Find your Passion, and then Live it

Medellín, Colombia

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Help Portrait Medellín

This weekend I was apart of a special charity photography project here in the city, called Help Portrait Medellín.

Here's a description of what it's about:
"The concept is simple: it's comprised of photographers and volunteers who want to come together and give free professional photographs back to the wonderful Paisa people of Medellín. We hit the streets armed with our camera gear to the barrios around Medellin. We photograph individuals willing to pose, then print them a copy of the photo that day. We return to the same location to handed them their very own portrait! A lot of people here have never had a professional photograph taken of themselves and this is a way for photographers, travelers and locals to give back to the community and share the love. The smiles given back in return will be your reward... that is PRICELESS!"

The project was spearheaded by an American, Troy, who I met in the city. He asked me to be a part of the project, as well to film our day as Im going to make a video of our experience. So myself, Troy, 2 other professional photographers, and about 20 other volunteers/amateur photographers, met up in Santo Domingo, one of the many poor barrios in Medellín to do Help Portrait.

We found this old porch that was apparently once a restaurant, to set up our gear. It was perfect as it had a roof to cover our space incase it rained (which like in true Medellín fashion it did, but later in the day). Basically we had 3 professional photographers, and therefore 3 different "photography stations" - Carlos with the brown background and would do head shots, Troy with the white screen and would do waist up, and Luis who would do full body in the street.

Once we had our stations set up, and the gear set in place, we had a team chat to make sure everyone knew what was going to happen, and how people could help. Then the day began, and it was a lot of fun! We started to ask people in the streets if they wanted their photograph taken (everyone from little kids, to teens, adults and seniors), obviously the people were a little apprehensive about it at first, and thinking what we were doing was some kind of scam, but after explaining the project, and assuring them we'd give them the picture for FREE, people starting to agree. Once we had a bunch of people getting their photograph taken, we started to attract a lot of attention, and more and more people wanted their photograph.

The day flew by, I was busy helping people out, translating for the volunteers that didnt speak Spanish (so giving directions to the people getting photographed, telling them how they can receive the photographs, and just interacting with the people of the barrio), and taking video of the day.

I met some really great people who were taking a part of the project. Everyone was really nice, and super enthusiastic about the project, and course everyone had a passion for photography. Now im not a professional photographer, though I love to take photos! I do however want to get into photography when Im back in Canada, buy a DSLR and take some lessons. Especially after seeing the kinds of photographs that were taken during the day, definitely motivated me more to get into photography. Here are some of the photographs that were taken:

Once we had a decent amount of photos, Carlos and a couple volunteers headed back down the mountain to get the pics developed. While waiting, everyone headed to a restaurant near by to grab some lunches, drink beer, and just chat. I ended up meeting another Canadian who was from Toronto, his name was Joel.

So we had originally told all the photography subjects to come back at 5pm to reclaim their photos. Unfortunately the pictures took longer to develop so they werent going to be ready until at least 6pm. The most hilarious part of the day is that the majority of the Colombians were there EXACTLY at 5pm to get their pics. I have NEVER seen Colombians be SO ON TIME! I was shocked, as normally Colombians, or Latinos in general, are ALWAYS late. But tell them they'll get their photo taken for free, they'll be there on time to pick it up! Hilarious.

While we were waiting for the pics to be developed, myself, and 2 american guys were interacting a lot with a few kids that were hanging around with us, curious as to what we were doing. They were asking us a ton of questions as to what we were doing, where we were from, why we were here, etc. Interacting with them was a lot of fun, and they loved our sunglasses, so myself and Michael (one of the Americans) gave 2 of the boys our sunglasses to try on, and the result was amazing. They put on the sunglasses and instantly starting to pose, with gangster finger signs, arms crossed, the whole 9 yards. It was hilarious. So obviously I had to join them and get a pic.

Once the photos were ready, giving them back to the people of the barrio was probably the best part of the day. To see their reaction was priceless. Santo Domingo is known for being a poor district, like so many communities located on the mountain sides of Medellín. These people don't have much, but they are so kind, happy and thankful for what they do have. It makes you definitely appreciate all the things you have in life so much more. So to be apart of this project was something so special, because I felt like I was doing something I am so passionate about, but at the same time able to help a community and give back in a positive way. Many people in this barrio have never had their portrait taken professionally, let alone have money to do that, so to give them one for free, and see their reaction when looking at the photos was awesome. It's definitely something I want to do and be apart of again!

Here are some photos of the people with their photos! A great end, to a fantastic day:

Then at the end of the day, Carlos, one of the professional photographers, offered to take a professional headshot of all of the volunteers. So here are mine!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Lauren Comes to Colombia!

This month marked a special visit made by Lauren Civello (my best friend) who came to visit me in Medellín for a week. We had been planning this visit for quite awhile, originally Lauren was thinking of coming at the end of August, then it was going to be in September, then sometime in October, but finally it would be the beginning of November! She flew from Toronto to Miami and then to Medellín, at my suggestion, as the Bogotá airport is quite confusing even for a person like me who speaks Spanish, and since Lauren does not, I advised her it would be better if she travelled through Miami straight to Medellín. My friend Alejandro and I went to pick her up from the Intl Airport which is actually located in Rio Negro (about an hour outside of Medellín). When we got there, Lauren was sitting, waiting at a table, and as soon as we saw each other she jumped up and I ran towards her. We greeted each other with a long and tight hug, as this was the first time we had seen each other in about 9 months, probably the longest we've ever gone without seeing each other!

After getting back in the car to head back to Medellín, the plan was to take Lauren to Las Palmas (a lookout spot), but there was a large race going on down the mountain, so the road was closed to get to Las Palmas. So instead we took her to Pueblito Paisa to get a view of the city at night. Even though Ive been here for over 9 months now, Medellín still has the ability to take my breath away, especially at night, since the entire city is lit up, all throughout the valley and up the mountains. It's simply stunning.

After heading back to my apartment, Lauren unpacked a few of her things, which included a care package for me which included mostly food I dearly missed from Canada as well as a few other miscellaneous things. See pic below:

We called it an early night since Lauren was pretty tired after travelling all day. On Saturday we got up at a decent time, had some breakfast, and then walked to one of the shopping centers close to my apartment so Lauren could exchange some $ for Colombian pesos. Afterwards we went grocery shopping to get enough food for us for the week, and then came back and made some lunch. After lunch we headed to the center, so I could show Lauren the downtown core of Medellín, as well as a famous market that only happens on the 1st Saturday of every month, called El Mercado de San Alejo. Lauren had her first ride of the Medellín metro system, which is not surprisingly MUCH nicer than the Toronto Subway system (it honestly puts it to shame). Once in the center ee met up with my friend Leo in the center and walked around, showing Lauren a famous plaza of Botero statues, the market, and other stores located in the area. Another first for Lauren in the center was that she had her first cup of Colombian coffee! I also got her to try oblejas with arequipe and my favourite drink on this planet: guarapo (a drink made from sugarcane).

Afterwards we headed back to my apartment and Sara came over after she finished work to my place to meet Lauren. So there I was in my living room, with my 2 best friends in Colombia, and my best friend from Canada - i felt complete. :) After chatting for a bit, we headed to Parque Lleras for dinner at the Turkish restaurant where Sara works, and then afterwards headed to Taico for their 3x1 drink special.

In the morning Sara, Lauren and I made a Canadian breakfast which consisted of eggs, bacon, toast, peanut butter, homefries, and a Colombian addition of fresh pineapple. Note: Lauren was obsessed with the pineapple, but as was I when I arrived in Colombia, it is the best thing you've ever tasted. After breakfast we all got dressed and headed back on the metro to take Lauren on the Metrocable. The metrocable is a gondola system that connects the city to the poorer neighbourhoods (called: Comunas) up the mountain. It also offers stellar views of the city, and we picked a great day to go, because it was clear and sunny.

After the metrocable we went back to Pueblito Paisa to check out the city views in the day time, and also give Lauren an idea of what a traditional Antioquian village looks like (as there is one on the top of the hill). Sara and I bought these amazing Mango slushie drinks, which were so fresh, a little salty (but everything is Colombia), and with fresh lime juice.

Monday was yet another festivo day in Colombia, now Lauren got to experience what Ive experienced at least one or twice a month! Festivo days are normally quite lazy or a day spent travelling, ours was more lazy. Sara invited us over for a traditional Colombian lunch. She made a great meal called "Pollo Sudado" which consisted of chicken, potatoes, salad, rice, plantain, and fresh pineapple juice.

It was the first time Sara has ever cooked for me as well, since she's always at my apartment, and the last time I was at her apartment cooking was when we made Thanksgiving dinner. After dinner, we all just hung out for a while, digesting our large lunch, as well as made a cake for dessert. After our food had settled, Sara, Leo, Lauren and I headed up the mountain to check out Las Palmas at night. Lauren was able to see the entire city lit up from up the mountain top, which is a stellar view. I also somehow talked her into trying the Colombian version of hot chocolate, which is hot chocolate with melted cheese in it. Yes, it sounds disgusting, which is what I thought too before I tried it. It's actually really good. Hey, dont knock it until you've tried it! ;)

The week was flying by, and it was already Tuesday! I had gotten the day off work, so Lauren and I headed 2 hours outside of Medellín to Guatapé and El Peñol, which is a little town which is next to this MASSIVE rock that you can climb and see some amazing views - views that are surprisingly very similar to how Canada looks like, specifically in the 1000 islands and Muskoka areas.

After getting Lauren to climb over 600 stairs (twice! up and down), we took small jeep to the small town, which is very cute because all the houses and buildings are painted and carved with different decorations and patterns, so it makes for a very colourful town. After walking around the town for a while, we took a bus back to Medellín and just hungout for the rest of the day by my pool. I also got Lauren to try a bizarre fruit they have here called Granadilla, which is this orange fruit on the outside, but is gooey and filled of seeds on the inside. It actually looks like youre eating snot when you crack the fruit open, but it's very tastey!

Wednesday soon came, which was Lauren's last full day in Colombia, and we decided to stay in the city. I took her to the university campus (where I work) to show her around. EAFIT University is very beautiful in the sense you feel like youre in a park, which was the objective of one of the past presidents who wanted to make the campus more green, so it is filled with all kinds of plants, trees and flowers. It also has some live chickens and roosters which walk around campus - totally random. I showed her the gym where I work out, the AIESEC office, my former office (before I changed locations), and my new office where she was able to meet some of my coworkers. She also met the director of my company, I had to translate during that meeting, since the director doesnt speak English and Lauren doesnt speak Spanish.

Thursday morning arrived and I saw Lauren off to the airport at around 5am. The week flew by, we got to do a lot of things, and Im so glad she was able to come and see what my life is like down here, as well as show her around the beautiful city of Medellín and introduce her to the Colombian culture. I asked her at the end of her trip what she thought about Colombia and if her perceptions had been changed, she said definitely yes, she also thought the people were incredibly kind, and the city was beautiful. Hopefully now she's seen where I live and work, she can worry about me a little bit less now ;)