Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

Why Do We Do the Things We Do?

It was 1977. Canadian road signs are converted to metric units, Voyager was launched by NASA, Quebec became the first large jurisdiction in the world to prohibit discrimination in the public and private sectors based on sexual orientation, and I finally finished reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. My room was wall-papered with pages from national geographic, and my bicycle was my constant companion. Charlies Angels, the Jefferson’s and Happy Days started on TV, and the Soviet Union and Cuba were supporting Ethiopia in their civil war, although we didn’t hear much about it just yet.

Voyager

From the NASA website: “Both Voyager spacecrafts carry a greeting to any form of life, should that be encountered. The message is carried by a phonograph record – -a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth. The contents of the record were selected for NASA by a committee chaired by Carl Sagan of Cornell University. Dr. Sagan and his associates assembled 115 images and a variety of natural sounds. To this, they added musical selections from different cultures and eras, and spoken greetings from Earth-people in fifty-five languages.”

I had a small rangefinder film camera and obsessively took pictures of sports events and school life at my middle school. The shutter was very quiet, and I could sneak around getting secret photos of my teachers playing ping-pong in the basement. I had access to a darkroom and developed my own films and made prints and sold them.

Most people loved being photographed but it got annoying after a while I’m sure.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, my best friend Anna was going to be a Journalist and I was going to travel the world with her and be a photographer.

The years went by, and in 1986 I made it to Communication Arts School and took my first photojournalism class from Steve Patriquen, a former Toronto Globe and Mail Photographer.

One of my first assignments was to photograph a local family who had just immigrated from Ethiopia. The first time I went, I was petrified. I could not speak Ethiopian, and they could not speak English, and I was shy.

From Wikipedia: The Ethiopian Civil War began on 12 September 1974 when the Marxist Derg staged a coup d’état against Emperor Haile Selassie. The civil war lasted until the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), a coalition of rebel groups, overthrew the government in 1991.[18] The war left at least 1.4 million dead.

This family, the father maimed in the fighting, were refugees, and came to this small New Brunswick, Canada town, to escape and find peace.

When I arrived at their tiny apartment, I could smell the Ethiopian food. It was dark in there, the curtains were drawn, and they had no furniture, except a kitchen table, and a small sofa in the middle of the living room. They were painfully shy, but happy to oblige and allow me to take a photo. I was still petrified and mortified that I was invading this family’s space after having been through so much. One of the kids was hiding behind their mom, who brought the little fella in front of her and asked them all to smile. I quickly took some bracketed shots of the family together, smiling, at the kitchen table.

When I handed in my assignment, Steve handed it back and said I could do better. This looks like a Sears photo.  Go back and try again.

Sick to my stomach, and heavy-hearted, I walked back to their apartment the next day and knocked on the door. The woman came, she looked frightened and only partially opened the door. When I showed her my camera, to gesture that I wanted to take their picture again, she lowered her face and said no, gesturing with her hand.

I could feel her pain. I was about to cry and didn’t even try to say I was sorry, I just turned and left, tears in my eyes, and completely doubted my career as a photo-journalist. In fact, I got a zero for that assignment, and changed my portfolio focus from Journalism to “patterns in nature.”

Journalism is important, and incredibly necessary in any society, you only have to look at how the New York Times coverage of Apple, and harsh, at times deadly conditions under which Chinese workers assembling iPhones and iPads live and work. The results were 25% raises for the workers and greatly improved working conditions, as well as a complete overhaul of manufacturing and working with their competitors to reduce overtime. HP and Intel, in turn, addressed the problems in their systems, and a new way of doing business was formed.

And, I am sure we can all remember iconic photos that led to change, a Syrian child on a beach, or the photo of Malala Yousafzai in a hospital bed after being shot by the Taliban. I have huge respect, and my heart goes out to those who are members of the press.

I still love to take pictures, but you won’t find me taking pictures of people very often, I focus on patterns, colour, texture and bringing out the emotions of the places I visit. Photography is a mindful practice, encouraging the experience of NOW.

Travel doesn’t even feel like a choice to me, I am compelled, and slowly making my way around the world, experiencing life in other countries to help me build understanding and blur divisions and borders. That tiny little experience in Woodstock, New Brunswick opened up a whole new understanding of myself, my empathy for others, and my mission.

So, I have decided to “Do Good as I Go”. My travels bring me to far-away places, and the Muskoka Foundation helps me find projects to volunteer for in the places I go. I use my eLearning, photography and teaching skills to leave a little breadcrumb of connection, and hopefully, make someone smile. We don’t have to change the world, as individuals, because collectively, every smile, every new bit of knowledge or connection, creates love and trust, and THAT makes the world a better place.

Currently, I’m in Cambodia, visiting iconic locations and talking to the locals about Cambodia’s history, and more importantly, Cambodia’s future. There are some photos on Facebook if you want to see what I am seeing here!

We, a team of motorcyclists from four different countries, lead by Brad Ringstmeier, alongside the Muskoka Foundation’s Do Good as You Go Program, are bringing laptops to some friends in the jungle in November, so I have a couple weeks to get some work done, and adjust to the 14 hour time difference before heading into the jungle on a motorcycle!

We are, the Laptop Sherpas!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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