Saturday, June 21, 2008

"¿Saca mi foto?"

This phrase makes my skin crawl - practically every other child/teen stops me with this question. The news has finally spread: ¡Beli tiene una camera!

I had been extremely cautious with my camera. Based on my experience in the training community and advice from other Volunteers, I practically hid the device for the first 5 months of service. I even felt ambivalent when my professors visited me and carried their cameras in the open.

Why do I feel (still) self-conscious with the camera - conscious to a point of paranoia?

Isn't it cool that, perhaps for the first time in their lives, the people of my community can possess their own family portraits?

No, I don't feel cool about this. I feel a bit used, like a walking photo dispenser. I'm providing a thrill to my neighbors that won't even last. Several families already have photos of themselves due to OTHER volunteers/ extranjeros/ missionaries that have come through. It's almost like each visitor leaves a trail of photos in their wake. When the dueño of the house proudly shows me the photo from 1993, the edges appear tie-dyed. Each fingerprint and damp corner is eroding away; the humidity is destroying the photos and no efforts have been made to preserve the treasure.

The gift of a photograph is just another token that, in a couple of years will just be another piece of trash in the patio.

Families are inviting me to their houses left and right; I "saco" photos of grandfathers, babies, teens in their finest clothing, young men posing with radios, aunts twice removed, the immediate family of 8, ...

The thought that I might be providing a valuable service or a priceless experience is not a convincing argument. The good/fun that comes from this does not convince me that I'm doing the right thing:

* I'm fueling the belief that all gringos carry cameras

* I'm supporting the assumption that I can easily travel in and out of the community, to and from the city (David, in this case) anytime to satisfy the priority of developing people’s photos

* I'm fulfilling the tourist destiny of photographing spectacles
- this puts me in the position as spectator and my neighbors as the objects, whether they know it or not, I don't feel comfortable with this: Am I here visiting some kind of museum or zoo?

* I'm taking their 50¢ or their $3 - yes this is a fair price, but they can't buy enough rice to feed everyone in the family. Despite the fact that I shouldn't put myself in a position to decide how my neighbors work out their personal finances, I don't like the fact that I'm providing the frivolous temptation to them.

* Young children might have "pena" about answering: Hola, but will yell requests to me:
"¿Saca mi foto?"

* Families I've never met or visited in their homes are asking my to stop by with my camera.
"Buenos días. ¿Cómo está?"

"¿Yo? Estoy aquí gracias a Dios."

"Va pa la escuela?"

"Si. ¿Tiene una camera?"

"Aah, pues, sí. Pero estoy caminando también, la camera está allá, en mi casa."

"Aah, así es. ¿Saca mi foto?"

"No tengo la camera, estoy viajando ahorita."

Maybe the expectation isn't really to take the photo RIGHT NOW, but instead of passing a stranger on the road and exchanging greetings and learning who's neighbor of who's cousin I'm talking to, I'm being asked: "¿Saca mi foto?"

What would a good Peace Corps Volunteer do in this situation? Well, I should use these conditions to my advantage:
*This provides many opportunities to visit/pasear with new people.

But it's hard to see the bright side of this. I am the first PC Volunteer to work in my community and one of my legacies will automatically be: Ella tuvo una camera.

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