look & listen

Karla’s prezzie

Yesterday was Karla’s real birthday (the party was a day early, on Sunday). So I went to bring her my present. A little big, but very welcome, I figured. See picture…

They were in fact surprised and very happy with it. It’s both the bed (complete with pink mosquito net and all other accessories) and the fan, for it gets really hot inside that house. It was kind of IKEA style – they gave it to us in parts in order to put it together at its destination, but not all of them fit so well… Anyway, we did it and it worked and this morning I called Sujeylin to confirm that Karla slept well. And she did.

I’ll be off-line for a few days now as we’re taking a short, well-deserved holiday. Happy to be able to see something else of this amazing country. If you haven’t yet, please sign up for email alerts (top right) so we can stay in touch with you about the film.

Party time!

Karla’s birthday was as much a blast as it was a crucial moment in the film. Lots of children showed up, from all corners of the neighborhood. Sujeylin and Felix ended up buying two piñatas, and the first activity of the day was to take turns hitting those with a stick to release the enclosed candy. Obviously not after first having made a picture of them with the birthday girl.

The photographer who showed up was actually pretty funny, an older guy, somewhat grumpy, who, with a pretty historical looking camera, took exactly one picture of each pose so as to save film. In total three pictures were taken by him.

I’m side tracking. While the kids were releasing their muscles on the piñatas, more often than not creating some near-misses in the crowded garden, food was handed out as well as little bags with candy. Over this, eighties music was blaring at full volume (Nicas love noise to a point where it becomes painful for my ears, let alone for all the children present). But the best part was the cake and the singing. Karla was handed a knife, which she was to hold halfway in the colourful birthday cake, while all the kids sang a song I had never heard of before. I thought it was going to be cumpleaños feliz, like in Spain, but that isn’t quite the universal song I thought it was.

Surely not a tradition I suppose, but right after this event Sujeylin got a real kick out of painting Karla’s face with some of the cake’s colored cream. I had not seen her laugh so loud in the entire 18 months that I have known her.

All in all, it was a fun day and a great scene to end the film on. It made me think back a lot to the birth, a year ago today, and everything that has happened in-between. Sujeylin really lived up to the expectation I had of this story, in which a young homeless mother finds the strength to get off the streets, kick the glue, and improve her quality of life simply for the sake of a child. Often these are teenagers with such low self-esteem that it’s not worth the effort to do that for themselves only, but as soon as a human being more important than their own person appears in their lives, something clicks.

Sadly enough, and as you will learn from the film, Sujeylin is an exception rather than a rule. Many girls never make it as far as she has been able to get in just a year’s time. Their children are taken from them by social services, or brought to family (as Sujeylin did with Nasly, her first child), and they themselves continue on the streets, drugging themselves to beat hunger, cold and misery, making money begging, stealing or with their bodies. The cause? Broken families, poverty at home, abuse by a stepfather or -brother, early child trauma, and in general a lack of education and overall life skills which enable them to know which direction the end of the tunnel might be.

The world over, we’re talking millions of children and teens here. The female population might deliver a child every two years or so. A child, which might be so lucky never to live with her mother. Or a child, which might be even luckier, and to have a mother like Sujeylin who makes sacrifices everyday in order to keep Karla fed and under a roof. My hat off to her.

God = Good – part 2

Back in March 2009, when Karla was just born, I wrote this post about an evangelical organization who offer religious services to street children and then give them lunch. The issue of that day was that they wouldn’t let us film. Well, yesterday we finally received permission to shoot there and I must say it was one of the most positive moments I have seen Sujeylin been in.

To refresh your memory, street kids are picked up by a bus on Saturday morning and brought out in the outskirts to a building used by these evangelists. See image.

They bring in this fancy sound system, and of the two-hour service, they spend about an hour and a half singing and dancing! If I weren’t holding the camera, I might have ended up wiggling my hips myself. There was such an amazing atmosphere there, and I hadn’t quite seen the effect it had on Sujeylin in any other occasion. She really got into it, was clapping, singing, and waving, and seemed quite happy there with Karla in her arms and Felix standing next to her.

What struck me was that many characters who appear in the film were present. In a way, it seemed like a very beautiful moment to come to an idea of closure for some of them (within the story). Obviously, it’s an artificial high partly caused by the strong music, but as a scene it will make a very interesting ending. I imagine it being followed by what we will be shooting later today: the birthday party.

Birthday prep

Sujeylin and Felix have started to prep the birthday. Yesterday, they went out to buy invitations, which are being delivered today (Saturday) for a party which will take place on Sunday. I had promised to help them pay for the party, so after we did some filming at the end of the day they were making their shopping list. Needless to say, it became larger and larger, running the risk of becoming quite costly.

After some debate, we settled on a maximum budget which is greater than Felix’s two-weekly income, but nevertheless not a very large sum of money. They decided to invite some 15 children (for Karla’s first birthday – we always respected the “one-child-per-year-rule” so if for instance a child turns three you invite three friends…) who will come with their parents and some more siblings probably . So this is going to be a huge event out in the street in front of the house. We’re even renting seats, at ten seats for a dollar!

Oh well, I say let them have their party. It’s true that they have taken the whole hand when a finger was offered, but why not? It’ll help them in their social relationships with the neighborhood (something Sujeylin hasn’t always been very good at herself), Karla gets an oversized fest, and I get an impressive final scene for the film. It might seem somewhat unbelievable, but that will depend on how we edit it.

Here’s Sujeylin double-checking the list of invitations:

In the morning we made a few visits to some of the NGO’s as well as the American Embassy. Earlier in the week we had already been to the Spanish and Dutch embassy as well. We’re starting to focus a lot on distribution, which includes finding a cause this film will be supporting once it gets let loose into the world and drumming up support for a screening initiative we are planning for the fall right here in Managua. There will be a lot more to write (and read) about that once plans are taking shape.

Radio silence

These past few days we’ve been in the countryside, in the village Sujeylin grew up in. Internet was available but at such low speeds that sending a one-line email would cost ten minutes. Hence the radio silence.

Sujeylin wanted to see her first daughter, Nasli. She’s grown up (almost three now) as you can see.

The drive there was absolute hell (excuse the term but it simply was) and even worse, the next day we were talked into driving another four hours to visit Sujeylin’s eldest sister she hadn’t seen in six years, over bumpy dusty roads sucking up dust with every passing car, but the experience was worth it. If only to have gotten the entire family together and to be able to do some valuable filming, especially with her mother.

Her sister lives in the center of the middle of nowhere. There is nothing but a few shacks there. About six or seven to be exact. See picture.

They pump water from a well in the garden and hang out all day sweating under the burning hot tin roof. This village is a clear example of someone having settled there, and others having followed, but without any apparent reason. Or maybe it was because the owner of this little business lives there… ??

Yep, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this. In the cage next to the word “circo” there are three hungry lions, and across the road from Sujeylin’s sister’s house, two monkeys were tied to a truck. But that’s as exciting as it got.

Little by little the story is coming to a close. Karla today is much better off then she was a year ago. That is because her mother is as well. A lot could still happen, but one could say that they are in relative safety. There are few days to go, but they are booked with interesting events still to be filmed, so keep reading…

Getting an indentity

Sujeylin had been wanting to get her I.D. card, for the first time in her life. She needs this to register Karla, but also if she wants to find a job in the same place Felix is working. For the film this can be an interesting scene as to the development in her personal life – she wants to exist formally. So yesterday we headed out to achieve this.

Where I.D.s are to be gotten, there is also an instant photo service. It’s these two guys with a small digital camera, who take your picture right there in a little tent and then print it on photographic paper with a small printer they have standing by on a little table. Very ingenious!

Today we are leaving for Chontales, the area she was born. It’s quite a trip and could also be interesting, since her estranged mother was not expecting to see her ever again. Stay tuned.