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.
Most folks don’t realize that when Erin and I went around the world in pursuit of people creating positive change – we weren’t just shooting a movie – we also shot over 5000 still images.
When we planned our itinerary, traveling and shooting on six continents in the summer of 2010, we built in some “free time” to see the sights. It also acted as a buffer in case things didn’t go according to plan. As it happened, everything did go according to plan and we had some wonderful down time in Moscow, Istanbul, Bangkok, Melbourne and Sydney, Australia and India. We shot still images in all of these destinations in addition to the stills that we shot on the movie set, and ended up with a nice archive.
I’ve been editing this archive over the last year and am going to make them available for prints. You can see the first gallery of images, and there will be more to follow over the next few months. A print would make a beautiful Christmas gift for someone special. If you order before Dec. 17th – the prints will arrive before Christmas.
A week ago, my boyfriend Bryan Weber ran the Chicago marathon. It was his first marathon he had ever run. When I asked him why he decided to run it, he said it was because he was bored. I knew that was his way of saying that he needed a challenge in his life, a goal to work towards. And when I look back at how he came to achieve this goal, I realize that he definitely found what he was looking for.
Bryan used to run cross-country in high school but it had been a long time since he had really gone running. In fact, after I returned from the 3-month journey around the world with my mom to make the film Opening Our Eyes, exercise was not a regular part of his daily routine at all. But everything changed in March 2011 when he bought a bike. He started riding his bike everywhere, to work, to class, etc. Before he knew it, he had lost 60 pounds and I could see his outlook on life start to shift. In September 2012, he started running again. It began with 2-3 miles each run and suddenly he was running every day, 4, 5, 6 miles at a time.
In February 2013, he said to me, “I’m running several miles every day now, why don’t I try to run 26.2?” I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first. His knee had been hurting him and a marathon seemed like a big jump for someone who had just started running again a few months prior. But I certainly wasn’t going to discourage him and I told him I would support him with whatever he decided. He signed up and carried on with his running. He didn’t really follow a specific training program. He didn’t even tell that many people that he was doing it. He just kept doing his thing. And by the time October rolled around, he had lost 40 more pounds.
The morning of the marathon, I could tell he was nervous. He said he just wanted to be able to finish the race. I had no doubts in my mind that he would not only finish, but fly through it. And he did, in 4 hours and 14 minutes. I saw him 4 different times throughout the race. Each time I saw him, he had a huge smile on his face, even at mile 25.
When I found him after he had crossed the finish line, he was so full of energy and I couldn’t understand how that was possible after what he had just went through. But then I realized that this was a goal that he had been working towards for months and months and he had just achieved it. Can you imagine what that feels like? I was so full of pride and admiration for him at that moment, but I was also thinking of what goals I could work towards and what challenges I could tackle in my life so that I could feel that way. He inspired me to do that.
As I think about Bryan’s journey and how he went from not exercising at all to running a marathon and being 100 pounds lighter, I realize that any goal is possible if you put your mind to it. Everyone is capable of overcoming some challenge or achieving something in his or her life. And oftentimes, while they are striving towards that goal, they are inspiring others along the way.
I am currently working on a transcript for the entire film. As you can imagine, this is quite a laborious process. I had worked with transcripts for the foreign-language stories, but this is on a whole other scale. You have to maintain a high level of focus, meticulousness and attention to detail. I like to think I’m making good time (it’s been taking me about an hour to transcribe 15 minutes of the film). But it can still be a daunting task.
What I have enjoyed throughout this process though is really being able to relive a lot of the moments of the trip, especially moments during the interviews, since that’s what I’ve been focusing on. What many people may not know is that all of our subjects were speaking directly to me during these interviews. While my mom was behind the camera, I was sitting to the side and asking the questions. It is a very different kind of experience watching an interview that you know you have done. You’re not just watching the person being interviewed. You have a sense of the complete picture; you are aware that it was really a conversation that took place and you were the person sitting right there, having that conversation. It’s almost an out-of-body experience of sorts.
Watching these interviews over and over again has brought back a lot of memories for me of what it was like having those conversations. I start remembering how I was feeling that day, how I was reacting to certain things they said, the environment around us, where exactly we were doing the interviews, all of the distractions around us that we had to keep quiet, etc. In many of the countries we visited, it was a bit of a challenge to find a nice quiet place with a decent background and good lighting where we could conduct an interview for at least an hour without any disturbances. But what was really profound for me was having our subjects speaking directly to me, telling me of their trials and tribulations, crying about the tragedies in their lives (or sometimes, about the sheer happiness they feel when they know they’ve accomplished something), expressing their intense passion for what they are doing to make the world a better place. It really made me feel connected to them in a more personal way. They inspired me with their passion, reaffirmed in my mind that what we were doing was right, and motivated me to continue on in the next leg of our journey. It was such a powerful experience to interview these incredible people, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to do so.
The purpose of having this transcription is so that the film can be translated into many different languages, which will hopefully facilitate our goal of sharing the film and its message throughout the world. The more languages we can cover, the more people we can reach. Although it’s a lot of work now, it will all be worth it in the end.
P.S. – Please share this film and contribute to our efforts on IndieGoGo – every little bit helps and we are so appreciative of everyone’s support so far in raising funds to promote the film and spread its message.
May 25, 2011. It has been exactly one year since we left the country on our three-month journey. I remember exactly how I was feeling that morning when we left at 6am. Incredibly excited, a little nervous, ready for adventure, and prepared to take on the world. Also nauseous – I got sick in the car within 10 minutes of leaving the house, a wonderful start to my relationship with malaria pills (that was before I learned not to take them first thing in the morning).
Then came the first airport, the first plane ride (which actually turned out to be our longest flight on the whole trip), the first airplane food…many firsts and each one as exciting as the next. I remember thinking on that first day, this is going to be an incredible adventure. And it was.
It’s crazy to me that a whole year has already passed from that departure date. On the one hand, it does seem like a lot of time has gone by and many things have happened since then; almost like it was another lifetime. But I can also still remember how hot it was in Nepal, how many bug bites I acquired over the trip, and many of the hundreds of special moments and conversations that I had with my mom. No matter how many years go by, there are certainly things that I will never forget.
The timing of the rough draft coming out this week seems strangely perfect and almost divinely planned. Not only will I be home to see it, but it will be a perfect ending to the first year of the project’s production. I’m excited to re-live those three months and I can’t wait to see the finished product.
Happy 1-year Anniversary, Opening Our Eyes!
Like my mom, I am also thankful for many things. I’m thankful that I got to come home for Thanksgiving and see my family and friends, spending a weekend relaxing by the fire and playing board games, rather than straining my eyes staring at a computer screen 24/7. I’m thankful that I survived my first high school reunion without any deeply embarrassing moments. I’m thankful that I actually like my job and the organization that I’m working for. I’m thankful for all of the wonderful people in my life who continue to support me, which brings me to my last point – I’m thankful for everyone who has supported our project on Kickstarter. All the generosity that has been shown so far is remarkable and we truly appreciate it.
Here is our progress so far in raising funds to finish the project:
We are now in the process of editing over 150 hours of footage. My mom is poring through the footage and editing a “rough cut” of the film herself, while I am working to translate the Spanish-language transcripts from our interviews in Argentina with our subjects there – in Buenos Aires and Carlos Keen. So while we are keeping busy, we do still need help. We know that the film will be that much stronger if we hire a professional editor to do their magic and edit the “final cut.” This will ultimately give our documentary a better shot at wider distribution, the potential to be seen by a larger audience, and the power to inspire and motivate other change makers.
We’ve got a little over a month to go to raise the remaining $2000 to reach our goal – that’s only 80 people pledging $25 (the average pledge amount). But of course, any amount pledged is much appreciated! If you haven’t already done so, please take a look at the ten-minute trailer on our Kickstarter page and check out the “rewards” at various pledge levels. Of course the biggest reward will be in knowing that you’ve helped motivate others to make a positive difference in our world through the power of this film.
Thank you so much to those who have pledged and to everyone who has followed along with us on this journey so far. We hope that you will continue to do so and share our project with others!
Last night, I was sitting in a restaurant in Argentina, surrounded by adolescent boys asking me questions in Spanish about pop culture and music in the U.S. Do you know the band Kiss? What style of music is popular there? And most importantly – what was the reaction like when Michael Jackson died? Most of the music that they listed as their favorites had its heyday in the ‘80s, and they listened with wide eyes as I tried to explain that rock and roll actually came from blues music.
Sitting there at the table, I had a major flashback to when I was studying abroad in Santiago, Chile and volunteering at a public school for boys in the city. I helped teach English to 180 freshmen boys, and often I would take small groups outside of the classroom so that they could ask me questions about whatever they wanted, practice their English and hear a native English speaker talk. Most times, these conversations would center around what I just mentioned – music (they always loved ‘80s music for some reason), as well as movies, TV shows and what life is like in general in the U.S. In my blog at that time, I wrote “this also made conversation extremely exciting and entertaining for me, especially when I found kids that liked the same shows, movies and music as me.” The point was cultural sharing, and that’s exactly what I was doing with the boys at la Fundación Camino Abierto.
Cultural sharing is one of the many things that Susana Esmoris and her husband Hugo Centineo encourage the boys to experience at Camino Abierto, and one of the reasons that they began to explore rural tourism on their farm. She explained how important it was for the boys to be exposed to many different things – whether it’s through the foreign visitors that come to the farm, the field trips to other parts of Argentina that the boys take every year, the many cultural programs that they offer (including an orchestra, painting and theater workshops, and dance lessons), or the cooking lessons they have with some of the most famous chefs in Argentina. The point is to provide them with opportunities and the freedom to choose their own path in life – hence the name of the place, “Camino Abierto,” which means “open path” or “open way.” It was obvious how powerful and influential these opportunities have been for many of the boys – you could see the pride in their eyes when they declared what instruments they played or when they helped in the restaurant kitchen. It was clear that some transformation had occurred and that they were happy and were doing what they loved.
The whole atmosphere of the place was remarkable and infectious. The boys walk through the fields with their arms around each other, everything is fresh and wholesome, there is a sense of tranquil connection to nature, and the food is to die for. Perhaps that is because it is infused with love and happiness, which Susana describes as the continual state of the kitchen (even when there are 25 people working in it). Overall, there is an ambiance of peace, hope, and people doing what they love. Or at least that’s what I felt.
I am so happy that we got to wrap up the project with this story. I am grateful that I got to spend some time with Susana, Hugo, and the boys. And I loved experiencing those priceless moments of cultural sharing. After all, isn’t that what traveling is all about?
And if you must know – in the video clip that my mom posted, I’m describing to them how powerful the reaction was to Michal Jackson’s death, with people dancing in the streets and providing countless tributes to that infamous king of pop.
After four days of rest at home, it was rather surreal to get back out on the road again. Four days is a strange amount of time – it’s not enough time for you to completely settle in, but it’s just enough time to throw you off your traveling mode. Nevertheless, it was much needed and it felt routine when we returned to the airport. Just another flight, another immigration control, another taxi ride, another hotel. In fact, it felt so routine that I didn’t even really realize that I was in another country. There was no great sense of wonder or excitement arriving in Lima – perhaps because I had been there before. But it was a different story when we arrived in Iquitos. I was in the Amazon jungle now.
Iquitos is supposedly the world’s largest city that is not connected by road to any other city. You can only get there by plane or by boat. Bustling with “motokars” (auto-rickshaws) and every type of boat you can imagine, it’s hard to believe that this “jungle city” of 200,000 people is as isolated as it is. It was there that we met our subject, Gina Low, who founded APECA Peru – an organization that aims to preserve the Amazon rainforest and its inhabitants through helping the indigenous communities develop sustainable methods of living. We traveled with her to APECA’s base camp, El Fundo, a lush jungle property with an exotic locale, right on the banks of the Amazon river. The trip itself was no simple task – commuter boats along the Amazon only depart when they’re full of people, as gasoline is expensive, so there’s no telling when you’ll leaving or when the boat will come back if you happen to miss it. But there’s nothing like gliding down the Amazon, marveling at its width when what you think is the other bank is actually just an island. It certainly is a memorable experience.
Luckily I got to travel down the Amazon quite a few times, as we visited several villages along the river that APECA has worked with. Gina has been in the region for over 17 years, building relationships with the locals, so it was no surprise that she was received so warmly everywhere we went. She and her partner Pablo Guerra, the director of APECA’s programs, have been bringing much-needed free healthcare to the villages, and carrying out various projects that encourage healthy and sustainable living – constructing clean water systems, building latrines, starting reforestation projects, teaching sustainable fishing and turtle farming, training members of the community to be healthcare educators, etc. It was promising to see some of those projects in place and the individuals that have really run with them – like Teresa, who planted 700 trees that the community can share and use the wood to build their homes with. But it was also difficult to see the conditions that the people live in, and what’s worse, to know that they are complacent with such poverty and will never expect it to ever improve.
In one of the villages, my mom and I were trying to film a community meeting, and many of the children were standing in the way of the camera (wouldn’t you, if you had never seen such a crazy-looking thing before?). To get them to step aside, my mom said “beep beep,” as in a car horn, and instead of moving they started giggling uncontrollably and repeating the sound over and over again, like it was a funny word. I realized that they might not know what we were referring to, so I explained to them that that is what a car horn sounds like. Their faces were blank and I thought oh, they’ve probably never seen a car in their lives, so they have no idea what I’m talking about. So then I said that some boats also make this sound – again, blank faces, and I realized that the only boats they’ve ever seen are dugout canoes and small rowboats with outboard motors. That’s when it really hit me – most of these kids will probably never leave this village in their lives. They will never know what a car is, they will never hear the sound of a horn, and they will never have the opportunities and privileges that most kids in the U.S. squander away without a second thought.
I guess my message here is that despite the plentiful mosquito bites and the lack of running water and electricity, my visit to the Amazon has been an enlightening experience and has shown me, once again, to never take my life and the opportunities I have had for granted.
Yesterday, I uploaded this photo
on my Facebook status. It got noticed as “celebrity” always does and one person remarked “hanging with the superstars”. I commented back saying that they were all “superstars”. Certainly, Captain Paul Moulds for the work that we devotes himself to with Oasis and reaching out to homeless youth in Australia and Sir Richard Branson for his generous support and making it possible.
But perhaps the biggest “superstar” is Damien, the young man in the middle who turned his life around from being on the streets with barely any hopes and dreams at all to having a job, a place to live and a bright future.
I was attending an event yesterday at Oasis where Branson was cutting the ribbon on the opening of a fitness center that his company Virgin had funded. But prior to the opening of the center, Branson and others listened to the stories of the “champions”, young people like Damien who against all odds, had redirected their lives to a better future. The stories were difficult to hear – stories about being abused – physically, sexually and emotionally. Stories about wanting to die and the attempts that they made on their lives because they felt unwanted and that they had no purpose.
I can’t even begin to really understand the horrors that these kids have faced in their young lives. I can’t even imagine how difficult it was for them to tell their stories, and yet they did so with grace, dignity and compassion for one another. They were there for each other and to show their gratitude to people like Paul Moulds and Richard Branson who make places like Oasis possible. One young man said – “without Oasis, I’d be dead”.
I will never forget that morning and it went far and beyond the thrill of meeting Sir Richard Branson and eating an egg sandwich that he had cooked on the grill. The most important thing I walked away from was being around a group of people with a like-minded purpose. A purpose of doing whatever they can to make a difference – a positive difference in the world. I could see, hear and feel the impact that Moulds and Branson had made in these young people’s lives. It was tangible and real – not just words on the pages of a foundation’s annual report.
As we wind up our time in Australia and head home for a few days break before heading down to South America, I am energized by something that Paul had mentioned during his interview. He was talking about an amazing documentary that was made about Oasis and the issues facing homeless youth in Australia. The documentary was two years in the making and gave an up close look into life on the street for these young people. Paul told me that after the documentary aired on Australian TV, the response and support that followed was astounding. It had made a real impact and prompted people into action – to help with donations or wanting to volunteer.
So I’m energized going forward that our little film will also create awareness and prompt others into action and what they can do to make a positive difference in the world. It’s a simple yet powerful thought and full of possibility – the power that’s within all of us to create change and make the world a better place for those that are less fortunate. The power of possibility – think about it.
The last couple days have been eye opening as well as reminders as to why I have embarked on this project www.openingoureyes.net. Maybe I needed a reminder at this point in my life that you only go around once and to make the most of it. And after spending a couple days with Ronni Kahn, CEO of Oz Harvest, I got that reminder and it affirmed in my mind why I took a risk, took on a personal project and took off for 3 months on a journey with my daughter around the world.
But Ronni reminded me how important it is that you really only have the “now” in your life because you don’t know what tomorrow may bring. I remember when I first embraced the notion of living in the “now”. I was 19 years old and hitchhiking around the world. I remember a consistent remark from people who stopped to pick me up and bring me a bit further along on my journey. Many of them said, “I wish I had done what you’re doing when I was your age”. I never lost sight of that and have always lived my life with the thought that if I don’t do “it“ now, I may never get the chance again.
No one really knows what tomorrow will bring – that’s the mystery of life. The best-laid plans are never givens and the surprises and unexpected moments are many times the most rewarding.
Tonight, I had a simple yet memorable dinner with my 23-year-old daughter Erin. As we ate our pizza and had a lovely, inexpensive bottle of wine – we took notice that here we were in Sydney, Australia, overlooking the Sydney Opera House and it all seemed so surreal. But it was real, it a moment in time that we made happen, that we didn’t postpone until the “perfect” time in the future and a time that we will always have and always remember. We were living in the “now” moment.