Sunday, October 21, 2007

More photos than you’ve had hot dinners

Where do people get this idea that their photos are in any way interesting or important? Who decided that blurry pictures of drunken bridesmaids, dripping babies in long white frocks, fat cousins on beaches or off-kilter European churches should be shown to all and sundry? It’s a conspiracy, and it’s time it was stopped.

Your life is worthy of photographic documentation. Don’t be bullied by your vacationing, event-loving acquaintances: Just because you’re stuck at home with no plans to get married or born again, doesn’t mean you’re not special. You’re life is, in fact, endlessly fascinating. All you need are the photos to prove it.

What’s your favourite thing? Shoes? Dinner? Reading? Watching DVDs and TV? Your dog? Every day, for one month, photograph it. Photograph the shoes you wear each day. Photograph, every day, your dinner, or the last page you read before bed, or the screen of whatever you’re watching or your dog when he gets up in the morning. At the end of the month you’ll have 30 pictures of shoes (or dinner, or books, or…) that your workmates will be just dying to see. (If you’re really the vindictive type, host an old-fashioned slide show.)

And don’t forget: commentary is the most important part of any viewing. ‘Oh yes, I remember this dinner! Oh, it was fabulous! See that cheese sauce? Well, there was a part over near the left-hand corner of the dish that got quite coagulated during cooking, and I was worried for a while it wouldn’t come off in the dishwasher. So I said to Derek, ‘perhaps you should put your plate in the sink to soak for a while’ and he said…’

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Speak to me

There are any number of frivolous ways to dabble in different cultures (see anything in this blog for example), but just for a minute, be serious. Please.

So much of traveling is about finding out how other people live: visiting tribes in the hills of Thailand, dancing with the locals in a bar in Nicaragua, renting an apartment for a couple of weeks in NYC. Knowing that things can be done differently gives us a fresh look at the way we do things. And sure, if you’re staying home you can have dinner in a Vietnamese restaurant or see a French film and get a little bit of that insight. Or you could become a volunteer English tutor for a recent migrant.

Do what now? Don’t you have to go to university for that?

You don’t. All over the country, community-based organisations train people to be volunteer English tutors: all it requires is a commitment of your time (try calling your local university, technical college, migrant centre or local government for more information). Even if there’s no such organization in your area or you don’t feel comfortable formally tutoring someone to speak English, lots of migrants really just want someone they can practise English with. All you have to do is have a little chat with them once a week or so. You can discuss football, cooking, weddings, what’s on TV or the country they’re from: whatever the two of you feel like talking about. Put up some notices around your local schools, shopping centres or cultural centres and see if anyone’s interested. Helping someone out with their English, seeing the way this improves their life, and at the same time finding out about a completely different way of living is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.