Thoughts on Photography from an Amateur

I’ve always liked taking pictures. I remember when I went to Washington D.C. on an 8th grade trip with my school, it was my first time to go far away without my family. It was also the first time I got to be in charge of the camera! I took 800 pictures over a 4 day period. Most of them were bad, several were just while driving by on a bus – blurry and importance forgotten. But it was the beginning of something.

When I went to France a few years later, we were 7 days into a 10 day trip when my camera was stolen. I had over 1,000 pictures on there. My whole purse was snatched, and the “remains” were found about an hour later. My phone, my money, and my camera were all gone. I was fortunate though that they at least left behind my passport and a visa gift card. Still, I was heartbroken and crying. Firstly, because I was afraid of getting in trouble with my parents. I did not enjoy making that phone call, though they were sympathetic. But mostly, I lost all of the memories from my perspective.

Now that I have taken literally thousands of pictures abroad, I’ve been learning and developing my photography skills. I am most definitely an amateur since I have no formal training. But more and more often I am capturing photos that I am truly proud of and like sharing.

I started off mainly only taking pictures of buildings. I love cool architecture, and that’s why I enjoy sightseeing buildings and monuments in the places I go. I used to take just head-on shots. I’ve since discovered something called getting the “right angle.”

I also still take a million photos, just because the more I have, the more likely I’ll have some decent shots.

But the main thing I’ve discovered more recently, is that my favorite photos always end up being pictures of people. The pictures I take of people are always attached to a memory. Whether it was a conversation I had with them, or just simply observing a cultural custom – these photos bring along the joy of being in the moment. The tricky thing is though, that I’m pretty shy. I don’t feel comfortable always going up to people. Sometimes I’m afraid they will interpret what I’m doing in a negative way. So often, my photos are snapshots that I took with my camera still around my neck at my waist. My sneak shots. Oftentimes too though, the people I’ve met are the ones who started engaging with me, making it easier to take a great photo of them.

I have some below with a little story attached to each one. I want to start with the man that inspired me to write this post though. This man below was in the Old Town Market in Hyderbad, India. As I was walking through the market with my guide, I VERY clearly stood out. I was white. I was dressed in Western style clothing (as in American, not cowboys). I wanted to take pictures in the market because I found it very lively, interesting, and beautiful. All the foods brought out so many colors. All of the fabrics brought out colors in the saris, and the representation of different religions (primarily Islam and Hinduism) was very apparent. However, I didn’t want people to think that it was just another tourist attraction for me. If I snapped a photo of them, I was afraid they wouldn’t understand the amount of respect and appreciation I had for them. I remember going through a market in Haiti, and several people not wanting to be photographed. So I tried to take some of my “sneak shots,” and even those were few and far in between. As we were exiting the market for the main road, this man started talking to me in Telugu. I had no idea what he was saying, and I had actually assumed it was something negative about me being there or having a camera. Then my guide translated for me…”He wants you to take his picture.” It took me a second to process, but I then proudly and happily picked up my camera and snapped a shot. Then he smiled, we waved, and I continued on. It was so simple. And I don’t why he cared; he wouldn’t ever get to see it. Maybe he just noticed how few pictures I was taking and was helping out. Maybe he wanted to show off his lifestyle and culture to my people back home. I don’t know! But I’m so glad he reached out to me.

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The following photos were from my most recent trip in Japan. Three of the pictures are from my experience observing the traditions of visiting and praying at the temples. The one with the two boys running was when school released for the day, and the kids were running home. The yellow hats were part of their uniform. Last but not least, the cute baby was staring at me the ENTIRE time I was watching the water parade at the DisneySea park. He was so adorable; I just had to snap a photo to remember him by.

 

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I also visited India this year, and since the nature of the trip was very focused on meeting locals, I had many opportunities.

 

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I have some others below.

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Appian Way in Rome
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Swiss Guard at the Vatican
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local market in Leogane, Haiti
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In Haiti, we went on a scavenger hunt through the market. He had one of our items!
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These girls and boys came up to our group at the beach, and we painted their nails!
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A Shipibo girl in Peru
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Shipibo children
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Shipibo monkey

I know the monkey isn’t a person….but he’s just cute.

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5 Memorable Meals Abroad

I love food. The older I get, the worse my obsession is becoming. It’s what I like to do for fun. When I first started traveling on my own (as in, without my parents), I didn’t care about what I was eating. But over the years, I’ve increasingly dedicated more and more of my budget to trying different meals, desserts, food, tours, etc. while traveling.

Below I am listing experiences I’ve had outside of the United States where either the food was absolutely delicious, or the experience was unforgettable. These are in no specific order.

1st Memorable Meal – Scones; Bath

When William and I were in the United Kingdom, we went on a tour by bus that took us to Windsor, Stonehenge, and Bath all in one day. While in Bath, we basically were just dropped off to do what we pleased with our time. Our guide, David, had mentioned on the bus ride to Bath that he would be spending his time in a scone shop right behind the Bath Abbey. He said he had already called in advance to make sure they had lots of scones. He also talked about how much he loved them, how they would be fresh, etc.. My priority was seeing the Roman Baths and the Bath Abbey, so I thought we would only get to try a scone if we had enough time. Luckily, we did (barely). David was in there and we joined him with a couple of other Americans. The American guy started to use a knife to break his scone apart, and David exclaimed, “No, no, no, no, no! Jesus broke the bread with his hands; you must break the bread apart.” Sure enough, it broke perfectly in the middle. Then he taught us that you spread the jam, but just put a “dollop” of cream on top. You don’t spread the cream. All of this was apparently symbolic, and the order mattered (upon further research though, I know other parts of England put the cream on before the jam). This scone was literally not only the best scone ever, but one of the best pieces of bread I’ve ever had in my life. I think about it all the time. The rest of my trip in the UK, I kept buying scones in other places but they never were the same. I tried to buy all the ingredients here back home but failed miserably at creating even a semi-close attempt to what these were. I did not remember the name of the shop, but after walking on Google maps, I believe it is the shop called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

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Bath Abbey

2nd Memorable Meal –  Anticuchos; Lima

On my trip to Peru, I had read that anticuchos (cow heart) was a popular dish there. I wasn’t sure how I felt about trying that prior to the trip, but once I had been in Peru for a week and felt really comfortable, I wanted to test it out. The only problem was I was out of time and on my way to the airport. My group and I had an excursion in Lima at the Indian Markets, and across the street there was a little mall. We tried running around to see if we could find any place selling anticuchos but failed. Then we were on the bus going back to the airport, so as a desperate last attempt I asked the guide if he knew a good place in the airport to try it. Luckily, he did. He recommended a Peruvian restaurant in the food court just after security called Manos Morenos. My friend Randy and I ordered a meal’s worth, and it essentially just looked like steak on a kebab. It came with a sauce – I have no idea what it was. BUT IT WAS GOOD. The sauce was delicious. The anticuchos was delicious. If I ever go back to Peru, I will be ordering that a lot more often. It wasn’t the best meal of my entire life, but the fact that something that seemed scary and weird was so tasty, and that I was brave enough to try it, made it very memorable for me.

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3rd Memorable Meal – Food Tour; Rome

In Rome, William and I went on our first ever food tour. I highly recommend this tour, but make sure you are starving when you arrive. We all met up at a metro station and then walked to our first stop, a Sicilian coffee shop. We tried coffee there, and even though I don’t care for coffee, I actually drank my whole cup. If someone forced me to drink coffee, I guess I would prefer Italian! We also tried a cannoli and it was magical and amazing (we returned to the shop later in the trip for one!), but more on cannolis in another post. Our next stop was Bonci’s, a “fast food” pizza shop. Bonci is a famous, TV featured chef, and one of his main beliefs for making his pizza is that you should always stick to just 3 ingredients on top. However, think more outside of the box than what Americans typically put on pizza. The ingredients varied from different types of greens to macaroni and cheese. And they all were so good. Each person in the tour picked a type of pizza available at the time, and then we all got to try each other’s. There were some that sounded gross to me that ended up being amazing. William and I returned to Bonci’s because we were so impressed. We wish we had one here! A good tip for ordering pizza from these places too, is when you ask for your piece, you need to tell them an approximate weight (or at least show how big of a piece you want with your hands). It’s basically just a giant rectangular pizza and they cut off however much you want, and weigh it to price it. Continuing on, we went into a little shop to try different jams, spreads, truffles, and cheeses. I learned about the importance and deliciousness of Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese. The cheese was so fresh (for cheese anyway), and I didn’t think I would like combining the truffles and jams with the cheeses but our guide knew how to make the perfect tastes blend together. We visited a butcher and cheese shop, and then continued onward to try different meats like prosciutto. I’ve never had meat literally just melt in my mouth the way these slices did. We continued onward again to a place where we tried various pastas. I wasn’t as impressed with the pastas (I’m a red sauce kind of girl and none of these were). However, William ended up discovering Carbonara pasta. He loved it so much, he ordered it for every meal on the rest of the trip. Finally, at the end we stopped by a legitimate gelato place that makes it fresh and had a wide variety of unique flavors. I tried a blueberry with some type of Southern American chocolate. This tour was amazing, and really filled you up. Our guide was kind too, as well as the Welsh couple that joined us. We even all hugged and kissed goodbye at the end. I also loved this tour because our guide was so knowledgeable about food, the Italian laws behind food, where food came from, what different regions of Italy were known for, etc. It was so much to take in, but so absolutely interesting!

4th Memorable Meal – Grilled Cheese; Copenhagen

I visited Denmark in January, and on this particular day I had spent a lot of time outside. In the morning, I caught a bus to visit the Little Mermaid statue just off the river. Then I wandered along the coast through a park, back into the city, visited a castle, and then had been walking on wards for about 15 minutes to reach the SMK Art Museum. I was hungry, I was cold, and I was praying that the museum had food inside because I didn’t see any restaurants near me. They luckily had a café next to these giant glass windows overlooking some beautiful scenery. I ordered a grilled cheese and hot chocolate. It was such a relaxing meal. I was at peace, I was warm, and the grilled cheese is the best I’ve ever had. I think they used several different types of cheeses. The hot chocolate was on par as well.

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5th Memorable Meal – Kawaii Monster Cafe; Tokyo

The Kawaii Monster Café is really touristy, I’ll admit. It is located in Harajuku in Tokyo. The food was not that great and it was expensive. However, the theming and experience were awesome! We were fortunate enough to go during a time that was not too crowded at all. The concept is that you are entering through the monster’s mouth. Then once inside, there are 4 different themed rooms you could be sitting in: Mushroom Disco, Milk Stand, Bar Experiment, or the Mel-Tea Room. We sat in the Mushroom Disco area because it looked the coolest in the pictures. They do allow people to wander the restaurant to take pictures though, so you can definitely see all the spots. There is also a giant carousel in the middle, and the various workers there are “Monster Girls” who are dressed in crazy costumes. They put on a dance like show on the carousel every so often. It wasn’t super impressive, but still fun to watch. The food and drinks are also very colorful and neat looking. William ordered a green monster burger, and I got pasta that was rainbow colored! William also ordered an alcoholic beverage that came with blue and red phials, and he had to pour them in to mix his drink while looking like a mad scientist. The Kawaii Monster Café is definitely cool to check out at least once.

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I’m hoping to have several more amazing food experiences in the future. Specifically, I’ll be in Thailand next summer. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know!

Pre-Mission Trip Worries of Death

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Our home for a week

As I realized near the end of the college that I was becoming increasingly obsessed with traveling, I had a thought. As a Christian, I believe we all have a purpose here….and maybe God created me with a passion and curiosity for traveling and learning about different cultures for a reason. Maybe I was meant to do more than sight-see. I decided I wanted to pursue going on a mission trip!

My church, Bear Valley, had been going to India every single year in January since I was in the youth. I always wanted to go, but had never seriously considered until now. I emailed my pastor to get information, and the problem was the dates. I was starting to teach for my first year, and every year my church goes to India as soon as students are returning to school from the holiday break. Not only would it take me a couple of years if I never used a personal day to build up the time off, but it would still be highly frowned upon if I took off then (or if they even let me).

Well then, why would I feel so called to go somewhere when I couldn’t go with my church? I decided to start looking online for anything! I searched site after site. Some I didn’t trust. Some were insanely expensive. Some went to places that didn’t interest me. But I had found the Lifetree Adventures organization through a simple google search after a couple of hours. I found their website to be professional, they offered a ton of resources and sample itineraries, and they offered a variety of places, projects and dates.

The one that interested me the most was Peru. I hadn’t seen Peru as an option anywhere else. I had debated for a month, and in December 2013, I decided to sign up! I was officially in.

Then it sunk in…..what have I done? I just decided I was flying to a foreign country in South America for the first time by myself to meet a bunch of strangers? A bunch of strangers that would be taking me on a boat to the remote Amazon for days? Is it safe? Will I get a disease? Will an anaconda eat me?

I started googling to learn about all of the different threats and safety information available, which I’m not sure was a good idea. I learned about essentially a Peruvian mafia called Shining Path. I learned river pirates were a thing on certain tributaries of the Amazon. I learned about all of the crazy thefts that happened in Lima, even WHILE YOU WERE DRIVING IN TRAFFIC.

I also looked up vaccine recommendations and found it confusing, so I scheduled an appointment somewhere called the Passport Health Clinic in Grapevine. I basically was so scared, that I was convinced I should get everything even slightly recommended by the doctor except for the pre-rabies vaccination that was $900 for all 3 shots. So I got 2 shots in each arm (Hepatitis A/B combo, Polio booster, Tetanus booster, Yellow Fever), as well as took the pills to get the vaccination for Typhoid fever (looking back, I’m still kind of grateful I decided to get everything because I haven’t had to worry about getting vaccinated for any of my other trips, and I feel invincible). She gave me an informative book specifically printed with information about Peru that I actually read. I learned about approximately 4389743765938745 diseases and sicknesses I could develop that terrified me even more. I also bought some of the spray on DEET bug stuff that you put on your clothes and let air dry.

The book my doctor gave me also told me I should wear long sleeves and pants, even though Lifetree said I should bring shorts and short sleeve t-shirts. I decided to pack a mix of both: I understood it was hot but my thinking was “I just can’t let these bugs bite me and kill me in jungle.”

It also probably didn’t help that the people closest to me were even more worried than I was. Which made me feel like I had to act strong and brave in front of them, even though I wasn’t.

About a week before I left, I was scared out of my mind. I can’t tell you how many times I just thought about canceling. I have never been so fearful, but I knew deep down I had to go through with it. Once I boarded the first plane, I think I calmed down. It was too late now after all! When I landed in Lima, it was a bit of a relief to be in what felt like a normal airport. Everything was translated in English, and I clearly found my way to the exit. The last worry I had at that exact moment was finding my group. There were SO MANY PEOPLE and SO MANY SIGNS. What if it took me hours? What if I never found them and they left without me? Luckily, they had a sign that stood out, along with matching shirts. It only took about a minute.

And that was the last time I felt scared on my entire trip.

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All the people at the airport at 1:30am

I write this because I imagine, from the glamorous facebook view of just my amazing trip photos, that people thought I was comfortable with everything happening. And I KNOW many people are slightly scared to go to countries that probably really interest them. I just want to encourage you to take that first big leap. It wasn’t easy for me, but it ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. It not only showed me what a wonderful country Peru was, but what a wonderful big world we live in. There’s so much out there for me to see. It helped build my confidence for traveling anywhere. The next year, I signed up to go to Haiti through Lifetree again and I didn’t worry at all. Even though Haiti is probably a bit more dangerous on the whole, I knew it would be ok and that I would be in good hands. I also am thankful for this specific experience, because it was the first time I had internationally traveled and really interacted with locals. The people there were so great, so kind, so helpful. And when I went to Haiti, the people there were too! And when I went to India, the people there were too! Even in countries with bad things happening, or bad reputations – do your research with a grain a salt. Typically, the majority of humans are good. Something bad happening in a country is not happening literally in every single part of it (usually). And many of the crimes that occur are just as bad, or less, than what happens in America.

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I’m just as likely to get robbed here at home as I am in Lima. Why was I so worried when I personally know people robbed at gunpoint in a neighborhood I lived in, and at the mall I grew up going to?

The Shining Path mafia was mainly concentrated in Northern Peru, and most of their activities were not focused on tourists.

The river pirates also were a few hundred miles north of us. And even then, Lifetree assured me in one of the many scared emails I sent that they had armed guards on the boat. However, nothing has ever happened on any of the trips.

I can get bitten by a brown recluse or copperhead snake. I can get West Nile from a mosquito. Why was I so worried about the Peruvian insects and animals when I don’t even bat an eye here at home? By the way, I realized long sleeves and pants were a NO GO after one day on the boat. Not happening. Bite me (literally)!

My trip to Peru was insightful, eye-opening, powerful, and so important for me. It was truly a turning point in my life.

And dealing with the parasite afterwards wasn’t THAT bad. 🙂 (To be continued……)

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