Sunday, February 18, 2007

OJOS takes to the streets

Leaving the hogar with our photography taller serves two purposes: first, it makes the girl's photography more exciting. On the move in this big city keeps new people and events always in front of their lenses, and they have a million chances to try new techniques and ideas, to overcome fears of pressing the shutter in public or photographing people they don't know. Second, it gives the girls an opportunity to leave the hogar. Like most teenagers, these young women want to be independent, they want to go out, meet people, talk to each other, and not necessarily always be with an adult. Have a 26-year-old ask them if they want to leave the hogar for a few hours to go to the city center (or even the library) armed with their own digital camera, and you will have nearly every inhabitant of the hogar asking where they can sign up. Our excursions, for the most part, are a big hit with the four girls in the taller, and I enjoy taking them out; the responsibility of four young lives always makes me a little nervous, but it's telling the other dozens of young women that I can't also include them that complicates the process even more. There is always the underlying fear that something will happen to one of the girls, especially with the risk of flashing four shiny digital cameras around in public which just begs for attention.

Taking advantage of the fact that the girls have been on summer vacation, we have been leaving the hogar nearly twice a week. Our first excursion was to Santa Lucia, a hill decorated with beautiful staircases and fountains from which one can view the wide expanse of the city. Over an hour away in metro from the hogar, we had just over an hour at the hill which is right in the city center. I waited to pass out the cameras until we arrived just to make sure the girls wouldn't use all of the memory on their cards before we got there. We climbed nearly to the top before we had to trek back down, and each girl seemed to find her own pace along the way-- making it a little difficult to manage with a ratio of two volunteers to four girls. I almost wish we had four volunteers, one for each student, but still we're learning how to move as a group while allowing enough freedom for the girls to be creative. I think in the debate of what age levels benefit more from this particular taller, the type and amount of supervision are important factors to consider.

We've been to the Puente Alto library three times now, and they have even been so nice as to cover some small black and white printing costs for us. Because of the varying levels of computer knowledge, the instructions in Photoshop also tend to vary student to student. I end up walking down the line of computers helping each girl individually, trying to get them on more of the same level before giving directions to the group as a whole. I have started making small instruction guides in spanish with visual aids so that when they are a little more comfortable with the program they will be able to continue to discover new concepts on their own.

As a group, we sit down after each excursion and look at the most recent photographs. What the girls decide to photograph, and how they capture the image, never ceases to intrigue me. Some are more timid to speak in front of the group, but as a whole the girls seem very supportive of each other and the risks they take with their photography. I won't deny that a couple of the girls support a very keen interest in trying to collect snapshots of passing male teenagers of whom they think are irresitably rico, but they're usually too shy to follow through anyways. I choose to exercise more positive feedback on what they are doing well, and definitely find their company an unending source of entertainment and challenge. To say that we run around together always as a happy group would be misleading; each day has a different dynamic as we all continue to wade through the inevitable drama in our lives. But I will say that if even one girl has had a fun or interesting time after our taller than it's been successful. As it stands now, on the Chilean grading scale of 7-1, I would give the girls a big juicy 7 for effort.

Photographs above taken by Claudia G, Yanina, Claudia N, and Herna, respectively.

Friday, February 09, 2007

sorry mom: I talked to strangers all day

Having recently reached the five month mark of my time in Santiago, I've been looking back to see what I've learned so far. Besides mastering the 3-step process of purchasing an item at the pharmacy and how to cut the lawn with a manual grass-cutter, I've also managed to buy a telephone card the other day and successfully follow the automated directions to put more credit on my cellphone-- the first time I've ever been able to accomplish this mammoth task without the help of a Chilean friend. This, coupled with the fact that I just finished my first novel in spanish, gives me hard proof that yes, my spanish is improving.

Armed with this boost of confidence, I decided to talk a walk with my camera yesterday. I've purchased eggs from a tiny egg store on the way to Lider before here in La Granja (Lider is a huge megastore similar to Wal-Mart in more ways than just its obstrusively bright fluorescent lights) and I fell in love with it. A nice little grandma with absolutely no gray hair wears a navy smock with little flowers on it over her clothes and carefully places your eggs in triangular pockets of newspaper which she had folded in anticipation of your visit before you showed up. I thought this might be a good first stop, but on my way there I noticed a house older than most in the neighborhood that boasted about its pan y palta on quaint hand-painted signs. Taking the small detour down the grapevine covered front path, I found myself in a small market in the front room of the house being greeted by whom I soon found out is Marta.

First purchasing a bottle of water, I started talking about the heat (a useful everyday summer-in-Santiago conversation starter) but the conversation quickly moved to discussions about the changing neighborhood and the differences between the city and the campo-- not to imply that the conversation moved quickly: we must have talked for at least 40 minutes. Marta soon called in her viejo, Miguel, who explained that he had purchased the house in the 70s when the surrounding area was used to grow vegetables instead being full of rows of apartment buildings and the sprawling, crowded creature that is Lider. Marta is from Los Andes, in the north, and Miguel is from south of Valdivia but had interesting advice for my upcoming visit to the city: eat seafood, and don't hang out with 17-20 year olds because all they do is party. I left the minimarket with kisses and waves and invitations to please come enjoy a cafecito sometime soon.

The egg store is going to take a little more work than I thought. The abuelita showed extreme opposition to the idea of my bringing my camera out, although we did talk about her children and grandchildren for an extensive amount of time. Surrounded by eggs in her little egg store, I made a solemn promise to myself to win her confidence over, even if I just get a picture of her hands with eggs. I know I'll be back. So I decided to take a ride to the city center to the street around the corner from the hogar in which I lived before Domingo Savio. Having walked down this street, which is the best way to get to any bus or metro from the hogar, about a million times over the span of my stay there, I had met several of the store owners and become intrigued by many others. Alejandro, the owner of the sewing machine store, deserved a visit.

After buying a tea from the counter in the market next door-- Alexandro's market, but he wasn't there at the time-- I joined Alejandro on the little red chairs he keeps on the sidewalk in front of his shop. A tiny store, no wider than a couple of meters, it is completely packed with sewing machines at various stages of repair and disrepair. He explained that he learned how to fix sewing machines back when Singer still had a presence in Chile-- I'm not sure what year, but he is now 75. He's been at this location on Libertad in Barrio Brasil for 15 years, collecting broken sewing machines, fixing them, and then selling them. His hands permanently greased and digging deep in some disemboweled machine, Alejandro and his store captivated me with its piles of strange machanical parts and interesting characters hanging out on the red chairs. Amused by my poking around with my camera in search for little details in his shop, like this crucifix tucked behind the electrical wire right above the hiding place for his beer, Alejandro knows I'll be back.

A few doors down Libertad from the sewing machine shop is a Peluqueria I had always watched, but never entered: I never had a reason. It's a barber shop with maybe two chairs, one tv, maybe one customer being shaved or clipped and a friend of the barber sitting in one of the chairs along the wall. This time the friend and the barber, Mario, were just sitting and watching tv, so I walked in and began introducing myself. The friend left soon after, but I had a nice talk with Mario-- it helped that as of yet the only fútbol game I have been to was a Colo Colo game, which you can see won me a lot of points. Mario has lived in Santiago since he was 6 months old, and has had his Peluqueria at this location for 13 years. He began cutting hair at the age of 16, (now he's in his seveties I think) but still smiles when he talks about how much he loves his job. My favorite part about the barber shop is the mechanical clippers Mario uses-- when I first spotted them I pointed to them, lined up in a row under the mirror, asking in general what they were. Mario replied, "Mis pololas!" Confused as to why he would call his clippers his girlfriends, I looked again at the counter and saw underneath the glass a collage of old pictures of half naked women. I think my confusion was Mario's favorite part about my visit.

Strolling through the center, I wandered over to the Plaza de Armas but couldn't find postcards for my family because the street vendors are still trying to get rid of their photos of the "La Pequeña Gigante" which mesmorized the city a short while ago. I headed towards Alameda to start going home on the metro when I heard the old-fashioned tango music like the kind I play when I'm the last one awake at night. A young couple dressed in black made me stop and think again about how badly I'd like to learn the dance. Angela and her brother Andrés dance every day in one of the pedestrian passages near Plaza de Armas. It turns out you have to apply to the city to be able to perform in this area and only the best are chosen and then assigned a place.

A useful trick to talking with strangers is just to ask them about themselves. Many people like to talk about themselves, they just need some prompting. I'd like to spend even more time with some of these new random acquaintences-- but a good string of introductions certainly makes for an interesting day, a makeshift kind of open-ended scavenger hunt with variable directions and certainly no definite end...

Sunday, February 04, 2007

first week of OJOS nuevos at the aldea

Our first week of OJOS nuevos at the aldea was indeed, as the Chileans would say, "top" Not without its challenges, I would still agree that one, we are off to a promising start, and two, I have a lot of work to do. We have so many more opportunities with this taller, or workshop, that my lesson plans from the last taller are now out of date. Thanks to donations to VE I will be able to purchase a new battery and memory card this weekend, improving two of our cameras and enabling us to leave the hogar as a class to take pictures around the city for the first time. I plan on taking the girls to Santa Lucia, a hill that rises up in the center of Santiago from which one can view the expansive city.

We met twice this past week, the first time on Monday with half the class spent looking at international photography in a slideshow and learning some about the history of photography, and the second half wandering around the hogar taking pictures. At the end of the day we downloaded everyone's first photos and shared them with each other. They liked going off by themselves and showed a lot of initiative in experimenting with their cameras even on the first day. We have some very bold and inventive young women in this group.

Wednesday morning we took the micro down to the Puente Alto (the hogar's neighborhood) library where we will be able to use their computer lab. Lindy helped the staff install Photoshop on six of the computers in the children's library, and we will be able to go as often as once a week to use the internet to explore photography sites and magazines and to use learn how to edit images in Photoshop. While the Aldea will be receiving a computer lab within the next month due to VE's @ccess the future computer program, it is still important to show the girls where the resources are around them and how to use them to their benefit. Each girl will have her own email account as well, and through our email group we can share photos and websites with each other.

As an introductory class, I felt very positive about our first trip to the library. But the gap in computer knowledge among the girls coupled with my lack of spanish vocabulary when talking about Photoshop tricks and techniques showed me that I have a lot more preparation to do before the next time we go to the lab. Another challenge in front of me is that I'm also a new tia for the girls, and still getting to know them as individuals. Which is why one of my favorite parts of the week was after class on Wednesday when I stayed to eat lunch and hang out with the girls. While the Aldea has four houses in which the young women live, during the summer all of the girls who have no alternative place to visit are moved into one of the houses. Lunch had been prepared by a tia and a young woman who likes to cook-- she explained to me the proper way to cook Chilean corn as it is very different from the Midwest corn on the cob to which I am accustomed: this corn, much tougher and on a larger cob than Illinois corn, requires 15 minutes in boiling water, which would explain why the last time I tried to cook it you couldn't even bite into it, it was so undercooked. We ate a corn and potato stew with a side salad of lettuce and tomato with lemon juice, oil, and salt.

For dessert, those who wanted to could have flan, which I happen to love. I sat at a table with three young women, two of which are in the photo class, and learned that they don't like reggaeton that much because the lyrics often demean women, but they do like songs to which you can hold someone close and slowly dance. One has many madrinas and doesn't like flan; the other has no madrinas and had two helpings of flan. Both are incredibly excited to leave the hogar on Monday with our class. I share their excitement, as I have actually not yet climbed the Cerro Santa Lucia, but I am always a little nervous taking our kids out on excursions-- Yet another reason why it's important to get to know the girls and let them get to know me. I will have Ben, another volunteer, with me, but it is still sure to be an adventure.