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4 continents in 3 weeks. Finally, I’m living up to the title of this blog. Even as I write this I am on an Amtrak bus to Sacramento.

After bidding farewell to Australia I prepared for my next project and adventure in rural Kenya.

SONY DSCI had been asked in Christmas of last year to accompany my grandmother, mom and dad on a trip to meet a pastor (Paul), his family (wife Mary and their three kids plus adopted children) and his ministry in a place called Kitale (a bumpy 9 hour drive northwest of Nairobi). My grandmother’s grassroots ministry, Tamar’s Voice, which reaches out to heal the wounds of sexual abuse, had been contacted by the Kenyan pastor with a similar vision for healing in rural East Africa.

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Left to right: Jan Tuin, Mary Odari, Paul Odari

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“Mama Jan” speaking to women at Divine Love, Paul translates.

IMG_1687 My only other experience in Africa had been a trip to South Africa in 2004. I didn’t really know what to expect. Even more so considering the trip was happening with 3 generations of my family and with no structural support of a big organization or church.

In essence a family from the US was meeting a family from rural Kenya.

I had the intent of visually telling the story of this unique connection for other’s to learn as we did, but I didn’t realize how much I would become involved in it. The video will be used to raise money for the women’s rescue home the two ministries will build together in western Kenya.

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Children at the Amazing Love school, part of the Divine Love ministry in Sikhendu.

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Strapping on speakers and heading to church.

Poverty is something that has always been on my mind. And, like most upper-middle-class-Christian-white-folk, I considered myself an expert on it. Rockin’ my TOMS shoes and going on short term missions trips, I was actively engaging with what I saw as a major issue in the world.

SONY DSC SONY DSC R1-05328-0007If nothing else, taking a trip to Kenya expanded my view of poverty.

Feedback on this thought would be much appreciated; I want to know what you think. It is beginning to grow on me that to view poverty as merely a lack of resources is to severely misunderstand it.* What if poverty is ANY situation where human flourishing is compromised? So perhaps Australia, The United States of America, other industrialized counties are living in extreme poverty of a certain kind? Let me explain.

Imagine a dusty, rough landscape. Rich, red soil and deep green vegetation hung beneath a vast blue sky. A rutted red road cuts through the green and disappears into the horizon. Covering nearly every square meter of this place is the buzzing of activity: women carrying children in back slings sell roasted maize and potatoes along the road. Children haul bundles of sticks. Cows graze by the roadside (on grass!). Rows of tin shacks open up to reveal electronic appliance stores, cell phone top-up shops, car repair centers, agricultural veterinarians, even hair salons. Motorbikes zoom in and out of goats and sheep (that eat grass!) herded by young entrepreneurs. Chickens (that ate bugs and grubs and seeds) hang in butcher’s windows. Old men sip tea and watch the activity. Old women roll chappati and stir ugali (made from the corn that grew just meters away). Everywhere, everyone is doing something, and all the while interacting face-to-face with each other. Smiling faces, straight teeth, hardly a set of eyeglasses to be found.

SONY DSC R1-05328-0010 SONY DSCNow imagine a wide open road. Smooth concrete, big parking lots, rows of lit storefronts pass by. A pattern in the businesses emerge (mostly owned by a few people far away). Hardly a person to be found except within their glass and steel (or plastic) escape pods. Shelves stockpiled with products made from a few ingredients. Plastic and chemicals sterilize every surface. Everywhere there is space, air conditioning, and silence.

Poverty?

Of course financial poverty is very real, with some living not far from starvation, with little disposable income for malaria drugs. And corruption in Kenya can’t be ignored, it is a cause of suffering to its people. Of course the majority of Kenya lives on less than $1 per day. But maybe we miss the power of that statement. They LIVE on less than $1 per day. These are people of extreme resourcefulness and hard work.

So with this in mind, financial poverty isn’t the problem. It is a symptom. The highly toxic nature of our food and personal care products in the US isn’t the problem. It is a symptom. To treat a symptom is to miss the bigger picture of human flourishing. The good life. The Kingdom of Heaven.

The book When Helping Hurts (by Steve Corbett, Brian Fikkert) talks about aid in three different ways: relief, rehabilitation, and development. It suggests that to provide one where another is needed is to stunt the growth process.

In our experience with the pastor of the church, we were surprised and impressed by the leadership structures put in place, the room for growth in the visions he and his team had for a women’s shelter, an already existing primary school and youth ministry. It became clear very soon that this community was above needing relief. There was potential, is potential, for development. And the possibilities are nearly limitless when local people, who have an acute awareness of local needs, take initiative. Our time in Kenya began to take on the look of a partnership, not a mission’s trip. We were siblings in the family. The agenda wasn’t ours, as the outsiders. We allowed ourselves to experience Kenya (as much as possible in 11 days) along with our Kenyan brothers and sisters.

And it was sometimes awkward, sometimes without sure footing and sometimes we got it wrong. It was clear we hadn’t practiced partnership in cross-cultural interactions. It seems that no matter how well our meaning, we have another, more sinister default setting.

Now I don’t want to make the mistake of leveling all of poverty in every part of the world as equal. There is a major difference between the poverty of finance and the poverty of social capital and relationships: we, in the US, can go about our daily lives largely unaware of our lack. In the developing world, there is no choice. Waking up to need every day is the only way to wake up. I’m not proposing negligence as an alternative to colonialism. So maybe partnership is needed, but it has to be partnership. The dignity and empowerment of everyone involved must be a priority. As wealthy Americans, we are more than our dollars (do we really believe that?). And rural Kenyans are more than their lack of resources. There is a larger goal we can work towards than simply having more disposable income. Do we think that to make East Africa like the US will somehow allow them to experience more of the richness of being human? Will it allow them to experience relationship with God more clearly?

Perhaps in more ways than one we have much to learn.

Are you preparing for, leading up to, a missions trip or “serving trip”? What goal is implicit in the actions and schedule of your team? Are you narrowing the definition of the good life to financial resources? There is no shame in getting it wrong.

So why is this post appearing in a blog about a filmmaker? Now imagine a production company in the developing world that trains children from the slums in photo and video skills and then employs them, giving them vital skills for a creative and constructive future. Imagine this production company sustaining themselves financially on commercials and corporate productions while consistently emphasizing the creation and distribution of their OWN content. Stories about their world, told by them.

I would love to start such a production company.

But what if it already existed? Film production in East Africa? We’ll see. More to come on that.

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*Our team of 4 read excerpts from a book called When Helping Hurts, which helped prepare us for what we would soon experience.

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34550025I am learning to enjoy the process of this documentary as the time continues. Part of the joy comes from the hope that all this struggle will amount to razor-sharp discipline and the ability to stay in high-spirits for the duration of any project.

34550023I suppose that discipline in one area means discipline in another. As I prepare for Tough Mudder in April I’ve been altering my workouts (based on the advice of my fellow team mate Dave) to short, quick bursts.

I live at the top of a massive hill. It’s been great. It’s also been a rude awakening to how out of shape I am. But at least there’s only up to go form here.

34550004The documentary remains untitled. Though it will most likely revolve around the concept of “wandering” (or maybe that’ll be the title of the BTS footage).

As the documentary follows two students in their experiences through Australia for the semester, the shear amount of time I’ve spent here is beginning to pay off. I am able to curate the experience that will both challenge the subjects and make for a good film because this turf has become so familiar. Nearly everywhere these students go, I will have been before.

The constant struggle, of course, is to continue to tell a story that an audience will connect with. I have to constantly remind myself, “this story isn’t about study abroad.” That’s just the setting.

Just like Children of Men (2006). It’s not really a film about the end of the world. It’s the Christmas Story.

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On Saturday I was just in the Blue Mountains (near where this April’s Tough Mudder event will take place). It was cold and rainy and Dave and I sloshed through ankle-deep mud as we walked through a make-shift parking lot. Another awakening. It will most likely be cold in April, since it would be almost winter here in the southern half of the globe.

 

 

 

 

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And while the world’s largest small town continues on, I’m building the future that I can’t see yet.

 

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Outside my window there lives a massive tree. It’s always just been “that tree outside my window that blocks my view of the city.” I hadn’t been in Australia in Spring yet. The tree outside my window is a Jacaranda.

I suppose there are worse jobs to have in the world than to be the ASC intern. Yesterday my mission was to find the absolute best spot to get a sunset timelapse of the Sydney skyline. I ended up shooting gigabytes of fantastic footage all day (but still failed to get that “money shot”).

As I hopped on the 505 bus heading to a place called Woolwich, I noticed that the bus driver smiled wider and more sheepishly than usual.

Maybe it was just another good day here in paradise?

As the bus curved down the Gladesville Bridge I heard an older woman in the front seat beginning to jabber on, almost yelling. Not uncommon on public transit.

Then I realized she was yelling at the bus driver. After a few more seconds it became clear that she was telling the bus driver where to go.

What?! How do you tell a Sydney bus driver how to get around in Sydney? Then, I realized she and the bus driver were in conversation.

He was taking direction from her.

He was new.

It was his first time driving a Sydney Bus on his own.

Perception is a funny thing. The woman at the front of the bus went from a possible crazy to a helpful citizen going above and beyond to help someone (and the other someone’s depending on him for a ride home). She politely and patiently navigated the bus through the twisted streets of Sydney’s Inner West.

When the woman got off at her stop an elderly man from the seat in front of me got up, assumed the woman’s post in the front seat next to the driver, and without flinching proceeded to direct the bus on to its final destination.

It was a small moment, yet worth noting. Not once did either of these people complain about their bad luck of having picked the directionally challenged driver. They just jumped right in and steered the bus home. Like Speed (1994) without the suspense.

So I guess it really was another good day in paradise.

This has been my last few weeks:

The carbolic acid showers of the old Quarantine station (no longer in use)

Sydney Swans AFL game (lost to Hawthorne, Tasmania…close game)

Every once in a while, the city is too much. The Blue Mountains make a great weekend away.

Punishment for misbehaving ASC students.

Didgeridoo lessons from Ross Smith

Finding cheap film in Australia is like mining for gold. Each time I see a small photo shop or pharmacy, its an opportunity to go digging. Most of the time I find that film here is about three times the price that it would be in the US.

I’m down to my last roll from back in the States. Its an ancient roll that I got for free as a leftover from a film class in college. I’ve had it for years. It has traveled with me in the bottom of a suitcase or in my camera bag literally across the world and back. Its been everywhere, waiting to be shot, dealing with such abuse as heat and x rays all for the hope of that one glorious moment. It longed for the day it would live up to its potential; to explode upon contact with rays of light hurtling toward Earth, bouncing around inside a metal tube, through several pieces of glass and finally landing deep in its emulsion.

So what does film look like after its suffered for years under debilitating conditions?