn’t know that would be our last Christmas together. She died very suddenly, less than two months later. I often wonder if I had known that Christmas was to be the last one that I’d spend with my mother, if I would have asked her the questions that I always wanted to ask. One thing I do remember about that Christmas was a moment during the evening when I caught a look in my mother’s face that I had seen before – a distant look where I felt as if she was somewhere else.
After my mother’s death, I learned a great deal about my mother – things I would have loved to have talked to her about. I was a perceptive and curious child, and there were always questions that I wanted to ask her, but I never did. I don’t know why. I could say that there was “never the right time” but I’ve grown to hate that expression or should I say excuse. I guess I was just too afraid.
I would not have been able to take the journey around the world with my daughter Erin and make this film if it hadn’t been for my mother. That’s why the name of the production company is Nola Productions, Nola was my mother’s name. When she died, she left me a bit of money and that helped finance Opening Our Eyes. That and airline miles, hotel points, crowd-funding and lots of help from my friends. But my mother gave me something even more important than money, that made this film happen. She gave me, belief in myself and compassion for others. If it hadn’t have been for my mom, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make a film that delivers the message, that we can all make a difference in how we choose to live our lives. And she always told me to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible.
If you were to ask me (and many have) what was the best part of the trip – I’d would tell you that ii was spending time with my daughter. We not only explored the world together – we got to know each other as people – beyond the mother/daughter relationship. We’ll both remember the amazing places we went to and the extraordinary people that we met, but I think the memories that will linger the longest will be the conversations that we had along the way. We both asked the questions that we had been wanting to ask and shared the stories that we needed to share. Ultimately we “took the time” to get to know one another.
When I tell women about this trip and what I did with my daughter – they always say one of two things – or both – “Oh I would love to do that with my daughter” or “ I wish I had gotten to know my mother better”. I’m grateful that I had this time with my daughter and I know my mom was with us all the way. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone.