Monday, June 16, 2008

Breaking Bread

What an incredible weekend! I cannot express what a milestone this weekend has been for this project. Absolutely incredible.

Saturday was an unforgettable day. I woke up at 7:30 a.m., and if you know me, this is no small feat. I immediately packed the car with equipment waiting by the door. Around 8 a.m., I headed to a local store to pick up Mini-DV tapes. I left with 12 Sony Mini-DV tapes (each 60 minutes in length), and also picked up another tripod for the second camera. I grabbed some breakfast and immediately headed over to Surry’s for the interviews.

After what seemed like an eternity spent unloading the car / setting up equipment, we were on our way to the first interview of the day. Mike and I spent a little over two hours talking about his time in Vietnam, and his relationship with the Montagnard people. We broke for lunch at the fantastic farmer's market restaurant and I interviewed Greg upon our return. Just under two hours later, we concluded our interviews. It was just before 5 p.m. when we wrapped.

The interviews were quite enlightening. I feel that Surry's guidance in this entire process has been priceless. He has suggested where to start and how to stay focused, and has certainly kept me charged up about the project as a whole. It is wonderful to be a part of a team like that again--where one recognizes the other's strengths and weaknesses and does what he can to make his teammates stronger. Without Surry, none of this would be happening.

After the interviews concluded around 5 p.m., Surry, Mike and Greg gathered by the door to go meet some friends as I began breaking down the ‘set’ in Surry’s living room. Over the course of the day, I had grown anxious to meet some of the Montagnards I was learning about. After asking when I could start interviewing them, Surry invited me to join them for a quick visit with a man they knew well.

This was it! A chance to meet their Montagnard friends without the cameras interfering. A chance to bond with them and learn from them. And as much as I had already learned about the culture, traditions and reported kindness--nothing had really prepared me for the hours that lay ahead.

My First Visit with the Montagnards
We drove just a few minutes from Surry's and quickly arrived at a bend in the five-lane road where a new black mail box marked the driveway to his house. Down the drive way and through the lush greenery, a little white house sat in the midst of what seemed like another world. Perhaps I am romanticizing a bit, but turning off of a five-lane road and through such lush greenery made it feel like an entrance to another world.

We parked among several cars as the gentlemen remarked that there were quite a few people there, something I had not noticed as a first time visitor. We piled out of the car and walked up to the front door.

A knock on the door received no answer. Mike and Greg walked around the side of the house, one to the left side and the other to the right side. A moment after they disappeared, the front door opened and the happiest gentleman sprung from the little white house! With a grand smile, he took notice of his surroundings and without hesitation welcomed Surry warmly as “Doctor!”

We walked around the back of the house to retrieve Mike and Greg, and fairly quickly I noticed activity that seemed like people crouched in the woods. Later, I would learn they were cutting down bamboo that naturally grows on his property—bamboo that they would use to cook sticky rice and give to us as parting gifts. It is a way to cook in the jungle without a pot, I am told, and will usually keep for about a week if cared for properly. (Mine only lasted about a day when I shared it with a friend who wasn't quite sure what I had in my purse.)

We were invited in his house, and were introduced to everyone in the kitchen. I met our host’s wife and two other women (one of which I learned was a huge honor to meet, as she is rarely introduced to Americans). Over the course of the next hours, a continuous stream of people wondered through the front door. What started as a quiet visit quickly grew into a feast and a party! It was an unforgettable evening, so humbling and simultaneously encouraging.

Our host, I learned, speaks French. Oh, to finally have someone to speak with in French! One can never perfect something that is not used regularly, and dusting off my French on a Saturday evening while drinking rice wine with people who hold one another in such high regard was truly…there are no words. It was divine, I suppose. Yes, that’s the only word I can use to summarize it.

This morning, Surry shared an email that will help me explain why this weekend was so critical. I have listened and read and researched, but there is nothing quite like walking in this house with these gentlemen and sharing the experiences as Saturday night. About me, he wrote:

I think at first she was interested in the technical aspects of make the documentary but after meeting and ‘breaking bread’ with [the] crew she's now really interested in the subject matter even more than she was before. This is a good combination and will make the break through to move to the next level from a job to a calling.

His words are true. This weekend held such significant milestones and I feel everything is starting to sink in and connect. Not to mention meeting the Montagnards. OK, less like meeting them than being welcomed into their world. I am certain I was only welcomed in such fashion because of the kind gentlemen that brought me there. The love, respect and honor they all feel for one another is tangible. It is unlike anything I have witnessed.

It is one thing to take a picture of something. Truly another to be a part of it.

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