I usually don’t deal with disappointment very well. But I am very good at hiding it. I could go down the list of my life altering disappointments, but I won’t. Yesterday was the first day of our photo project with girls in San Miguel de Allende. Yesterday we waited and waited and no one showed up. As we drove home we talked about what went wrong and we talked about what it means to us to give back, the importance of sharing what we know with girls and women. It seems like it should be easy–we find an underserved market and we provide everything free of charge. The realization that giving and sharing isn’t as easy as it sounds, has set in.
Shannon and I are always good with a plan B. We are used to being thrown curve balls. Though we would like for things to go smoothly, they rarely do. We often find ourselves scrambling to make our ideas and projects work. We live with so much uncertainty that it seems like we should be pros at this by now. If nothing else, we know how to throw back a shot of tequilla, laugh until we cry and then magically come up with an idea that might well be better than the first.
The next day we headed into town with our basket full of cameras, hopeful that we could create a situation that would allow us to interact with the people of San Miguel de Allende. First we stopped for lunch at the farm restaurant where we met two women from Canada. We ended up offering them a ride back into the city. The interesting thing about being here in SMA is that you can give perfect strangers a ride, talk like you are old friends then say goodbye as if you will see them tomorrow. After we dropped the Canadians off we stopped at the bank to exchange dollars for pesos. While waiting there two ladies came in, Denise, from San Diego and Felicity, from Australia. We found out that they had just arrived from a few days in Mexico City. They asked us for food recommendations and other fun things to do. We ended up spending a couple of hours together talking about San Miguel and world travel over tea. Afterwards we exchanged emails and planned to see each other again.
Shannon and I then headed to the Jardin (the central town square) where we saw two old women huddled closely together in a doorway. As I watched them whispering and laughing I felt like I had to capture that moment with my camera. I realized that they must get at least ten tourists a day who want to capture their photo. I then thought it would be interesting for them to take pictures of tourists taking pictures of them. What a reversal. I convinced Shannon to go over and ask them if they would like to learn to use a camera, as a fun experiment.
They are two women with no husbands, no children and no means of support. So they sit in doorways with their hands, palms up, as they ask for money. We ask them if they would be willing to take pictures of the things and people that they see as they sit on the curb. Maria is fierce and very open to it, Consuelo, with a patch on one eye, is a little more shy and uncertain. They gave the picture taking thing a try but seemed more interested in just having a conversation. The conversation went from our camera ‘how to’ to people that walk by and ignore them. They asked which of them we thought was older. They told us that they live in homes without water and that that was why their clothes were so dirty. Maria told Elizabeth that when Consuelo had lost her eye it just plopped right out of its socket. Consuelo told me that she lost it two years ago and that it has made things difficult. Maria tells me that she sits there offering her shame to the people that walk past and she finds it hard to understand that that they will pay $1 for a coke and yet begrudgingly will give her only 10 cents. She said, if someone wants to take her picture she wants $10. Elizabeth tells her that she should charge $1 and that more people might wants pictures and she could make more money. She laughs and says that Elizabeth is smart. She tells us that she is smart too and that just because she is poor does not make her stupid. I tell her that it is only because of luck that I am not poor and she says yes, but it is also because of god. I cannot argue with her. Consuelo can’t stand her secret any longer and tells me she is 85 years old and Maria says that she is 83. I take my hat off and show them that I have more gray hair than they do and tell them that I am 45 years old. They get a good laugh out of that and said that yes, my hair is a lot more gray but they tell me that I am just a young thing! We thank them for taking the time to talk with us and tell them how nice it was to meet them both. We also say that we still think it would be interesting for them to take photos.
We didn’t understand half of what they were telling us but we knew that sitting there trying to teach them how to use the cameras, letting them see the photos that they had taken and learning about their lives had to be what it is really all about.
So, Juana’s Voice is not a project any longer, it is about connection and it is about humanity. It is about being aware of our surroundings and acknowledging our innate trust in one another. It is about serendipity and helping when we can. We will share stories and maybe teach photography or singing or just do something fun and creative together.