Today Sawyer and I met up with Steve for lunch at one of our favorite Mexican places. After we ate all that we wanted, I asked for a couple of boxes to take home the leftovers. Anyone who knows me, knows that I don't throw food out- I always take home what I didn't finish. My parents have instilled this quality in me from a young age; Waste not, Want not. That statement never rang more truth than in Haiti. As I'm scraping every last grain of rice into our to-go box, I was stung with a memory that I shared with Steve and I felt like it needed its own post.
Over the duration of our 10 days in Haiti, 8 or so of us at a time would bag up beans & rice into gallon ziplock bags. These bags would later be distributed throughout the week to different villages. There were always a couple different local Haitians who would be out on the deck while we bagged up rice, sometimes one of them would help us bag, sometimes they'd just be passing through, sometimes they'd just sit and watch. One of the last days that we were there, we needed to bag up some rice and beans because we were planning on making a distribution run that evening. There was a Haitian man standing there next to the rice, ready to help us bag. Me and one of the girls from our group started scooping out rice while he held the bags open for us. We had a good little rhythm going. He didn't speak any english, but I was able to get out of him that his name was Cinnie. Cinnie looked like he was in his 60's or so, he was very thin & had kind eyes. As we would break to grab more bags or rice, he still just stood there, waiting for us to return so that he could resume his position of holding the bags open for us. This specific bagging time lasted maybe 20 minutes, we were done, and Cinnie still stood there. It didn't appear to me that he was begging or expecting anything, I think maybe he just liked being part of the team. One member of our group started to clean our work area, sweeping up the grains of rice that had fallen onto the dirty floor and all over the table. He asked out loud to nobody in particular, "Do I just throw this rice out?" I quickly answered him "No, I think Cinnie might like that rice." Cinnie could only understand that I spoke his name, so he looked at me, and I was able to somewhat ask him if he wanted the rice that was being swept up. He almost looked ashamed when he barely nodded his head. The rice was now gathered in a dirt pile on the cement floor. All together, it was maybe 1/4 cup. I grabbed a little sandwich-sized ziplock baggie and helped Cinnie pick up the rice among all the dirt and trash that was swept up. First, by little handfuls, then, grain by grain. At this time, I remember wishing that I could photograph this moment. That single photograph could have defined a large portion of my trip. As we finished putting the dirty rice into his baggy, he started to walk off. I told him to stop, I wanted him to have more than a 1/4 cup of dirty rice. I went into my backpack and took out all my leftover snacks- melted trail mix, half eaten bag of beef jerky, a couple Cliff bars & some Pringles. He was certainly grateful, struggling to wrap them up in each other in order to make it easier to carry. I told him to wait once again while I went to grab him a large bag to carry everything in. When I came back with the bag, I watched him juggling the snacks, trying to slip them all safely into the bag. I watched him and felt again that this would be an amazing photo. I grabbed my camera and looked at him through the viewfinder and thats when he looked up at me. I was stopped by his self-conscious glance before I could take the photo. Looking at this scene through a lens almost cheapened it. I couldn't take the photo. I felt his immediate embarrassment and quickly put my camera down. At this point, he had finished fitting all the snacks and rice into his bag. I walked over and put my arm around him, and asked "Photo?" He smiled and nodded. He understood that I was now taking a photo of the both of us together, as friends. As equals.
There was another day that we visited The Village Across the Lake. This was maybe the most poverty-stricken village that we distributed food & clothing to. Just getting across the salty lake was a challenge in itself, with an old wooden boat and a motor that wouldn't start. We finally made our way across the lake and we each were trying to crawl safely out of the boat. Once out of the boat, I noticed there were a few adult villagers and one little boy on shore watching us. It was a scene straight out of National Geographic magazine, yet completely different, because I was in this scene. I felt their hunger, I felt their desperation. This little boy was about 3 years old, wearing only a pair of old, torn up underwear. He also wore the markings of true malnutrition, orange hair and yellow eyes. He was studying all these interesting looking white people unload bags of food. He stood still on the trash covered beach next to an old wooden row boat. I was now as still as he was, unable to look away. It was yet another moment that I wish I could have captured on camera. Although, I suppose there is no need for photos of images you'll never forget.
These experiences, among others, taught me that some things shouldn't be photographed. They're too precious. Too beautiful. Too meaningful.
After explaining to Steve about my lack of pictures, he related it to Walter Mitty. To quote the fictional character, photographer Sean O'Connell, "Beautiful things don't ask for attention. Sometimes I don't take the photo. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don't like the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it."