It's not uncommon for me to find myself surrounded by people that don't look like me. In fact, I search out those opportunities. And it's rather the nature of photojournalism . . . placing one's self in situations around the world that may seem uncomfortable, uneasy, even dangerous to tell a story through my lens.
I've been traveling internationally for 23 years and got hooked on the very first trip at age 15 while serving in Romania. From that point on my heart longed to be elsewhere . . . to travel . . . to get more glimpses of this beautiful vast world. Not until later in life did I find my passion for photography and since then, I've visited over 12 different countries.
I'll never forget standing in the Chicago O'Hare International Airport in June 2015. I was traveling by myself to Hyderbad, India to document the work of a pretty amazing organization. A new land for this petite, not-so-dark lady. Not only was I about to embark on a new culture but one that many times diminishes the value of women. So, here I am standing in line to check-in for my second flight of three and the longest one yet (14 hours . . . I don't sleep well on planes, but I sure got caught up on my movie watching!). As I looked around, that song came to mind. You know that famous Sesame Street one with the blue-haired puppet. Haven't heard of it? Well, today is a special day then. Let me enlighten you.
I looked at everyone in line around me and just smiled. Boy, did I stand out! And it was okay. It was foreshadowing the next two weeks in a foreign land. I had been in this position many times before, but some moments stand out more than others. My skin color, my hair color, my wardrobe, my language, my mannerisms were all different. Not bad, just different.
And that's where today's blog lesson comes in. We are scared of "different," but in reality, when we embrace it and appreciate it, we see it as part of the beautiful tapestry of life. Imagine if everyone looked the same? BORING! No, I want to live in a world that is colorful - skin color, personalities, talents, skills, voices! That's what makes us unique.
During my stay in India, I had the honor of being taken to a variety of places - from villages to micro-enterprise owners to churches to schools to slums. The picture up top is from my favorite slum (not many people can say that). The girl to my left (white dress) quickly gravitated to me and held my hand nearly the entire way as I walked the dirt paths through the tiny make-shift homes, most with no electricity or water. That day was an honor. One for the books. They didn't allow the other American gal to tour the slum, only visit the small on-site school. But I was taken by the headmaster in and out of dwellings to meet the people who called this place their community. I was able to capture a glimpse of their life through my lens.
Every once in awhile, I'll ask someone to take a picture with me in it and this day was one of the few. I wanted to remember this girl and the others who surrounded me. Oddly enough, you'd think I was torturing them to stand next to me, but as soon as the picture was taken, the smiles returned. I find in some cultures that the people are not accustomed to pictures or have a fear of showing emotion and this was one of those times.
What a memory! A gift to be given and reminder that no matter what we look like on the outside, we all still bleed the same, smile the same, laugh the same, and have the same Creator.
Thank goodness . . . One - actually many - of these things don't look like others!