A Beautiful Reality: My Peace Corps Site

I’ve been taking mental portraits and landscape panoramas of my host town for over a year now, but only a few of the shots have made it into digital format, and even fewer have landed in a public forum.

There are at least two reasons for this:

First, I’m not keen on toting my big DSLR or my smartphone around town; it’s not great for my safety OR my reputation. Part of my integration strategy has always been to minimize the “OMGlookatthegringa” effect as much as possible.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, I want to protect the dignity and privacy of my town’s beautiful people. That’s always been on my mind, but the more I get to know them, the more it matters–I care about them, they’ve shown me respect and love, and I want to do the same for them. So I’m trying to be careful to use my photography to support and promote my town, not to degrade or expose it and its inhabitants.

That said, I have spent the past 15 months living a distinctive day-to-day reality in a setting that just taunts this photographer’s eye! Every morning on my ride to school, there’s a view over the aqueduct that the morning sun just glorifies; the afternoon ocean is the bluest of the whole day. The popcorn man has the brightest smile and my students–my students are each and every one of them a portrait just begging to be captured! And at the same time, there are some less-photogenic aspects of our life here: pollution, poverty, underachieving infrastructure and neglected streets, buildings and dreams.

A few weeks ago, three of the new Peace Corps trainees came to visit my site and shadow me in my home and school routines, and I had the opportunity to catch some of the shots at last.

The new visitors gave me an excuse to carry a DLSR camera like a tourist, and their presence gave me bonus protection to lug the expensive thing around. Best of all, their enthusiasm and interest in my Peace Corps life helped me to see what had become my ordinary environment through their fresh perspective.

This is the result of that excursion, a glimpse of my daily life–the backdrop, setting and a few characters to my reality. This is my Puerto Colombia.

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