While, I have the Dutch to thank for the tradition of hanging stockings over the fireplace at Christmas, I have the women of Peru to thank for these stockings. Each one was created by hand by “The “Women of Dignity”. These women live in hope each day…hoping that the proceeds from the sale of these stockings, trees and tapestries will help support their after school program as well as a nutritional program for their children. Each woman sharing in this collective vision, piece by piece. These stockings truly carry that spirit we all want to fill our homes this season – hope, love and making a positive difference for others.
Villa El Salvador is a twenty minute drive outside of Lima. It is bordered by the Pacific Ocean and yet most of the homes have no access to running water and thus, there is no sewage system. This area began as an “invasion”…during the night, hundreds of people move into an area and set up homes made of straw in order to claim the land. Once the settlement becomes more stable, wood is then used for the housing later followed by tin, bricks and concrete for more permanence. I was fortunate enough to photograph the grass root efforts and leadership of those trying to establish a medical center and provide nutritional/educational programs for the people. Community and stability are surely being birthed into existence through the commitment of very dedicated people.
The following is an interview with Father Simon, a priest with the Missionary Society of St. James, headquartered in Boston. Simon’s sincerity, kindness and attention to welcoming another was so evident from our first meeting. Before I can show the creative work of the people, it is important to gain an awareness and a sense of place.
Faces tell a story. Each unique. Each so expressive with the etchings of life’s journey. I am so drawn to engage with the people and then be able to photograph with little distance between us. I was in the back seat of our “classic” red volkswagen when I saw this wonderful woman walking down the street with her colorful bag slung over her humped shoulders. My friends are absolutely wonderful and used to my asking to stop the car in an instant so all 6ft. of me jumped out of the back of the car (not an easy task) and went up to this woman. What was translated to her was that I thought she was beautiful and would like to photograph her. She was so kind and we shared smiles in that moment of time.
The following Sunday, I was driving to photograph a town Mass. I saw this woman out of the corner of my eye walking with her cane all by herself but this time we were late and could not stop. Any one who loves to photograph knows exactly that feeling of missing THE moment and missing THE picture. It hurts! As luck would have it, I was in the church setting up and saw this woman coming up to the front row in the church. She had walked almost a mile to get there! I saw determination, dignity and a quiet but powerful presence in this woman. This time I didn’t miss the opportunity to photograph her and bring a bit of her back home with me.
My laptop has very little memory left. 5,000 images of Peru and 9 hours of video are running through it. My heart is in the same state, filled to capacity with memories of people who are no longer strangers, sounds with such exuberance and inflections, new foods and new places explored. A far off land that now feels so very close.
There was one statement and one question which seemed to be on everyone’s mind when they met me. The question was, “Have you seen Machu Picchu yet?” I’ver heard it is awe inspiring and mystical. A true wonder of the world. A site not to be missed but I have to say, I did miss it and it was planned that way! Machu Picchu is for another time. This trip was about being with amazing and gifted people.
Roxana and Jose, a young couple who are just starting out with the hopes and dreams of fullness and a promising future. I loved photographing their looks, the moments they reached out to touch each other in both gentleness and laughter.
Hermenegildo and Irma, a couple, who renewed their vows after 50 years of marriage. They were truly celebrating this fullness which flows from the day in and day out little things. On the morning of the celebration, I walked through the gate to find Hermenegildo cutting the flowers he had grown and then arranging them into the bouquet Irma would hold throughout the day… he was so tender and so in the moment – I was totally taken by this man and his wife! The entire family also know how to throw a great party!
The statement repeated to me was, “You better put your camera away and not keep it out.” At first I was thrown into fear thinking that Peru must be far worse with a high rate of robbery than many other countries I walked through comfortably with my camera. That perception quickly changed and I came to realize that the Peruvian people were just very diligent in taking care of me and ensuring that my stay would be both happy and healthy. They were constantly looking out for me and enfolding me. “La Familia” has now become “Mi Familia” and I am so very grateful! The people are the true wonders of the world! Si! Si! Si!